Eight minutes to go, Wembley, 4th March 1967: “It’s there, QPR have taken the lead. Are they going to cause a sensation by being the first Third Division team to win at Wembley?” The answer, as we all know, is yes they did - and those of us old enough and fortunate enough to have been there (I was 12, if you want to know) will never forget it. Sadly there remains to this day one man and one man only who walks the earth in knowledge that he has scored the winning goal for QPR at Wembley. His name is Mark Lazarus, and this is his story.
Football was a very different affair when a 21-year-old winger called Mark Lazarus signed for QPR from Leyton Orient back in September 1960. Jimmy Hill, in his role as chairman of the PFA, was still a year or so away from demolishing the maximum wage restriction, which meant that it was not unknown for international players to end up selling newspapers when they retired (not ‘selling papers’ in the Beckham sense, I hasten to add). Back in the distinctly pre-swinging 60s, there were no million-pound deals. No film star salaries, no sponsorship, very little television - and certainly no foreign players.
If there had been they wouldn’t have played for Queens Park Rangers, for sure. The lower-league pro was a conventional breed back in those days. Short back and sides, 15 quid a week if you were lucky and very grateful for it too, guv; 12 laps of the pitch in what appeared to be army boots for training, cup of tea down the Uxbridge Road on the way home. No overseas players then - but traditionally teams would draw from the length and breadth of the British Isles. Next to no black players, maybe one or two in the whole league. Most of the teams that QPR would face seemed to be made up of chirpy Cockney inside-forwards, tricky Scottish wingers past their best, uncompromising Northern centre-halves and dour hatchet-faced Welsh full-backs. I’m sure further research would establish that it wasn’t always as cut and dried as that, but that is the way I remember it and will continue to do so.
In this environment Mark Lazarus couldn’t be anything else but a personality. Part of a well-known East End family, with a brother who was at one time a rated middleweight fighting under the name of Lew Lazar, Mark was a Jewish Cockney wide boy, who didn’t fit into any of the available stereotypes. The most obvious thing about him, though, was that he could play. Rangers boss Alec Stock knew a player when he saw one - he just couldn’t afford most of them. But Mark already had a reputation for being difficult, meaning he wasn’t big on tugging the forelock, and came for three grand. He had pace, aggression, scored goals, favoured his right foot but could use his left, and was good in the air too. Scoring 19 goals in 37 games in a season, he quickly proved himself the best winger in the Third Division, which meant that, as a QPR player, he had to be sold - which he was, to mighty First Division Wolves, for a massive £27,500.
But not for long. In those pre-motorway days, Wolverhampton was a long, long way away, and Mark, who was an East End boy if ever there was one, predictably couldn’t settle. It probably wasn’t the easiest place to go for football reasons either. Wolves had been one of the great teams of the previous decade, and Cup winners as recently as 1960, but were now in decline. Five months after he left, after a handful of games which would turn out to be the sum total of First Division appearances in his career, and one goal, Mark came back to Rangers for little more than half the fee. It wasn’t to be the last time.
Warmly welcomed back by the supporters, who were hardly used to good players actually coming back to the club, Mark picked up where he had left off. The QPR team of that period was nothing if not prolific. Incredibly, in the two seasons 1961/62 and 1962/63 they managed to score 196 league goals without gaining promotion. Entertaining stuff. Mark weighed in with 30 more goals in 66 appearances. The next season an ageing team began to fall apart and Mark seemed to lose his way. He was transferred to Brentford in January 1964 in exchange for George MacLeod (tricky Scottish winger, past his best).
The years from 1963-65 are generally reckoned to be a low point in QPR history. Things began to change in August 1965, when Les Allen was signed from Spurs. Les had been there and done it. He had been an important member of the Tottenham side which had been the first team to win the League and Cup double in the Twentieth Century, just four years ago, and was only forced out of the team by the arrival of a certain Jimmy Greaves from Milan. Les was brought in to add experience to a talented bunch of teenagers breaking into the first team: the Morgan twins, Ron Hunt, Frank Sibley, Tony Hazell, Peter Springett.
In November 1965, manager Stock decided he needed an experienced wing-man: welcome back, Mark Lazarus. He had hardly pulled up any trees as a Brentford player - but as ever a hooped shirt seemed to bring out the best in him, and he duly scored 11 goals in 28 games. In March 1966 the jigsaw was completed with the signing of Rodney Marsh from Fulham for £15,000. The team finished a creditable third behind a very strong Hull City side and a very fortunate Millwall. Not enough in those days. Hopes were high for the following season, but there was no real indication of the glory which lay ahead.
The rest of course is history. Rodney Marsh got most of the headlines, with 44 league and cup goals in 1966/67 - but Mark Lazarus was second top-scorer, with 21 goals from the right-wing. Three months into 1967/68 and he was gone, to Crystal Palace, this time never to return. As with every team he played for other than Alec Stock’s QPR, his heart never really seemed in it, and Mark retired in his early 30s to go into the haulage business.
One thing is for sure. We won’t see his like again. In truth he was something of a throwback even at that time. Along with Jim Langley and Les Allen from that team, he was a product of the days of post-war austerity and National Service. Mark was still in his 20s but in those hazy flower-powered days of 1967, he seemed as old as the hills to me compared with our very own Rod the Mod and the Beatle mopped twins. He had a fantastic relationship with the supporters and had his own personal fan club who used to stand on the half way line on the South Africa Road side and greet him every game with a “La-La-La-La-Lazarus” chant.
He could look after himself as well, which was essential in those days, and had some memorable battles with the notorious Millwall left-back Harry Cripps. Being the only Jewish player in the league inevitably made him a target for opposing supporters, but he treated any anti-semitism with the contempt it deserved, and on the odd occasion of it coming from an opposing player, with a swift right-hander (easier to get away with back then). Respect was all important to Mark Lazarus. When he got it there was no more committed player. When he didn’t he was indifferent. There was an ocean of respect for him at Queens Park Rangers.
Wembley Stadium will be rebuilt soon. The Wembley of memory, though, of the twin towers, is now consigned firmly to memory and to videotape, sparkling memories though they may be for many. On paper, Queens Park Rangers’ playing record at the old stadium is nothing to shout about. Played four, won one, drawn one, lost two. Goals scored four, conceded seven.
Four individual goalscorers. Roger Morgan and Terry Fenwick, firm purposeful headers each; Rodney Marsh, one of the greatest individual goals ever seen beneath the twin towers; go on, dig out that video one more time. You know you want to.
However, there is only one man and one man only who walks the earth safe in the knowledge that amid scenes of uncontainable joy and pandemonium, he scored the winning goal at Wembley for Queens Park Rangers in a Cup Final. Cheers Mark. Your place in the Queens Park Rangers hall of fame is guaranteed for all time.
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