In the last issue, I risked the full wrath of your disapproval by revealing that my father had bought my brother and I a Chelsea kit when we were young, - and that photographs of us wearing them exist to document our shame. He has since assured me that he only bought them because, in 1962, Rangers didn’t sell replica kits - and that Chelsea at that time weren’t viewed with quite the same revulsion as they have been since the late 60s.
In any case, it wasn’t actually a Chelsea kit, but a blue shirt with white trim, white shorts and white socks. Just about the only other kit available in those days would have been of the same design, but red instead of blue. Still the sense of guilt remains with me, even though I was too young to know any better - for ignorance is no better defence in matters of club loyalty than it is in matters of law. The guilt is all the more stinging in the context of my family’s loyalty to the Rangers since the 19th Century.
And with this in mind, the least I can offer in mitigation of my childhood lapse is a tale that should make it easier for you to forgive me - notwithstanding the protagonist’s role in the recent managerial upheaval at Rangers. For how many of us can honestly claim to have played football with Rodney Marsh when he was at the peak of his powers?
It must have been shortly after we had won the League Cup. I can have been no more than 10 or 11 years old. Rangers trained at the old London Transport ground at Northolt at that time. It was separated from the estate where I lived by nothing more than a fence. The details are a little hazy after all this time, but I think it must have been during a close season - perhaps before the ill-fated 1968/69 campaign in the old First Division - and it was certainly (and this seems inconceivable given the modern-day lifestyles of footballers) a midweek evening. My friends and I would always go and watch them - Mike Keen, Ron Hunt, Les Allen, the Morgans and Bobby Keetch to name but a few; and, of course, Rodney.
After training, the players would shower and change and then have a cup of tea together. I can still see and smell the whole place now, even though the whole ground has been built upon since: the proud, wrought-iron gates that ushered you on to the asphalt drive; the black creosote-drenched wooden pavilion that stood at the top of the field surveying the lush, carefully nurtured turf with an almost municipal sense of pride; the cordoned-off cricket squares and the square-posted goals with the coarse, brown nets. A whole gang of us from my estate spent year after year of long summer evenings playing football on those pitches and alongside them - competitive games against the boys from the estate on the other side of the ground, or just plain simple kickabouts which could be continued under street lamps as winter set in and the fields turned wet and muddy.
One evening, I plucked up all my courage and, placing a football under my arm, entered the pavilion lounge where the players were congregated. I think I must also have had an autograph book with me - a small, chequered album that I’ve kept to this day, and which contains the scrawled signatures of most of the players of that era alongside Rodney’s majestic moniker. Perhaps those autographs were collected that evening.
Anyway, a thought struck me as I stood insignificantly amongst my heroes, an extravagant idea that I daren’t believe could actually have the desired result - I could ask Rodney to play football with me. I could just go up to him, tap him on the shoulder and ask him straight out. He’d be bound to say no, of course. I could almost anticipate his answer word for word: “I’m busy right now, perhaps another time, son.” But if I didn’t ask, it certainly wouldn’t happen. So I did ask, and it did happen. Rodney Marsh, possessor - no creator - of the famous Queens Park Rangers no.10 shirt, scorer of countless sublime goals, topped by that stunning goal in that unforgettable Wembley final, purveyor of the silkiest skills ever to grace the hallowed Loftus Road pitch, agreed to kick a ball around with me!
We’d been playing for no more than about 10 minutes. We were just getting warmed up, really. I’d taken a turn in goal and thwarted a few stinging drives and a bicycle kick. Rodney was magnanimous in his frustration at failing to score, and had congratulated me on a couple of particularly athletic stops.
Then it had been my turn to shoot and Rodney, not being much of a goalkeeper, had been powerless to stop my repertoire of chips, volleys and back-heels from finding the net. It was the most wonderful 10 minutes of my short life. And then came the sound I’d been dreading, the cry that reminded me that I was just a boy and Rodney a man, the shrill voice that shattered the delusion that I was competing on equal terms with my hero.
My mother, standing at the fence then separated the fields from our estate, and real life from fantasy, had a different set of priorities to me. She didn’t have time to indulge in flights of fancy, in dreams of glory, she had a household to run. She didn’t give a fig who I was playing football with - and in any case wouldn’t have recognised Rodney if she’d been facing a penalty from him.
All she knew was that I was out in the gathering dusk in the company of a complete stranger when I should have been sitting up at the dining table. And that is how I came to hear the words that no other footballer has ever had to endure when being pulled from the pitch before the end of a game, least of all a game as exclusive and unrepeatable as this one - “Jeff, come in this minute - your tea’s ready.”
While top-flight football is suspended for the foreseeable future, you are cordially invited to visit this page in order to get a small fix of QPR. Each day, we will post a random article from our archives - and with over 15 million words making it in to print over the years, we can sit out this one for as long as it takes! Underneath each new daily article, we’ll provide a link to previous postings, so you won’t miss out. Of course, if you like what you read and decide to subscribe or to take advantage of our special 2019/20 season bundle offer, that’s what will really keep us going through this! So settle down and enjoy your free daily fix of QPR... on us.
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