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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Man with the heart of an Ox

BILL Oxley is perhaps better remembered as a charismatic member of the board of directors, and one-time club chairman, at Barrow RL than as a player, but he had a fairly long career as a rugby league professional.

He first wore a Barrow shirt as an 18-year-old when he played in the odd A-team game as an amateur in the 1938/39 season, making his first competitive appearance for the reserves on September 24, 1938 (though he had played in a friendly against Ulverston prior to that date).

Bill played 13 times as an amateur that season, scoring three tries, and at the start of the following campaign he was taken on as a professional.

Unfortunately, four days after Bill put pen to paper, the Second World War began and his career was put on hold for a considerable length of time.

Indeed, it was 1945 before he made his first team debut for Barrow. Bill appeared twice for the senior side in the 1944/45 campaign and once the following season before returning to the amateur ranks with Risedale Old Boys ARLFC in March 1946.

He was snapped up by Bradford Northern on a trial basis though, within a matter of days of leaving Barrow, and trialing for that club. He ultimately signed for Rochdale Hornets when they offered him a deal.

Bill played four times for the Hornets in what remained of the 1945/46 season and would remain with that club until November, 1948.

It was during his time with Rochdale that the following “Saturday Sport” appeared in the North-Western Evening Mail (dated Saturday, December 6, 1947).

“One of the many Barrow Rugby League players on the books of other clubs, Billy Oxley was captain of Rochdale Hornets until he handed the post over to another ex-Barrow player, star Welsh centre George Gummer.

“Bill started his sporting career at St Columba’s School and played as goalkeeper for Barrow Boys before he went to the junior Technical School and played his first rugby.

“Leaving school, he joined Marsh Hornets and then graduated onto Barrow’s books in 1939.

“The war saw him in the RHA for five years’ service in the Middle East and during his service career he played soccer, rugger and basketball, and holds the last named (sport) in such regard that he has hopes of a league being started in Barrow.

“On demobilisation he rejoined Barrow, but went to Rochdale at the end of the 1945/46 season.

“He found it hard to do justice to the captaincy as he could not train with the rest of the team and saw them only on match days.

“He has been out of action with an injury this season, but hopes to be active again soon.

“Bill has now taken up badminton, playing for St Patrick’s in the second division of the Barrow and District League – he finds it ideal as an aid to keeping fit.”

Bill Oxley eventually returned to Craven Park in late 1948 and made 15 appearances for the first team that season, including an appearance in the 1949 Rugby League Challenge Cup semi-final when Barrow lost 10-0 to Bradford Northern at Station Road, Swinton.

In addition to his first team matches that campaign, Bill also appeared seven times for the A-team, scoring one try.

The 1949/50 season was to prove to be Bill Oxley’s final season in the professional ranks.

By now he was around 30 years old and, after playing eight times in the first team (and five times for the reserves) during that campaign, he decided it was time to hang up his professional rugby league boots.

In his two spells playing for Barrow, Bill scored just one try for the first team.

It came when he touched down on March 23, 1946 against Broughton Rangers in a Northern Rugby League fixture at Craven Park, which Barrow won 21-3.

A healthy crowd of 6,836 saw Bill score that afternoon. His playing days over, Bill concentrated on his growing business as a self-employed builder.

In later years he joined the Barrow board of directors, serving the club from the 1960s until his untimely death in 1985.

A one-time chairman of the Barrow club, Bill became a well-respected administrator locally, nationally and internationally and in the early 1980s was elected to the prestigious position of chairman of the Rugby Football League Council, a position he held for 12 months.

Prior to that he had been the Great Britain team manager in charge of the team that journeyed Down Under for the Australasian leg of the 1975 World Cup competition (which was played in two sections, one in the southern and one in the northern hemisphere).

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