Simon Stainrod was one of the most talented footballers to play for Queens Park Rangers during my memory. If any query should be raised as to his right to be included in the Unsung Heroes series, then I would answer that his praises were not sung as long or as loudly as they should have been. It is difficult to think of a footballing skill that Simon did not possess. Compared to Rodney Marsh or Stan Bowles, he was quicker, stronger, more aggressive, more versatile, better in the tackle, superior in the air and possessed a harder shot in either foot. Yet he did not receive the same adulation from Rangers fans as they did. Nor did he attain the heights within the game that his ability should have ensured for him. As we proceed through this brief look at his career, we may discover the reasons why.
Simon Stainrod was born in Sheffield on 1st February 1959 and grew up a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, watching that dreadful Owls team of the late 60s, which featured Vic Mobley and Sam Ellis booting the ball anywhere, and John Ritchie trying to head it. It was awful. I know, I lived in Sheffield at the time - and on returning to London, my nightmare was completed when the dreaded Mobley followed me down and signed for QPR! Simon, however, was not wanted by his beloved Wednesday and signed for rivals Sheffield United instead, as an apprentice. Simon grew to weigh closer to 13 stone than to 12 - but his height varies between 5’ 9” and a ludicrous 6’ 5” (see the QPR programme versus Luton, September 1981) according to the different sources of information consulted. I guess he must have been close to six-foot.
He made his debut for the Blades, aged 17, at the end of 1975/76 (the season that Rangers finished runners-up in the First Division) and he scored twice in the last seven matches. It was a miserable season for United, however, as they were relegated to Division Two. Despite collecting England Youth honours in 1977, Simon was in and out of the Blades team and scored a total of 14 league goals in 67 appearances (plus eight as substitute), before a £60,000 transfer took him to Oldham Athletic in March 1979. Simon responded well to a regular place in the side and his form flourished during his spell at Boundary Park.
He hit five goals at the end of the 1978/79 season and was top scorer with 11 league goals in 1979/80. He was still not scoring enough - but he was a creator, and reports were being heard that here was a player with something special. Altogether, Simon notched 21 goals (plus one in the League Cup) in 69 appearances for the Latics, before his £275,000 transfer to QPR. Coincidentally, his last game for Oldham had been in a 2-0 defeat at Loftus Road on 15 November 1980.
There were some talented players at Rangers in those days but they had made a dreadful start to the Second Division season under Tommy Docherty - and it was a team in transition that Simon joined, as the new manager, Terry Venables, cleared away the debris of the Docherty era. Simon scored four goals (plus one in the cup) in 15 league appearances, before missing the end of the season through injury. Things had improved to such an extent that many thought, despite the poor start, Rangers could have challenged for promotion. They never really got close enough to put in a serious challenge, however, and finished eighth.
Rangers were strongly fancied for promotion in 1981/82 but the season was something of a disappointment from that point of view. Rangers were in the frame for most of the season - but although they at times threatened to move into the promotion places, inconsistency was a continuing problem and they never really looked like finishing any higher than their eventual position of fifth. This disappointment was compensated by a magnificent run in the FA Cup, which took us all the way to Wembley. Simon Stainrod scored a brilliant goal against Middlesbrough in the 1-1 draw at Loftus Road in the third round - and then added two more in the replay at Ayresome Park, as the young substitute, Warren Neill, scored the extra-time winner in a remarkable 3-2 victory. After a 0-0 draw in the fourth round at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool were thrashed 5-1 in the replay. Stainrod and Clive Allen (4) got the goals. Simon scored again as Grimsby Town were beaten 3-1 in round five - but then Allen took over and got the only goal in the sixth round, against Crystal Palace, and in the semi-final versus West Bromwich Albion.
The team in the Final was: Hucker, Fenwick, Gillard, Waddock, Hazell, Roeder, Currie, Flanagan, Allen, Stainrod and Gregory. There was a marvellous, carnival-like atmosphere in the stadium but, in truth, the match was not a good one. Allen was injured in the opening minutes (and was replaced after half-time by Gary Micklewhite) and Rangers seemed totally unable to achieve their rhythm, only Peter Hucker’s brilliance in goal keeping us in the match.
Stainrod was a long way below his best but he made a major contribution in extra-time with a magnificent long throw from the left, which was flicked on by Bob Hazell and headed in by Terry Fenwick to equalise Hoddle’s goal for Tottenham. So we went back to Wembley five days later. Allen was unfit, so Micklewhite played on the right and Steve Burke was substitute. Glenn Roeder was suspended and so Warren Neill came in at right-back, with Fenwick switching to central defence alongside Hazell. Fenwick was an unknown quantity as a central defender and, as Hazell was himself a deputy for the cup-tied Steve Wicks, it was felt that Rangers would be vulnerable in this area.
