The start of the 1994/95 season wasn’t a particularly happy time for QPR. The acrimony surrounding the sale of Darren Peacock had argubly, not gone away. Disappointingly, points were dropped in matches at home to Ipswich Town and Coventry City. And no wins were recorded in any of the first few away games. The memorable 2-1 win over Liverpool, with goals from Trevor Sinclair and Les Ferdinand, might have been the springboard for a revival in our fortunes - but news surrounding plans for Rodney Marsh to be given the role of Director of Football, without the prior knowledge of Gerry Francis, was the straw that broke the camel’s back with regard to our manager’s relationship with former owner Richard Thompson. Francis left soon after - and the popular figure of Ray Wilkins made a swift return to the club, to take up the role of player-manager. Within no time at all it felt like a bit of stability had returned to Loftus Road.
If we thought there were big problems at the club following the departure of Francis, then that was nothing when compared to the turmoil that was going on over at Highbury. By the time Queens Park Rangers visited North London, Paul Merson had taken an extended break from the game after admitting to an addiction to cocaine, alcohol and gambling. And things were no better for long-serving manager George Graham. Despite winning numerous trophies with Arsenal, Graham was on the verge of leaving the club in disgrace. In a season that saw football rocked by scandals, the Gunners manager was revealed to have taken an illegal £425,000 payment from Norwegian agent Rene Hauge, following the signings of Danish international John Jensen, and Norway’s Pal Lydersen. Jensen will, incidentally, feature quite frequently in this article. But I will get to him in due course.
In the lead-up to the visit to Highbury, QPR were in fairly decent form. There was a spirited performance in a 3-2 home defeat to Manchester United. This was followed by a first away league win of the season, Danny Maddix and Les Ferdinand scoring the goals in a 2-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday, before a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton. For the trip to Arsenal, Ray Wilkins made his first major change in personnel as Rangers manager. Sieb Dijkstra was dropped, never to be seen in the first team again - and the long-serving Tony Roberts returned. The Dutch keeper with the funny hair, and even funnier moustache, played just 11 times for Rangers, yet probably picked up as many yellow cards (all for time-wasting) than every other QPR goalkeeper combined before or since.
If you had this game down as a likely draw, it was with good reason. On the opening day of the 1991/92 season, Dennis Bailey scored on his Rangers debut - before Paul Merson equalised in the final minute. The return fixture was goalless. In the 1992/93 season, both of QPR’s games with Arsenal finished 0-0. And it was four in a row when the visit to Highbury during the 1993/94 campaign saw yet another fixture without a goal. This run of goalless games finally came to an end when Arsenal came to Loftus Road towards the end of the season. Gary Penrice scored for us, but Merson again spoiled the party to ensure another draw. That was six consecutive draws in the league, against Arsenal.
Here, though, the team would get off to the perfect start, when a goal-kick from Roberts found the head of Les Ferdinand, who in turn put Michael Meaker in possession. He then passed back to Ferdinand and, on the right side of the pitch, bought David Bardsley into play. Bardsley again passed the ball to the QPR number nine in a wide position. Watching the footage again, I can still recall being at the game and some know-it-all behind me, shouting: “What the bloody hell are you doing on the wing, Ferdinand?”
The answer to that question was that he went past an Arsenal defender and his low cross found the right boot of Kevin Gallen, whose first time shot found the bottom corner of the net. The away end was jubilant - and funnily enough, the loudmouth sitting a few rows away sensibly offered no further ill-judged notions about who should be where on the pitch. Naturally, Arsenal didn’t just lie down and offer no threat. But their attacks were largely only long-range shots; though Tony Roberts still had to pull off a couple of excellent saves, one of which came from John Jensen from over 30 yards out. Meanwhile, it was Rangers who were playing the better football on the day.
