Why I'm a Red: Oxford and Banbury's Mick Thorne

Tuesday 18 April 2023 15:29

In our series 'Why I'm a Red', we ask supporters to pick one word which embodies their devotion to United and explain why the club is so precious to them. Our latest guest is Fans' Forum rep Mick Thorne, who has been running the Oxford and Banbury Supporters' Club since 1974...


I started following United years ago. In the beginning, I used to follow Oxford United. Well, it wasn't Oxford United in those days – it was Headington, which was a Southern League team, so there was no Football League team as such in Oxford.

In the early 1950s, United were the top team and, like most young kids, you start off by following the top team, don't you? It was just before the Busby Babes, when we won the league in 1951/52. 
It was the United team of the early 50s that first captured Mick's imagination. This side, pictured in 1952/53, were the reigning First Division champions.
Around the same time, I used to go to Oxford Speedway [to watch] Oxford Cheetahs [motorcycle speedway team]. I was just a young kid in those days. But if Oxford Cheetahs were riding at Belle Vue [stadium in east Manchester] a group of us would go up to United for a game and then after the match we'd go over to Belle Vue.
They used to have the big funfair and what they called 'the Bobs'. Every ride was an old shilling, so that's how it got the name 'the Bobs'. Mancunians will be able to correct me, if I'm wrong! But that's how we understood it as outsiders.
I honestly can't remember which game my first United game was! I think – but I'm not 100 per cent certain - it was against Leyton Orient at Old Trafford. That would have been myself and my brother.
I never used to go on the coaches in those days. Maybe for midweek games, like a European night game in the sixties – I remember Real Madrid in ‘68. But I had a company car at the time and it was unlimited private mileage, so I used to drive with my brother and a couple of other friends and we used to go up to Old Trafford.
One day, there was an advert put in the Oxford Mail by the coach company that used to do the Oxford branch. We went along to the meeting about it and I came away having been talked into being secretary! 
I said I'd do it for a year. Forty-nine years later, I'm still here doing it!
I actually formed the Oxford and Banbury branch from three branches – there was originally an Oxford branch, a Banbury branch, and a small Bicester branch. All were unaffiliated in those days. They were just small groups of Man U supporters. 
Since we were formed in 1974, we've run at least one coach to every single competitive home game. That's really remarkable. We still do it now.
We've got just over 200 official members and we've got 60 season-ticket holders. The coach is a family thing. We get single women, women bringing their young kids, guys bringing their kids. We have three generations of my family! There's myself, my son and we've got seven grandkids that go. Five of them are season-ticket holders in their own right now.
On an average matchday, there's nine of my family on the coach and at Old Trafford!
It's the loyalty of our support that makes United special, according to Mick.
Now they've changed the dugouts over, I sit on the front row, right on the halfway line, literally right behind Steve McClaren!
Steve used to live about 10 miles from me when he was living in Oxford, so we'd speak to him. Over the years we've spoken to loads of people. We used to have some great banter with Bobby Robson and Brian Clough when they came. George Graham when he came back with Arsenal, obviously having been a United player. We had a good chat with him.
There have been some funny moments. I remember David O'Leary, when he was with George Graham at Leeds United. He kept standing up right in front of us, and there was a little lady – she's passed away now – who used to sit a few seats along from us. She asked him to sit down: 'Could you please sit down, I can't see?' Obviously he was a big guy right in front of her. He wouldn't take any notice of her. My son asked him, and he was quite abusive to him. Eventually George Graham told him to sit down.
But a few years later he came back as manager of Aston Villa. As he walked up to take his seat he looked up at us and laughed: "Christ, are you lot still sat here?!"
Mick and the branch set off on another Euro away jaunt.
If you go back to the 70s, when crowds were low, the club needed branches to bring people to Old Trafford for the money to go into the coffers.
We had a guy who actually moved to Manchester because he couldn't afford the coach fare! 
He worked for the Post Office and went to every game. So to save his coach fare, which was about eight or nine quid, he got a transfer to Manchester with the Post Office. He's still living there now!

A couple of lads have been divorced over it!
One of them, Pete, had a girlfriend and lived in a flat with her in Oxford, but he was always going to football. 
He came back from one home match and opened the front door of his flat and it was completely empty. His girlfriend had had such a hassle with him about always being at football that she'd left without telling him and arranged for the removal people to come in and empty his flat while he was at the match. But that's how loyal fans are!
Mick ran trips to almost every Euro away through the 1990s, starting with Montpellier in 1991.
We've still got a hardcore of about 35 season-ticket holders now who go to nearly every game and they book the main bulk of the coach. We average about 45 to each home game.
We get a little bit of stick in Oxford for supporting United, but it's water off a duck's back, really. There's enough of us and we're a really strong group.
Tottenham have a coach from Oxford. Liverpool tried to do one, but the guy organising it ran away with all the money! There's Chelsea and Arsenal fans in Oxford, too.
Obviously not everyone can go to every game. I think we've had 18 or 19 midweek games this season, due to the cup runs and the World Cup messing the fixtures up.
But it's a really nice day out, and we still have a big fanbase in our area. That's the loyalty people have towards United.