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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seventy Years of Supporting QPR: A Long-Time QPR Supporter Remembers


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Long-time Supporter, "Gramps"), offers some memories of QPR over the years. Profound thanks to Gramps for sharing these memories


It has been quietly suggested to me that, as one of somewhat advanced years, I might perhaps write in this forum about some of my memories of the old days (in my book the good old days). Happy to do what I can to oblige but I have to say that with extremely few exceptions I really don't remember too much about individual matches. Something to do with the correlation between age and memory!

I do remember a bit about some of the players from 50-60 years ago, however, if you can bear to read my ramblings and a certain degree of personal bias towards some of my all time favourites. Of course it's a bit like a boring programme on TV; if you don't like it then turn it off. You have, of course, the same option on these boards.

Anyway, if it meets with general approval then I will do my best to dredge out the memory banks for as long as I am able - hopefully in some sort of chronological order. It's at times such as this that I regret not being a hoarder of memorabilia because that would have helped enormously. I got up into the loft this afternoon and opened a suitcase to see if I had any old photos; that was a major task in itself (getting into the loft I mean, not opening the suitcase) what with the old arthritics playing up. I was confronted with thousands of photos which I have been intending to put into albums for the past forty plus years and immediately decided to do it later in the hope that some may feature QPR although I doubt it. Perhaps will leave it another forty years.

I digress and for that I apologise. Anyway, if you think this is a reasonable and acceptable idea then I will get the old thinking cap on. If not, please do not hesitate to say so. You will find that I am not easily offended.

One final point here. I do hope that, whatever my ramblings may reveal, all and sundry will feel free to comment, criticise (constructively), add to or ask questions.

In The Beginning

My father was a fan of Rs since he saw his first game in about 1918 or 1919 (Southern League?). He was taken by my grandfather who almost certainly saw his first game at the end of the 19th century - and possibly was even there in the St. Jude's days so my family QPR history goes back a long way. Sadly, my kids have absolutely no interest at all although I have nephews who follow the club.

I went to my first game with my father in 1939. To be honest, I can't really recount much about it other than being handed down over people's heads to the very front so I could see the game - even though I had not a clue of what was going on. I seem to remember that in those days the chant was 'Come on the R's' as opposed to the present 'Come on you R's' (bit of totally useless info for you there). Anyway, Dad had decided that at three years of age I was eminently at the age of football maturity and the time of my QPR indoctrination had arrived. Times were financially hard then and I guess he had to consider carefully the cost of an extra one going to a match when his wages were about £2 a week! In many respects times were a lot easier and I suspect that he may not even have been charged for a little boy almost in arms but rather nodded through at the turnstiles.

By a process of elimination I am fairly sure that this would have been the game against Torquay United on 25th February 1939 which was a 1-1 draw with our goal being scored by one Harry Lowe, an inside right who played some 250 games for the club and scored 51 goals. This trip would have been my birthday (21st February) present or part of it.
At the end of the season we were 6th in Division Three South then everything went pear shaped with the outbreak of World War Two.

I have no clear recollection of other games that I may have attended in that year and I am not even going to hazard a guess - my brain aches already!

After The War

Unfortunately my early years as a QPR supporter were put on hold during the war. Although I was born in Hammersmith Hospital and we lived in Shepherd’s Bush initially, we moved to Kentish Town in North West London prior to the outbreak of hostilities. There was no way my mother was going to take me across London to see a game and I was certainly not of an age where I could go on my own. We were evacuated in 1940 but I had to come home for hospital treatment following a very serious car accident which nearly cost me my life. That was pretty well my time from 1940 to 1946 taken up.

Football, of course, continued during those years, albeit on something of an ad hoc basis with many players turning out whilst in the army. Not least of these was one of my favourite all time QPR characters in every sense of the word. I wonder how many people remember Arthur Jefferson who was a regular during the war years? Jeff played at left back and my best memories of him were from 1946 on when league football as we (almost) know it recommenced. Jeff was like a tiger at the back; it cannot be said that there was any finesse about his play but if the ball came anywhere near our penalty area this stocky, bald-headed figure would belt it as hard as he could up to the other end. My good school friend Bill Cook and I – we really were best mates until his premature death – always longed to see Jeff boot the ball over the Ellerslie Road stand, which he did almost without fail in most matches. It rather became a matter of pride that he should achieve this. He was also always happy to head the ball away without hesitation when necessary. Anybody who, like me, played football in the 40s/50s will recall that the balls were made of leather and had a big lace which had to be tied up after inflating the ball. If it was soaking wet (leather absorbs water!) and your head made contact with that lace coming from a great height at speed, the pain was excruciating.

