Thwarted genius – QPR’s total footballers of 1975-76

IN THE aftermath of the 1974 World Cup, English football was fascinated by Dutch and German football. England’s failure to qualify for that competition and the decline of league football into a physical, defensive product that had started to drive people away, meant that a lot of soul-searching had taken place. The conclusion was that English domestic football needed a lift.

In 1975-76, there were signs that the industry was getting the message. Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United served up some of the best fare seen in years, West Ham were keeping with their tradition of attractive, but ultimately fruitless, football and Derby County, as reigning champions, were also keeping the purists happy. But the club that everyone was talking about as the season got underway was Queens Park Rangers.

London’s best

QPR was an unfashionable club, despite its proximity to the BBC, but in 1975, “the superhoops” represented the best that London had to offer. Arsenal, just four years on from their memorable double, were in decline; Tottenham, now without legendary manager Bill Nicholson, had struggled to replace an ageing team; and Chelsea were languishing in Division Two, hampered by player unrest and massive debts. QPR had former Chelsea manager Dave Sexton in charge and the quiet, cerebral man who won silverware over the other side of West London had two of his team – David Webb and John Hollins – at Loftus Road.

Sexton was one of the few English managers who made the effort to attend the World Cup in Germany and he was excited by what he saw. Always keen to experiment with continental methods, Sexton had never forgotten the Hungarian team of 1953 and when he saw the likes of Ajax and Bayern Munich, not to mention the Dutch and German teams that lit up the 1974 World Cup, he was keen to bring the concept of “total football” to England. At QPR he had a team that was equipped to serve up the most progressive football west of Hilversum.

(L-R) Queens Park Rangers’ Stan Bowles gets away from Leeds United’s Trevor Cherry, Norman Hunter and Frank Gray

The men from the bush

QPR’s squad was relatively small, certainly by the standards of the 21st century. The team picked itself. In goal was Phil Parkes, a huge man with equally large hair. So notable was Parkes’ hair that he was used to advertise Cossack, a gentlemen’s hairspray. That aside, he was a fine keeper and played briefly for England. The full backs, Dave Clement and Ian Gillard, also played for England. They were fast overlapping defenders with a bit of steel in their make-up. Hollins, Frank McClintock and David Webb brought immense experience to the team, but Sexton gave them all an Indian Summer in 1975-76. There was also youthful vigour in the form of David Thomas, a fast winger, and the new England captain Gerry Francis, who was never as impressive as he was in this memorable season.

The guile and craft, not to mention headlines, were provided by Stan Bowles, a sublimely gifted, but flawed individual. He also had a stab at playing for England, but he was never going to win many caps in the era of Don Revie. Goals also came from Don Givens, a much underrated striker who played for the Republic of Ireland. Don Masson, a Scottish international, was a cultured midfielder who came to prominence late in his career. The rest of Rangers’ squad comprised dependable pros like Mick Leach and Don Shanks. The starting eleven was arguably the best team in the First Division in 1975-76.

The season

QPR kicked off with a 2-0 win against Liverpool at Loftus Road. They followed that up with a 5-1 success at Derby, a result that stunned the media as much as it did the Baseball Ground. A typical headed goal by Webb enabled QPR to beat early-season pacesetters Manchester United 1-0 and it was not until October 4 that Sexton’s men lost their first game, at Leeds. It was tight at the top right up until the end of 1975 and a few frustrating results pushed Rangers down to fifth place at the turn of the year.

From the end of January, QPR went on a superb run that included 11 wins and a draw in 12 games. On March 6, Rangers went top after beating Coventry 4-1 and after overcoming Manchester City 1-0, they were one point ahead of United and Derby and two in front of Liverpool. The media had now accepted that QPR could win the league. Some journalists – those that eulogized about European football on a regular basis – went as far as suggesting that QPR should form the nucleus of the England team and that Sexton was the man to lead the country’s troubled national side.

Rangers barely put a foot wrong, producing some wonderful flowing football. But when they went to Carrow Road, home of Norwich, they were beaten 3-2, despite outplaying the East Anglians. It was a costly defeat that sent a signal of hope to the other clear challenger for the title – Liverpool. Rangers ended the campaign with a 2-0 win against Leeds United at Loftus Road. It put them top of the table with 59 points, but Liverpool – one point behind – had one game to play, against struggling Wolves. This finale was vital for both teams – defeat would send Wolves down, victory would enable Liverpool to deny QPR their first championship. It ended 3-1 to Liverpool. Rangers were destined to finish runners-up.

