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Club News

50 Years On: The Arrival Of Alan Groves

18 February 2024

Club News

50 Years On: The Arrival Of Alan Groves

18 February 2024

A player steeped in mystique, and one of our greatest non-top flight players of all time, Alan Groves joined Latics on this day, 50 years ago.

Alan arrived at Boundary Park at a pivotal time in what proved to be the championship-winning season of 1973/74.

Managed by Jimmy Frizzell, Latics were on a five-game winning run in the league, but still sat eight points behind Third Division leaders Bristol Rovers, with three games in hand.

At a time of two points for a win, it left Latics with an unlikely chance of clinching the title, but the events of the following weeks would soon change that.

Making his debut away at Aldershot, he followed up Maurice Whittle’s penalty with a side-footed shot past the Shots ‘keeper, in front of 9,145 fans.

Labelled as potentially being ‘one of the bargain signings of the season’ after just one match, he’d introduced himself to the fans at Boundary Park in quite some style.

Groves had arrived at Latics from Bournemouth and was later described by his former team-mate, Harry Redknapp, as “the greatest footballer never to have played for England.”

The two had played together on the south coast for a couple of seasons as Redknapp was heading towards the end of his playing career, while Groves was about to reach his peak.

Groves proved that his Oldham debut was no fluke a week later in the next match for Frizzell’s side. With Latics and Blackburn locked in a stalemate, Groves cut in from the wing, and unleashed a powerful shot with his left foot, to win the match with two minutes on the clock.

“Just priceless” that goal was described as after the match - a quote which also represents his three years in a blue shirt.

Alan Groves Debut Goal.jpg

Alan got the fifth in Latics’ 6-1 demolition of Cambridge the following Tuesday, leaving Oldham just five points off Bristol Rovers, with three games to spare.

The wins continued, for the most part, for the rest of the season, with Groves playing a pivotal part, before Latics wrapped the title up away at Plymouth on 3 May 1974.

It was a step up for Latics, and a step up for Alan - he’d not played in the Second Division before, but he made it look so easy.

In a league which included newly-relegated Manchester United, Athletic were tipped for an immediate return to the Third Division, but Frizzell and Co defied the odds, finishing in a respectable 18th place. 

17th followed in 1975/76, with Groves continuing to work his magic, also netting four goals from the wing as he played 40 of Latics’ 46 league matches.

In his final full season at Latics, Frizzell’s side faced Liverpool in the FA Cup.

With the Reds a goal up, Groves goaded legendary full-back, Phil Neal into chasing him down as he cut inside, opening up room for him to slip David Shaw through, who beat Ray Clemence with a low, driven shot into the bottom corner.

After 153 appearances for Latics, Groves moved on to pastures new, with Blackpool beating Hull City - managed by former Latics player and coach, Bobby Collins - to his signature, paying a fee of £35,000.

Alan Groves Legends Lounge.jpg

Tragically, Alan’s life was cut short less than a year after leaving Boundary Park. He passed away after being found unresponsive at his home in Royton, having stayed up to watch a World Cup match between Argentina and Poland. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

As Redknapp described in his autobiography: “This boy could have been one of the greatest players ever. He was a great big lad, a left winger, with skill, strength and pace like no other player I’ve seen in my life.”

Alan is still remembered at Boundary Park, his image featuring alongside 12 other Latics greats in the Legends Lounge inside the Main Stand.

He passed away aged just 29.

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