Jeff was always the muddiest player to come off the pitch. It seemed that even on the hottest and driest of summer days he would be covered in mud by the end of the game. If it was raining, apart from his bald pate he would be plastered head to toe in mud and virtually unidentifiable after ninety minutes. Those of us who can go back any distance will remember that it didn’t take too much to make our pitch a quagmire and Jeff loved sliding on his back (or front) in it. I have often wondered what the other players thought after the game in those days of communal baths. If Jeff got in first there was a danger of coming out dirtier than when you went in!

One final word about Jeff. The number three shirt was his for something in excess of 360 games and in all that time he scored just one goal. I was at that game in 1949 when we beat Bury 3-1 in Division two with an attendance of some 20,000 – not particularly high at that time. I don’t clearly remember how the goal was scored (I have vague memories that it might have been a penalty) but I do remember the crowd erupting more than usual because everybody’s favourite had actually put one in the net after 13 years of faithful service; not sure that anybody was more surprised or delighted than Jeff himself.

Talking of mud, the South Africa Road terraces had very rough steps leading down to the gate and more often than not it would be quicker to get out by sliding down the mud banks either side but you did so at your peril if it was raining. There were also, as I recall, some old, very smelly toilets with a corrugated iron roof which leaked incessantly.

Still in the 40s

A good opportunity to bore you a bit more with some of my favourite players in these early days, starting with goalkeeper Reg Allen.

If I really had to pick my all time best QPR ‘keeper it would be extremely difficult as we have been so lucky over the years in this position. Names like Phil Parkes, David Seaman and Ron Springett all come to mind, all of whom played for England. No slouches between the sticks were Ron Springett’s brother Peter who joined us from Sheffield Wednesday in part exchange for Ron who moved the other way, Scottish ‘keeper Stan Gullan, Harry Brown and Reg Saphin. I was lucky enough to see all of them but Reg Allen always stood out for me. So much is known about him and shown elsewhere on these boards that I will not dwell on him other than to say that he was totally fearless and would not hesitate to dive head first at the feet of an attacker when necessary. He was a spectacular custodian and even when an opposing forward was running towards goal in the clear there was always a better than even chance that Reg would prevent a goal being scored. Arguably one of the very best goalkeepers never to get a full England game. Such a great pity that this former Royal Marine Commando’s life was ended in such tragic circumstances, probably as a direct result of his treatment as a prisoner of war.

We had some really good strikers too. Bert Addinall scored 73 goals in 172 games – not a bad ratio by today’s standards. He was not a recognizably skilful ball player – perhaps some would suggest that he was something of a ‘goal hanger’ who always managed to get himself in the right place at the right time. He was never worried about getting knocked off the ball and seemed to shrug off the tough tackles easily. Left foot, right foot and head all came into play for this old fashioned centre forward. Two important things to remember here are that in those days a hefty shoulder charge against an opposition player was perfectly legitimate – provided of course that he was in possession of the ball – and I have on more than one occasion seen a goalkeeper charged into the net whilst still holding the ball. The other point I would make is that virtually all teams played a standard 2-3-5 formation in those days (for what it’s worth I still think it was better than anything used today) and a centre forward was not expected to move too far back. For all his prolific scoring, I only ever remember Bert getting one hat trick and that was at the beginning of the 1948 season in the second division. I was a 12 year old behind the School End goal right in the front – my mate Bill and I always liked to be close to Reg Allen for at least half the game – and Bert got us off to a great start in our first home game against Leicester City with three beautifully taken goals to give us a 4-1 win.

Another prolific scorer in those days was inside left Cyril Hatton who scored a few short of 100 goals in just over 200 games. Cyril was slight of build but quite speedy with a knack of getting himself in the right place at the right time. I have spent a long time desperately trying to think of just when it occurred but I am now pretty sure it was in a match against West Ham towards the end of the 1948/9 season that Cyril scored one of the best goals I have ever seen to give us a 2-1 victory. Johnny Hartburn was running down the right wing with the ball at his feet and Cyril was to his left in centre field pointing to a spot where he wanted the ball so he could take it in his stride. He got his wish and smacked it into the net from about 25-30 yards out. I have seldom seen a ball hit harder and the goalkeeper didn’t even have time to move. There was such a look of amazement on Cyril’s face because I don’t think he could believe it himself – gobsmacked does not do it credit! It was the sort of goal that many of us have seen Bobby Charlton score in more recent times but credit had to go to Hartburn because it would likely never have happened without his pinpoint assist. He was a totally reliable winger – not the best the club has ever had but a hard worker who always gave of his best.

