DAVE Langan was part of Oxford United’s most successful side – but without Jim Smith he believes he would have been forced into retirement before any of it happened.

The Irishman was signed by the Bald Eagle for Birmingham City in 1980, but serious knee and back injuries had left him on the sidelines for 18 months.

Langan thinks his time as a professional would never have been revived if Smith had not offered him a chance with the U’s.

He said: “I had been out of the game for so long, but Jim phoned me up and said ‘do you want to come to Oxford for a trial?’.

“Other than him I don’t think anyone would touch me.

“He knew me because he had signed me before and knew what I was like.

“It went well and he was the same guy as ever.

“I absolutely loved playing for him, they were the best days of my life.”

Langan seized his chance to impress and the decision to hand the right back a contract proved a wise one, as he barely missed a game in the next three seasons.

It included the Second Division title in 1984/85, followed by the club’s greatest day – the Milk Cup final win at Wembley 12 months later.

The latter achievement came with Smith on the opposition bench, having moved to Queens Park Rangers in 1985.

Despite the disappointment his side had lost 3-0, what happened next was a mark of his character.

“The thing about him was he was such a genuine man,” Langan said.

“Even though we won, he came into the dressing room and said well done, I’m really pleased for you.

“He was a wonderful man, the most passionate manager I ever played for and the best man manager.

“He was very blunt and in your face and there were so many rows in the dressing room, but after the game he would buy you a drink.”

Even 25 years later, at Langan’s testimonial in 2011, the affection was as strong as ever.

He said: “Jim turned up and started telling people off and joking around.

“Every time you saw him he would give you a big hug. It’s very sad.”