The Half-Time Whistle

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A Moment in Time – Part One : When QPR Almost Won The League


When QPR almost won the League Title


The season is 1975-76, and QPR are about to embark on their most remarkable season in their 93 year history (to that date).

Promoted to the First Division in 1973 when they finished 2nd to Burnley, they ended 8th in season 73-74, and 11th in 74-75.

They were positive about their prospects under manager, Dave Sexton
Sexton

After a career that involved clubs like West Ham, Luton, Crystal Palace and Brighton, Sexton embarked on a management career. After a position as first team coach at Arsenal, he joined Chelsea as manager in 1967. In 1970 he guided Chelsea to the FA Cup and then the European Cup Winners Cup a year later. Sexton was sacked by Chelsea and then took over at Loftus Road in 1974.

QPR had a tough start to the season with a home fixture against Liverpool and also a trip to Derby County in their first three matches.

Liverpool had finished 2nd to Derby County in the previous season, and 2nd to Leeds the year before that. In 72-73, they were champions. Derby were champions in 74-75 and 3rd in 73-74.

Sexton had assembled a playing squad that was a mixture of youth and experience.

Phil Parkes (age 26), Goalkeeper
parkes
Parkes was one of several keepers around in the 70’s who would’ve played many more internationals had Shilton and Clemence not been around. After a couple of years as Walsall, he made his debut for QPR at the start of the ’70-71 season. Parkes went onto make 344 appearances for QPR and then went onto make a similar amount for West Ham, but only won 1 England cap.

Dave Clement (age 27), Right Back
Clement
Clement made his debut for QPR in ’67, he eventually moved on in ’79, having made 472 appearances.

Ian Gillard (age 25), Left Back
Gillard
Gillard started out in Spurs youth team before moving to QPR and making his debut in ’68.

John Hollins (age 29), Centre-Back, Midfield
Hollins
Hollins, was another player who’d spent time at Chelsea. He’d made 436 appearances in 12 years, he’d joined QPR during the summer of ’75.

Frank McLintock (age 36), Centre-Back
McLintock
McLintock had spent most of his career at Arsenal where he was captain when they won the double in 1971. He played for Arsenal for 9 years, he’d previously spent 7 years at Leicester before that. He joined Rangers at the start of the ’74-75 season

Dave Webb (age 29), Centre-Back
Webb
Where McLintock had been a stalwart at Arsenal, Webb had been an integral part of Chelsea’s defence for 6 years, before joining QPR at the same time as McLintock. The two were to form an important partnership at the back for The Hoops.

Dave Thomas (age 25), Left Winger
Thomas
Thomas was a typical 70’s winger. Every team seemed to have one. He spent 6 years at Burnley before joining QPR in ’72.

Gerry Francis (age 25), Midfield
Francis
QPR was Francis’ first club, in an impressive career that saw him return to Loftus Road in ’81 and then with 2 stints as manager in the ‘90’s

Don Masson (age 29), Midfield
Masson
Masson, a Scot, had begun his career at Middlesbrough in ’64. He moved to Notts County in ’68 and then onto QPR in December ‘74

Stan Bowles (age 27), Midfield, Forward
Bowles
For many QPR fans, Bowles is the finest player to have ever worn the blue & white hoops. A mercurial talent, of which there were plenty around in the ‘70’s, he started at Man City in ’67, before brief stints at Bury, Crewe and Carlisle. He joined QPR at the start of their promotion season in ’72 and was an important part of their successful campaign that year.

Don Givens (age 26), Forward
Givens
Irish international, Givens played just one season at Man Utd in ’69, before spending a couple of seasons at Luton. It was QPR where he made his name, though, joining at the same time as Bowles

Mick Leach (age 28), Midfield
Leach
Mick Leach was QPR through and through. Making his debut in ’65, he eventually spent 13 years at Loftus Road

Ron Abbott (age 22), Centre-Back, Forward
Abbott never advanced beyond a fringe-player after making his debut in 1973

Tony Tagg (age 17), Centre-Back
Youngster, Tagg, only played 4 times for QPR before moving onto Millwall at the end of the 75-76 season

QPR opening fixtures for ’75-76

Liverpool (H)
Aston Villa (H)
Derby County (a)
Wolves (a)
West Ham (H)

Date: 16th August 1975
Venue: Loftus Road
Visitors: Liverpool

QPR had never beaten Liverpool before. Liverpool finished 2nd in the league in the past two seasons. They were in their 2nd season under Bob Paisley, who’d taken over from the legendary, Bill Shankly.

QPR were embarking on their 3rd successive season in the top flight, after promotion in 1973. Over 27,000 packed into the West London ground, eager for the start of a new season.