A little humour

I shall never forget a ‘game’ at LR when I was still a schoolboy. I cannot be sure just when it was but had to be sometime between 1948 and 1950. The charity match was a week after the season had finished – which was a blessing as will be seen at the end of this report. The teams? Comics United versus Ancient Lights. As the name suggests, Comics United was a team of comedians of that time and show biz people. Players included the likes of Nervo and Knox, Bud Flanagan and ………. can’t remember the others except that their centre forward was a little midget – the guy who used to be in ‘The Morton Frazer Harmonica Gang’. See picture at http://lindak53.webs.com/familyoccupations.htm . The Ancient Lights was a team of retired players and included the former Arsenal Scottish international Alex James who sadly died of Cancer in 1953 at the age of 51. Also in the team were former English international goalkeeper Harry Hibbs, Arsenal forward Cliff Bastin and others who, again, escape my memory. The comics won easily but nobody knew the score as something like thirty or forty goals were scored. At one stage the comics had about fifteen players on the pitch. The midget scored the most goals, several of which went into the net whilst Harry Hibbs was tied with rope to a goalpost. As the game approached its end a tractor appeared on the pitch with a plough behind it and drove the full length, ripping up the hallowed turf (which in those days was more mud than anything). Further play was suspended, the match was abandoned and a good laugh was had by all. An interesting serious byline of all this is that fitness standards in those days were not as exacting as they are today. Bastin was very deaf later in his career and Alex James was well known for his long, baggy shorts which he wore to conceal the ‘long johns’ he had to wear to help keep his legs warm as he had bad arthritis.

Mark Lazarus was always a great character. Mark came from a large Jewish family and his brother was Lew Lazar, a top boxer. He played on the right wing and would always chase the ball, no matter what. I recall an occasion when his shorts were torn and he had taken them off to put on a new pair when the ball was passed to him. He hared off down the wing, shorts in hand, just managing to preserve his dignity. He did something similar on another occasion with only one boot on as the other had come off in a tackle. On another occasion he was standing by the touchline nearest the South Africa Road terrace and a defender was moving closer behind him. Thinking he had not noticed, someone in the crowd shouted “Watch him behind you, Mark.” Quick as a flash, Mark came back with “Watch him? He’s f*****g useless.” (Defender moves away looking sheepish.) That was our Mark – a real character. Now 77, the last I heard was that he was still running a haulage business in the Romford area.

I am grateful to Harlow Ranger for drawing my attention to
http://qprreport.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=general&action=print&thread=5426 in connection with a picture of Arthur Jefferson. Noticed on there a picture of Billy McEwan and Ted Reay in shirts which, although the picture is monochrome, were blue with white collars and sleeves. The club changed to those colours for a few games but there were a lot of complaints from the fans. They asked people over the tannoy to cheer for which shirt they preferred. Hoops - a massive roar. Blue with white collars and sleeves - virtual silence! The next game they went back to the hoops and it has stayed that way ever since.

One or two other snippets to include in this slightly disjointed episode – trivia which has occurred to me as I am writing.

Still on the subject of shirts, I seem to recollect my father telling me that at one time in his youth, Rangers played in red and white hoops. I have no way of knowing if this was true as the old chap tended to get things a bit wrong in his old age. Anybody know anything about this?

It’s probably not common knowledge that Leslie Compton the Middlesex cricket wicket keeper and later Arsenal centre half, played twice for Rs as a guest in 1940, scoring two goals. For a good many years I played lawn bowls at a fairly high level and was pleased on a number of occasions to meet Leslie who was also very good at the game despite having a foot amputated in 1982, two years before his death, as a result of complications to his diabetes condition.