Queens Park Rangers’ Gerry Francis gets away from Liverpool’s Phil Thompson

The best team to never win the league?

QPR certainly rank alongside the best sides to finish as bridesmaids. There wasn’t much wrong with the team, but it was never going to stay together for long. Why? Players like Hollins, McClintock, Masson and Webb were not in their prime and Francis was injury prone. Bowles was a mercurial talent, never likely to stay anywhere very long. And Rangers were not a rich club – they were always in danger of losing talent to bigger outfits. Sexton was also coveted, moving to Manchester United a year later. Basically, if he had been able to hold together his former club’s talent, QPR 1975-76 were what Chelsea 1970-72 might have become. QPR were great to watch and they deserved the title. It’s almost as tragic as Holland’s failure to win Munich ’74.

Photos: PA

We are the Champions: 1975-76 – Liverpool

IN THE closing weeks of the 1975-76 season, most people expected Queens Park Rangers, rather than Liverpool, would win the Football League Championship. The London side had made the running for most of the campaign, playing a progressive brand of football that was heavily influenced by the great Dutch national side of the period.

Liverpool, who had the experience of challenging for league titles, proved their durability in the run-in and overtook Rangers in the final game of the season at Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was the start of a period of dominance that lasted for around 15 years in which Liverpool consistently, and emphatically, won both domestic and European honours.

Ironically, Liverpool opened the season at Queens Park Rangers, losing 0-2. Their side had changed little since 1973, with key figures like Ray Clemence, Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Kevin Keegan, Steve Heighway and John Toshack still forming the backbone of the team. Midfielder Ray Kennedy had arrived from Arsenal a year earlier and his conversion to midfield was something of a master stroke by Bob Paisley, the local man who was giving the task of taking over from Bill Shankly in 1974.

Other members of the 1973 squad had been replaced, such as full backs Chris Lawler and Alec Lindsay. New signings Phil Neal and Joey Jones had been bought, while in the heart of defence, Phil Thompson had replaced Larry Lloyd. Other players like Jimmy Case and Terry McDermott were also waiting to claim their place in the Reds midfield.

Liverpool won only three of their first seven games, but settled down to embark on a run of one defeat in 23, a shock home defeat at the hands of Norwich City. One of the chief contributors to the team’s success was the burgeoning partnership between John Toshack and Kevin Keegan. The combination of big-man, little-man proved to be very effective and the duo netted 28 goals between them during the league campaign.

Liverpool topped the table at the halfway stage with 33 points, but only three points separated the top five, with Manchester United, Leeds United, Derby County and QPR right behind the leaders. Liverpool’s excellent run was ended by Arsenal in late February, but Paisley’s side was still top on 40 points, two ahead of QPR, Manchester United and Derby. Another home setback, this time Middlesbrough winning at Anfield, put QPR in front, although Liverpool had a game in hand.

Both Liverpool and QPR went on excellent winning runs, matching each other week-after-week. After five consecutive Liverpool victories between late March and early April, QPR were still in pole position, but only ahead on goal difference with both teams on 53 points. Liverpool’s hopes had been boosted by the introduction, on a regular basis, of a ginger-haired teenager called David Fairclough. He became adept at coming off the bench to score vital goals. His pace and rawness helped Liverpool beat Norwich, Burnley and Everton. But on April 10, Liverpool drew 0-0 at Aston Villa while QPR beat Middlesbrough 4-2 at Loftus Road. The Londoners were a point clear of their nearest rivals.

The defining moment, however, was on April 17 as QPR clumsily lost 2-3 at Norwich. Liverpool beat Stoke City 5-3 at Anfield with Fairclough scoring again. The advantage had swung Liverpool’s way in the course of 90 minutes. Two days later, he scored two more as Liverpool won 3-0 at Manchester City. QPR also earned two more points, beating Arsenal 2-1 at Loftus Road. With one game to go, Liverpool had 58 points and QPR one less.

QPR won their final game 2-0 against Leeds United and topped the table with 59 points and a better goal average. Liverpool’s last fixture was 10 days later at Wolverhampton Wanderers, who themselves needed to win to stay in the First Division. On a tense night at Molineux, Wolves took the lead, but Kevin Keegan, receiving the ball from Toshack’s nod-on, rolled the ball into the net with 14 minutes remaining. Toshack himself gave Liverpool the lead with five minutes to go, and in the dying seconds, Ray Kennedy hammered a left-foot drive into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

A draw would have been enough for Liverpool, but a 3-1 win meant they had won the championship by a single point. Manager Bob Paisley, as humble as ever, said: “This is the proudest moment of my time at Liverpool, winning the greatest football league in the world.”

