WHEN YOU HAVE visited state-of-the-art stadiums that reek of the modern corporate ethos and a sterile atmosphere, it takes a trip to a ground like Loftus Road to remind you what football used to be about.
Queens Park Rangers’ home may look a little tired, and have a hemmed-in feel of a ground that cannot expand even if it wanted to, but it does have a vibe of its own. It felt very 60s or 70s and when they played the run-out tune from that era – the sort of tune James Last and his orchestra would have put out – and Hi-Ho Silver Lining at the end, there was a nostalgic feel to the day. I expected to see people like Terence Stamp and Michael Caine in the stand.
But then this was, indeed, a day to look back. QPR were paying tribute to their great team of 1975-76, arguably the best side never to have won the Football League. That team still rolls off the tongue easily when you recall those halcyon days when QPR fielded a team that was every bit as inventive and progressive as anything coming out of the Netherlands or Germany at the time: Phil Parkes, Dave Clement, Ian Gillard, John Hollins, Frank McClintock, David Webb, Dave Thomas, Gerry Francis, Don Givens, Stan Bowles and Don Masson. Sub: Mick Leach, Manager Dave Sexton.
We can be heroes – Bowles and co. certainly achieved that
Only four of that lot were at Loftus Road – Clement and Leach, along with Dave Sexton, have passed away. They brought those that could make it, along with players like Ron Abbott and Don Shanks, onto the pitch at half-time – with the suitable soundtrack of David Bowie’s “Heroes” – to earn the applause of the crowd and receive a token medal to mark their achievement.
The biggest cheer was reserved for Stan Bowles, who walked on, arms aloft, to milk the adulation. Bowles, 66, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimers, another setback for a man whose life after football hasn’t been a particularly happy or stable story. But he looked in good spirits as he returned to the place that saw his best work.
The return of the “legends of 1975-76” only served to remind QPR of their current status – edging mid-table in the Championship. Relegated in 2014-15 for the second time in three seasons, you get the feeling that the second tier is probably their natural habitat. They’ve finished 20th in their last two Premier campaigns and despite spending a considerable sum of money over the past few years, their team doesn’t have a Premier look and feel about it.
The line-up for QPR v MK Dons was:
QPR: Rob Green, Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall, Clint Hill, Paul Konchesky, Karl Henry, Daniel Tozser, Matt Phillips, Massimo Luongo, Tjaronn Chery, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas
Subs: Leroy Fer, Michael Doughty, Alejandro Faurlin, Junior Hoilett, James Perch, Alex Smithies, Sebastian Polter.
MK Dons: David Martin, Jordan Spence, Kyle McFadzean, Antony Kay, Dean Lewington, Diego Poyet, Jake Forster-Caskey, Rob Hall, Ben Reeves, Josh Murphy, Simon Church
Subs: Lee Hodson, Carl Baker, Darren Potter, Samir Carruthers, Daniel Powell, Nicky Maynard, Charlie Burns
Since Air Asia owner Tony Fernandes became the majority shareholder in 2011, managers have come and gone at Loftus Road. Fernandes has been through Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp and now has Chris Ramsey as “head coach”. There seems to be no small degree of frustration among QPR fans about Ramsey and after he substituted Massimo Luongo against MK Dons, there was jeering from the crowd. “Ramsey, you are clueless,” shouted one Rangers fan.
The fans had endured a dismal first half in which QPR had dominated but didn’t have the teeth to take advantage. Paul Konchesky should have scored in the 34th minute when he flicked the ball goalwards, but saw his effort cleared for a corner.
With the arrival of the class of 1976, perhaps some inspiration could be found. John Hollins, the “captain sensible” of 1970s football, was interviewed on the pitch and urged on the 2015 version of “the hoops” – “Come on, QPR, let’s have some goals”.
Hollins’ words seemed to work, for QPR looked a better side in the second period. MK Dons almost went ahead on the hour when Simon Church was denied by Rob Green in the home goal. But then in the 70th minute, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scored the sort of goal that Bowles would have appreciated, nicely controlling the ball, slipping past a defender and finishing from close range. It was a goal out of keeping with the quality of the match.
Ramsey went from zero to hero in the last 20 minutes
But it acted as inspiration for QPR. In the 78th minute, Matt Phillips beat Josh Murphy and then curled a low shot wide of MK Dons goalkeeper David Martin for the second goal. And then two minutes from time, substitute Junior Hoilett grabbed a third to give the scoreline an emphatic look. Final score 3-0, attendance 15,567, very consistent with home crowds this season.
The locals were in good spirits after hearing of Chelsea’s collapse at West Ham, and couldn’t help but taunt the MK Dons fans about their club’s origins. “Franchise, franchise what’s the score….Wimble-don, Wimble-don…you’ve got no history, you’ve got no history,” and so on, and so forth.
It was my first visit to Loftus Road for more than 25 years and, unlike many grounds I have visited after a long absence, it was very familiar. The Springbok pub, apparently a haunt of Bowles in his playing days, was still there, along South Africa Road, and the school end still had its school, albeit far more security-protected than in the past.
Will QPR stay at Loftus Road? If they want to compete at Premier level, they will surely need a bigger, more functional home ground. One that allows them to breath. More than a year ago, plans were revealed for a 40,000 stadium at Old Oak Common, two miles from Loftus Road. But like many development schemes in London, there are hurdles to overcome. The club has said it may take a decade for a new ground to be built – that’s an awful long time. Who knows who will be running London’s football clubs by then? Who knows who will be running QPR?
April 7, 2013: QPR’s total footballers of 1975-76