After the war

As I sat deliberating where to take this thread, the name of Alf Parkinson came to me. Alf was a wing half who played at inside forward without a lot of success when he first came to Loftus Road in 1946. He was perhaps best described as ‘steady’ without being spectacular. He stayed with the club until 1951 when he quit football in acrimonious circumstances. A new maximum wage of £20 a week for footballers came in at about that time (Wow! Big money!) but Alf was not offered the new terms so he called it a day and opened up a news-stand outside Mornington Crescent station on the Northern Line. As I worked at the time for the Post Office on the opposite corner I got to know Alf quite well. Sad really but it is just an example of how money was a major issue, even in those days.

1946/7 was about the time that I started attending Rangers games seriously. My father had returned from Burma and we spent many years, not only going to Loftus Road but also, some years after when I had passed my driving test and splashed out £20 for a Standard 8 car, going to away matches. This, however, jumps us prematurely to about 1957 so more about that period (and my limousine!) in a later episode.
This was an era of mild confusion where clubs were looking to consolidating their position, buying players and, I suspect, regretting the departure of some of their wartime guest players back to their own clubs. One of our most important signings at that time was Cyril Hatton, a Notts County player, who had guested for us whilst stationed in London. His transfer fee of £1000 was our first four figure signing and this was followed up by the signing of Fred Durrant. I have spoken about Hatton previously and he and Fred Durrant, along with Bert Addinall, were part of a formidable forward line. In the 46/47 season the club were runners up in Division Three South to Cardiff City but not promoted as at that time it was a one up and one down situation. It was not, however, a close run thing as Cardiff were some nine points clear of us - and that was without Jay Bothroyd!

The following season was outstanding for the club who were champions of the division and achieved promotion to Division Two. Attendances at that time were good and we had several gates in excess of 25,000. There were no major forays into the transfer market and our first season at higher level was far from good and 49/50 was even worse when we narrowly avoided relegation, coming third from bottom of the division. It was during the close season that the club entered the transfer market with something of a vengeance, recognizing that we had to do something to improve the situation. Probably the most devastating transfer for the fans, certainly for me, was that of our great favourite Reg Allen. He went to Manchester United for £11,000 which was a record fee for a goalkeeper at that time. That was indeed big money. Nobody, however, could blame Reg for going as we were not doing well and he obviously wanted to think about his career prospects. Also sold was Frank Neary who went to Millwall. Neary was something of an enigma at centre forward. He did rather lack consistency but for all that scored goals at a rate of something more than one every other game. One game that particularly stands out in my mind is the one against Leeds at home in 1949 which we drew 1-1. Rangers were awarded a penalty which Neary took. “That’s it,” we thought, “no way he will miss a spot kick”. Neary had an immensely powerful shot and many of his goals were scored from a distance. He blasted the ball low towards the right hand corner and the Leeds ‘keeper, Harry Searson, brought off what was in my opinion one of the best penalty saves I have ever seen. He punched the ball onto the inside of the post and caught it on the rebound. Somewhere I have a (not very good) photo of this from behind the goal. Will find it one day!

Anyway, I digress. With the money accumulated the club bought some half a dozen players including wingers Billy Waugh and Ernie Shepherd, Bobby Cameron (inside forward), Lewis Clayton (half back) and full backs John Poppitt and, of course, Tony Ingham about whom I don’t think I need say anything. I think his 555 appearances for the club and subsequent work behind the scenes speaks for itself. All these players gave good service and a particular favourite of mine was Ernie Shepherd, always outstanding on the left wing with a good scoring record.

This was some very astute purchasing on the part of Dave Mangnall and he used the funds he had accumulated to good effect. Worse times were, however, still to come, but more of that later.

A bit more about the Forties and into the Fifties

I am really trying very hard to keep all this in some sort of chronological order but a variety of memories keep coming back so please forgive me if this thread sometimes becomes a bit disjointed and occasionally “non-Rs.”

A few things I have omitted to mention about the latter part of the forties. Foremost of these has to be season 1947/48 when we were promoted and I apologise for not thinking to mention in my last episode our cup run that year. We beat Gillingham (at that time Southern League Champions), Stoke (Div. 1) and Luton (Div. 2) to get into the sixth round where we came up against Derby County who were at that time a First Division club to be much feared. We were drawn at home and the game, played in front of something over 28,000 supporters, was a thriller. Although we were the underdogs going into the match, this was by no means reflected on the pitch. Johnny Hartburn was our scorer in a 1-1 draw. Although we left the ground knowing that we would not have much of a chance in the replay, many of us were quietly hopeful. It was not to be, however, and we were totally destroyed 5-0. I was just twelve years old at the time and I remember sitting at home crying when I heard the result.

