The news of Alec Stock’s death, when I heard about it on Match of the Day, engendered a welter of mixed emotions. I felt great sadness at the passing of the man whose phenomenal achievements had launched Rangers into the unchartered territory and (until recent years) successes of the modern era. Then, there was the indignation and disgust provoked by Gary Lineker’s brief and truncated summary of Stock’s managerial career: he managed Yeovil... and went on to manage Fulham, whom he took to an FA Cup Final in 1975.
Not a mention, then, of the minor details of his managing the first Third Division team to appear in (and win) a Wembley Cup Final; nor of the successive promotions from the Third Division to the First. But then, of course, in my naivety, I had momentarily overlooked how our club has now become an unfashionable irrelevance, who it appears can now be conveniently deleted from history. Or perhaps it was just paranoia on my part.
Over the next few days I perused the sports pages and the obituary columns, hoping that I would find an appreciation that would make good this glaring omission. The tabloid press’s coverage of Stock’s death was, predictably, miserably inadequate, consisting of a few lines to the effect of Fulham’s celebrations being tinged with sadness because of the passing of the man who had taken them to the Cup Final. I bought The Guardian, having noted that a substantial amount of column space had been allocated to Alec Stock on the obituary page. However, given that the piece was penned by that tiresome Italiaphile, Brian Glanville, it was predictable the machinations that surrounded Stock’s short stay at Roma should be disproportionately amplified.
Less predictable was the eccentric amount of weight given to Stock’s time at Leyton Orient. Stock’s remarkable successes at QPR? These merited all of one line: “He also won the League Cup with QPR in 1967.” That was it! To say I was ever so slightly miffed would be an understatement. Setting aside these irritations, my abiding feelings were concerned with the actual timing of Alec Stock’s departure from this mortal coil. I recollected that Jim Gregory had died on the weekend of a previous low ebb for the club: the debacle at Oxford, which precipitated the end of Ray Harford’s disastrous managerial tenure. Then, it just so happens that the man who triumphantly led us out of the third tier of English football, passed away at the beginning of the very week which would culminate in our sad return to that very division (albeit renamed).
Something strange seems to be going on with the fates here, that such bitter irony should recur. At this moment, Stock’s death almost seems to serve as an allegory, emphatically highlighting the closure of an era instigated by him, in which we dared to hope and dream; to be replaced by a new dark era of despair and uncertainty, as we contemplate the sober, stark reality of our present plight.
The club had long been in the doldrums when Alec Stock took over as manager at the beginning of the 1959/60 season, the mediocrity of its final positions in the old Third Division South meaning that a return to the Second Division status briefly enjoyed from 1948 to 1952 was never on the horizon for the duration of the decade. Although individual players from this time are still fondly remembered, the general consensus amongst the supporters who experienced this period seems to be that the team had gone very stale and were going nowhere fast under the long-serving Jack Taylor (1952-59), and that the change when it came had been long overdue.
The task of sweeping away the stagnation of the 1950s, therefore, fell to Alec Stock, who had previously briefly played for the R’s before joining Yeovil just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. Alec rose to the rank of Captain, taking part in the Normandy campaign, where he was injured and sent home to recuperate.
Alec Stock returned to become player-manager of Yeovil after the war, and it was here that he initially made his name. Yeovil’s exploits in the FA Cup are the stuff of football folklore, with Alec himself scoring in the defeat of a Sunderland side which included the legendary Len Shackleton. Film of the goal regularly crops up on FA Cup preview programmes even to this day.
After Yeovil, Stock had three spells with Leyton Orient in the 1950s, during which they were promoted to the Second Division. In between, Stock had brief spells, respectively, as assistant-manager at Arsenal, and as manager of Roma in Italy. Apparently, Alec’s attempts at imposing some army-type discipline on some of the cynical older pros at Arsenal were not too well received, thus hastening his departure.
As for his spell at Roma, it is hard to imagine really what the Italians made of this quintessential Englishman. Interference from the directors, and a bout of ill health (Stock suffered from chronic asthma) ensured that Stock’s stay would be short-lived. Stock’s spells at these prestigious clubs may have been unsuccessful, but the fact that he was sought out by these two clubs is indicative of the esteem in which he was held.
