Five days after the Easter Monday trek to Darlington, Rangers found themselves in another far-flung corner of the Empire, with a fixture at Workington Town. The relentless strides towards the Third Division Championship continued with a routine 2-0 win, goals from a Jim Langley penalty and one from sub Ian Morgan, his fourth of the season. Frank Sibley was injured for this game and was replaced by young reserve Colin Moughton, who had impressed with a few appearances at the end of the previous season.
The long campaign, 48 games in total, played by the end of March, was beginning to take its toll, and the fantastic consistency of team selection that Alec Stock had been able to rely on would not quite be there for the rest of the season. Any chosen Rangers XI would have beaten Workington. They were rubbish basically, and duly finished bottom of the table.
The following Saturday saw us back home against another bunch of strugglers, Scunthorpe. Colin Moughton continued at left-half, and lining up alongside him, replacing an injured Ron Hunt, was a 19-year-old debutant by the name of Dave Clement. For a Third Division team Rangers had so many England Youth internationals it was ridiculous - Frank Sibley, Tony Hazell, Mick Leach, Roger Morgan and Peter Springett. Dave was another one, a centre-half at that time, still to be converted to right-back. We knew he was good but we didn’t know he was that good and would go on to full England honours, and to become the finest QPR number two of all time (sorry, Bard). Along with Mick Leach, he is also the link between this team and the great team of 1976. Bless both their memories. This was the last great free-flowing Rangers performance of the season, with Marsh and Lazarus on top form, scoring two goals each, and Mike Keen popping up with his eighth of the season - 5-1 to the QPR, and vintage Rangers.
Things changed abruptly on the Tuesday - April 11 to be precise, with a trip to Walsall. They were a particularly dour team in a particularly grim part of the country, which was yet to be redeemed by the healing power of the balti pie. The Saddlers had little to play for but went at it in a life or death fashion, probably keen to earn some bragging rights over their Black Country rivals West Brom. Not an enjoyable experience at all for the R’s - and, at 2-0 down, things went from bad to worse when Rodney got a nasty whack on the ankle and was carried off. This was Rangers’ first away defeat in the league since the opening game of the season at Watford, seven and a half months and 19 games ago. Thankfully this was Rangers last-ever visit to Fellows Park.
The unexpected defeat meant that another win was needed to wrap up the Third Division Championship. Saturday took the team to Oldham, and unfinished business. The Latics were the only team to win at Loftus Road this season, and had been early season pacesetters along with ourselves. They had slipped considerably since then, but still had an outside chance of securing the second promotion spot, so would not be doing us any favours. Alan Wilks stood up to the plate for Rodney and duly scored the goal which gave a very focused Queens Park Rangers their second piece of silverware in six weeks. We had bossed this league so outrageously that the news barely created a ripple - but the players and staff knew how much they had put into their season and duly deserved their celebrations.
The big football news of the day was that England, our very own World Champion football team, actually got beaten, at Wembley, to Scotland of all people. This was still probably the biggest fixture in the world at the time and the Scotland team of that era included the great Denis Law and Jim Baxter, who duly turned it on with a 3-2 victory. Cue pitch invasion, carousing in Trafalgar Square for three days, mass celebrations north of the border, and even the ludicrous claim by certain Scottish newspapers that Scotland, by some dubious logic, were now the World Champions.
Looking back now they seem sweet in their naivety and admirable in their passion, and I must admit I do miss that rivalry which all boys on both sides of the Tweed grew up with in those simpler times. If we played them this week, Sven would probably use 25 players. Ah, such is life.
Back to reality. The following Saturday was trophy-parading time again and a home game against Oxford, a team which featured a certain Mr Ron Atkinson in their midfield. Close your eyes for a second and try to imagine what Ron Atkinson was like as professional footballer. Well, he was exactly like that. He also had a brother, Graham, who was slightly better. Answers on a postcard please, anyone who knows what happened to him. Alan Wilks, enjoying his run in the spotlight, scored two goals in the spring sunshine and Mark Lazarus added another in a 3-1 stroll for Rangers. Wilks was to enjoy playing against Oxford - but more on that to come.
Tuesday brought the return fixture with Walsall. For some reason this game stands out in my mind, and I really wish it didn’t. Walsall were going nowhere in the league - but having beaten the R’s at Fellows Park two weeks previously, had the chance to become the only team in Division Three to get the better of us over two games this season, and be the only ones to have kept a clean sheet against us home and away. They clung to their point as if their very lives depended on it, and Rangers never really got out of first gear.
As my first season as a regular was beginning to draw to a conclusion, I was beginning to get some understanding of things such as tactics, formations, etc. Throughout the 60s most British teams had played a fairly rigid 4-2-4 system. England had just won the World Cup with a formation that switched from 4-4-3 to 4-4-2 according to requirements, and Chelsea and Leeds were also now playing without wingers. This was controversial stuff in a land where the great Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney were very much fresh in the memory.