QPR were scintillating that day. They took the lead through a wonderful goal from Gerry Francis

That goal was later voted Match of the Day goal of the season.

Mick Leach, a 2nd half substitute for debutant John Hollins (Chris’s dad), then doubled the lead and QPR ran out 2-0 winners. A cracking start and Rangers fans were soon to get used to a free-flowing passing brand of football they kept producing that year.

Newly promoted, Aston Villa, were the visitors to Loftus Road, three days later, and Gerry Francis was again on strike but the spoils were shared in a 1-1 draw.

The following Saturday, Rangers were at the home of the champions, Derby County. Derby had beaten West Ham to win the Charity Shield (now Community Shield), 2-0 at Wembley just a fortnight earlier, but drawn their opening two league matches.

QPR were forced to make changes as their 2 central defenders, McLintock and Webb, were both out injured. With a combined age of 65, the two stalwarts were replaced by Ron Abbott and Tony Tagg who had a combined age of just 39. They were up against the formidable Kevin Hector and Francis Lee, as well as players like Charlie George, Archie Gemmill and Bruce Rioch. Derby also boasted one of the best defensive pairings the First Division has ever seen in Roy McFarland and Colin Todd.

QPR exploded out of the traps as talisman, Stan Bowles scored a first half hat-trick, including one from the spot. Just before the break, McFarland grabbed a goal back for the home side, but Rangers carried on in the 2nd half with further goals from Dave Thomas and Dave Clement and QPR celebrated a famous 5-1 win away to the champions.

These were indeed, heady times.

QPR finished off the month with a 2-2 draw at Wolves and a 1-1 draw at home to West Ham. Don Givens scored all 3 goals for ‘the hoops’.

5 games in and QPR were sitting in 3rd place.

Into September and a Dave Thomas goal saved a point away to Birmingham in a 1-1 draw. They then travelled to 3rd Division, Shrewsbury in the 2nd Round of the League Cup. 0-1 down at half-time, QPR responded with goals from Webb, Masson, Thomas and Leach in the 2nd half, and went through 4-1 winners.

Back in the league, and a season record crowd of over 29,000 witnessed the visit of Manchester United. United, promoted from the 2nd Division the previous season, were sitting at the top of the table in their first season back, but they too succumbed as Dave Webb scored the only goal of the game, as QPR won 1-0.

This was the start of a 4-game run where Phil Parkes was unbeaten in the Rangers goal. A 0-0 draw in Middlesbro was followed by two 1-0 home wins against Leicester and Newcastle. Mick Leach scoring both goals.

At the end of September, QPR had hit the top, and were still unbeaten.

Sept_75

October, and QPR travelled to Elland Road to play 4th placed, Leeds United. A Stan Bowles penalty wasn’t enough to avoid Rangers first defeat of the season as they went down, 1-2. QPR were then in action in the League Cup as Charlton were the visitors to Loftus Road, and they again had to come from behind as Bowles equalised for a 1-1 draw.

October 11th saw Everton visit Loftus Road. QPR again put together an impressive performance as they thoroughly overran their more illustrious opponents. Givens put the home side in front and then a pile-driver from Masson gave QPR a 2-0 lead at the break.

In the 2nd half, 2 goals from Francis and another from Thomas saw QPR round off a fine 5-0 win. Now top scorers in the division, they were also the only side whose goals against was still in single figures.

The trip to Charlton for the League Cup replay, saw QPR progress to the 4th Round as they won 3-0, with goals from Thomas, Masson and Bowles.

When they travelled to Burnley, QPR’s progression this season was in comparison. When they came up from the 2nd Division in 1973, Burnley finished above them as champions. Now in 18th, Burnley were desperate for the points and won 1-0.

At the end of October, they entertained bottom club Sheffield United. Surprisingly, they proved tougher opponents than was expected but a Don Givens goal in the end, made all the difference as QPR won 1-0.

QPR went into November, still top of the table, although only on goal average from Manchester United and West Ham, with champions, Derby County, just 1pt behind.

Oct_75

November was a busy month for the boys from Loftus Road. 6 games, including the 4th Round of the League Cup.

They started with a trip to Coventry. A 1-1 draw saw them drop to 3rd in the table as Man Utd beat Norwich, 1-0 to go top. West Ham moved into 2nd as they thumped Birmingham, 5-1 at St.Andrews. The following weekend, their stuttering form continued as Tottenham came to visit and walked away with a 0-0 draw. It was the first time this season the Loftus Road faithful had not seen their side score at home.

