Monday, 11 June 2012

Oxford and England

So the Euros are now upon us and the national media hype machine has already gone into overdrive trying to inspire nationalistic fervour. While for many of us the national team are a mere distraction from the more important matter of OUFC, we can at least try and stoke the passions by remembering Oxford's contribution to the cause. We may not be able to boast a whole host of England stars among our midst, but we have nevertheless played our own role down the years, so here is a brief (and by no means exhaustive) list of some Oxford and England connections.

We haven't produced many England stars, but there is one former player who bucks that particular trend. Mark Wright may not have earned any of his caps while at Oxford, but he did come through the club's youth system, leaving for Southampton after making 10 appearances in a yellow shirt. During the course of his top flight career he earned 45 England caps, making his debut in a 1984 Home International Championship defeat to Wales. He was unfortunate to miss the World Cup in 1986 due to injury, but was part of the England team that travelled to Germany two years later for their ill-fated European campaign. He was an important member of England's famous Italia '90 squad, coming into the side after the disappointing opening draw with Ireland and helping to transform England's campaign. It was Wright's headed goal in the final group game against Egypt which sent England through and set them on course to reach the semi-finals. He would then go on to captain the side in a 1991 friendly against the USSR. Wright missed the Euros in '92 through injury, angering manager Graham Taylor by failing to disclose his injury until it was too late to replace him, and was later dropped after a poor performance in a friendly against Spain. He made a surprise return to the England squad four years later, with preparations for Euro '96 underway, but got injured again just before the tournament started, earning his final cap in a friendly against Hungary in May 1996.

It is perhaps ironic that United were of their most use to the national team during their darkest days in the Conference – or at least it would be, if not for the fact that we were supplying players to England C, not the full team. Andy Burgess was the first to represent England in our first season in the Conference, scoring in a 3-0 victory over Scotland and also playing against Wales in the same Home Nations tournament. The dream team of Luke Foster and Matt Day also appeared for England C, but following a 'horror journey' to Sarajevo they found themselves on the end of a 6-2 defeat to Bosnia. James Constable is another United player to represent England C, making his debut in November 2007 while playing for Kidderminster, and was recalled to the team after joining Oxford, scoring in a 2-2 draw away to Italy to take England through to the final of the International Challenge Trophy. Matt Green was the next United player to represent England in September 2009, playing 45 minutes in a 1-1 draw against Hungary, and Sam Deering completed the set by helping England to a 2-1 win over the Republic of Ireland in May 2010.

We have also hosted various England teams down the years. In 1954 the FA sent their Amateur XI to the Manor, in a prestigious warm-up fixture ahead of the visit of Scotland to Wembley. 8000 turned out to see Headington emerge 3-0 victors under the floodlights with goals from Toulouse and Crombie securing a prestigious win. England amateurs would go on to lose 4-1 to Scotland that weekend, capping off a thoroughly miserable week for them. The Manor also played host to England schoolboys as they hosted Wales in 1968, England's under-15s against Northern Ireland in 1976 and under-19s against Denmark in 1991.

England have also graced the pitch of the Kassam Stadium, doing so not long after the stadium's opening when it hosted the UEFA Under-17 Tournament in 2002. As well as hosting a game between Brazil and the Czech Republic, the Kassam also saw England draw 2-2 with Italy in the first round, before seeing England narrowly emerge victorious in the final against Brazil in front of a crowd of 9923.The Kassam also played host to the International Challenge Trophy in 2009, when an England C side featuring James Constable were narrowly beaten by Belgium. Most recently, of course, the stadium has played host to the England women's team when they took on Sweden in their final warm up game ahead of last year's Women's World Cup, winning 2-0 in impressive fashion.

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