In 1949 Rangers signed Tommy Best who was one of the first black footballers to play for a league club. I remember this being headline news in several of the Sunday papers with one or two comments about the colour of his skin which, although innocent enough at the time, would probably have caused offence in later years. He didn’t stay long and only scored something like three goals in a dozen or so games.

Another event was when, having toured Turkey at the end of the decade, Rangers played a home friendly match subsequently against Galatasaray who are now a far more powerful club than they were in those days. I recall that R’s swamped them and, unless my shaky memory is playing me up again, I think we ran out winners 5-0. I wonder if any of our older members saw this game and can fill in any of the details. (My thanks to Bushman who has later advised me that we won 4-1. This game was played on 14th September 1950).

Non-QPR stuff. Two players I have seen play during my lifetime who I admired greatly were Sir Stanley Matthews and Horatio (Raich) Carter.

Matthews is legendary although I don’t recall him ever playing against the Rs. He played his last England game at the age of 42 and put his fitness down to the fact that he was a vegetarian and teetotaler. The records show that his last competitive game was in 1985 when he played a match in Brazil at the age of 70 and tore a cartilage. He later described this in his autobiography as "A promising career cut tragically short." Another interesting point about his career is that in over 700 games he was never booked or sent off – a true gentleman and sportsman. Any football supporter who never saw him play has indeed missed the experience of a lifetime. There is plenty of information about him online for those who care to look it up and I make no apologies for quoting from some of those sources.

I briefly mention Raich Carter simply because I did have the privilege of seeing him play against us for Hull City on a few occasions and he invariably tied our defence up in knots. He was an England regular in the forties and the amazing thing about him is that he seldom seemed to run anywhere. He just strolled but had an amazing knack of being in just the right position at the right time. Truly a great player in my book.

As I have already mentioned, the season 1949/50 was not a very good one for us and we ended up third from the bottom of Division Two. New players had been bought to strengthen the squad but the team didn’t get their act together straight away. The following season saw no great changes in personnel and we finished in a slightly more comfortable position at seventh from last with 71 goals in the ‘for’ column which was more than four of the top six clubs that season. Unfortunately the defence ‘leaked’ 82 goals. 48 of our goals scored came from just three players, Bert Addinall, Cyril Hatton and winger Ernie Shepherd. Due to three wins in our last four games, there was every reason to hope that things were looking up.

Season 51/52 started with a home win against West Ham followed by two draws then at one stage towards the end of the year we went something like 13 games with only one win, a few draws but mostly defeats. The season became a total nightmare and we lost games which, on paper, were certain wins – so much for paper! For all this, my father and I continued to go to all the home games, often setting out muttering things like “I don’t know why we bother”. To say that morale was low would be a gross understatement. The final nightmare scenario was that we ended up bottom of the division with just 34 points; one additional win during the year would possibly have saved us as we were only two points short of staying up. This was at a time when it was two points for a win and one for a draw. So we were relegated back to Division Three South after only four years – welcome home!

Onwards but not necessarily upwards…….

So here we are again, in 1952 and back in the Third Division South following a brief excursion into the upper echelons. Ever the optimists, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was bound to be a much easier time for us and that we would bounce back up ………………. wouldn’t we? Dave Mangnall, our manager for something like eight years had been a good servant to the club both in that capacity and previously as a centre forward scoring 99 goals in about 130 games; (I think we could do with a striker of that calibre now). He decided that it was time to retire and was replaced by Jack Taylor who came to us from Weymouth where he had been player-manager. He made some shrewd purchases, mainly from the north of the country (he was a Yorkshireman – well, somebody has to be, I suppose!) and also from non-league clubs but these did not have any real impact on our results.

We started dreadfully, only drawing three and losing two of our first five games of the season. It was at the end of this season (1953) that we said farewell to two of our particularly faithful club servants. Bert Addinall (8 years) and Cyril Hatton (11 years) departed for pastures new. Both were in their 30s and were losing their goal touch although during their service with us they had scored in the region of 170 goals for the club between them. Following this bad start it was hoped that four wins in six games would change our fortunes but this was not to be and performances and results were abysmal, winning only 12 games out of 46 and finishing fifth from the bottom of the division. Attendances were dropping rapidly and matters were not helped by a first round defeat in the FA cup to Shrewsbury Town after two 2-2 draws (the second one after extra time) and a 4-1 defeat on a neutral ground (Villa Park). As a matter of interest, Shrewsbury finished below us in the division.

