Wednesday, 6 July 2011

In Profile: David Langan

Following on from yesterday's article on Joey Beauchamp, we now turn our attention to David Langan, League Cup winner and now registered disabled, ahead of Friday's 'Two Legends, One Match' testimonial. David Langan played at the highest level with Oxford and was an important member of the squad throughout the club's finest hour, playing in the Milk Cup final. But since he left Oxford he has fallen on hard times. Football has taken a lot from David Langan and it's time for it to give him something back.

In these days of image rights and WAGs, when even an average Premier League player earns more in a week than most of us earn in a year, it seems natural to expect that a professional footballer who played in the top flight, won a major trophy and represented his country at international level would be able to live out his retirement sat by a swimming pool full of champagne in some exotic country, surrounded by beautiful women. However, 25 years ago, when David Langan won the League Cup with Oxford in the First Division, football was an unrecognisable game to today and his story is one to shame those footballing institutions which allowed him to leave the game virtually disabled and with no career prospects after retirement.

Born in Dublin, David played youth football for his local club, Cherry Orchard FC before securing a move to Derby County in 1974, aged 17. As a young player he was made to wait for his First Division debut, but eventually made his first appearance in February 1977 and his presence during the latter part of the season helped save Derby from relegation. He subsequently became an ever-present (featuring consecutively in Derby's next 81 matches) and at the end of his first full season of professional football he was voted Derby County's player of the season.

In 1978, Langan won the first of his 26 caps for the Republic of Ireland, featuring against Turkey. However, following a fall-out with then-Ireland manager Johnny Giles he was dropped after his second match for Ireland. More trouble was to come for Langan when he and Bruce Rioch refused to travel on the team bus for an FA Cup fixture and both players were transfer listed. Following Derby's relegation from the First Division 1980, struggling under the weight of debt, Langan was bought by Jim Smith's Birmingham City for what was then a club record £350,000. Langan became an important player for Birmingham, making more than 100 first team appearances, but the club struggled, narrowly avoiding relegation in 1982. Langan's international career, however, flourished during his time at Birmingham and he was an ever-present in Ireland's qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup.

Langan featured for the Republic of Ireland in this famous victory over France in 1981, but Ireland just failed to qualify for the World Cup on goal difference

However, his car career at Birmingham ended under a cloud, when new manager Ron Saunders advised him to give up professional football after spending a year and a half between 1983 and 84 sidelined due to injury. It was his former Birmingham boss, Jim Smith, by now managing Oxford in the Second Division, who decided to take a chance on the injury-prone fullback, picking him up on a free transfer in the summer of 1984. Langan was joining an Oxford side that had just won the Second Division title to strengthen the right back position for another promotion push. Playing as an attacking full back, he was given free reign by Jim Smith to venture forward and his overlapping runs and ability to play a dangerous cross into the box made him a vital creator of goals in that promotion-winning side. One of Langan's finest moments in a yellow shirt came in that first season at the club in a League Cup 3rd round match against First Division Arsenal, first providing an exquisite cross for Billy Hamilton to put Oxford 2-1 up, before himself scoring a spectacular winning goal, to help United secure a shock 3-2 victory.

Langan scoring a rare goal against Arsenal, his thunderous shot slipping through the hands of Pat Jennings (at 3:40)

He remained an important member of the Oxford side in the first two seasons in the First Division, earning a League Cup winner's medal and barely missing a match during that time, as well as regaining his place in the Irish national side, helping them qualify for Euro 88, though he was dropped for the finals. He eventually fell out of favour at Oxford, featuring just twice in the 87-88 season before being loaned out, first for a brief spell at Leicester City and then to Bournemouth, to whom he was sold in December 1987. He then transferred to Peterborough United for the 88-89 season, but the injuries he had sustained earlier in his career finally caught up with him and he was forced to retire in January 1989. He made his final competitive footballing appearance for the Posh in a 2-1 away defeat at Scarborough, less than three years after his finest moment at Wembley.

In the years following his forced retirement, life started to become very difficult for David Langan. Having been left virtually crippled after receiving injuries to his knees and back, but being made to play on regardless with the use of cortisone injections, Langan was left unable to continue any career within the game and without the skills or physical capability to take up other forms of employment, he ended up with a low paid job as a porter for Peterborough City Council. He was left in constant agony after undergoing two spinal infusions, incapable of even picking up his daughter due to the pain in his back. His life became a daily struggle against the pain and he later admitted that he considered suicide.

Langan's plight finally came to the attention of the national media when Irish football fanzine You Boys in Green began a campaign to get him a testimonial from the FAI. Having earned 26 caps for the Republic of Ireland he met the minimum requirement of 25 caps to be awarded a testimonial, but the FAI changed their rules, requiring a minimum of 50 caps and thus refusing him the testimonial he deserved. Thanks to their continuing efforts he was eventually granted a special benefit dinner in Dublin.

Of his senior clubs, none have granted him a testimonial until now, a shameful fact when you consider that he made 143 appearances for Derby and 92 appearances for Birmingham, as well as his 134 appearances for Oxford. Dave Langan's story is a chilling reminder of the cost of playing football for those who are unfortunate enough to sustain serious injuries; it reveals the uncomfortable fact of the commodification of football players by their clubs and, once a player is no longer of any use to their club, how ruthlessly they can be disposed of. However, it also reveals the emotional connections that can bind supporters to their favourite players and how even once a player is no longer useful to those who control the game, the fans still remember. David Langan's testimonial is long overdue.


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