January 11th, 2017 was the 25th anniversary of the untimely death of one of our most loyal and unsung players, Mick Leach. There is a strong argument to be made that Mick is the most underrated player in the entire history of Queens Park Rangers Football Club. This is especially true when it comes to a section of our supporters who never truly appreciated his loyalty to the club and his hardworking nature.
Mick was born in Clapton, East London, in January 1947 and signed professional forms for QPR in February 1964, after he was brought to the club by renowned scout Derek Healy. Within a year, Mick was in the first team, making his debut in a 5-0 home demolition of Colchester United and getting his name on the scoresheet for the first time.His chances over the next two seasons were limited. That incredible 1966/67 season was a frustrating one for him, personally. He made only two appearances as Rangers clinched the Third Division title and won the Football League Cup on that never-to-be-forgotten day at Wembley in March 1967.
The start of the following season, 1967/68, turned things around for Mick as Rangers entered a fifth season in the second level of English football, and the first one since relegation in 1951/52. A pre-season injury to talisman Rodney Marsh gave Leach the number 10 shirt in the opening day line-up. A two-goal performance in the second game of the season (a 2-0 win at Bristol City), and further goals at Rotherham United and Preston North End, cemented his place as a valuable member of the side. It’s interesting to note that all of those goals came away from home (possibly an early indicator of the negative impact the Loftus Road fans can have on the confidence of a young player, maybe?)
Intermittent appearances followed as Marsh came back into the Rangers side by November 1967. This all changed in April of 1968 as Mick came on as a substitute for the injured Les Allen versus Middlesbrough at Ayresome Park and he would then go on to start the final five games of another historic season for the club.
Rangers entered the final three games in the fight for a promotion spot. Mick would score vital goals away at Ipswich Town (in the very last minute, to secure a much-needed point); and then he scored the first goal in a 2-0 win at home to Birmingham City. It was on the final game of the season, a memorable day at Villa Park, that Mick wrote his name into Rangers folklore. With a victory needed to guarantee that we could squeeze out Blackpool for the second promotion spot, Leach headed a second-half equaliser that fans of a claret and blue persuasion debated hadn’t crossed the line.
Aston Villa defender Keith Bradley then scored a late own-goal, and an estimated 15,000 R’s fans went crazy. We had achieved the seemingly impossible: back-to-back promotions from the Third to the First Division - and we were in the top flight for the very first time. Mick had ended that season with a very respectable nine goals in 21 appearances.
In August 1968, we commenced the debut First Division season - and a traumatic one it proved to be. A long-term injury for Rodney Marsh and many shenanigans involving Jim Gregory, with his dismissal of the legendary Alec Stock and the 44-day reign of Tommy Docherty, really didn’t help the cause. We would finish rock bottom, with Mick not really getting a regular run in the side until after our fate had already been sealed. He was an ever-present in the final nine games - scoring a brace in the final home game, a 2-1 win over Stoke City.
Mick did, however, score some memorable goals in that maiden season in the First Division: the winner in our 3-2 victory at home to Sheffield Wednesday; a goal against the European Champions Manchester United at Loftus Road; and two goals in our incredible 4-3 defeat at West Ham United. Many long standing fans of both clubs have this down as one of the most exciting games they’ve ever seen.
Back in the Second Division, Mick proved to be a consistent and valuable member of the squad. However, it was never going to be easy to get noticed or become a crowd favourite, with the likes of Marsh, Francis and Venables as teammates. It was during the promotion season of 1972-73 that Mick Leach, now playing in midfield, would come into his own. With the sale of Rodney Marsh to Manchester City in March 1972, gaining promotion the next season to the top flight was going to be no easy task. However some shrewd signings by manager Gordon Jago lifted spirits in W12.
The purchases of Don Givens, Stan Bowles and finally Dave Thomas in the summer and autumn of 1972 would give the club a real boost. Mick started the season wearing the number 10 shirt - not the easiest thing for any player to do, donning that shirt between the Marsh and Bowles eras. Leach performed admirably, though, scoring in the first two fixtures of the season, away at Swindon and at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Mick will always be remembered amongst R’s fans for two memorable goals in that promotion season, both covered for the BBC on Match of the Day with commentary by the legendary Barry Davies.
