I was asked recently, “Who is your most hated figure in British football?” In an instant, I replied: “Ken Fish.” “Who the hell is Ken Fish?” came the reply. To the neutrals and uninitiated, let me explain. In 1986, QPR reached the final of the Milk Cup. Our opponents were Oxford United. Now, Rangers had blazed their way to Wembley in a difficult but exciting manner. Our plastic pitch had played a small part in our run to the Final, but not as much as people claimed. In fact, our triumphs along the way were more down to luck, dodgy refereeing decisions, own-goals, debutant goalscorers, rare goalscorers, penalties actually being saved, and hoodoo spells being broken!
It had started with an 8-1 aggregate thrashing of Hull City, followed by a great win at then bogey club Watford - Paul Barron saving a penalty, John Byrne cracking a belter and Wayne Fereday wreaking havoc against David Bardsley down the wing. Round four saw a snowstorm and a power failure cancel the original fixture, only to see Nottingham Forest succumb to two late strikes for a 3-1 home win.
Then came a quarter-final visit from local rivals Chelsea, whose manager at the time was John Hollins. Delighted to get a replay back at Stamford Bridge, he had constantly whinged at how bad the artificial surface at Loftus Road was for football. The return fixture was played with needle and on a quagmire, and Hollins was made to pay for his comments, as first Alan McDonald headed QPR into an extra-time lead and, with the seconds ticking away, Michael Robinson hit a 57-yard freak shot over the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Had we ridden all our luck? In the semi-finals we were given the toughest draw, against Liverpool. A one-off tie and maybe we could fluke our way through. But two legs? Forget it. Unbelievably, Terry Fenwick hit perhaps the only shot on target in the home tie, allowing Rangers to take a slender lead to fortress Anfield. The second-leg didn’t go according to script either. Firstly, Paul Barron saved a penalty, only for the Reds to equalise.
But Rangers still had the audacity to go 2-I up on aggregate, even though it was through a farcical own-goal. Again Liverpool drew level overall, only for Wayne Fereday and Michael Robinson to hassle Gary Gillespie into another own-goal, literally on time. The Scousers were beaten and surely the Superhoops would pick up only their second major trophy? Our opponents for the Final were weeny, piddly, non-entities Oxford United. Surely all we had to do was turn up?
An amazing 40,000 tickets were sold from Loftus Road, and we would outnumber the Oxford supporters. Everything was falling into place. Many fans had gone on the ‘ Wembley Walk’ (a carnival-type march from Shepherds Bush to Wembley) - a unique event to QPR. A good drink was had on the way and, entering the mecca of football, we were in full song. As the teams peeled away to their respective ends, that most popular of ditties “Six-nil, we beat the Chelsea six-nil” resounded around the ground, bringing tears of joy to everyone’s eyes. Then it all began to fall apart.
Mr Average Footballer, Trevor Hebbard, gave the farmers a half-time lead, prompting the question, “Had they not read the script?” The second-half saw us give a more woeful display than the first. Ex-Ranger and full-time gangling loon, the useless Jeremy Charles, increased the lead - and perennial party-pooper (to England and QPR fans) Ray Houghton made the score an embarrassing 0-3. I’ve only ever partly watched the game on video once and can remember lan Dawes muttering, “That was our first shot” as he hit a 30-yard no-hoper over the bar towards the end of the game. But my most painful memory of the whole proceedings was of the Oxford United sponge man.
Ken Fish was 72 years of age and had tended players at the Manor Ground since before football was invented. In the pre-match build-up, he had received more TV coverage on his own than the entire pulsating QPR adventure. Late in the second-half, an Oxford player must have feigned injury just to get Ken on in front of the cameras (he must have feigned it, as none of our players could get close enough to kick an opponent). This old man, seizing his moment of glory, sprinted onto the field half-resplendent in his tracksuit (half because, although it was new, it was still too small a size for him), carrying his magic sponge in a shiny new bag. He bounded onto the lush turf, his stiff upper body motionless, but with his legs pumping like whirling dervishes (in fact, faster than our team). A cry of “Fish, Fish, Fish” came from the sparsely-filled opposing end and, to crown a truly embarrassing day, I’m sure Maurice Evans, the then Oxford manager, made the old bastard collect a medal.
Ken died a few years ago and a little tear welled in my eye as I was told the news. Tears of happiness. This was the bastard who had epitomised everything that I had felt evil towards that blasted day. I hope the worms are still chewing on his decaying body and that his widow has had to sell his winner’s medal because she’s fallen on hard times. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - I STILL HATE KEN FISH.
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