In fact, Fenwick and Hazell played well and Roeder’s suspension turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Roeder was probably the more gifted footballer but he was nowhere near so effective a defender as Fenwick became and Roeder was never able to regain a regular place in the side. The atmosphere at the replay was in contrast to the first game, being unpleasant and aggressive, but the quality of the play was also different. It was much improved - and Rangers looked the better side for long periods. They could not put the ball in the net, however, and lost through a sixth-minute penalty, after a foul by Currie.
If the season was ultimately disappointing, then there was plenty of good things to look back upon. Not only was there the superb FA Cup run and the two trips to Wembley, but the mixed form had also included excellent wins over Portsmouth (5-0 in the League Cup), Charlton (4-0), Bolton Wanderers (7-1) and Newcastle United (4-0 away).
Another highlight had been the form of Simon Stainrod, who had his best season so far by a long way. He took over the magic no.10 shirt in the autumn of 1981 and began to score regularly. He hit his first-ever hat-trick in a splendid 3-1 win at his ‘home’ ground of Hillsborough in November and followed this with two brilliant goals in the 2-0 win over Cardiff City two weeks later. He went on to become Rangers’ top scorer with 17 league goals to add to his two in the League Cup and five in the FA Cup. Twenty-four goals in one season was a previously undreamed of level of performance from Simon and there was even talk of his claiming a place in England’s squad for the World Cup in Spain.
In 1982/83, Rangers were in great form for most of the season and promotion was almost a formality. Despite the odd hiccup, they were never out of the top two after mid-November and good wins were achieved over Derby County (4-1), Shrewsbury Town (4-0), Cambridge United (4-1), Grimsby (4-0), Middlesbrough (6-1), Rotherham United (4-0) and Charlton Athletic (5-1). Rangers won the Championship easily, a clear 10 points ahead of second-placed Wolves. If it was a wonderful season for Rangers, then it was, oddly, not such a good one for Simon personally - but there were good reasons for this. He missed several games through an ankle injury and was carrying it through many of the games he did play in. But this did not stop the mindless minority having the temerity to give Simon some unjustified stick.
He scored nine goals in his 29 (plus two as sub) league matches but he did not play up front for most of the season: his versatility dictated that he had to fill some unusual positions, such as midfield and wide on the left, as the striking positions were mainly filled by Clive Allen (13 goals) and Tony Sealy (16 goals); whilst John Gregory contributed an exceptional 16 goals from midfield. Nevertheless, Simon was entitled to be proud of his contribution to a thoroughly successful season for the club. It had all seemed a bit easy, however, and next season would provide a real test - Simon’s first full season of First Division football.
Fortunately, Simon was back to his best in 1983/84 and he enjoyed an excellent year, as did the team. For a time it looked as if Rangers would finish in the top three at least - but the final position of fifth (and a place in the UEFA Cup) was still a tremendous achievement. Simon wore the no.10 shirt all season and started off in marvellous form, scoring in every match in September and then hitting a hat-trick in an 8-1 thrashing of Crewe Alexandra in the Milk Cup; whilst other good wins were gained over Wolves (4-0), Stoke City (6-0) and Southampton (4-0). Simon finished with 13 goals in 41 league appearances, plus the three in the Milk Cup, which made him top scorer in all matches. But it was disappointing that he was able to record only three goals in the second half of the season.
Nevertheless, Simon’s form had been good enough finally to earn him selection for the full England squad for their summer tour of South America. Simon was not to gain his full cap, however, as his team-mate, Clive Allen, was bafflingly preferred for the striker’s vacancy and proceeded to embarrass all Rangers fans by missing a succession of easy chances. Simon would never again come so close to an international cap. The summer of ‘84 was a turning point in more ways than one. Terry Venables left the club and the fortunes of both QPR and Simon Stainrod declined in parallel.
Alan Mullery was the new manager and the season started optimistically with a couple of good wins, plenty of goals being scored (including eight in a two-legged Milk Cup tie versus York City) and the prospect of European football to enjoy (even though home European ties would have to be played at Highbury because of the UEFA ban on artificial pitches). On 22 September 1984, Simon scored the sixth goal of 10 in a remarkable 5-5 draw with Newcastle at the Bush - but apart from this there were precious few highlights in the league as a spell of dismal form set in. So it was to Europe that we looked eagerly for entertainment. Rangers won 3-0 in a first round tie in Reykjavik and easily won the second leg 4-0 ‘at home’.
The next round saw a terrific match at Highbury as Rangers hammered Partizan Belgrade 6-2. Rangers were in superb form in attack (if not in defence) and almost every one of the eight goals was a cracker, including Simon’s eighth of the season (little did we know that it was to be his last goal for the club). It was all the more mortifying, therefore, that Rangers should lose the second-leg in the Yugoslavian capital by 4-0, and so go out of the competition on away goals. One felt dreadfully sorry for the supporters who had travelled to Belgrade and I am sure it was feelings such as this that caused Simon to lead a sing-song with the Rangers fans on the return journey. Many thought this was a nice gesture on Simon’s part: the man of the people communing with his fans in the hour of their joint distress. The club, however, saw it differently.
