By Nicholas Harling

Oxford City have their place in the record books but on today’s 50th anniversary of the club earning that right, Tommy Eales could be excused for wondering what might have been.

Eales, now 80, was an old-fashioned centre forward who paradoxically would have prevented the non-league club from making history had he been more precise with two headers.

They both hit the crossbar in the fourth game of the marathon FA Cup fourth qualifying round tie against Alvechurch in 1971, which spanned six matches and 11 hours. Eales wore No 9 on his back, although he is listed as No 8 in the one penny programme for the decisive sixth match at Villa Park on November 22, 1971 that he cherishes.

Alvechurch won 1-0 through an 18th-minute header from Bobby Hope that Peter Harris agonisingly failed to clutch.

Describing the goal for the Oxford Mail, budding reporter Jim Rosenthal wrote: “Shocked that he had been given a chance of saving the attempt, the goalkeeper got his right hand to it but the ball wriggled loose, hit him on the heel and crawled like a scolded dog over the line.”

The Cup epic brings back still vivid memories to Eales, who recalled: “I played every minute of every single game. In the first replay at Oxford City, I scored to put us one up.”


Former Oxford City player Tommy Eales Picture: Nicholas Harling

That goal was one of 32 Eales accumulated that season in 64 games, giving him an impressive average of a goal every two games.

He remembers his teammate Eric Metcalfe suffering a hairline fracture of his fibula in the fifth match and the Herculean efforts of John Woodley, who clocked up a record-breaking 900 games and 400-plus goals for the club.

City’s manager John Fisher openly said: “We felt we got to know them so well that people were saying we should agree to a merger.”

That would not have been for Eales who added: “When it was all over, we thought ‘thank God for that’, although we had lost.

“By the end we were on first name terms with them.

“We knew all about them. That’s why the scores were so low.

“But it hadn’t been easy as we had to take time off work to get to all the replays.

“In those days, you had to work to earn your money.”

Eales worked as a rally race mechanic for the MG car company in Abingdon, who later employed him in their development and design departments.

In 1970, he was involved in the London to Mexico World Cup Rally that began at Wembley and ended in Mexico City just before the tournament.

"We were away seven weeks and they flew us from Portugal to Rio," he said.

"Along the way we visited Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala and El Salvador.

"On one flight from La Paz we had to put down on a little airstrip somewhere in the Andes for a refill from a milk churn. If we weren't driving, we were flying." 

One of nine children, Eales is one of only two survivors and his remaining sister, Eileen lives in California.

“Our dad wasn’t interested in football so I don’t know where I got my ability from,” Eales said.

“But I always say to people that I was quick over five yards.

“Most of my goals were scored at the near post.”

He also played for the MG football team, Abingdon Town and Witney Town – who were coached by Oxford United legend Ron Atkinson.

Nowadays he does not go to football or watch games on television in his home at Radley where he has resided for the past 23 years with his parner Sue. His friends are equally reluctant to get involved.

"I meet up with a few football mates every Thursday for a couple of pints," he explained. 

"But none of us watch football any more. We find it too boring, it's all sideways and backwards.

"Look at England in the Euro final, they scored after two minutes and then sat back to defend it."

As for City and Alvechurch, they had dragged their tired legs out to perform six times in 17 days, with the Oxfordshire side hosting Walthamstow Avenue in an Isthmian League game in the middle.

From Alvechurch’s slopping Lye Meadow ground after a 2-2 draw, the tie had switched to City’s White House Ground for a 1-1 draw and then to Birmingham City’s St Andrews for another 1-1 after Alvechurch had won the toss for choice of neutral venue.

Two goalless draws at Oxford United’s Manor Ground were followed by the final game at Villa Park.


The one penny programme for the decisive sixth game at Villa Park

The two clubs had comfortably beaten the Cup’s previous endurance best of nine hours, 40 minutes set by Leyton and Ilford in the 1924/25 season.

It took the Football Association until 1991, the year after both World Cup semi-finals had gone to penalty shoot-outs, to decide their domestic knockout competition would be settled by spot-kicks if the scores were still level at the end of extra time in the first replay.

Oxford City and Tommy Eales might ultimately have lost but if nothing else, they know they share a record that will never be beaten.

As for Alvechurch, they went to Aldershot in a first-round tie delayed by four days and lost 4-2.

They had little left to give after City sapped their remaining energy.