Liverpool repeated their league and European double of 1972-73 when they overcame Bruges in the UEFA Cup final, winning 3-2 at home and drawing 1-1 away.

The regular Liverpool side was selected from: Clemence, Neal, Smith, Thompson, Hughes, Keegan, Kennedy, Case, Heighway, Toshack, Callaghan, Cormack, Fairclough

Ray Clemence (27): By 1975-76, Clemence was England’s regular goalkeeper. He went on to win 61 caps in his career. He established himself at Liverpool four years after joining the club from Scunthorpe United in 1967 for £ 18,000.

Phil Neal (24): A right back who joined Liverpool in October 1974 from Northampton Town for a £66,000 fee. He became one of the most decorated players in British football history, winning 50 England caps and a long list of honours with Liverpool. In 1975-76, he made his first team breakthrough and was ever present. A specialist penalty taker, he scored 41 league goals for the Reds in a career that spanned 455 games.

Emlyn Hughes (27): Originally an inside-forward with Blackpool, Hughes became an accomplished defensive midfield player capable of long surging runs. He was capped 62 times for England between 1969 and 1980. He captained both Liverpool and England.

Phil Thompson (21): After breaking into the Liverpool squad in their last title-winning campaign, Thompson was a fixture in the heart of the defence. He made his England debut in March 1976 and won 42 England caps in his career.

Tommy Smith (30): Self-styled “hard man” defender – a native of Liverpool – who played 467 league games for the club between 1962 and 1978 and went on to captain the club. Won a single England cap in 1971.

Kevin Keegan (24): Keegan was named FWA Footballer of the Year in 1975-76 and was named England for the first time in March 1976 when England met Wales. He joined the club in 1971 from Scunthorpe and was a revelation in his first campaign, his work-rate and eye for goal capturing the hearts of the Anfield crowd. He won his first England cap in November 1972 and appeared 63 times for his country between 1972 and 1982. He left Liverpool in 1977 to join Hamburg, earning the club a £500,000 fee.

Peter Cormack (29): Signed by Liverpool from relegated Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1972 for £ 110,000. A hard-running, powerful midfielder, Cormack began his career with Hibernian in Scotland and moved to Forest in 1970. In December 1975 he was injured and struggled to get back into the Liverpool side. He eventually moved to Bristol City in November 1976.

Jimmy Case (21): A battling midfielder who possessed a fierce shot, Case made his debut at the start of the 1975-76 and spent six years in the Liverpool first team. Liverpool-born, he was a popular figure with the fans and played for non-league South Liverpool before arriving at Anfield. He left Liverpool in 1981 to join Brighton and subsequently played for Southampton.

Ray Kennedy (24): Signed from Arsenal for £ 190,000 on the day that Bill Shankly announced his retirement as Liverpool manager. Kennedy had been a pivotal part of Arsenal’s double-winning season of 1970-71, forming a front-line partnership with John Radford. At Liverpool, he was converted to midfield, where his powerful shooting and muscular physique was put to good effect. He won 17 caps for England in his new role and was a key part of Liverpool’s late 1970s and early 1980s success.

John Toshack (26): Welsh international (40 caps) striker who was signed by Liverpool in November 1970 from Cardiff City for a £ 110,000 fee. After a tepid start to his Liverpool career, he linked up with Kevin Keegan to form a lethal partnership in 1975-76. A superb header of the ball, he scored 96 goals in 246 league games for Liverpool before joining Swansea in 1978.

Ian Callaghan (33): Joined Liverpool as an apprentice in 1960 and became a key figure in the club’s successful side of the 1963-66 period when they won two Football League championships and the FA Cup. He left Liverpool in 1978, by which time he had won four England caps, including a cameo appearance on the wing in the 1966 World Cup.

Steve Heighway (27): A graduate of University of Warwick, Heighway was signed by Liverpool in May 1970 from Skelmersdale United. A strong and pacey two-footed winger, Heighway was capped 34 times by the Republic of Ireland.

