Date:Monday July 28 2008
Dennis Signy OBE author of the book 'A history of Queens Park Rangers FC` speaks to Vital QPR about his time both working and covering Rangers in the media.
Dennis has had a long and illustrious history in football working for QPR, Brentford and Barnet, as well as working for the media covering the latter two clubs. Here he discusses the Alec Stock era in great detail, Rangers move to White City and back again, and the impact Chairman Jim Gregory had on the club.
My first real connection with QPR came in the 1950s when I covered Rangers and Brentford on alternative weeks for various Sunday and daily newspapers.
Rangers were Third Division South material and received little attention from the 'big boy' soccer writers at the time. One memorable report came when Arthur Longbottom scored a match-winning goal from the half-way line ... that pre-dated David Beckham and got far less space and attention.
I was delighted that the papers did not consider Rangers or Brentford worthy of staff coverage and I happily supplied several reports from the two grounds. I recall Brian Glanville and I representing the Hayters agency at Loftus Road and having THIRTEEN match reports to do between us - I had seven - for a match against Shrewsbury. The ground was deserted when we had finished and we were 'locked in' for a while.
Shrewsbury, incidentally, were the most lucrative side for an agency to cover - because of their position in the country, reports were needed in Wales, Liverpool, the Midlands and so on.
My involvement increased tremendously when John Smith was appointed secretary of the club at the age of 21 and invited me to write in the programme.
Alec Stock was the new manager and he became a sort of mentor to me. I can remember him telling me of his first day at Loftus Road when he opened a drawer in his desk and found bits of wire and a couple of screwdrivers. When Alec queried this, he was told: 'The last manager was a bit of an electrician'.
That amused Alec. He thought it summed up the QPR of the Fifties.
Alec, courteous, well spoken, adept at projecting and raising the profile of a 'little' club, was an ex-Army officer who had made his name at non-league Yeovil - memorably defeating First Division Sunderland in an FA Cup tie - and at Leyton Orient.
He was a master of PR. He had a short spell as No 2 at Arsenal and went to Roma, but was happiest in his role at Orient and later Rangers. He was what I call a good front man, he provided the ideas and his coaches such as Bill Dodgin helped impart them to his players. One word that perhaps sums up Alec - style.
Gordon Jago was later to be in the same mould ... today is a different world and, to coin a cliché, they don't make 'em like that any more.
Alec reckoned that Rangers, being the nearest to town, should be into showbiz and entertainment and he fostered the idea that led to the club moving to the White City. It was a bold venture, but one destined to fail because of the size of the place. Rangers fans liked their Loftus Road; they didn't relish the club moving towards a prawn sandwich type clientele.
The players, too, preferred the crowd around them at Loftus Road and, although under a media spotlight at the White City, were happy to return 'home'.
One story of the time I recall was Alec devising a free kick routine. Brian Bedford, who became a close friend of mine, had, from memory, scored 39 goals in a season and was excellent in the air. He was, of course, sorted out for special attention by opposition defences.
So the routine was for Mike Keen to take the free kicks from the right side and deliver the ball into the penalty area - with Bedford distracting people by moving out towards the wing.
'Your role is not to get involved', Alec told the striker. They worked successfully on the ploy on the training ground ... and scored every time.
Come match time and the Rs were awarded a free kick in the right area. Keen duly delivered the ball and into the net it went. The only snag was ...the uninvolved Beford was offside!
When Alec was at Orient football writers loved going there because the master showman was full of stories and inventive ideas for publicity - and you rarely got away from the ground on a Saturday until after 8 p.m. Rangers became a similar 'best ticket in town'.
The advent of chairman Jim Gregory to provide the money to back Alec was the final push to propel Rangers to a Third Division side that beat First Division WBA at Wembley to win the League Cup and to rise to the top echelons (after Stock left in 1968) to finish runners-up to Liverpool. Heady days.
I was at the heart of things, knowing everything that went on behind the scenes. Not that everything got printed. I remember Jim Gregory entertaining three players at his Roehampton office and, after much drink had been consumed, telling one of the lads, who asked for a pay rise, that he could leave Rangers the next day. To everyone's astonishment he picked up the phone, dialled the Sheffield Wednesday chairman and offered him a star defender for £9,000.
It was all forgotten he next day, but I guess the Wednesday chairman stayed astonished for some time by the call.
Jim Gregory disliked and mistrusted the Press, but I got on well with him and handled all his dealings with the newspapers for 23 years as a journalist and adviser. He was not always the easiest man to work with and I twice resisted offers to join the QPR staff because I felt that being an employee would spoil our relationship. When I eventually succum,bed and became chief executive and a director I was proved right ... the 23 years association lasted just a year more.
Jim, like Alec, had style and could be charming. But he was a self-made man and had a ruthless streak and was volatile and unpredictable. He was great for QPR though. In the Gregory era Rangers became the first club to build four new stands since the war and he started a spiralling investment in players that rose from a record £17,500 for Stuart Leary to £400,000 for Andy King and Tommy Langley.
Jim always claimed that Currie was his record signing, but, in fact, Tony only cost £375,000. Jim was a good judge of a player and he loved flair - his favoured No 10 shirt going to Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Simon Stainrod and Currie.
The chairman was a player's man, too, and had a special relationship with most of them. I remember going to the old Brent Bridge Hotel at Hendon before the West Bromwich League Cup Final to find that Jim had lent his Rolls Royce to Mark Lazarus to drive one or two players into town on some jaunt.
Stan Bowles would invariably pop up to the board room after a game ... and would invariably pop off with a few bob from the chairman.
I remember Jim giving Bobby Keetch the use of a West End flat and writing a hefty cheque when a testimonial for the late Dave Clement attracted a poor crowd and poor receipts on a rainy night
The first signing of the Gregory era was a full back from Chelsea named Ian Watson for £2,000. Marsh, the extrovert showman, followed from Fulham for £15,000; swashbuckling left back Jim Langley also arrived from Craven Cottage.
Marsh, who scored in the 1967 League Cup Final 3-2 win against WBA, was joined up front by Les Allen, who became a record signing from Spurs at £23,000 and eventually managed the side.
My History of QPR, published in 1968, chronicled events from the beginning of the club to that time and achieved notoriety in that it was published three managers out of date.
Alec Stock was in charge when I started writing the book but he left because of alleged health problems. He was succeeded by the jazz loving Bill Dodgin, a top coach, but he, too, left after a brief spell at the helm when he heard that the chairman was bringing in Tommy Docherty.
Docherty lasted 28 days - I could write a chapter on that alone as I was with him every day from lunch with the chairman at Wimbledon on the first day to the final day he cleared his desk and told me to tell Jim that he was going.
'He's bluffing', said Jim ... but I phoned back to say that the Doc had just driven away. The chairman drove down to the training ground to tell the players.
Les Allen became the new boss - and he wasn't even mentioned in my book, which had just been published.
I gave my last copy of the History of QPR to Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness executive who joined the QPR board when they sponsored the club but was later sent to prison.
Vital QPR would like to thank Dennis for giving his time, and encourage you all to come back for the next installment!
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Date:Monday July 28 2008
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