But it seemed like all the hard work was undone when, well into the second-half, Jensen collected the ball on the left. Running forward, he curled a shot from just inside the area, into the top right-hand corner of the net. Tony Roberts stood no chance. Highbury went mad - not just because the Gunners had equalised but because this was Jensen’s first and only goal in what would be 138 appearances for Arsenal. So bad was his record with scoring goals, he once went on Fantasy Football and in the famous Pheonix From the Flames sketch let himself be the subject of ridicule, when he continually failed to score with a shot whilst attempting to recreate his goal from the 1992 European Championship Final. And further mocking his abysmal record, the similiarly named Snooker World Champion Joe Johnson scored on his behalf.
Within moments, the Arsenal fans started chanting: “We were there when Jensen scored...” It might have seemed like that goal would be the catalyst for a home win - but this Rangers team had other ideas. Andrew Impey looked like he wanted to take on the entire Arsenal midfield, before he passed to Meaker. Latching on to the return, Impey’s teasing cross found substitute Bradley Allen at the far post. His first touch wasn’t great, but he poked the ball home with his second. Not a goal of the highest quality - but you would get no complaints from any of the travelling support that afternoon. QPR had regained the lead. Nor would we have moaned if there were no further goals in the game. But with Arsenal looking for a second equaliser, they got stretched in the midfield and defence, and Rangers would take full advantage. Following good work from both Simon Barker and Michael Meaker, David Bardsley found himself in plenty of space going forward. His trademark curling cross completely fooled Arsenal goalkeeper Vince Bartram - and Impey took advantage by heading home at the far post.
This being 1994, Highbury had one of the early examples of a big screen inside the stadium. So when the highlights of the game were shown after the final whistle, even the Arsenal goal was greated with cheers by the travelling support and our own rendition of “We were there when Jensen scored...”. What a way to finish the year. Yet afterwards, there was much bemusement about the way the game was covered among certain areas of the media. One national tabloid (one of the Mirror newspapers, I believe) used its entire match report to concentrate on the fact that Arsenal’s Danish midfielder had finally scored for the club. It was a total lack of respect shown to Queens Park Rangers.
The following April, the two teams met again for the reverse fixture. By this time, QPR had enjoyed a fine run to the sixth round of the FA Cup, before defeat at Old Trafford, and made a steady climb up the Premier League. In comparison, Arsenal had sacked George Graham and were enduring their worst league campaign for many years, though were still involved in the defence of their European Cup-Winners Cup title. Both sides had a busy lead up to this game. Adverse weather in the winter of the 1994/95 season meant that Rangers had to play catch up with their fixtures, and had faced Champions-elect Blackburn Rovers the previous Tuesday. Arsenal, meanwhile, had played host to Sampdoria just two days before coming to West London.
After so much lousy weather for much of that period, the sun was shining over Loftus Road for this derby game. QPR’s first goal came via an attack from the left-hand side of the pitch. The Arsenal defence committed the cardinal sin of leaving Les Ferdinand unmarked, and his header flew across the penalty-area, before Andrew Impey volleyed home at the far post. By his own admission, Impey was a lifelong Arsenal fan. But that didn’t seem to matter whenever he faced the club he followed all his life, because two of the three Premier League goals that he scored in the 1994/95 season came against the Gunners. Curiously enough, the other was against Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal’s best chance of drawing level came in the second-half, when Ian Wright’s low drive hit the post and came out. From the visitors almost scoring, Rangers went on the counter-attack - and Simon Barker’s excellent pass found Les Ferdinand. The QPR number nine only needed to beat David Seaman, but our former goalkeeper saved well to ensure we didn’t double the lead. This passage of play was very interesting, as it served as something of a benchmark as to why these two top-class forwards struggled to score in this fixture. Wright was one of English football’s most prolific goalscorers of the 1990s. But given the number of goalless draws whenever QPR and Arsenal met, it is no surprise that he hardly ever scored when he played against Rangers. In comparison, Alan Shearer always seemed to score against us. Ferdinand fared no better than his Arsenal counterpart. All 80 of his league goals for Queens Park Rangers came in the top flight. And naturally enough, he had a fine record against most teams. But the only two sides that he used to draw blanks against were Crystal Palace along with Arsenal.