In Italy, the ultra-defensive catenaccio system ruled, very popular with the likes of Sunday Times reporters, as they could pretend they knew what it meant. Down in Division Three, 4-2-4 still ruled the roost. Rangers were no exception, with Mark Lazarus and Roger Morgan hugging the touchlines, and expecting and getting good service from the midfield pair of Keen and Sanderson. Our ace in the hole was the wiliest and most tactically astute player in the division in Les Allen, who knew exactly when to drop back and give the extra link in the middle. Roger Morgan could also dig deep on the left if required. It never was in 1966/67 - but Roger was to show his qualities in that area the following season.
Incidentally, Mark Lazarus never played in midfield in his life, despite comments on the QPR website following Richard Langley’s hat-trick. Old-style wingers were NOT midfield players. It was a completely different thing, OK? Rangers’ opponents, quickly realising they were outgunned in every department, had two choices. They could carry on doing what they did anyway and get a tonking, or get every man behind the ball and hope for the best. No prizes for guessing Walsall’s choice on a languid spring evening.
Four games to go, and both supporters and players had just about had enough now. It had been a long season, physically and emotionally. The battles were all won, the trophies were in the cabinet, and everybody was just about ready for a break. Four more fixtures had to be fulfilled, however. Les Allen sat out the game at Eastville, which meant that the partnership of Leach and Wilks turned out against Bristol Rovers in the first of their many games together for the first team.
Mick scored in a 2-1 defeat. This was one of the rare days for R’s fans to keep quiet in West London - if you went to my school anyway - as Chelsea qualified for their first-ever trip to Wembley outside of wartime by beating Leeds 1-0 in the FA Cup semi-final. Still, why should we care? Been there, done that.
Three days later, May 2, saw Rangers back in the West, at Swindon. The Robins still had an outside chance of promotion, and over 21,000 turned out to witness a 1-1 draw, Wilks scoring his fifth goal in his seventh and final appearance of the season.
The final home game was against Colchester, the following Saturday. This was pretty much where I came in, with a 5-0 rout in the first game of the now legendary League Cup campaign. Less than 11,000, the lowest crowd since November turned out for this one. Shame really, as it was the last-ever appearance together of the Wembley heroes, Rodney being declared fit again and reclaiming his no.10 shirt. I’m afraid I can recall nothing about this game - but the history books tell us that Rangers won 2-1, goals from Sanderson and Allen. The season finally limped to a conclusion with a 2-1 reverse at Oxford, Rodney Marsh fittingly scoring Rangers’ last goal of a momentous season.
So the R’s had lost as many times in the last eight games of the season as they had in the previous 38. This, and one win in the last five games, was undoubtedly an anti-climax, yet nobody really cared. It had been a truly historic season and one that had put Queens Park Rangers firmly on the football map. For a schoolboy in his first season, it was an enthralling experience. On occasions the sheer excitement was all-consuming. The QPR rollercoaster was very much on the up at this point. I was to experience the downs and the twists and turns that only R’s fans truly understand soon enough.
A look at the stats shows that we were indeed lucky with injuries. Nineteen players played in the league, but six of them played just 15 games between them, including the run of games for Alan Wilks at the end of the season. The goals tally was awesome - 134 in all competitions, 44 of them from the magic boots and head of Rodney Marsh. The other three front players scored an impressive 55 between them, 21 to Lazarus, 20 to Allen, and 14 to Roger Morgan. How many times have three players scored 20 or more goals for one club in a season? Not many I would guess.
Thirteen players shared the real glory. Two of them had played their last game. Peter Springett would move to First Division football in the heralded brother/keeper swap in the close season, and Jim Langley retired from league football at the age of 38. He joined Hillingdon Borough, then a leading non-league outfit. Mark Lazarus would move to Palace six months later, this time not to return. Les Allen was to continue to provide us with invaluable experience and an outstanding football brain for a couple of seasons yet.
Keith Sanderson, too, although never again such a fixture in the team, wasn’t done with his contribution to QPR. The twins would continue their progress, with Ian stepping into the limelight the following season as an ever-present member of the team. Mike Keen was to excel even more as an inspirational captain when it was really needed. Rodney Marsh was to entrance and frustrate in turn for five more up and down seasons, with scarcely a dull moment in any of them. Tony Hazell and Ian Watson, so unlucky to miss out on a Wembley medal, would be Rangers stalwarts for years to come. Ron Hunt and Frank Sibley, so full of promise as teenagers, would have careers blighted by injury, and would never equal the glory of that wonderful day at Wembley.
Alec Stock had been around a long time and managed football clubs from Yeovil to Roma. All his knowledge and man management skills had come to fruition in this season. His book, Football Club Manager, published in 1968 still stands as the best book of this type ever written, and reveals him as the thoroughly decent man he was.
No doubt he took a well-deserved family holiday and was soon back in harness with coach Bill Dodgin to prepare for QPR’s first season in Division Two for 16 seasons. One thing I knew for sure was that I would be there with them. QPR was in my blood and it was there to stay. The following season, 1967/68, was when I really found out about the highs and lows of supporting our team. But that’s another story for another time.
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