They Had The Time Of Their Lives - Part 3
Many of us have aired our differing views on our current Chairman, Flavio Briatore, so it was with great interest that I listened to Dave Thomas opine about Jim Gregory, Rangers` Chairman back in 1975/76, as the Sky programme continued into the later hours of Monday evening!
Glancing up to the ceiling to collect his thoughts and folding his arms, Dave Thomas grinned warmly and offered: "Well, he was a great character. I think he was very much a QPR man through-and-through. He was very tough on negotiation for your new contract as we all knew! Yeah, I liked him - he was very good and very easy."
Francis added: "He was a ruthless man in business but he cared for QPR and he built QPR really. He always used to leave the ground 5 or 10 minutes to go, he couldn`t stand it, had to go down and have a cigarette! Stan was his favourite," added Francis, as he patted Bowles on the arm!
He continued: "Ron Phillips, the Secretary, used to lock himself in his room and hide behind his desk coz Stan would knock on his door - 'Ron, I need some money, Ron I need some money`." And whilst Francis pounded on the coffee table to illustrate how Bowles would drive poor Phillips beserk with his persist hounding, the older Stanley Bowles slouched in his chair, sniggering behind his hand, as he remembered how he tormented the poor man!
"You gave him a nervous breakdown!" Francis accused - to which Stanley agreed, "I did give him a nervous breakdown. I used to make so many stories up to get money off him, especially on a Friday.
"Say we were playing Stoke. There was no danger - we would beat them easy. He`d part with the money before I was supposed to get it. I used to do it every week - along with Don Shanks. We were cohorts together.
"One day we went up there and the radio was on - he was always listening to the radio for the sport. I said he`s got to be in coz the radio was on. Shanksy said yeah, yeah. Anyway, it turned out he`d got out the window and jumped two flights down to get away from us! But the beauty of the story is, I knew where he lived and I went round his house that Friday night! He parted with the money but was nearly crying!"
Progressing the story further, Dave Thomas recalled how Stan and Shanks had shared a flat at one stage, in Acton, but even that got them in to hot water!
"Allegedly, the knock came on the door and I always remember Shanksy saying, 'we got a bit behind on the rent`, so the knock came. So one of them said, 'it`s probably the landlord`. So the landlord said, 'Mr Bowles, I`m looking for the rent.` Stan says, 'well, you better come in. We`ll all look for it!`" Never a dull moment with Stan Bowles around!
The talk then turned back to the success of the team on the pitch!
We were unbeaten in the first two months of the season that year. And at the end of the season we won 13 out of our last 15 games (with one defeat - grr - up at Norwich, and one draw in that period).
Francis recalled that: "We had a really good start to the season. We were up there all the time. We had a little period half-way through where we fell away with a few draws and a few defeats away from home. And then we came back with an unbelievable run at the end with only the one defeat away at Norwich, which basically cost us the championship I suppose at the end of the day.
"Our biggest bug-bear and our biggest disappointment was actually going into the last game of the season and not playing at the same time as Liverpool, which would never happen today."
That Norwich game, I think, we probably all remember almost as well as the players do. Third from last game of the season and, as Francis rightly recalled, a game we dominated, created loads of chances - and ended up on the wrong end of a 3-2 score line. It scuppered our hopes, really, of winning the league - how many times since have we been able to point a finger at one particular match and thought that that game was the one that cost us? We won`t talk about this season just finished, please!!
"Phil Parkes came and punched one about 40 yards and the guy came and followed it up and knocked it straight back into the goal from about 40 yards - a once in a million chance.
"We still went on - we had two games to finish: Arsenal and Leeds at home. I remember against Arsenal, I think that we were 1-0 down with about 5 minutes to go. Frank McLinktock got a headed goal or got it over the line somehow to make it 1-1. And Stan went on a run in the last minute of the game, went past a couple of people, did a 'Rodney`, did his little thing and went down, and got us a penalty."
And a little voice, somewhat peeved, interjected with: "He done a Stanley!" (remember, there is no love lost between Bowles and Marsh!!)
Francis continued: "I remember that the programme that day had a picture of me taking a penalty against Wolves to the goalkeeper`s left, right on the front of the programme. I remember thinking at the time, 'blimey, what if we get a penalty today?` But obviously this is the last minute now and it`s for the championship. And if we don`t win, we can`t win the championship. I remember putting the ball on the spot - Jimmy Rimmer was in goal, I recall. I turned round and I remember seeing Phil Parkes and he was on his knees, looking the other way. So I decided to go to the left instead of to the right, change it, and obviously Jimmy went the other way. It was obviously one of the most difficult penalties I`ve had to take for some time!" We won that game 2-1 which kept us in the hunt and took us to the last home game of the season, against Leeds United, which we also won.
Again, Francis told the story of that game: "It was a fantastic atmosphere. Stanley and Don got the two goals. Stan came inside and curled one in the corner, didn`t you?" Francis asked Stanley.
"He missed it, the goalie, he should`ve saved it," Bowles offered.
"What I remember more was the euphoria and the thing afterwards: being up with the crowd. You were the champions - but you weren`t. It was a strange, strange feeling. You`ve completed your games; you`ve amassed all those points. You`ve played ever so well. Were we champions, weren`t we champions?" moaned Francis.
"We thought we were the best team. Well, we were definitely the most entertaining team," Bowles admitted. But, because Liverpool weren`t playing their final game for another 10 days, the team couldn`t exactly celebrate as champions; and Thomas and others in fact went to Israel. (Not Stanley, though, he didn`t like flying - according to Francis, that is!)