During the week they entertained Newcastle at home in the League Cup and went out losing 1-3. As they then drew 1-1 at Ipswich, the early season ambitions looked a long way off. 1 win in 6 matches in all competitions, and they’d yet to score more than once in a game during that period.

So when Stan Bowles grabbed the only goal of the game at home to Burnley towards the end of November, the QPR fans were greatly relieved. Despite recent form, they were lying in 2nd, just 1pt behind leaders, Derby. In fact, just 1pt separated the top 4 and it was clear the season would be close.

November ended with QPR returning to their free-flowing attacking play as Stoke were the visitors and QPR won 3-2, with goals from Masson, Clement and Webb. As Derby had beaten Middlesbro by the same score, QPR remained 2nd going into the final month of 1975. It may have been a frustrating month, but QPR’s only defeat was in the League Cup, and after the 2 league defeats in October, this was vital.

Nov_75

December was often a real test for sides during the ‘70’s. Back then, Christmas and Easter were crucial periods as 3 games were often squeezed into a few days. It wasn’t that many years ago that some clubs played twice on the same day, and playing games on consecutive days was not uncommon. A great viewing spectacle as there were plenty of matches going on, but for small squads, it meant many players just played through pain that would eventually catch up with them, come May.

A trip to Maine Road to meet Man City was first up in December, and another draw, 0-0. Then December 13 was the big one. That point against City had propelled QPR back to the top of the table as Derby lost at Birmingham. Now 1pt separated 6 clubs, but QPR’s goal average was worth a point at that stage. Hot on their heels were Derby, Leeds, Man Utd, Liverpool and West Ham.

December 13, QPR v Derby. 1st v 2nd. QPR were hopeful after their 5-1 demolition of County back in August, but it was a tight encounter this time which ended 1-1 and was most memorable for the first ever goal for Phil Nutt, who’d come on as a second half substitute for Rangers and was making only his 2nd appearance for the club.

Into the Christmas period and QPR had 3 games in a week, including a trip to Anfield on the 20th, a home game with Norwich in Boxing Day and then a trip to Arsenal a day later.

The trip to Liverpool was another 1st v 2nd, as the top 4 clubs were all on 28pts. Rangers couldn’t repeat their performance on the opening day of the season and goals from John Toshack and Phil Neal gave the home side a 2-0 win.

That ended an 8-game unbeaten run for QPR in the league, but they responded well as Masson and Bowles gave them a 2-0 win over Norwich on Boxing Day. The Christmas spirit didn’t last onto the next day as a trip to Highbury saw QPR beaten 0-2.

Liverpool’s form over Christmas had seen them hit the top, above Man Utd on goal average. Leeds and Derby were 1pt behind and now QPR were 3pts behind the leaders.

QPR were still unbeaten at home, but had picked up just 1 win on the road. 1976 was going to be a crucial year.

Dec_75

January 1976

1976 was a big year for Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club. They put their league aspirations aside to compete in the FA Cup. The Third Round is often the most anticipated date on the football calendar, and QPR looked forward to entertaining Newcastle. Unfortunately the game was a tight affair with no goals. Back then, replays were held the following Wednesday. QPR travelled up to St.James’s Park, but were beaten 1-2, and that would be the end of their cup dreams.

On the plus side, it allowed them to fully concentrate on the league.

Following their FA Cup exit they travelled to Old Trafford. United went top of the table with a 2-1 win. Sammy McIlroy and Gordon Hill scoring either side of Don Givens goal.

Since beating Stoke, 3-2 at the end of November, QPR had won just 1 of the following 8 matches they’d played in all competitions. That win had taken them to the top of the table, but now they were down in 5th, 5pts behind the leaders, United.

They then hosted Birmingham at Loftus Road and seemed to get themselves back on track as two Don Masson goals gave them a 2-1 win. They weren’t completely back in form as they went to West Ham and lost 0-1.

That was their 6th defeat of the season and the 4th in their last 6 league matches. But that was the time when it all changed for Rangers. They wouldn’t lose again until mid-April. 12 games unbeaten with 7 clean sheets, 27 goals scored. Many who remember this season fondly, will point to this period as being probably one of the best times to be a QPR fan.

January ended with a 2-0 win away to Aston Villa. Second half goals from John Hollins and Gerry Francis gave QPR, 2 valuable points, on the same day that Man Utd, Liverpool and Derby all won. QPR were still 4pts behind Man Utd, and had played a game more. More consistency would be needed in February.

Jan76

February

QPR were just about to hit a rich vein of form. Wolves were the visitors on 7th February and a 2-1 lead became a 4-2 win for the Hoops. Givens (2), Thomas and Francis (pen) were the scorers.