David Fairclough (19): Became known as “Supersub” for his habit of coming on as a substitute and scoring vital goals. Fairclough, wiry, long-legged hard runner, made a startling impact in the closing weeks of the 1975-76 season, but never quite established himself at Anfield, despite a good scoring record in his 150-plus games of a goal every three games.

Football League Appearances

Boersma, P 1+2 Heighway, S 39 McDermott, T 7+2
Callaghan, I 40 Hughes, E 41 Neal, P 42
Case, J 27 Jones, J 13 Smith, T 24
Clemence, R 42 Keegan, K 41 Thompson, P 41
Cormack, P 16+1 Kennedy, R 29+1 Toshack, J 35
Fairclough, D 5+9 Kettle, B 1
Hall, B 11+2 Lindsay, A 6

Goalscorers: Toshack 16, Keegan 12, Fairclough 7, Case 6, Kennedy 6, Neal 6, Heighway 4, Callaghan 3, Hughes 2, Hall 2, Cormack 1, McDermott 1 Total: 66

Football League Results

Aug 16 Queens Park R Away L 0–2 27,113
Aug 19 West Ham U Home D 2–2 Callaghan, Toshack 40,564
Aug 23 Tottenham H Home W 3–2 Keegan, Case, Heighway 42,729
Aug 26 Leeds U Away W 3–0 Kennedy, Callaghan 2 36,186
Aug 30 Leicester City Away D 1–1 Keegan 25,008
Sept 6 Sheffield U Home W 1–0 Kennedy 37,340
Sept 13 Ipswich Town Away L 0–2 28,132
Sept 20 Aston Villa Home W 3–0 Toshack, Keegan, Case 42,779
Sept 27 Everton Away D 0–0 55,570
Oct 4 Wolves Home W 2–0 Hall, Case 36,391
Oct 11 Birmingham C Home W 3–1 Toshack 3 36,532
Oct 18 Coventry City Away D 0–0 20,695
Oct 25 Derby County Home D 1–1 Toshack 46,324
Nov 1 Middlesbrough Away W 1–0 McDermott 30,952
Nov 8 Manchester U Home W 3–1 Heighway, Toshack, Keegan 49,136
Nov 15 Newcastle U Away W 2–1 Hall, Kennedy 39,686
Nov 22 Coventry City Home D 1–1 Toshack 36,929
Nov 29 Norwich City Home L 1–3 Hughes 34,780
Dec 2 Arsenal Home D 2–2 Neal 2 pens 27,447
Dec 6 Burnley Away D 0–0 18,426
Dec 13 Tottenham H Away W 4–0 Keegan, Case, Neal, Heighway 29,891
Dec 20 Queens Park R Home W 2–0 Toshack, Neal – pen 39,182
Dec 26 Stoke City Away D 1–1 Toshack 32,092
Dec 27 Manchester C Home W 1–0 Cormack 53,386
Jan 10 Ipswich Town Home D 3–3 Keegan 2, Case 40,547
Jan 17 Sheffield U Away D 0–0 31,255
Jan 31 West Ham U Away W 4–0 Toshack 3, Keegan 26,741
Feb 7 Leeds United Home W 2–0 Keegan, Toshack 54,525
Feb 18 Manchester U Away D 0–0 59,709
Feb 21 Newcastle U Home W 2–0 Keegan, Case 43,404
Feb 24 Arsenal Away L 0–1 36,127
Feb 28 Derby County Away D 1–1 Kennedy 32,800
Mar 6 Middlesbrough Home L 0–2 41,391
Mar 13 Birmingham C Away W 1–0 Neal – pen 31,397
Mar 20 Norwich City Away W 1–0 Fairclough 29,013
Mar 27 Burnley Home W 2–0 Fairclough 2 36,708
Apr 3 Everton Home W 1–0 Fairclough 54,632
Apr 6 Leicester City Home W 1–0 Keegan 36,290
Apr 10 Aston Villa Away D 0–0 44,250
Apr 17 Stoke City Home W 5–3 Neal – pen, Toshack, Kennedy, Hughes, Fairclough 44,069
Apr 19 Manchester C Away W 3–0 Heighway, Fairclough 2 50,439
May 4 Wolves Away W 3–1 Keegan, Toshack, Kennedy 48,900



FA Cup: Round Four
Football League Cup: Round Three
UEFA Cup: Winners
Average home attendance: 41,670


Pos   P W D L F A Pts
1 Liverpool 42 23 14 5 66 31 60
2 QPR 42 24 11 7 67 33 59
3 Man. United 42 23 10 9 68 42 56