In late December, my old man passed away. Although a harrowing experience, I’m grateful that I was able to be with him in his final hours, and hold his hand at the end. He was my hero, and the sole reason I can count as friends so many of you now reading this. Pretty much the first thing he said to me when I got to the hospital was, “What are we going to do about the Rangers, eh?” He literally was ‘Rangers till he died’.
He was a Ladbroke Grove boy, who met my mother in a pub in Croydon, and moved back to her home town of Jarrow and married her. All I ever knew growing up was QPR - he made sure of that. I remember once humming Ossie’s Dream in the car when it came on the radio, and him giving me a slightly disapproving look (I was only four or five, after all), and saying, “No son, we don’t sing that.”
Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him at home in Jarrow, where he’d been taken in and accepted as an honorary Geordie back in the mid-70s. For years, I could go to just about any pub in Jarrow, and once people knew I was Stevie Lovell’s son they’d have an anecdote that started, “When ya dah first came up here…”. He could get away with almost anything. Even when somebody took offence to his Southern accent, he was so sharp he could be charming and insult them at the same time, and it would be the next day before the penny would drop with them. I think half of Jarrow have a soft spot for Rangers because of him. RIP, Dad.
Paul Lovell (Jarrow R’s)
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I woke up quite late that Saturday morning after a fitful night’s sleep. On a Saturday, I would be up quite early to cycle to the Betaware Shoe Repairs shop, just off Ladbroke Grove. I had a job there delivering shoe repairs: 22 shillings & sixpence (plus tips) a week for two hours after school every night, plus Saturdays. Usually, I would be finished in time to get to the Bush, if we were at home - but that day, I just had to have the whole day off. It was quite a nice early spring morning. The grass was damp, as I found myself wandering around on Wormwood Scrubs. I’ve got no idea now why I was there. I can only assume I was trying to fill in time before the biggest day in QPR's history got underway proper. The first Third Division side to play in a final at Wembley.
Back home to Hill Farm Road, for something to eat and the final preparations. Everything laid out on the bed. No replica kits in those days. The only thing you could get with blue and white hoops on was a matelot shirt, with a slit opening for the neck - but since everybody used to flex a limp wrist and say “Hello sailor!” to anyone wearing one, I decided against it. Instead, I had managed to get hold of a blue cycling shirt with one white hoop on it. And it had a large elasticated pouch right across the bottom, which was handy for keeping the programmes in pristine condition. The bottom half of the outfit was a pair of homemade, blue & white hooped leggings to pull on over my jeans. I had been working on them since the 3-1 demolition of Second Division Birmingham City in the second-leg of the semi-final. They consisted of four strips of an old white sheet, stitched up the sides, with perfectly formed blue hoops from the leftover tin of Bergermaster Summer Blue non-drip gloss paint that my dad had painted the kitchen with some weeks earlier. To top it all off? A white hard hat, with the same blue gloss trimmings and 'QPR' painted on either side.
Lunch was bangers and mash. It was always bangers and mash on a Saturday. Airships on a cloud my mum called it. It was tradition. Part of the Saturday routine. One of those things you could depend on - like my mum always asking, “What time is the kick-off?” Dad had been going to the Rangers for years, and in those days, if it wasn’t a midweek match, kick-off was always three o’clock. But you could rely on her asking anyway.
The weeks leading up to the big day had been magic. Shepherd’s Bush was bedecked in blue & white bunting, and a blue & white hooped Wolsley car would be frequently seen around the town. The Evening Standard had even produced a special edition with a full (but extremely badly) coloured team photo on the front. We had even been the subject of a Sportsnight special on the telly. It started with Mike Keen going up to the ticket booth at Shepherd’s Bush station and saying, “Eleven to Wembley Park, please.” Classic.
My turn to get the train. I had decided long before that I was not going to walk it behind the coffin of West Brom, as some die-hards were doing. I thought then that it was a strange thing to do. Each to his own, I suppose. I can’t really remember much about the journey there. I can’t even remember for sure who I was with, but I suspect it was my cousin Brian. The first vivid recollection was coming out of the station and seeing the sea of people going up Wembley Way towards the Twin Towers - and they all seemed to be Rangers fans. God, what a feeling. Loads and loads of people selling obviously home-made rosettes, with little tin cut-outs of the League Cup on - or the FA Cup if you weren’t careful. And A3-size black & white team photos, with all the players’ signatures around the border. “Why would anybody want to take one of those into the match?” I thought. It would get ruined.