I should point out that in those days there was no fourth division but two third divisions, one for the north and one for the south. Therefore there was no relegation but the bottom teams in each of these divisions were, theoretically, thrown out of the League and had to seek re-election. This was voted on by all the League clubs and it was rare for such re-election not to be granted despite the fact that Walsall for three consecutive years were bottom twice and one up from bottom once. It was not until 1958 that the two third divisions were amalgamated and a fourth division formed which meant, of course, far more match travelling for every team in the lower echelons (and their supporters). The transition was made by the bottom twelve teams from the two third divisions being ‘relegated’ to form the new fourth division. Take it from me that season 1957/58 was great fun – but more of that in a later episode.

If I may scroll back a little, it was in 1951 that we signed Conway Smith, an inside forward, from Huddersfield Town. Conway was one of Dave Magnall’s most shrewd signings in my opinion. He did not have the best of ball skills but he did possess one of the most powerful shots I have seen in football. He would have a go at goal as soon as the ball was at his feet and scored in his first three matches for us. In the five years he spent with QPR he was top scorer every season and on his departure to Halifax Town had scored 83 league and cup goals in 181 matches. I well remember on one occasion Conway hit the ball so hard from relatively close in that the sheer power almost took the goalkeeper into the net with it!

The beginning of season 53/54 saw us as the first West London club to install floodlights which were officially turned on at a friendly match with Arsenal. I was there but have no recollection of the score. There were two notable transfers in – those of Peter Angell and George Petchey who both went on to play many times for the club. As I recall, both Angell and Petchey started in the forward line but developed into very good wing-halves. Angell went on to play more than 450 games for the club and Petchey more than 200. For some reason a decision was made to change the team strip and games were played in white shirts and blue shorts. I am not sure how long those colours remained because in January of 1994 I joined the R.A.F. and was shipped off to Germany in double quick time, where I spent the next two and a half years. All I know is that when I came back at the end of 1956 the hoops were back – thank goodness. My observations on these years, therefore, are taken more from the archives than personal experience. Football news in those days usually came a bit late for those of us stationed outside this country. There was no British TV outside the UK; satellite had not, of course come into being so we just got basic results over the British Forces Network and precious little else other than word of mouth (much of which turned out to be ‘wind-ups’ from mates).

One good thing about this season was that by coincidence we were destined again to play Shrewsbury in the first round of the F.A. Cup. This time R’s won at their first attempt by 2-0. In the second round we drew 1-1 at home to Nuneaton Borough then won the replay 2-1 only to go out at home in round three 0-1 to Port Vale. There was little improvement in performances in the league and we ended up eighteenth of 24 clubs in the division thanks mainly to winning four of our last five games.

Things are looking better (but not much)

Reverting back just a little (well, I did warn you that I keep getting these flashes of memory about things I have forgotten) I didn't mention that in 1952 I went to work for Dunn's the hatters (no rude jokes about hatters please). To my great delight I found out that one of the joint Managing Directors - a guy named Fretten - was on the QPR board. "Great," I thought, "perhaps I can talk football with him and maybe tap him up for a free ticket." In my dreams! Miserable sod didn't want to know. Perhaps something to do with him being a Managing Director and me a glorified office boy on £2. 5s. 0d. a week (for you kids that's £2.25.) Hey ho, it was worth a try.

So we come to season 1954/55 where I am a long(ish) distance supporter in Germany on an R.A.F. station and can only go by what I read in the papers (usually a couple of days late) and what I have heard on the radio. This does not distress me overmuch because it's rather a case of "same old, same old" although this is something we learned to live with over the years. Have you ever noticed that the Rs can be a really frustrating side at times? The season started really well with us being unbeaten in the first seven games (4 draws and 3 wins) - the best start for a couple of years. "What happened then?" you ask. Three away games, three defeats, scored one and six against us. Then another six games without a defeat (4 wins, 2 draws) and another slump. Nobody in those days could accuse us of being consistent! This was pretty much the pattern for the rest of the season but, as my headline suggests, things had looked up; we were tenth from the bottom rather than seventh as we were in the previous season! Once again we had quite a good goal tally but were let down by the defence. An interesting observation when we are thinking at present about how important a good defence will be to us next season.

