Members of the Oxfordshire and wider football communities have been paying tribute to Mickey Lewis, ex-player and coach for Oxford United and coach of 18 years for OUAFC, who died on 5th March.
Mickey’s tragic death at the age of 56, after a short battle with cancer, has shocked and saddened clubs and individuals from across the football pyramid, including many of the thousands of young players he coached both within Oxford University and elsewhere in the city.
His contribution to football in Oxfordshire is immeasurable, and nothing short of legendary. Mickey readily took on backroom roles as diverse as caretaker manager, stand-in physio, and occasional coach driver on top of his playing duties at professional club Oxford United. Later, he devoted himself to working as a youth coach at United, as well as with semi-pro side Oxford City (where he led the Velocity Football programme) and OUAFC, whom he guided to one of their most successful periods ever.
Speaking to Cherwell, current Blues Captain Ben Putland described Mickey as “an incredibly kind, generous, and funny man who taught us much more than football” and “a lifelong friend to hundreds of Blues, past and present”.
OUAFC hopes to celebrate Mickey’s life and achievements with a number of commemorative events over the next year and beyond, while a GoFundMe has been set up in Mickey’s memory alongside several of his other clubs, with the aim of supporting wife Suzanne and son Zach, whom Mickey leaves behind.
Suzanne and Zach Lewis made the following statement following Mickey’s death: “It is with deep sadness that we have to tell you our beloved Micky has lost his short battle with cancer.
“Micky fought with typical bravery and tenacity having been diagnosed only two weeks ago with a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer.
“As we all know Micky loved football, loved people and loved life and we will miss him so very much.
“We would appreciate some privacy right now but will announce any details in due course because we know how loved Micky was.”
As a player, Mickey Lewis spent his early years at West Brom and Derby County, before moving to Oxford United, where, between 1988 and 2000, he would go on to make over 350 appearances and become a fan favourite – earning the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ with his tenacious midfield performances.
Despite officially retiring from playing in 1996, Mickey returned to the pitch for the ‘U’s during a short period in the 1999-2000 season, on account of an injury crisis in the first-team squad.
Between 1996 and 2015, he had spells as the club’s youth-team coach, assistant manager, and caretaker manager (twice), while additionally lending his hand when necessary to odd jobs such as driving the team bus and deputising for the club physio – in short, Mickey became a much-loved, much-valued part of the furniture in the club’s backroom. He also spent time working in a coaching capacity at Oxford City F.C. and Banbury United, as well as several other professional and semi-professional clubs outside Oxfordshire.
Mickey joined OUAFC in 2002 and inspired the Blues to a hat-trick of Varsity wins in his first three years as coach. In the period since, Mickey’s side were only beaten over 90 minutes on three occasions, and won four of the five most recent Varsity clashes. Sustained success was also found under his guidance in the BUCS league system and the Brookes Varsity series, while the annual ‘Old Boys’ game offered a chance for OUAFC alumni to return and catch up with Mickey, a “highlight” for many former Blues, according to the club.
Putland told Cherwell: “Mickey coached us like he would coach any of his professional sides. He was passionate about bringing the professional experience to all tiers of the game and to players of all backgrounds and characters.
“It didn’t matter what level you played; everyone got the same treatment and we loved being given that opportunity.
“His unwavering dedication, enthusiasm, and endless positivity drove the Blues’ ambitious and determined culture. Yet, he had a brilliant ability to always maintain a light and fun atmosphere, often filled with his contagious laughter. We enjoyed every session, and a huge part of the enjoyment was down to Mickey’s character and company.
“We feel very lucky to have known him, and he’ll be sorely missed. We’re sending all our love to Suzanne, Zach, and family.”
Players from across Mickey’s 18-year tenure at OUAFC came together to send their messages of love, support, and thanks shortly after his diagnosis. The club will dedicate the annual ‘Old Boys’ game to Mickey, while plans are also being made to honour him at this year’s Varsity match.
Two former Blues gave Cherwell the following statements in tribute to Mickey and his work with OUAFC:
Leo Ackerman (Blues Captain 2018-19): “I remember the first time Mickey and I sat down to discuss our plans for the 2018/19 season.
“I walked into the Costa Coffee on the Banbury Road, full of nerves, fumbling through my pockets to make sure I had enough change to purchase a coffee for Mickey. I spotted him, shook his hand nervously, and asked what he wanted to drink. ‘Large triple latte mate, with an extra shot’. It was 5.30pm.
“I went up, grabbed the coffee, and sat back down, leather notebook in my sweaty palms, ready to share my rudimentary tactical ideas with a man who had played and managed in the game for over thirty years.
“He saw the anxiety and lack of confidence in my eyes. He must have, because he grasped his rocket fuel in his right hand, flashed his eyes open wide, curved a slight but unmistakeable smile at me, and said: ‘don’t be nervous, son. Be your own man and everything is going to be fine’.
“We might have been pretty rubbish that season, but those words still soothe and strengthen me every day. Mickey has motivated, inspired, and guided generations of OUAFC players just like me.
“There have and will be in years to come better fathers, brothers, and sons, because of his legacy. Boys that came to university and left having learnt to be their own men.
“We will always be grateful for everything that he did for us.”
Leon Farr (Blues Captain 2010-11): “Mickey was more than a football coach to hundreds of players who worked with him across his two decades of service to OUAFC.
“As a coach, he was an incredible communicator, motivator and tactician. Passionate, intelligent, with an instinctive ability to get the best out of every player. Mickey enjoyed a successful career as a top-level professional player and coach, but he never patronised OUAFC. He took his role at the club seriously, but never too seriously, and his training sessions were relentlessly fun.
“His energy and enthusiasm were legendary and I’m still laughing at his training ground gags 10 years later. We would have run through a brick wall for him.
“Off the pitch, Mickey was the same as he was on it. Funny, kind-hearted, and generous with his time – a man who loved his family and his job.
“Mickey would often say: ‘Don’t let the game pass you by!’ and for me it summed him up perfectly. He never did let life pass him by, and I feel so lucky to have known him. I’ll miss him terribly.”
Special thanks to Ben Putland for his contribution to this article.
Image credits: Oxford University Association Football Club
Mickey Lewis Memorial Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mickey-lewis-memorial-fund-official