It’s not size that counts… well, if 6’ 8” of goalkeeper isn’t first to a hopeful high centre, it must be true. For Justin Channing’s sake, let’s hope it is. And how many of you believe a centre-forward needs to be a strapping John Fashanu clone, bred for bullocks, to strike the fear of God into equally gargantuesque centre-backs (and tear up their shirts for good measure)?
No, we at Rangers have usually favoured skilful ball-players like… Tony Sealy. Oh, come on now, surely you preferred him to Mark Stein? Finished sniggering/cringing at the memories. Then let me begin. Poor Tony was disliked from the start. I remember his scoring his second goal against Cambridge back in 1981, only for them almost immediately to pull one back from the start and a bloke behind me to rant, “That was all your fault, Sealy…”
Yet here was a player whose patience was equalled only by Subtodaysteve Burke, as Tony had to vie with Gerry Francis, Clive Allen and Ian Stewart for the no.8 or no.9 shirt. Purists will delight in the fact that he was never entrusted with the revered no.10, which remained the rightful personal property of Tony Currie and the genial Simon Stainrod. This patience was necessary as he was restricted to just seven appearances in the 81/82 season, despite that brace against Cambridge. But then Ian Muir was sold to Tranmere for doing the same thing.
Without a goal all season and not a sniff of a first team appearance since the previous December, things looked bleak for Tony as the 82/83 season - the Championship winning season - approached. But he began the season in the first team, replacing Clive Allen initially, but later displacing Ian Stewart. I suppose that may have been one of his ‘crimes’, denying the mercurial Irish winger a lengthy run in the side - but with a return of 15 goals from 38 appearances that season, why was poor Tony so unpopular?
It’s not as if he was a full-blown hindrance like Stein, who constantly irritated us by jumping for the same ball as other Rangers players and by steadfastly refusing to believe in the offside law, not to mention his ridiculous impression of a negative of Tin-Tin!
No, Tony was an honest grafter who was unfortunate enough to be compared to his team-mates, Stainrod and the ex-music hall comedy duo Flanagan and Allen. His scoring throughout the season was consistent and he even gave us a prophetic warning by putting three past Nicky Johns. What more did we want? A classy striking duo? That’s exactly what QPR had.
Tony always maintained his burning ambition was to prove himself as a First Division player. He was, however, displaced for Rangers’ first year back in the top flight - and with no goals in the nine appearances he did make, up against stiff competition for places and the fans’ obvious preference for the more promising, yet ultimately less productive Stewart (remember the pose with the pistol and white dinner jackets?) Tony found himself muscled out of the Rangers set-up.
I was, I must admit, one of those who failed to be saddened by the player’s departure. Indeed, it surprised me to look back on his very real contribution to our promotion season. So what prompted this apologetic sketch of his time at Rangers?
It was a still and overcast afternoon at Twerton Park, where the honest endeavour of the players in the mud - minus any of the glitz of a Gazza and other showbiz stars - brought home some of the realities of our game; where Tony Sealy sat anonymously with his wife and two children just in front of me, looking utterly dejected as his rival for a place in the Rovers side rattled in a 30-yard screamer; and where at the end of the game a forlorn Tony Sealy stood patiently as the stand around him slowly emptied in the twilight, whilst 300 miles away Simon Stainrod had just grabbed himself another hat-trick. Plus ca change…
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