Compared to the shameful neglect of recent years, QPR now excel in honouring their former players. Whatever your thoughts are regarding Tony Fernandes and the consortium he fronts, their influence in this sphere has been little short of revolutionary and has permeated throughout the current management of the club. Alec Stock Day, Stan Bowles Day and The Forever R’s Club are all fine examples of initiatives which would never have been entertained under previous regimes. There was no way, then, that the 50th anniversary of our remarkable League Cup triumph would be allowed to pass unheralded.
A series of videos, all produced to the high standard that we have come to expect from the media department, recalling our progress through the tournament and reminiscences of both players and supporters were published via official media channels in the weeks leading up to the anniversary.
The first images of a specially designed commemorative strip followed. Subtle hoops which, on closer inspection, revealed the date of the match, the final score and the names of the victorious players, manager and club chairman, enhanced the all-white kit worn that day at Wembley. I was astonished to hear reports that a queue to buy a limited edition replica of this shirt had formed outside of the club shop over two hours before it was due to open - less so that all but the small sizes sold out very quickly. I was also very disappointed to hear that some were available on Ebay before the day was out; anyone so blatantly trying to make a profit out of fellow supporters desperately needs to re-calibrate their moral compass.
The centrepiece of the celebration was planned around the Cardiff match, which fell exactly on the 50th anniversary. A minute’s applause before kick-off in memory of the players and staff who are sadly no long with us set the scene for the half-time ceremony. Mark Lazarus, Roger and Ian Morgan, Frank Sibley and Tony Hazell, along with family members representing captain Mike Keen, Jim Langley, Peter Springett, manager Alec Stock and chairman Jim Gregory were all welcomed onto the pitch to receive the acclaim their achievement so richly deserved. My mate Beth, proudly sporting her Wembley 1967 rosette, succinctly symbolised the spirit of the day.
However, the jewel in this particular crown, as far as I’m concerned, took place in front of a much smaller audience on the preceding Tuesday evening, when Lazarus and the Morgan twins were the guests of honour at a ‘Stars of ‘67’ question and answer forum. All three, resplendent in their Forever R’s ties, congenially welcomed their audience into the room, poised for countless photographs and readily signed anything proffered; nothing was too much trouble for them. Their willingness to chat openly and honestly to everyone filing into the room gave more than a hint of the entertainment that was to follow.
Having introduced the three legends to the audience, Paul Morrissey gamely tried to keep some structure to the evening - but, with the three of them playfully sparring with each other, he had his hands full. Paul had already told me that as soon as they had met up how they’d immediately started to rib each other, offering him a rare glimpse of the changing-room banter of the day; a clear sign of just how tight the squad had been.
Considering that so many of that team had been apprentices at the club and played together in Derek Healy’s hugely successful South-East Counties team, this was hardly a surprise. Ian summed up their youth days: “We played against Chelsea. They had Peter Osgood, Johnny Hollins, John Boyle, Peter Houseman, Jimmy McCalliog, but we were the best team every time we played Chelsea. We had no fear. We never thought about defeat.” Age was no barrier to the first team in those days and these players started breaking into it when only 16 or 17. Roger’s belief that they all became very confident from playing a lot of football while still young, alongside the more experienced players, was backed up by his brother. “The older players helped us so much that we gelled so well as a team. We had 16 or 17 players in the squad and you could put anyone in that team and they would do well. The youngsters loved playing with the older, experienced players. They helped us, and we were loving it.”
Mark Lazarus was quick to interject that all the players were in the team based on their ability and that they had developed into a very good team. “I never thought we were underdogs. We were the best team I’ve ever played with, and I’ve played in some good teams. I played for Wolves. I was the only uncapped player in their reserves. The first team read like an England team sheet, but they wouldn’t have beaten us. We were the only side to watch in that period. Come to Loftus Road and you were bound to see a good game of football, four or five goals a game. We were the best Third Division side that league has ever seen.”
