Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Chat with John Shuker

John Shuker played for Oxford for more than a decade and a half and, with more than 500 appearances to his name, has made more Football League appearances for the club than any other. Here's what he had to say when TBFUTH put our questions to him.

You grew up in Manchester so how was it you ended up playing in Oxford?

I was playing in a local amateur league at the time in 1959 and this chap came over to me and asked if I'd be interested in coming down to Oxford – or Headington as it was then – for a trial. I came down and played a few reserve games and then signed the following season.

I was part-time in my first year, but signed full-time the next year when the club was elected to the Football League after Accrington Stanley went bankrupt.

There must have been a fantastic buzz about the place at that time?

We had just come back from pre-season training when we found out and of course we were delighted. But obviously we knew it would be very different from the Southern League and that was when the real work began.

50 years on, do you still follow Oxford's fortunes now?

I still go with my son. I can't go every week but we still go two or three times a season. It is very different now though, they have a new ground, the old one has become a hospital now I think. The ground now is fantastic, they really have everything. We still had 6 or 7,000 there when I was playing but it only used to cost about 40p to get in! The crowds they get now are just fantastic.

Having witnessed the club go from non-league to the Second Division during your time there, did you notice a change in atmosphere? Did it become more professional?

Yes, the professionalism was the main thing about the Football League. In our first year we struggled but the manager was able to stay. After three years we won promotion and it got a lot harder, but then three years after that we got promoted again to the Second Division and that was really hard.

In the Southern League if we went 1-0 up we'd usually win or draw but in the Football League you could be 2-0 up at half time and still lose. That was the real difference, they would just keep coming at you.

The club appeared to stall in the latter years of your career. Why do you think that was?

We still won a few games early on because we were a really decent side, but the club had no money and we had to sell a lot of our best players. I think in one month we sold our centre-forward, our centre-half and a midfielder so we were always going to go down after that. It was a shame because we'd had a really good side.

At one stage a new chairman came in and introduced a new bonus system, which all the players signed up to. We would get paid £10 for every league point and we started the season really well, I think we'd only lost once in our first ten games. Then the chairman took it away because the club couldn't afford it and we fell away after that.

With over 500 appearances, you're one of Oxford's all-time longest-serving players. What were the highlights of your career?

I played for 17 years which is the longest ever and I still have the record for the most Football League appearances, I played over 500 games in the first team, so of course there were plenty of highlights.

Obviously going up was a big highlight. And then the next year we played Blackburn in the FA Cup; they were one of the best sides in the country, they had about seven or eight internationals including the likes of Bryan Douglas. We had a record crowd at the Manor and they'd put up scaffolding to get them all in. We'd only just come up from the Southern League and there we were, beating a team like Blackburn!

But the biggest highlight for me was playing at Old Trafford. I can't remember the year, but we played them in the League Cup at home, we were winning 1-0 until Bobby Charlton scored from about 25 yards. We lost at Old Trafford, but it was a huge highlight for me because I had grown up just four miles from there.

Who was the best manager you played under?

I suppose the best manager was Arthur Turner, he was there when I signed and was still there when we were in the Second Division. But the one that really stands out for me was Gerry Summers, he was a gentleman as well as a really good manager. I remember I had a testimonial and we had Manchester City from the First Division come down to the Manor to play and he organised all of that.

Who was the best player you played alongside?

Ah well that's a difficult one because there were so many! Obviously there was Ronnie Atkinson and Hughie Curran, a Scottish international from Bolton. A lot of the players we had in the Southern League stayed with the club in the Second Division, they were that good. A lot of them had signed from Aston Villa and Wolves, they were all from the Midlands, I was the only one from as far north as Manchester.

Thanks again to John for taking the time to speak to us.


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