Finally in through the turnstiles. Underneath the terraces, I think I met up with every relation I had. All my uncles and aunts and cousins, from Southall and Langley and wherever. I got my programme with the Football League Review stapled into the middle of it. They use to do that in those days, to make them thicker. In fact, I think that at the Rangers, at one time you could opt for with (at a cost, of course) or without. I turn to the back page for the line-up - which was totally unnecessary because we all knew what the team would be: Springett P, Hazell, Langley, Keen, Hunt, Sibley, Lazarus, Sanderson, Allen, Marsh, Morgan R. Sub. Morgan I. And laid out in the programme in the classic wingers’ style 1-2-3-5 formation.
Then up into the daylight and the steep banked terraces. I was on tip-toes from that moment on. The band were doing their stuff on the pitch - and then out they came. Our team. Sir Alexander William Alfred Stock in a suit and tie - and, what’s this? - they’re in an all-white strip. Maybe I should scrape this paint off. Then it started. The whole of Wembley (it seemed) was singing “Rod-nee, Rod-nee”. Nice and slowly like, with arms aloft. Unbelievable.
Finally the whistle and the first real action sees Albion’s former Ranger Clive Clarke climbing back down from Row F after a completely fair challenge from Tony Hazell. And despite several other attempts to send him even further into the stands, he manages to score twice. In between the goals, Rodney scores with an overhead kick - but the referee, who is right up with the play and doesn’t have the perfect view that we have from the opposite end of the ground scandalously disallows it. So half-time - and we’re 2-0 down. But is there despondency on the terraces? Not a bit of it. “We’re a second-half-team, mate... second-half team...” everybody informed everybody else.
Now I’d seen many an away game that season when we had gone one or two down and pulled it back to draw. That was the rule: win 4-1 at home, draw 2-2 away. But looking back, I find it hard to believe there weren’t a few people who were just a teensy bit concerned that our Third Division team were 2-0 down to a pretty good First Division side, who just happened to be the cup holders and had never actually lost a League Cup game. Ever.
We started better in the second-half and, after an early scare, Roger Morgan gets the top of his head to a Les Allen free-kick, and that was it. Half an hour to go and nothing was going to stop us now. A quarter of an hour or so left, and Rodney does what we all knew he could. He picks up the ball just inside his own half and starts that high-stepping jog towards goal. As if mesmerised, the whole Albion team seem to run anywhere but in front of Marsh; and when he is about 10 yards outside the penalty-area, he lets fly. I swear the whole of Wembley was in one of those silent, slow motion bits that they do in the movies when the blind man shoots with three seconds left on the clock. Even after it hit the inside of the post, it seemed like another five seconds before we all jumped 20 feet in the air. The ‘Rodnee’ chant starts again and it’s just magic.
They whinged a bit about our winner, just because Sheppard, their goalie, was busy picking bits of Ronny Hunt’s studs out of his chest at the time Mark Lazarus was side-footing into an empty net. Sour grapes, I say. But if that goal hadn’t stood, we still would have won. We were hammering them by then. No fear. Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack. The final whistle goes and everybody is dancing up and down the terraces singing, “We won the cup, we won the cup, eee-aye-adio we won the cup.” Then Mike Keen lopes up the steps and lifts the cup towards our end of the ground, and the feeling is indescribable. After the laps of honour and another half an hour of ‘Eee-aye-adio’, we finally decide it’s time to head back home. When we get outside, we buy one of the A3 black & white photos and, as it happens, we have to walk past all the Albion supporters coaches, and there are hundreds of them. In a totally naive state of euphoria, we hold the photos up to the bus windows as we pass, suggesting that they should bow their heads to the Kings. It’s a wonder we didn’t cause a riot; but I think they were so gutted they couldn’t be bothered.
The trains back to West London were packed with people as happy as I have ever seen people in my life. And when we got back, it was straight round to St Marks Park to replay the highlights, and looking forward to completing the double - which we had been talking about since beating First Division Leicester (England World Cup winning goalie Gordon Banks, and all) in the fourth round. The next morning, I was, for once, glad that my paper round was as big as it was. To cover the whole of Sutton Dwellings and the Peabody Estate took a lot of Sunday papers - and I needed a little cart like the postmen have today. But the good thing was I could ‘lose’ a few. I ‘borrowed’ one of every paper there was and spent the rest of the day reading the reports. I eventually put them all into a scrapbook, to keep for posterity. Heady days indeed.
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