Five Games That Changed Me: Oxford Red Mick Thorne

Friday 16 June 2023 06:00

The challenge of our Five Games That Changed Me series is to whittle down dozens and dozens of amazing United matches to a cast-iron handful – a difficult proposition for Reds of all ages.

And especially so when you’ve been going since the 1950s, like the next supporter in our hotseat: Mick Thorne.
Mick has been running the Oxford & Banbury supporters’ club since 1974 and also sits on the Fans’ Forum, but he has a canny plan to sidestep some of those difficulties. 
And who can blame him? Selecting 50 of the most valuable heirlooms from the legendary Busby and Ferguson epochs – both of which he lived through – would be arduous enough.
Instead, Thorne has chosen to focus largely on his relationship with his much-loved branch, which he formed from three separate, unlinked groups – Oxford, Banbury and Bicester – almost five decades ago. On an average match-day, nine of his family members can be expected to make the trip to Old Trafford, and there’s many more who travel alongside them on one of the branch coaches. 
“We’ve got just over 200 official members and 60 season-ticket holders,” he beams. “The coach is a family thing. We get single women, women bringing their young kids, guys bringing their kids. It’s a really nice day out, and we still have a big fan base in our area. That’s the loyalty people have towards United.”
The 1977 Charity Shield wasn't a classic, but it was the start of something special for Mick and his branch.
Charity Shield | Wembley | 13 August 1977
“It wasn’t a great match – it was nil-nil! But the ’77 Charity Shield was the first time our branch could run a coach to Wembley, because for the ’76 and ’77 FA Cup finals, not enough of our members had full token sheets. You had to collect tokens in those days to get match tickets.
“We had a full 53-seater coach, and I could tell you exactly who was on them if I got all the old records out! It’s all in my archive. We’ve probably got 20 of the people from that game who still go to more or less every United match. Obviously, over 40 years a lot of new members come in and unfortunately older members from back of the day have now passed on.
“Then again, since we put a flag in the back of the coach with the branch name on it three or four years ago, we’ve had several people get in touch and say: ‘Oh, I didn’t know there was a branch here.’ We’ve been going 40-odd years! But all of these games bring back such special memories.”
European Cup Winners' Cup | Old Trafford | 21 March 1984
“After losing the first leg 2-0 in the Nou Camp, it looked a pretty daunting task to overcome one of the best teams in Europe. Their main man of the day was Diego Maradona, you know?! The atmosphere when it got to 2-0 was tremendous, but the atmosphere when Frankie Stapleton’s third went in was one of the best of any match at Old Trafford. The invasion at the end of the match, with Robbo being carried round with all the young kids on the pitch... it’s such a really vivid memory of a tremendous game and a tremendous night, and one of the best atmospheres you could ever wish to be in.
“We had two coaches for that game, even though it was midweek. In the ‘80s we’d run two or three – two 53s and two 33s – and they used to start in Witney. We had pick-ups in Banbury. One of the 53s would do the whole of the park and ride [route] in Botley; the second 53 would do part of the park and ride and then Bicester. For midweek games we’d get back about two in the morning. We still do! But after this game we were on cloud nine.”
Robbo recounts our '84 win over Barcelona Video

Robbo recounts our '84 win over Barcelona

Today is the 35-year anniversary of our iconic 3-0 win over Barcelona! #TBT to Robbo's 2015 analysis...