In the early 1960s, Rangers challenged strongly for promotion, finishing third in 1960/61 and fourth the following season. Stock attributed the near miss of the former campaign to the club’s decision to sell winger Clive Clark to West Bromwich Albion, partly for his own protection (the slightly-built Clark was having lumps kicked off him by the neanderthal full-backs of the Third Division), and also because the fee of £17,500 represented a considerable amount of money for a Third Division club. The 1961/62 season saw Rangers amass a total of 111 league goals, which still stands as our record goal-scoring season.
A key figure in this glut of goals was Brian Bedford, signed by Stock from Bournemouth for £750. Bedford was to prove a prolific goalscorer for Rangers during the first half of the 1960s. Stock also went back to his old club, Leyton Orient, to acquire that electrifying winger, Mark Lazarus. This was to prove a remarkable association. All told, Stock bought and sold Lazarus three times, each time regaining his services for fees considerably less than he had been sold for. Little wonder, then, that Stock enjoyed a reputation as a shrewd operator in the transfer market.
Rangers aimed to capitalise on the upturn in their fortunes by moving to the White City Stadium in 1962/63. This proved a singularly ill-fated venture. Rangers’ form slumped, and the fans hated the remoteness of the views afforded by this vast arena, after the intimacy of Loftus Road. Rangers moved back to Loftus Road for the 1963/64 season, but the form of this and the following season remained decidedly mediocre.
However, behind the scenes thing were happening at Rangers. Alec Stock had the foresight, when he first joined Rangers, to appoint Derek Healey to oversee the setting up of a youth structure that was to prove one of the most successful in the country. By the mid-60s, all of the hard work was beginning to bear fruit, as a succession of outstanding youngsters such as the Morgan twins, Tony Hazell, Frank Sibley, Peter Springett, Ron Hunt and Mick Leach were blooded in the first team. The youth system would continue to produce top-class players throughout the 1960s, with the likes of Dave Clement, Ian Gillard, one Gerald Francis (c. Dennis Signy, A History Of Queens Park Rangers FC, 1969) and Martyn Busby being the next in line.
With the advent of Jim Gregory as chairman in 1964/65, funds were made available for Alec Stock to supplement his crop of exciting youngsters.
Stock got busy in the summer of 1965. Seasoned professionals Les Allen and Jim Langley were brought in, not only as top class players in their own right, but also to play a specific role in bringing on the youngsters. This latter objective was to be executed to perfection, probably exceeding even Stock’s wildest dreams. Other players to join Rangers that summer were Keith Sanderson and Ian Watson, both of whom were to make important contributions to Rangers’ inexorable rise through the divisions. Later on that season, one Rodney Marsh joined Rangers just in time for the final promotion push, with the R’s falling just short. Another important addition to the club was coach Bill Dodgin, who had built a considerable reputation at Millwall. Everything was now in place for lift off.
The 1965/66 season was when your correspondent entered the QPR scene for the first time. I was immediately captivated and enthralled by the Rangers experience as practised by Alec Stock’s thrilling team. I always feel that us kids who grew up in the 1960s were a privileged generation, spoilt for life by the fantasies played out in that era. England were to win the World Cup in that never-to-be-forgotten-summer. Rangers were about to embark on their magical journey. England always won. Rangers always won. To a kid who had known no different, that was the natural order of things.
It wasn’t just the football, though. There was also the brilliant British pop scene, and the great soul music coming out of America. Watching an excellent BBC documentary recently, fond memories came flooding back of how a generation of kids were enraptured by the incomparable Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. It was also the era of space exploration, which gave us all a sense of wonder. See what I mean? Spoilt!
Above all, though, there was the thrill of watching Alec Stock’s magnificently exciting team sweep through all before them. ‘Write a composition on what you did at the weekend’ was the task my junior school teacher would occasionally set us on a Monday. No problem! I knew what I was going to write about. I could hardly contain myself: the words just spilled out of me. I was truly enchanted. The only downside was when I was called upon to read out my compositions to the class! The atmosphere in our teeming, ramshackle ground was incredible. So much noise, vibrancy and raw excitement. How can you even begin to encapsulate in words the incredible buzz generated by the Rangers crowd in those days?