The records tell me that we had a guy (Scottish, I think) named Willie Clark playing for us for just two seasons at about that time. He had gone by the time I was demobbed. He was only 22 when he joined the club, played 97 games and scored 32 goals so he would appear to have been fairly useful. I personally have no recollection of him at all and wonder, if he was scoring at that rate at a fairly tender age, why he left us. My first thought was that, as a Scot, he probably wanted to go back north of the border but my research tells me that he transferred to Berwick Rangers, scored 6 goals in 20 games as centre forward then was transferred to Cheltenham Town where he disappeared into obscurity. In his first season with us he was top scorer. There must be a story there somewhere but I doubt we shall ever know.

This season, however, we did have one really bad humiliation. We were drawn in the first round of the FA Cup against the Isthmian League's Walthamstow Avenue, drew at home 2-2, drew in the replay 2-2 then at a neutral ground (Highbury) we were thrashed 4-0. To be fair, though, it has to be pointed out that Walthamstow had played Manchester United at Old Trafford a couple of years previously and drawn 1-1 but lost the replay at Highbury 5-2. At that time they were the Isthmian League champions - a title they won many times in their history.

So we move on to season 1955/56, looking to maintain the minimal (very) improvement we had made last year. This was the season when three Rugby League matches were played at Loftus Road in an attempt to bring the northern game into the south but the experiment was a failure and very short lived. The one success (although hardly a major one) was the reserves winning the London Challenge Cup. At the beginning of the season a few players were transferred in but none of them were to hit the headlines. The major departure from the club was half back Brian Nicholas who was snapped up by Chelsea. Nicholas was a good, steady player who had been with us for six years. He only stayed at Stamford Bridge for a couple of years and did not shine there, eventually moving to Coventry City and obscurity.

A poor start to the season with only three wins in the first 21 games. It was very mediocre for the rest of the season and we had our best and worst games in succession to each other. We first lost 7-1 away to Leyton Orient then the following week at home beat Colchester 6-2. However, there was a feeling of deja vu because we once again finished seventh from bottom. Our FA Cup form was, at least, consistent in that we once again lost in the first round 2-0 away to Southend United. Top scorer was Conway Smith with 19 goals from 37 games.

The good news ....... at last I was a civilian again!

Progress at last

After the traumas of the previous year, things at last started to look up in season 1956/57. I'd like to think that was because I was now in a position to start going to games again and the team were inspired by my presence, but somehow I don't think that was the case. Our start was mediocre but at least we had four wins and two draws in our opening eight games which was somewhat better than in previous seasons. There was nothing particularly spectacular about the season as I recall other than (on the minus side) us going something like five games towards the end and not scoring a single goal. Be that as it may, we did end up in a better position in that we were tenth in the table; another two points during the year would have put us in seventh.

As I have already mentioned, 1957/58 was a vital season for every club in the two third divisions. A decision had been made to end the regionalisation of the Third Divisions and reorganise the clubs into a third and fourth division. It was therefore decided that the clubs in the bottom half of each third division at the end of the season would form the new fourth division. For some years thereafter four clubs were promoted/relegated between these two. Bearing in mind our recent dubious record this was indeed a worrying season as we had to finish in the top twelve to avoid plunging into the depths.

Rangers went into the transfer market, buying five players (mainly from non-league clubs) to 'strengthen' the squad. Many of us felt, and were later proved right, that none of these signings would come to much. In 46 games played these five players between them appeared in a total of 38 and all had departed within two years.

The season started well with maximum points coming from our first two games. Our third game was against Southend United and we went down spectacularly by 0-6! In the following nine games we were beaten 5-0 by both Southampton and Millwall. After fourteen games we had accumulated just 13 points and things were not looking good. Fortunately our fortunes changed and we won five of our next six games although that was followed up by no less that six consecutive draws. So the rest of the season was one of ups and downs until, thank goodness, at the end we were in tenth position (as we were the previous year), just scraping into the new third division by two places. Our top scorer was Arthur Longbottom (who later changed his name by deed poll to Langley) with 17 (from 40 games) supported by Les Locke who netted 13 from just 22 games. In the FA Cup we drew with Clapton 1-1 in the first round, winning the replay 3-1, only to go out in round two to Hereford United by 1-6 (oh dear!).