As it turned out, Les Ferdinand’s goals wouldn’t be missed for either of the Arsenal fixtures in the 1994/95 season. Rangers were now turning on the style and controlling the match. After scoring in both of the fixtures, Andy Impey would probably have thought that he would have bragging rights in the dressing-room after the match. But as it happened, he would have to share them with Kevin Gallen. QPR’s second goal of the afternoon was not too dissimilar to the one he scored at Highbury. This time it was a bit of magic from Trevor Sinclair on the right-wing, first beating an Arsenal player and then placing the ball nicely in the path of Gallen. Once again, a low right-footed shot found the bottom corner of the net.
As was often the case in the 1990s, when Rangers were playing at their very best, everyone was getting in on the act. For the third goal, Karl Ready came forward in an attacking manner that Glenn Roeder would have been proud of. He attempted a one-two with substitute Gary Penrice. The idea was right, but Penrice’s attempt to find the QPR centre-half was blocked and the ball returned to his feet. This gave the diminutive R’s striker a chance at goal. His shot from 20 yards out beat David Seaman but hit the post and came out. Ready was quickest to react, and with his left foot struck a powerfully hit shot that found the top right-hand corner of the net. The memorable celebrations saw Karl Ready mobbed by just about every one of his teammates. In the final seconds of the match, Tony Adams headed a consolation for the visitors. It didn’t matter, as manager, players and supporters alike could celebrate another memorable win over the Gunners. It was only the second time in the history of Queens Park Rangers that we had done the double over Arsenal. Incidentally, the only other occasion that happened was in the 1983/84 season, when Terry Venables oversaw a pair of 2-0 victories.
Arsenal caretaker-manager Stewart Houston was deeply unhappy with the scheduling of the game - and bemoaned the fact that Arsenal had to play on the Thursday as well as the Saturday. But Ray Wilkins was unmoved, claiming that he thought QPR played great football on the day, and that was all he was interested in. Despite reaching the European Cup-Winner’s Cup Final, the Gunners now found themselves at the centre of a relegation battle. Their off-field controversies were starting to catch up with them. As it happened, they picked up enough points to drag themselves away from the foot of the table. But their season would end in farcical circumstances, when in the last minute of extra-time in the Final against Real Zaragoza, former Tottenham player Nayim hit a speculative effort from some 50 yards out, which looped beyond the reach of David Seaman. For all his brilliance as a goalkeeper - with QPR, Arsenal and England - Seaman did have a habit of saving his blunders for important matches, or major cup ties. Meanwhile, Nayim became more popular with Spurs supporters in that moment than he ever did when he was at White Hart Lane.
At the time, it seemed like Arsenal were a club in crisis, whereas with Ray Wilkins enjoying an excellent start to his managerial career, all was well at Loftus Road. But dark clouds were about to gather over West London. Les Ferdinand was sold for £6m. The money spent on supposedly strengthening the squad was badly wasted; and Rangers would endure relegation and the shock departure of Wilkins. And who would have thought on the day that QPR completed the double over Arsenal that, within 18 months, Houston would become our manager? Meanwhile, although the 1994/95 season was a generally miserable one for Arsenal, their fortunes would be revived with the purchase of Dennis Bergkamp.
That double over Arsenal came largely at the end of what now looks like a golden era for the club. It is a great shame that the initial promise Rangers showed under Ray Wilkins never materialised. With hindsight, it might have been better had Wilkins served as assistant-manager to Gerry Francis for a period, before taking charge. If for no other reason than he might have been a bit more savvy when it came to using the funds from the sale of Les Ferdinand. But in the absence of a time-travelling flying DeLorean car - or a Jensen Interceptor, come to that! - we shall never know if that would have helped. Still, I am sure all of us who were in attendance at both matches look back on the pair with great fondness. Because even we are delighted to say that... we were there when Jensen scored.
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