Alec Stock had created something truly special in London W12. I still remember sitting on the terrace at Wembley, sobbing inconsolably after we had gone in at half time 2-0 down. I obviously hadn’t reckoned with the galvanising effect Alec Stock’s half-time team talk would have. Alec recalled this crucial juncture in his 1967 book Football Club Manager: “I told [the team] we had at least 30,000 people we could call Rangers supporters out in the crowd, and they expected us to entertain them. ‘Let’s start playing football,’ I said. ‘Let’s take the war to the other side.’”
You know the rest. It was a simple, upbeat speech, not exactly of Churchillian proportions - but, by God, did it have the desired effect! Stock also knew that Rangers had to balance the flair with a hard edge. To that end, his team contained tough and tenacious competitors such as Ron Hunt, Tony Hazell and Frank Sibley, to be followed in the next campaign by Bobby Keetch and Allan Harris.
There was still plenty of flair and excitement to be had in 1967/68, but there were also many tough battles as teams sought to stifle our flair by means both fair and foul. The great spirit and togetherness that existed in that team should not be underestimated, either, when considering the contributory factors in Rangers’ successes. In adding the historic feat of successive promotions to the previous season’s double, Alec Stock secured his immortal status in QPR’s history.
However, it seems that a price was exacted for all this success. Alec Stock was unable to take his place at the helm for our debut season in the First Division, due to severe problems with asthma. Although nominally still manager, Stock was never to assume the reins again. Bill Dodgin acted as caretaker-manager, until the bombshell news of Stock’s departure broke in November 1968. As always with the quasi-Stalinist press releases emanating from Rangers during the Gregory era, it was hard to ascertain the exact circumstances surrounding Stock’s departure. According to Rangers, he had left ‘by mutual consent’ (that old chestnut) on account of his ill health; the press were in no doubt Stock had been sacked.
Either way, it came across as shabbily-handled treatment of a man who deserved infinitely better. It was somewhat akin to kicking a man when he was down. Little good it achieved: Rangers were to be relegated with only four wins. Tommy Docherty blew in and out of Rangers, leaving player-manager Les Allen to pick up the pieces.
As for Alec Stock, he resurfaced at Luton Town, where he built a decent side containing the likes of former Rangers’ stalwart Mike Keen, Malcolm MacDonald and Don Givens. Stock must have taken great pleasure in seeing his Luton side win at Loftus Road in the 1970/71 season, with Mike Keen scoring the only goal of the game. From there, Stock moved on to Fulham, where he secured another memorable achievement in taking them to the 1975 Cup Final.
Upon retirement, Stock became a very welcome addition to the QPR Board in the late 1970s. He served on the board for few years, even assuming the nominal role of caretaker-manager for a brief period in the summer of 1978, concluding the signing of Glenn Roeder at Jim Gregory’s behest.
What, then, do we know of Alec Stock the man? I leafed through my copy of his book looking for some quotes. Whilst it is an interesting book of its time, in its expounding of Stock’s football philosophies, it doesn’t really shed any light on Stock the man. There is nothing really quotable there. Alec, though, came from an era when smart one-liners were not deemed as essential to the manager’s make-up.
By contrast, Alec was more inclined to burble on in an enthusiastic stream of consciousness. He had this odd habit of finishing off sentences with an “Hmmmm” - which seemed to serve as a question mark in the manner of its intonation. Paul Whitehouse named Alec as one of the sources for his ‘Ron Manager’ character. I like to think it was part affectionate tribute and part mickey-take.
The impression I’ll always have of Alec Stock is that of a thoroughly decent human being. He was a man of old-fashioned values, one of that breed of besuited, gentleman managers who seemed to retain an aura of Corinthian amateurism. For Alec Stock, it was not just about winning. It was about doing things correctly - in style. I can only express my profound gratitude for the enchantment that Alec Stock, through his magnificent team, gave to my childhood. They don’t make them like Alec Stock any more.
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