QPR moved up to 2nd with that win, as Leeds and Derby both lost. Liverpool hit the top with their win over Leeds.

A week later and they made the short journey to North London to take on Tottenham. A 3-0 win showed the gulf between the two sides. Givens and Francis (2) again were the scorers. Francis had now scored 4 goals in his last 3 games, Givens 3 in his last 2. Rangers were now 1pt behind Liverpool and Man Utd, but had played 2 games more at that stage.

By the time Ipswich came to Loftus road in mid-Feb, QPR were in full flow and saw them off 3-1.

Man Utd lost to Villa, so QPR were back up to 2nd place, just 2pts behind Liverpool and one of 3 teams on 40pts with Man Utd and Derby.

When Dave Thomas scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Leicester, QPR were now level with Liverpool who were beaten at Arsenal. This was now QPR’s 5th straight win and they were the form side in the league. They also only conceded in 2 of those games and their defence bore comparison with Liverpool.

Their final game of February was against the bottom club, Sheffield United. United were in a dire situation. 10pts from safety with just 10 games to go, and with only 2pts for a win, they seemed doomed. They managed to galvanise themselves to hold QPR to a 0-0 draw.

With Liverpool suffering a surprise 0-2 defeat at home to Middlesbro, QPR ended the month level on points with Liverpool and Man Utd, although they’d played a game more.

Feb76

March

If QPR fans thought February was good, 5 wins and a draw, March was out of this world. 4 games, 4 wins, 8 goals scored and just 1 conceded.

Coventry scored the only goal against Phil Parkes in March, but that was hardly any consolation as Thomas, Francis, Givens and Masson gave QPR a 4-1 at Loftus Road on 6th March.

That win took Rangers back to the top of the table, and by this time they were flying. They travelled to Merseyside next, to Everton, who were keen to avenge their 0-5 mauling at Loftus Road. It wasn’t to be and Stan Bowles and Mick Leach scored in each half to give QPR a 2-0 win. Liverpool, Man Utd and Derby all won too, and they were all on 45pts, just 2 behind QPR who’d played a game more than Liverpool & Derby and two more than United.

It was clear Rangers would need to keep this run going, as United then drew at Norwich in one of their games in hand, to move into 2nd just 1pt behind QPR with a game in hand. On 20th,Man Utd were involved in an exciting 4-3 win at Newcastle, Liverpool went to Norwich and won 1-0 and Derby won 2-0 at Middlesbro. QPR were at Stoke and Dave Webb scored the only goal of the game to give QPR a 1-0 win, and a 3rd successive win at that. Derby were then held at home by Stoke, and moved into 3rd place, 1pt behind QPR but no longer having a game in hand.

At the end of March, the top 4 clubs were all at home, Derby beat Birmingham 4-2, Man Utd beat Middlesbro 3-0, and Liverpool beat Burnley, 2-0. QPR entertained Man City and again Dave Webb scored the only goal of the game.

QPR ended March having won every game they could, yet were still just 1pt ahead of Man Utd and Derby and 2pts ahead of Liverpool. Both Man Utd and Liverpool had a game in hand on Rangers too. As April approached, QPR, still unbeaten at home, could look forward to 3 of their last 5 games at Loftus Road. They were now in pole position, 10 games unbeaten and had only conceded goals in 3 of those 10 games.

Mar_76

Things were finely poised

The final month, and the final push. 4 clubs were in with a chance of the title. QPR, Man Utd, Liverpool and Derby. QPR lead by 1pt from Man Utd and Derby, with Liverpool a further point behind. QPR and Derby only had 5 games left, Man Utd and Liverpool, 6.

Liverpool still had the Merseyside derby at Anfield to come, Man Utd had the Manchester derby at Old Trafford to look forward to. Derby had both Man City and Everton to play, as well as an FA Cup Semi-Final against Man Utd to go as well. Liverpool were also heavily involved in the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) and had reached the Semi-Finals. For QPR, only their final game against Leeds would see them meet an opponent in the top 9. They were on a run of 19pts from a possible 20 from their last 10 games.

Saturday, April 3 1976

QPR travelled to Newcastle. Mick Leach had scored the only goal of the game at Loftus Road last September, but Newcastle had put QPR out of both the League and FA Cups. Newcastle scored first but McLintock and Bowles gave Rangers a crucial 2-1 away win.

On the same day, Liverpool beat Everton 1-0 with a late goal from supersub, David Fairclough. Man Utd and Derby played in the FA Cup Semi-Final, which Utd won 2-0.

Tuesday, April 6

Liverpool beat Leicester 1-0 at Anfield with a goal from Kevin Keegan

QPR and Liverpool were now equal on 53pts from 38 games.