The first season of the new third division was again one of mediocrity for Rangers and after a mixed bag of results we ended up in the bottom half, 13th of 24 teams. Once again, for the third consecutive campaign, Arthur Longbottom was our top scorer with 20 goals. Our goalkeeper was Ray Drinkwater who took over the position from Ron Springett who had departed to Sheffield Wednesday towards the end of the previous season. It was in 1958 that we also signed winger Clive Clark from Leeds. Clive was subsequently to play a big role against us in 1967 but that will come in a later episode (even though I am probably 'preaching to the converted' here).

Some more out of sequence flashes back to the past. In the mid-60s I served some time in the Territorial Army. One year we were fortunate enough to go to Cyprus for our annual camp. Altogether we had quite an easy time of it. Due to the heat we started work at 6 am and went through to about 1 pm after which our time was our own. We found out whilst over there that Cardiff City were playing a pre-season friendly against a local club in the south of the island so decided to go along. The seating in the ground was hard benches and I remember seeing the Cardiff guys arriving (including John Toshack). They took one look at the pitch and there were clearly heard comments all revolving round things like "W.T.F." There was not one single blade of grass to be found. The whole of the pitch was hard baked dust. The Cardiff guys all came out in track suit trousers, doubtless aware that there was a distinct possibility of serious injury. Can't remember the score but the delight of the Cardiff players was obvious when they heard about 30 squaddies cheering them on. (Yes I know it was Cardiff but I was hardly going to cheer the Cyprus team was I?).

Also in the mid 60s I recall the occasion when I was attending a Ladies' Festival in Poole. Prior to the dinner, several of us were sitting in a large jacuzzi talking about football and I was boasting about being a supporter of Rs. One of the guys said "Oh, I play for QPR". "Really," I said, "Who are you?". He said "Bobby Keetch“ then I realised it really was him. I got out of it by apologizing and explaining that my eyesight was not too good without my glasses (who wears glasses in a sauna). Almost said that I didn't recognise him without his clothes on but bit my tongue in time!

Before I close this episode, I have another memory I would like to share, jogged out of me by a recent thread. Thank goodness we don't have the problems now but there was a time very many years ago when we had regular and serious crowd trouble. Unless you were looking for a punch-up the game to avoid was against Millwall both home and away where there was a long running "war". Although I didn't see it myself, I remember my father telling me of a time in the dark ages when a referee had made a decision at Loftus Road which was not popular with the Millwall team or supporters. After the game a group of Millwall fans managed to get hold of a large plank which they used as a battering ram and smashed in the window of the referee's dressing room. He survived and a number of arrests were made by the police.

To be Continued!

Originally posted on the QPR Report Messageboard

The author, "Gramps"


M Clark said...

Hi Gramps,

Regarding your paragraph:

"The records tell me that we had a guy (Scottish, I think) named Willie Clark playing for us for just two seasons at about that time. He had gone by the time I was demobbed. He was only 22 when he joined the club, played 97 games and scored 32 goals so he would appear to have been fairly useful. I personally have no recollection of him at all and wonder, if he was scoring at that rate at a fairly tender age, why he left us. My first thought was that, as a Scot, he probably wanted to go back north of the border but my research tells me that he transferred to Berwick Rangers, scored 6 goals in 20 games as centre forward then was transferred to Cheltenham Town where he disappeared into obscurity. In his first season with us he was top scorer. There must be a story there somewhere but I doubt we shall ever know"

I can elaborate for you.....

Willie Clark was my father. Sadly he passed away in 2006 from Alzheimers Disease. He was indeed Scottish, born and bred in Larkhall, Lanarkshire. He joined QPR from Petershill in Scotland.

It is true that he had a pretty decent record for a 22yr old at Rangers. He returned to Scotland as his father, a miner, had a work accident and broke his back. He returned to help his mother whilst his father recovered, playing for Berwick Rangers.

He then moved down to Cheltenham town and around various Southern League teams before becoming a Waste Paper Merchant.

He was a close friend of ex-Rangers gaolkeeper, Dave Underwood and through Dave a friend of Johnny Haynes and Barry Fry amongst others. He regularly turnod out for the GoalDiggers charity team sometime alongside Bobby Moore, Jimmy Hill and Tommy Steele.

He loved his time at Rangers and indeed kept in touch with people at the club up to the 1980's.
We took him along to a game for his 70th birthday as his illness was starting to take hold.

Martin Clark

John said...

Many thanks indeed for that, Martin. Very useful information indeed. Not sure if it is going to be possible without a major reshuffle but as soon as I get time I will look into inserting that in my book "QPR - The Old Days" for future reprints.

Very best wishes and thank you again.