The architect of this team was, of course, Alec Stock, who the players clearly held in the highest regard and all spoke very fondly about. Roger praised his man-management skills, saying that he trusted the players and simply told them that they knew what they had to do. Mark expanded on this: “Alec was not very good on football tactics. We didn’t sit around a board in the dressing-room.” He went on to compare with his experiences of instructions given to him at other cubs. “I’ve been there. We kick off, we do this, we do that. When you get the ball, you pass it to him. It doesn’t happen like that. All that blackboard stuff is a load of rubbish. If that situation doesn’t happen, how can you perform it? I agree that when the ball is static you can work on things in training, free-kicks, corners, throw-ins. But as for planning and what role you going to play in it, I don’t go along with that. Alec was never one of them.”
Roger agreed, preferring the simplicity of life at QPR: “When I was at Tottenham, I had tactics thrown at me. At QPR, Stock said: ‘Go out and enjoy it. Take on the full-back and get a cross in.’” This was echoed by Mark: “Stock said to me: ‘When you first get the ball, take on your full-back. If you beat him, you will beat him all game. If not then look for alternatives.’ Alec Stock only really had one tactic, and that was to attack. He once said: ‘Defensive football destroys everything that is best in the game. The fans come to see attacking wingers and forceful wing-halves and centre-forwards because they provide entertainment and spectacular goals.’”
Understandably, the players’ memories of the early rounds of the competition were, at best, vague - Mark Lazarus couldn’t even remember playing Colchester in the first round! As the discussion focused on the later rounds their memories sharpened and the stories flowed. When asked whether there was a feeling of ‘we’ve got one foot at Wembley already’ before the second-leg of the semi-final, Lazarus unashamedly answered “yes” - justifying his answer with: “We weren’t beaten by better sides than Birmingham at Loftus Road.” And with that the conversation moved on to the greatest match in QPR’s history.
The players put the first-half performance down to nerves, despite Les Allen and Jimmy Langley trying to calm down the others, and readily conceded that West Bromwich Albion were worth their two-goal lead at the break. There was, however, no despondency at half-time, and, according to Roger, Alec Stock had a simple message for the players: “Don’t lose your confidence. Just go out there and enjoy it. Go out there and play.” Roger’s goal lifted the team, Rodney’s equaliser made them believe. As involved as any of the on-field players and as entranced as any of the supporters, Ian was glued to the action: “I knew we had it in us. As soon as it was 2-2, I knew we’d win 3-2. I’m kicking every ball.”
You could hear a pin drop as Mark Lazarus described his winning goal: “Nine minutes to go, 2-2. We were up for winning it. I can remember the crowd willing us on. Ronnie Hunt, of all people, had the ball in midfield. I came inside, just around about the centre-circle, and he played it to me and carried on running. That gives you an idea of how much confidence we had. We had a centre-half who never normally moved out of the penalty-area, at Wembley in a cup final, drawing 2-2, and he is running through the middle. He played a 1-2 with me. The ball to me was a bit short. I met it with the outside of my right foot, which spun it. The ball went up in the air. It looked like a rugby ball in the air, and when it came down Ronnie was still running. It beat one of the West Bromwich Albion players on the spin, and went through to the goalkeeper. Ronnie was carrying on running. Personally, I think he was quite entitled to go for it. Other people say it wouldn’t have happened today, but I think it would have done. The spin of the ball went into the goalkeeper. Ronnie challenged for it and it came out. I’d followed on and the ball happened to be there, and I just put it away with my left foot.”
So calm, so matter of fact, as if he’d been describing walking down the road to the shops, not the goal which won QPR’s only ever major piece of silverware. Mark continued: “After the goal, you could hear the supporters chanting ‘We want four, we want four...’. They were used to us scoring that amount of goals. We were on cloud nine. Shortly after that, I got the ball on the halfway line, went past three or four players and hit the post with a right-foot shot.” Quite frankly, it didn’t matter. He, Roger, Ian and the rest of that fantastic team had already written their names indelibly into QPR folklore.
In addition to a heartfelt thank you to Roger, Ian and Mark, who all seemed genuinely pleased to be in that room sharing their memories with an enraptured audience, I must express my thanks to Andy Sinton, Ian Taylor and Paul Morrissey and everyone else involved for organising that wonderful evening and the whole 1966/67 celebration.
However, the final word has to go to Mark Lazarus in response to Paul’s question regarding whether scoring the winning goal would last with him forever: “Well it does. It is the greatest feeling you could ever wish to have.” And what is more, he is proud of what it means to us.
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