With the football season over prematurely due to the Coronavirus Pandemic I’m in the unusual position of actually having this blog up to date! So to keep the content coming, and for something to do, I’ll do some old grounds and games where there’s a story to tell.
Sunday 19th July 2003 ko 15.00
CHIPPING NORTON TOWN 0
OXFORD UNITED XI 2 (Beechers 20 O’Sullivan 82)
I think this is something of a first, a request of a ground someone would like me to write about! The request came from Bedfordshire Hop organiser Craig Dabbs and he asked to see Chipping Norton Town’s former home Walterbush Road. There was however something of a problem with it.
The issue was straightforward, I didn’t start taking a camera to football until around 2004, roughly the same time I started groundhopping! On that basis thanks to Craig Dabbs and Sean Robson for the use of their photos
My reason for heading to North Oxfordshire that Sunday afternoon was Jamie Brooks. I’m an Oxford United fan and Jamie was the best prospect to come out of the club since Joey Beauchamp. Brooks lit up a poor Oxford United side underfunded by owner Firoz Kassam and managed by the ultra-utilitarian Ian Atkins. At times it was like putting the Mona Lisa up in a graffiti-scarred subway.
Inevitably the bigger clubs spotted his talent and Brooks visited Arsenal in the months prior to the end of the 2001/2 season. He played in United’s final game of that season, scoring in a 2-1 home win against Darlington and was due to sign for the Gunners two days later.
Tragically those 2 days saw him collapse and when he should have been starting a stellar career in the Premier League he was fighting for his life, on life support with Guillain-Barre syndrome. He survived, but played no football at all during the 2002/3 season.
Now at this point let’s make this point clear, I and every single person who watched him play was happy to see Jamie Brooks alive and in in reasonable health. A comeback was for the 2003/4 season was seen as being unlikely, the fairytale was him returning to training. But Brooks and everyone at Oxford United gave everyone a real boost when the previous week he’d managed to play the final few seconds of a friendly at Oxford City. In this game he managed a 6 minute cameo, and over the next few seasons he did play league football once more.
Sadly the disease and the damage it left meant Brooks’ potential was never met. He left Oxford United in 2006 and drifted into local football before giving up the game altogether. He’s now 36 and I’m pleased to say he’s still healthy and living a normal life.
But back to Chipping Norton. I saw them when there was an Oxford United connection in manager Phil Heath. The former winger also had convinced another ex-Oxford United player Mike Ford to play in this game as a triallist. The idea was it was with a view to him signing, but that didn’t happen.
A Oxford youth team side led by Darren Patterson won 2-0 and other than the unfortunate Brooks none of the players on show made an great impact at national level but provided a good afternoon’s entertainment. I left Walterbush Road, impressed at the Hellenic Premier club and kept an eye on their progress. Sadly it was to be my only visit.
The club maintained their Hellenic Premier status, but folded abruptly a couple of games into the 2006/7 season. I caught up with a former club official at a game in Wootton Bassett Town in April 2007 and the reason for the club’s demise was clear. They’d walked round the pitch during one of those games and worked out that other than away fans and players’ families, there was virtually no local support.
A new Chipping Norton Town was born, mainly from the Chipping Norton Swifts club and the club once again played at Walterbush Road, in the Witney & District League. But soon disaster was to strike. The club signed an agreement with Minotaur- a debt management and property developer that would allow housing on the site, but provide a pitch and a new clubhouse. The result was a 2017 investigation on BBC Television’s “Panorama” and the club being left asset stripped and with no home.
The ground was demolished and a new clubhouse built but with no pitch and no funds to buy the structure, the club have played the last few seasons away from Chipping Norton, mainly at Enstone and Shipston Excelsior. I wonder how and when Chippy will make it make back to their town? I fear Walterbush Road has now been lost, but in a town that boasts the likes of David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson as residents some influence can be brought to bear to give the football team a home.
Photos by Craig Dabbs
Photos from Sean Robson