Tracing history of Oakham United FC ahead of big reunion

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Former players, officials and volunteers from one of the leading non-league clubs in the area during the 1970s, 80s and 90s are being urged to join in a special reunion.

Oakham United folded in 1996, ironically after its most successful season, and now 20 years on former player and manager John Younger and other ex-players are organising a get-together to mark the milestone.

“It was a lovely club to be a part of for so many years,” said John, who joined The Acorns in the 1972/73 season and stayed as a player — featuring at right back, sweeper and in midfield — for 17 years, including a final year as player-manager.

“I started at Chesterfield but got injured. I then got a job locally and was asked to go along to Oakham.

“There was a great atmosphere and we always had a great bunch of players. They were fantastic times.

“In the early days we had a settled side and most of the same lads played week in week out. Then, as new managers came in and wanted to take the club forward, different players were brought in.”

Organisers hope the old photographs in this feature will stir a few memories and encourage people to join the reunion.

Oakham saw many well-known local footballers and managers pass through its ranks — from ex-Mansfield Town and Luton Town defender Mick Saxby to John Ramshaw, the former Hucknall Town and Eastwood Town manager who led the academy at the Stags under Paul Cox’s regime.

Other professional footballers known on the national and even international stage also played for the Acorns, most notably former England striker turned TV pundit Dion Dublin and Nottingham Forest European Cup winner Kenny Burns.

And one-time Stags joint owner Andy Perry was also a former player.

John said: “We just thought it would be great to have a get-together. Time is passing by and sadly some of the old players are no longer with us.

“For instance, Johnny Miller, who coached and assisted at the club for many years as well as playing after his Mansfield Town days, sadly died earlier this year

“We also lost John Vazson, a former player, committee man and programme editor, who passed away.”

The club was formed in 1969 — its name was taken from the successful High Oakham School football team in Mansfield.

The first Oakham side was managed by Hugh Dicks, who was also the games master at the school.

Parents also got involved, notably John Martin snr, who later became manager, and Maurice Campion. The club played at the Mansfield Hosiery Mills ground in Sutton, near King’s Mill Hospital — now home to the B&Q store development off Mansfield Road.

The first league Oakham competed in was the Notts Combination and in the 1975-76 season they were one of the founder clubs in the Midlands League, finishing runner-up in the 1979-80 season.

Oakham were also a founder member of the Northern Counties East League in 1982-83 and they then joined the Central Midlands League (CML) for the 1986-87 season, also as as a founder member, in the Supreme Division.

In the 1989/90 season, in a season under player-manager Younger, they won their first FA Cup tie. Younger recalled: “We beat Worksop Town and then in the following round won at Walsall Wood, before going out 2-0 at Northern Premier League Rhyl. It was a great experience.”

Under the guidance of Steve Hurst and Paul Elrick there was more success as Oakham were twice runners-up in the CML Supreme Division consecutive seasons, from 1993-95, before finally lifting the title the following season.

Sadly that 1996 triumph, under the leadership of Paul Elrick and Steve Hurst, spelled the end for the club as it was unable to take up its promotion to the Northern Counties East League because its ground did not meet the criteria of the Northern Counties East League — the ground had one side that over-lapped on to a cricket pitch. Oakham have had many managers who were well-known in local football since Hugh Dicks formed the club, notably Bill Newson, who had two spells in charge, later became general manager and was known as “Mr Oakham United”.

He looked after the club’s affairs, including sponsorship, and worked tirelessly on the ground, making sure the pitch was ready for matchdays.

Other managers included Bryan Chambers, well-known for his years in charge of Hucknall Town, Charlie Govan, Gary Saxby and Steve Giles.

Russell Slade has since gone on to manage Notts County, Leyton Orient, Cardiff City and now Charlton Athletic in the Football League, reaching as high as the Championship, while John Ramshaw brought a young Dion Dublin to the Acorns in 1986 and helped the striker secure a move to Norwich City at the start of a career that took him to Aston Villa, Manchester United and England.

Dublin, Kenny Burns, Mick Saxby and Johnny Miller are not the only high-profile players to have represented Oakham.

Gary Saxby played for Northampton Town and the Stags before joining the club; former Chesterfield duo Bob Newton and Sean O’Neil turned out at the Hosiery Mills ground; ex-Notts County and Mansfield Town player Mick Vinter later went to Oakham; and ex-Arsenal and Stags keeper Martin New played for them.

Oakham also provided a stepping stone into the Football League for players as well as Dublin, including Simon Snow (Preston North End), Jason Pascoe (Northampton Town) and Jason Kabia (Lincoln City).

The Oakham United reunion evening will be held on 23rd September at Mansfield Hosiery Mills Sports and Social Club, Sutton, from 7pm. Any former players, officials and volunteers wanting to take part should call either John Younger on 07815 816134 or Les Kittle on 07519 834086 or Andy Brown on 07812 433192 or Chris Lee on 07870 523795.