The first, in January 1973, against Burnley saw Mick rise to score a superb header at the School End from a John Delve cross. He then followed this up with a full-blooded challenge to set up Don Givens for the second. Two months later, versus Aston Villa, the cameras had again made the short journey down the road from television centre in Wood Lane. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. From a fabulous Dave Thomas pass, Mick controlled the ball and swept it home in one movement for an invaluable goal - the only one of the game. As John Motson said in his voiceover on the QPR Match of the Day VHS tape released in the 1990s, “The late, Mick Leach, just loved those Match of the Day cameras!”
The following 1973-74 season, with the club back in the top flight saw Mick missing only two league games (both defeats). Yet again he proved himself anything but camera shy. In front of the ITV cameras, accompanied by the distinctive tones of Huw Johns, we produced one of the our best-ever away performances in a 4-2 win at Wolves. Mick scored one of the best volleys you will ever see from a ‘Henry’ Mancini header as he belted the ball past the other Phil Parkes. Ray Eaton has a long held view, which I totally agree with, that the club should produce a DVD of our best-ever goals. This is certainly up there with the very best. Mick would go on to score another Match of the Day goal against Birmingham City in the FA Cup fourth round. (Yes, that’s the FA Cup fourth round - our lack of progress in that competition seems to be a 21st century problem).
The following season saw the resignation of Gordon Jago (who had his hand somewhat forced by chairman Jim Gregory) and the appointment of Dave Sexton as manager in October 1974. Injuries restricted Mick’s appearances and he played in only 16 games (two goals) that term. The club, however, was on an upwards trajectory under Sexton, finishing 11th. The 1975/76 season couldn’t have gone any better for the club. It started off on a gloriously hot August day in West London with Liverpool the visitors. A fantastic piece of play by the R’s saw Gerry Francis finish off a move for the opening goal. This would turn out to not be bettered and was BBC’s Goal of the Season.
Of course, as the cameras were there, who would come on as a substitute to score the second clinching goal? It had to be Mick! From a Gerry Francis cross, he bravely headed home in front of the Loft in the second-half. Five weeks later, Mick would then score the goal which would take us to the top of the First Division for the first time in our history. During the 56th minute of a home game against Leicester City he blasted the winner.
Four days later at Loftus Road it was Mick again, scoring in a 1-0 win over Newcastle United. The News of the World headline the following day exclaimed ‘Another Leach mickey-taker’. In the same article the Geordies manager, Gordon Lee, said that Rangers were “the best team in the world” – quite some accolade.
As that memorable season continued it was looking more and more likely that the impossible could happen - Queens Park Rangers becoming the Champions of England. In February 1976, Mick was rewarded with a testimonial match to celebrate his service for the club with a game against the top Yugoslavian side Red Star Belgrade at Loftus Road. A somewhat disappointing crowd of 8,506 turned up. This has been a trend at Loftus Road over the years. Testimonial matches have been notoriously poorly attended and examples of these include the games for Dave Clement, Ian Gillard and Alan McDonald. A full-strength R’s team won 4-0 on the night, with goals from Francis (2), Masson and Dave Thomas.
The following month Leach scored what could well be the quickest goal scored by an R’s player upon entering the field of play. On appearing as a second-half substitute against Everton at Goodison Park, as replacement for Gerry Francis. From a free-kick, Mick ran on and slid the ball home. Of course, it was covered by Granada and it is available for all to see on YouTube. Although mostly wearing the number 12 shirt, Mick made a massive contribution to our greatest ever season, just as he had in three promotion winning seasons in the years before by scoring valuable goals in the biggest games.
The following season would be a mixed bag for the club and Mick, with great runs in the UEFA Cup (quarter-finals) and League Cup (semi-finals) taking their toll as well as exciting the R’s support. The state of the Loftus Road pitch didn’t help our cause with many postponements. Injuries were also a problem, many of Mick’s appearances in that 1976/77 season were in relief of our England captain Gerry Francis who had back problems. Stan Bowles would also miss much of the second half of that campaign after his leg break at Ashton Gate.
By that summer of 1977, it felt like the end of an era for the club, Dave Sexton was tempted away to Manchester United, coach Frank Sibley (a member of our 1967 League Cup/Division Three Championship side) took over as manager and a few weeks later Dave Thomas was sold to Everton. During this season Sibley had put Mick on the transfer list as the club ended up finishing 19th in the table, one point off relegation. It was the end of a golden period for the club and also for Mick Leach.