European Cup Winners' Cup | Stadio Communale | 25 April 1984
“After defeating Barcelona, being drawn against another really old, established club in Europe like Juventus was great. In those days they played at the Comunale Stadium in more or less the centre of the town and had Platini, Boniek and Rossi all playing for them. They were the team of the day. We lost 2-1 and I remember Robbo was out injured with his shoulder, but the reason that match stands out for me is it was the first game I took my son, John, to for a European trip. We’ve travelled all over Europe together since.
“There were about 10 of us that went. We flew in to Milan and then got a bus to Turin from there. We stayed at the Hotel Genio and one of the staff there said to us: 'You’re United fans, you should go to this bar...’ He gives us the directions and we go to this bar and inside there’s all these pictures of the car crash that Joe Baker and Denis Law were in [in 1962]. When they played for Torino they were in a car crash with a taxi driver. This bar was run by the taxi driver who was the driver in the crash. He had all mementos of Denis.
“So we stayed there and had a few drinks and he recommended a restaurant for us to go to. He phoned up this restaurant and got them to set up the table for 15-16 of us. I’ve still got the bill somewhere – It was something like four-million-odd lira! A few of us ordered a chateaubriand.
“But John still goes to games now. He sits next to me. He’s had a season ticket since he was eight in 1976 and three of his five children have got season tickets. My daughter’s two sons have season tickets and my brother and my wife. We’re all sat in different places around Old Trafford, but we all travel on the same coach.”
Clayton Blackmore and Steve Bruce celebrate after United's victory over Montpellier in 1991.
European Cup Winners' Cup | Stade de la Mosson | 19 March 1991
“This was the first branch trip that we ran into Europe, when ‘Mick’s Euro Tours’ was founded! The name was the lads’ idea. We did practically every Euro away after this. If it was within, like, 1000 miles of a French port of Calais or Le Havre or Cherbourg, we did it all by coach. It started off just with our branch, and then we had members from other branches near to us coming as well – some of the Birmingham lads, the guys from Scunthorpe who we got to know over the years.
“We took a coach down to Montpellier, and we travelled from Oxford overnight and stopped in Paris on St Patrick’s Day. Because it was the first European away, and there had been a few incidents with United supporters in Europe, we wanted to go to the game but not stay in the town we were playing, in case there was trouble, so we could exonerate our branch. So we stayed at Nimes.
“I remember we went without tickets, but every single one of us managed to buy tickets from the French supporters or the ticket touts. But it was the first coach we ran and the forerunner of doing all of the European away trips, which took us to Rapid Vienna, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Milan, Monaco, all the French teams, all the German teams. So that stands out. We built our European away reputation from there, really. Clayton Blackmore scored with a free-kick. All the members on this trip are still going now!”
Highlights: 1999 Champions League final Video

Highlights: 1999 Champions League final

On Beckham's birthday, we're showing a game when his corners helped to make history. Watch it in full at 19:00 BST...

Champions League | Nou Camp | 26 May 1999
“I know everyone will try to avoid picking Barcelona ’99 but it was so memorable for our branch. We took 80 members. I’ve had a place near Barcelona, in Palamos, for 29 years, so I’ve always holidayed in that area. I was already going to the final, because friends in Palamos who have a Barcelona fan club had arranged two tickets for myself and my wife. Obviously when United got there, that was bonus, and I didn’t want to be sat in the neutral part.
“Anyway, we arranged a week-long trip, and off the coach went on the Sunday morning after the Newcastle final. All the branches who wanted to run their own trips had to submit their itinerary to Ken Merrett. When he got ours, for a week’s holiday, he couldn’t believe it. Everyone was booked into the Marina Hotel in Palamos and we had a great holiday. On the night of the game, I’d asked Joseph, a friend of mine who runs the Castallet bar in Palamos, which usually closed at 2am, to keep it open until we got back. I had this cassette with loads of old United songs that he was playing through the week. When we came back to the bar afterwards, he loaded the bar up with pints of beer, and said: ‘These are all on me lads, enjoy, you’ve had a good week and a great result!’
“Before the match, I’d bought enough champagne so everyone on the trip had one bottle each, as we’d already won the Double. No-one knew it was in the inside locker of the coach except me, my wife and the driver. Opening it in the coach park after we’d won the Treble was a terrific moment. 
“The only unfortunate thing was that, after Solskjaer’s goal, one of our members, Dave Miller, had jumped up with excitement and somehow ripped an artery or vein in his neck as his head went back. He was hospitalised overnight due to a seizure of the blood to his brain – my son went to the hospital with him. Dave is fine now, but he’s still on blood- thinners to this day.
“But we got back to Palamos about three in the morning and stayed up until about seven! We had all the music going. The local police came in. At one point they said: ‘Keep the singing down a bit, lads,’ but they were fine. It was a tremendous week.”