Champions Oakwood dedicate title success to former player

Ric Blank has dedicated Oakwood A’s MGBSFL Premier Division title success to former player Rob Davidson.


Joint-manager Blank, who runs the Oakwood team alongside Dan Kristall, and recently announced that he was stepping down, celebrated the triumph on Sunday after Hendon United handed them the title by beating Redbridge Jewish Care.

“On a personal level Sunday was the most wonderful day - and Oakwood didn't even play," Blank told JC Sport.

“I’d truly given up the ghost in recent weeks given our fate was in Redbridge’s hands. They’ve got such good players I truly expected them to beat Hendon. It was nice to be proven wrong.

“Credit to Hendon for a tremendous victory. Hadley has been a lucky ground for us recently - we've won our last three games against Hendon there - and so it proved again.”

Oakwood finished their league campaign more than a month ago – with a 6-3 win over Maccabi Lions A – their 14th success of the season. But they faced what Blank described a “tortuous” wait as Redbridge still had three matches to play, as well as the Cyril Anekstein Cup final. After losing the final to Lions, Redbridge then had to win their final two matches. They beat last season’s champions North London Raiders A, but were left shattered after seeing a 3-2 lead slip against Hendon in the closing stages.

“Following the game on WhatsApp/Instagram was absolute torture,” said Blank. “I was hideous to be around. More so than normal. My heart was pounding. When it was over I was overcome with emotion.  

“My mind immediately took me back to the early days in Division Three and victories and defeats I've been part of as a player and a manager.

“Messages flooded in from all over and I'm incredibly grateful to everyone who has wished me and the team well.

“There were some wonderful touches of class from other teams such as Lions, South Manchester and Raiders to which I’m very grateful. It was also great to hear from boys who played for me years ago - who still follow the team’s progress.”

The current crop of Oakwood players has set the standard this season, but Blank was quick to remember a former club favourite.

“I couldn't help but think of Rob Davidson who lost his battle with MND before new year,” he said. “Rob would absolutely have loved to have been part of it all - the celebrations, the drinks, the songs - and we dedicate this title to his memory.

“He’d be immensely proud that we are officially the best of all the Jews in all the land.

“It’s a fairytale ending for me - one I never expected. I was already looking forward to retirement. Now I do so a champion.”

Having won led Leeds Maccabi to the MJSL title two seasons ago, Dan Kristall described Oakwood’s victory as “a glorious day”. He said: “It was a roller-coaster morning with live instagram streaming from Dean Caplin, just amazing.

“We’re absolutely buzzing to have won the title. Though we deserve it - it was a little unexpected given that Redbridge beat Hendon 6-0 a few weeks ago. We weren't expected the drama to unfold as it did.

“We take our hats off to Hendon for doing us a favour but in the end maybe the pressure of the games in hand understandably caught up with Redbridge.

“Redbridge have a great squad and will be disappointed to end the season without a trophy given the talent at their disposal. We have no doubt they’ll be challenging for major honours next season.”

Kristall believes Oakwood’s success was fully deserved. He went on to say: “We didn’t win the title just because Redbridge slipped up. We won the title because from December onwards following our shock Morrison exit, we really kicked on.

“We won almost every match since and squad availability from that week onwards was superb.

“We had 16-18 players knocking on our door each week and every single player played their part in this achievement.”

Kristall insists the title came down to fine margins, with every member of the squad playing their part. “It was a team effort,” he said. “Whether it was Lee Warner scoring a corner with 5 minutes to go against Woodford or Quinny coming off the bench to score the winner against Brady in the last minute, the goals were spread throughout the team and our defensive record speaks for itself.

“The key though were the two wins in a week - both at Hadley - against a previously unbeaten Hendon. Leor Sidle's 91st minute winner in the second fixture gave us the belief that this was our year. “The 'title decider' at Redbridge was ruined in part by the wind and although Redbridge were certainly happier with their point that day, we knew it could be a big draw for us come May - which it proved to be. 

“Overall we feel we have the most complete squad and have been vindicated by the league table. We know though there is room for improvement and plans are already afoot for next season.

“We know Redbridge especially will come back strong - so we have to be ready to go again in September if we want to repeat our success. “We have already challenged the boys to win it again - and they are up for it.”

Paying tribute to the outgoing Blank, Kristall added: “Finally, I just wanted to put on record our thanks to Ric. What a way to go out. He deserves this more than anyone for his incredible devotion to this club over the last decade.”

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