On 7th January 1978 Mick played his final game for the club, at home to Wealdstone in the FA Cup third round. He was substituted and replaced by Brian Williams. So after 14 years and 337 (24 as sub) appearances and 70 goals, Mick had played his final game for the club. Two months later Mick received an offer to play for the Detroit Express, managed by Englishman Ken Furphy in the NASL (North American Soccer League). The clubs agreed a fee of £40,000.
Mick said at the time: “I’ve enjoyed my time at Rangers, I’m not leaving with any ill feelings. It’s better that I leave now if there’s no place for me in the first team and I’m looking forward to a new challenge in America”. Mick would sign a two-year deal with the Michigan-based club and would go on to say this about his decision: "In a way it’s a big wrench leaving Rangers. I’ve been there so long it’s become part of my life.” The local Gazette newspaper would state at the time: 'The loyal midfield man has been fighting a losing battle to keep a first team place in the recent years and was then recently put on the transfer list. For Mick has been a rarity in these money spinning days of professional football - 15 years with one club, and hardly a moan.' Well deserved praise indeed.
Following Mick’s departure the club received many letters to praise him and the service he gave the club. One of them was from 14-year-old Martin Percival, now of course an AKUTR's contributor. A very nice tribute. Mick would go on to make 23 appearances for Detroit Express scoring three goals, and then played briefly for Cambridge United (19 appearances – 1 goal) until 1979.
He would then go on to make one last appearance in the English game, helping out Wimbledon during an injury crisis for a West London Cup game against Fulham at the end of the 1982-83 season. Mick would go on to work as a salesman and also coach at Chelsea in his years after retiring from the game. He was sadly diagnosed with cancer and passed away on 11th January 1992 at the tragically young age of 44.
On the 22nd April 1992, Queens Park Rangers organised a benefit game for Mick’s family, his wife Jenny and Children Jo and David. A crowd of 3,200 turned up at Loftus Road, raising more than £15,000, and included fan favourites like Alec Stock, Bob Hazell, Dave Thomas and ‘Henry’ Mancini. There were two matches played, the first was a 35-minute-a-side match between the 1967 and the 1975 sides. The second match was a QPR team featuring the majority of the current first team against a QPR Select XI .
There was also a match at Loftus Road on the 5th May 1992 to raise funds for the Leach family between teams from this very fanzine and the Whingeing Donkey fanzine. The winners won the “Mick Leach Memorial Trophy”. Footage of this game is available for all to see on YouTube, with thanks to Michael Hollamby for the footage.
Time and Rangers fans have been relatively kind to Mick, judging by any posts that mention his name in the retroQPR group on Facebook or Twitter. For a player who received who a lot of totally undeserved crowd abuse during his playing days, he now garners a lot of love and affection from our fans. Here are some recent comments that appeared recently upon the 25th anniversary of his death recently.
Vastly under-rated player - always gave his all.
Great player - underrated - scored some great goals.
Great QPR servant and played in a great team. RIP Mick and thanks for the memories.
Most under-rated player EVER to wear the hoops. A true hero, honest and sporting.
Another legend, just got on with playing with passion every game.
To finish, Mick must go down as a rare example along with Paul Furlong from the modern era as one of the few players that have gone from being a target of the boo boys to a hero with R’s fans. He is a man who will be a hero in many fans' hearts as long as those incredible teams from the 1960s and 1970’s are talked about. It is down to us to pass on the stories of his and our other heroes down to the next generation of R’s fans.Fortunately due to Mick’s amazing ability to score televised goals for the club he will be immortalised forever on YouTube.
Mick epitomises everything as a player that the newly-formed Forever R’s Club is about. Someone who gave everything in the blue and white hooped shirt. It is a complete misconception that it is a legends club, only for the likes of Marsh and Bowles. Mick Leach and players like him are the heartbeat of our club. He is a prototype 'Forever R' as he was just happy playing for the club that gave him his chance as a professional footballer.
Long may we talk about his valuable goals at Portman Road and Villa Park in 1968, the vital goals to aid promotion in 1972/73, and his invaluable performances in our greatest ever side of 1975/76. Rest in peace, Mick.
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