If one of the weaknesses in Simon’s game was that he did not score the number of goals that his ability merited, then we now saw clearly a second flaw - his temper. On 8th December 1984, Simon celebrated the departure of Alan Mullery by getting sent off (not for the first time in his career) in the 35th minute of the home game against Everton. On 28th January 1985, he repeated the feat even earlier in a home Milk Cup fifth round replay versus Ipswich Town - and I remember commenting as he disappeared down the tunnel that it would be the last we saw of Simon in a Rangers shirt.
Sure enough, Frank Sibley gave Simon away to Sheffield Wednesday in February for a knock-down fee. Simon has scored 48 goals (62 in all competitions) in his 143 (plus two as substitute) league appearances for Rangers. One extraordinary (unique, in my experience) development, however, was that a letter from Simon was published in the Rangers programme, in which he thanked everyone “for four very happy and successful years” and he especially thanked the supporters for the “enthusiastic encouragement” he received throughout his stay at the club. The great man was actually thanking the Philistines who had jeered him.
Simon had all the ball skills and all the physical advantages that any striker could wish for, so why did he not score more goals? I think we can identify various factors in answering this question. He did not possess the greediness or the ‘killer instinct’ of the true goalscorer. A comparison with Stainrod’s contemporary, Clive Allen, is instructive: Allen possessed only a fraction of Simon’s natural ability, yet his goal-scoring record is far superior to Simon’s.
Simon liked to be a creator of goals and was just as delighted if one of his passes, throw-ins or corners led to a goal for a colleague, as if he had scored himself. Similarly, he was often away from the goalmouth action, taking corners, free-kicks and throw-ins. His throw-ins often created havoc amongst defences, as was seen in the 1982 FA Cup Final, but his corners were even more dangerous. They were often extremely fast, head-high, swerving affairs hit fiercely with the outside of the boot and which, one suspects, created equal amounts of panic amongst opponents and team-mates.
Simon also liked to do things with style. He wanted to score perfect goals after mazy dribbles, volleyed goals from outside the penalty-box, goals with diving headers, and goals from overhead kicks. Simon could not be hanging around the goal-area waiting for tap-ins. He was a great entertainer. He was also greatly unappreciated by many Rangers fans, who criticised his lack of workrate and who would have doubtless preferred some anonymous non-stop runner with no skill and no personality. This attitude astonished me: Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles were not asked to knacker themselves out running all over the field - so why was Simon pilloried for the same failing?
The one surprising aspect of Simon’s move to Sheffield Wednesday was that either party thought the partnership would work. Howard Wilkinson’s Wednesday were still employing the tedious 60s’ strategy of large defenders playing long high balls hit vaguely towards energetic forwards, who had to chase optimistically after them. It was obvious to all that these tactics would not suit the laid-back skills of Simon Stainrod, who could often be heard complaining to his team-mates at Loftus Road that passes should be placed direct to his skilful feet rather than hit hopefully into space, where he may or may not be able to collect them. Predictably, it all ended in tears very quickly. Simon was usually in the Owls squad but was often substitute or, if picked in the XI, substituted. In fact, Simon played only five complete league games for Wednesday - and scored one of his two goals for the club against QPR in April 1985.
It must have been a great relief when he moved on to Aston Villa in September 1985 and was able to enjoy his football once again. Not only did Simon score 10 goals in his 29 league games for Villa in 1985/86, but he also hit 11 more in cup competitions. Twenty-one goals in threequarters of a season must have recalled the halcyon days of 1981/82 - and Simon was easily Villa’s top scorer. Villa enjoyed a great run in the Milk Cup and Simon’s nine goals included all four in a remarkable win away at Exeter City. For a while it looked as if Rangers would be meeting Simon in the Final but, unfortunately, Oxford United knocked out Villa in the semis. Things turned sour at Villa in 1986/87, however, and although Simon was joint top league scorer (six goals in 25 appearances), it was a depressing season for Villa as they were relegated to Division Two.
Simon played in only the first four games of Villa’s campaign in 1987/88 and then moved on again to Stoke City. Simon’s career at the Victoria Ground was fairly undistinguished and after six more goals (plus one in the Littlewoods Cup) in 27 league matches, he played his last game at Brighton on 10th December 1988. His final tally of 107 goals (plus 27 in cups) in his 364 (plus 23 as substitute) league games is a creditable record - but it does not reveal the skills he possessed or the entertainment he provided. After a spell on loan to Strasbourg, near the French border with West Germany, he was last heard of heading east to play for Mazda of Japan… no doubt clutching a copy of a Japanese songbook.
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