There followed a brief side-track, as Bowles remembered a horrendous trip to Greenland - I`m not actually sure what exactly he was doing out there, but suffice to say he hated it - and all that ice! Francis then deftly turned the conversation back to the time that Bowles and Shanks wound up in prison!
"You were mucking about that one of you was dead!" Francis reminded Bowles - who, at first, pretended he didn`t remember a thing about that incident!
"Oh, that was Shanksy!" said Bowles - staring up into space and rubbing his forehead with his finger! "Where was it? Holland?"
Francis supplied the details: "You made out to the manager, or someone, that one of you was dead. He was laid out and then woke up and frightened the life out of everyone. They called the police. They were in prison!"
"Yeah, we were in prison all night. They beat us up 'n` all," Bowles suddenly recalled. "I made £500 out of it, selling my story to The Mirror!"
And then there was the time that Bowles and Shanks ended up in Court. So Bowles explained that particular story.
"We went to the Dogs in a transit van which "Carlisle Peter" had kindly lent us for the weekend. We went to Hackney Dogs, and on the way back, we stopped at Holborn for a MacDonalds or whatever, and within seconds the police were on us. They surrounded us coz, on the transit van the plates had been changed and the van had been used in a bank robbery! It`s true!" Bowles expressed vehemently as everyone started laughing.
"We went to the Old Bailey over it. Me and Shanksy. We got cleared. I don`t drive - Shanksy can drive. The bloke who lent me the van got 4 years - he wasn`t on the robbery but … I thought this was a football programme!" Bowles suddenly claimed, to much hilarity.
And so it was that, with the programme coming to an end, talk did turn back to the football - and the end of the season, after Rangers had finished their games and had to wait for Liverpool to complete theirs.
Dave Thomas was asked to commentate on Liverpool`s game at Wolves on BBC Radio. So he had the dubious pleasure of watching the game live on a monitor in the studio, whilst commentating on the goings-on on the pitch at the same time.
"I can just see it now," Thomas recalled. "They (he means Wolves) went 1-0 up and you can imagine" and Thomas punched both fists in the air in a very we`re-champions manner!
"By the end of the game, it was traumatic. It was devastating. Toshak and Keegan scored (for Liverpool)."
Francis recalled: "It was 10-15 minutes before the end. Wolves had to win to stay up. It was such a strange situation. There you were, you`d played 42 games or whatever it was, and you`ve got your points. There were quite a few of us went into the studio to watch the game on t.v. And seeing their faces when the first goal went in. We were just sitting there and your whole season, everything you`ve worked for, is now happening in front of you and you can`t do anything about it.
"It wasn`t like we`d beaten Leeds and Liverpool had beaten Wolves on the same day - that`s it, you know you`re not champions. But we thought we were champions for 10 days. I was probably more nervous watching that than any other game coz there`s nothing you can do about it.
"We all really wanted to win that - we really did. And obviously, Wolves going in front. Being led on in that way. If Liverpool had scored first and dominated the game. Well, I felt we deserved to win for what we`d done for those 3 or 4 years," Francis concluded wistfully.
Thomas interjected: "I remember that whilst we were all in Israel, we were all sticking our little notes in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, praying - but obviously that didn`t work!"
Were they deflated afterwards? Bowles at least thought that the second prize, of being in Europe for the first time ever for Rangers was a plus. But he did admit that he, personally, got over the disappointment pretty quickly - because that was the type of character he was.
As Jeff Stelling noted, it was a remarkable achievement and he wondered if, with the benefit of hindsight, the players appreciated better just what had been achieved than they realised at the time.
Francis replied: "Yeah, we can appreciate how well we did. But you still need to be winners and actually win it. We didn`t even get a medal. Not one single thing. You`ve just got the memory - it`s in the history books, I suppose.
"We were a selling Club so to have a small little club like that have those 3 or 4 years, where we dominated London football," he observed.
Bowles: "When first I came down, everyone said West Ham were the aristocrats of football. I think we actually drew the game 0-0, but we should`ve beaten them 6-0. I said to Gerry, 'Is that Trevor Brooking? He drops his shoulder and crosses the ball to the near post! He`d get booed off the park at Man City`. That was all he was about but he was supposed to be their best player. I thought 'this is going to be easy, Stanley!`"
Thomas recalled how there was never a dull moment at QPR - I`ll say! "I remember seeing at our training ground - our lovely training ground at Ruislip - it was an absolutely awful place, it really was the pits! - There were these guys coming up. Some of the players would go into the back of their car after training. And I wondered what was going on. It was all this knocked off gear - crocodile belts, Christian Dior ties and all this stuff! It was an eye-opener for me."
Thomas referred to our pitch as "the worst" at the time - and along with his comments about our training ground, it really doesn`t sound like we`ve come very far in terms of ground improvements since the mid-'70s, does it? What with Matt Connolly telling me about the disaster that was the pitch up at Harlington - and the Loftus Road pitch being re-laid as we speak - nothing`s changed, has it?!
Within a couple of years, the team was broken up and Dave Sexton left us for Manchester United. Some of the players were getting on in age, but being a selling club it was also inevitable that the better players would be sold on. At least we are not in that situation any more!
And the final word - was this the greatest ever QPR team? Francis` thoughts?
"Certainly for QPR, up to the present time. Yeah! Fantastic team! It`s only when you look back you realise how good not only the team was but the players were." Can anyone really disagree with him? I dare you to!
Don`t forget to read parts one and two, if you haven`t already, by clicking on the links below:
Time Of Their Lives - Part 1.
Time Of Their Lives - Part 2.
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