Saturday, April 10

Liverpool travelled to Villa Park and were held 0-0. Man Utd went to Portman Road and were beaten 0-3 by Ipswich. Derby were involved in a cracker with Man City at Maine Road. City won 4-3.

QPR had a crucial game at home to Middlesbro. No score at half-time and locals could be forgiven for getting nervous. Their mood wouldn’t have improved when Phil Boersma (fomer Liverpool player) gave the visitors the lead early on in the second half. But Don Givens, Stan Bowles and 2 from Gerry Francis (1 from the spot) gave QPR a 4-2 win

QPR 39-55
Liverpool 39-54
Man Utd 37-50
Derby 38-50

Those results probably put paid to the title hopes of Derby and Man Utd, so it would become a two-horse race,

Saturday, April 17

Man Utd bounced back from their Ipswich defeat by beating Everton, 2-1. Derby drew 2-2 at home to Leicester and Liverpool won a thriller when they beat Stoke, 5-3.

QPR were away to Norwich. They were hopeful, after their 2-0 win on Boxing Day, and were also in great form. 6 straight league wins, and unbeaten in 12, winning 11 of those. But this was just one game too far for a QPR side who finally looked to be getting tired. Norwich took the lead, QPR equalised with a good goal from Dave Thomas, but Norwich then scored twice, although Phil Boyer looked offside. QPR managed a goal back when Powell lobbed his own keeper, but the defeat hurt.

Liverpool were now top by 1pt, and QPR needed them to slip up against either at Man City or at Wolves.

Monday, April 19

The Easter programme in the ‘70’s was a busy affair with 2 games in 3 days. QPR were back at home for the visit of Arsenal. Still unbeaten at home, Rangers were keen to avenge their defeat at Highbury in late December. Goals from Frank McLintock and another penalty from Gerry Francis, gave QPR a 2-1 win.

Liverpool had to go to Maine Road and play Man City. Heighway and 2 more from David Fairclough, sealed a 3-0 win for Liverpool. Man Utd won 1-0 at Burnley and were still in with a chance, although a slim one.

Liverpool 41-58
QPR 41-57
Man Utd 39-54

QPR had just one game left, a home match against Leeds, who were 4th. Liverpool’s final match was away to Wolves, who were battling relegation. Because of UEFA Cup fixtures, there would be an anomaly to the schedule. These days the final matches are played all on the last day. Back in 1976 QPR played their final match on 24th April, and Liverpool wouldn’t go to Wolves until 10 days later on the 4th May.

Before that, Man Utd were at home to Stoke and saw their feint hopes of a title vanish in a 0-1 defeat.

Saturday 24th April

QPR at home to Leeds. A goalless first half was interrupted by Dave Thomas opening the scoring midway through the second half. Suddenly, QPR seemed to play much more confidence and less nervy. Then the moment that every QPR fan had wanted, a breakaway saw Stan Bowles in acres of space and he finished calmly and with less than 10 minutes to go, QPR had confirmed victory with a 2-0 win. Queue celebrations. QPR were 1pt ahead of Liverpool and needed Wolves to win in their match in 10 days time.

Many QPR fans will point to them being champions for the next 10 days.

Anyone recognise themselves in that crowd?

Tuesday, May 4th

Liverpool had just won the first leg of the UEFA Cup Final, 3-2 against Bruges. Southampton had beaten Man Utd in the FA Cup Final, and now attention turned to the final match of the season. You’d never have it happen now, but the championship decider was played the same night at the Manchester derby. United won 2-0.

Wolves v Liverpool

Wolves were 3rd from bottom and a win would see them safe. Liverpool just needed a draw.

Steve Kindon put the home side ahead in the first half. 15 minutes left and then Kevin Keegan put away a Toshack header. Then Toshack, himself made it 2-1, before the best finish of the night as Ray Kennedy gave Liverpool a 3-1 victory.

2 years after taking on the ‘impossible job’, Bob Paisley had won the League Championship for Liverpool. He would go onto win more trophies per season than any other manager in the English game (but that’s for another story)

Final

QPR were left to dream about what might have been. Their form in December and early January probably cost them the title, as did the defeat to Norwich, with just 2 games left. After they lost to West Ham at the end of January, they played 15 games, won 13, drew 1, lost 1, scored 31, conceded 11.

Several players were capped by their countries, with Clement, Gillard, Thomas, Bowles and Francis all playing for England. Don Masson became a Scotland international. Don Givens became a regular in the Republic of Ireland squad.

They have yet to come anywhere near emulating this. Maybe with the money they now have they could at least consider a European place, but for now 1975-76 will go down as their greatest ever season.

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