In Issue 331, Ray Eaton examined the contribution of some of the foreign players who have worn the blue and white hoops in recent years. As a follow up, I thought it would be a good idea to go back much further and look at the contribution made by the earliest pioneers from foreign shores. Here are my memories of three of them.
The Nigerian-born striker spent just the one season with Rangers after arriving from Peterborough United in October 1956. He didn’t make any first team appearances at London Road - and was on the books of Skegness Town before signing for QPR, aged 29. Although his time at Loftus Road might have been brief, ‘Tesi’ as he was affectionately known, made a memorable impression in West London. At a shade over six-foot tall and of medium build, his appearance was similar to that of Idrissa Sylla. On his debut, Balogun came on to the pitch barefooted, after refusing to wear any boots. And on another occasion, he refused to come out on to the pitch while it was snowing. He was eventually persuaded to take part in the match by his teammates.
Tesi Balogun managed single-handedly to get more fans on to the terraces. Even in the 1950s, there was a sizeable African community in West London, and they turned out in number to see the new Rangers forward. They would shout “Come on, Tesi!” and “Give the ball to Tesi!” Good in the air, his strengths could be best exploited when decent crosses were put his way.
Scoring a respectable seven goals in 16 appearances with QPR, Tesi showed a liking for cup games, scoring in FA Cup ties against Dorchester and Tooting & Mitcham. He also scored twice in a London derby against Millwall, in the long since defunct Southern Professional Floodlit Cup - a competition that ran from the mid-1950s to 1960, featuring teams mostly from in and around the London and South-East region.
Tesi left QPR in July 1957 and signed for Holbeach. He played international football for Nigeria over a 12-year period and after becoming the first African to qualify as a professional coach, he coached his country at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico. The Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos is named in his honour; and the Teslim Balogun Foundation was founded after his death to assist the families of Nigerian ex-international footballers who may have fallen on hard times. Nicknamed ‘Thunder’ or ‘Balinga’ because of his powerful shot, he toured Nigerian schools coaching youngsters. He died in his sleep in July 1971, aged just 45. He was father to eight children.
Cini was the very first player from Malta to make the grade in English football. At Loftus Road, he soon became known as ‘Maltese Joe’ to Rangers fans. His short spell with Rangers came during the 1959/60 season. He would make just seven appearances, but I still recall that he had a great turn of pace and was probably quicker than any of the current QPR side.
Cini’s time with the team coincided with Brian Bedford starting to become a very prolific striker. I never saw a better forward in the air than Bedford, so even during a short career with us he was useful in providing ammunition for our reliable front man. Cini himself scored one goal for QPR - the first in a 2-0 home win over Bury in his seventh and final appearance for the club.
Maltese Joe had the distinction of having never turned professional during his time as a QPR player. That would seem rather strange by today’s standards, but at the time it was fairly common practice for those who weren’t established players. And just as surprising, his lodgings were just around the corner from the ground, as he lived in nearby Thorpebank Road. Cini’s time with us was brief, as he soon started to feel homesick. He returned to his native Malta in March 1960. Despite that, he was still a source of fascination to supporters, who were really only used to watching British and Irish footballers in the team, to see someone from a little further afield. Aged 81, he is still alive and living in Malta.
Leary was a throwback to the sporting heroes of yesteryear. He was a professional footballer in the winter months, and played cricket for Kent during the summer. Like so many South Africans over the years, he was a superb all-rounder on the cricket pitch, scoring over 16,000 first class runs and taking 146 wickets. He was also very useful with the other national sport of ours. A long career with Charlton Athletic saw him make over 350 appearances, scoring 153 goals. He represented England U-23s but was prevented by the FA from being selected for the full England team, despite doing his National Service with the RAF. So I was delighted when Rangers acquired his services, at the age of 29.
Stuart Leary arrived in West London in December 1962. The 1962/63 season was not the best of times for QPR. The experiment with playing at the White City Stadium didn’t work out as well as the owners would have hoped for. It was also the year Britain suffered with the big freeze; and with so many games postponed, Rangers ended up with a huge backlog of fixtures, which had to be played in front of dwindling crowds at the end of the season. He would play three full seasons with QPR, making over 90 appearances and scoring a respectable 29 goals. Although not quite as prolific as during his Charlton days he was still a reasonably useful attacker, who was a fine passer of the ball. Sadly, in 1988, aged 55, he took his own life on Table Mountain in South Africa, his body discovered two days later.
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