Having been present at Griffin Park on the night in 1962 when George Francis missed an open goal (for Brentford) against Grimsby Town, my father, who’d supported QPR since the early 20’s, resigned himself to the fact that he’d never see the team get back into Division 2 in his lifetime. There was little to encourage him to think otherwise when, after missing promotion by three points that year, we failed to achieve even mid-table finishes in the three Seasons that followed. He of little faith eh ? Although, who could blame him ? It was now 13 years since our four year survival in Division 2 after that first ever promotion in 1948.
The sudden change of fortune in 1965/66 could hardly be credited to one man but the shrewdness of Alec Stock had to be a big factor. Bravely discarding our leading scorer, Brian Bedford, he replaced him with Les Allen (a member of the famous Tottenham ‘double’ side) who weighed in with 33 goals that Season as we finished third. Later in that Season, we acquired Rodney Marsh so we started the 66/67 Season as joint favourites for promotion. Little did my father (or anyone else) suspect that it would provide not only reward but an unlikely bonus to those of patience !
And yet there were still few signs of the thrills, excitement and pride to follow as, after a comfortable 5-0 against Colchester in the first round, we struggled against the likes of 4th Division Aldershot and then at home against lowly Swansea Town in rounds 2 and 3 of the League Cup. It was that explosive night against Leicester City when we all, at last, really did stand up and take notice of this ‘new’ team devastatingly combine its talents for the first time against quality opposition. No less than SEVEN of the Leicester side playing that night (25th October 1966) had appeared in International sides the previous week. Carlisle United, flying high in Division 2 in which they finished third that Season, were no pushover in the fifth round but the 7-2 demolition of Birmingham City over the 2-leg semi-final, had many now really confident that we’d not be at Wembley on 4th March just to make up the numbers ! All that was against us, on paper, was that no Third Division side had ever won a Wembley final.
My parents and most of my brothers and sisters were still living at home in East Acton during the 1960’s, during which time I was still living and working in Lancashire. When I first moved there in 1961, my friends in London were green with envy, assuming that I’d be filling my boots with the First Division football literally on my doorstep in Manchester, Liverpool and Central Lancashire. But they very soon deemed me in need of treatment when they discovered that I was instead, sampling the delights of Workington, Carlisle, Barnsley, Bury, Bradford, Rotherham and numerous other hell-holes watching the R’s and still not missing too many home games either !
On the morning of the Final, I came down by train, met my friend at Euston and went straight to Wembley. I had arranged to meet the rest of my family after the match in the Old Oak Club in East Acton. Therefore, I had not witnessed the famed procession from W12 to the Empire Stadium. However, one of my brothers recalls seeing it in it’s infancy, proceeding along Old Oak Common Lane and a few pouring out of the Old Oak Club to join it. Later that evening, following the match, I learned that by the time the march had reached the vicinity of the Jubilee Clock, it had already doubled in size. It seems therefore, that there had been no widely published intention to stage the procession and that the majority had joined in purely spontaneously. Interestingly, it seems that the next attempt to re-create that spirit was prior to the 1982 Cup Final. That was more widely announced yet there was nothing like the numbers participating as on the day when, after the great victory, legend has it that the West Brom coffin was ceremoniously buried in the Stadium car park !
My memories of the match itself are documented in the re-release of the ‘Match Of The Day’ video on dvd. Most of the proceeds from my winning bet from a WBA supporter went over the bar at the Old Oak Club that evening, aiding my father to become so hammered that he could no longer repeat, “I still can’t believe it” for the umpteenth time. We couldn’t even wake him up for Match Of The Day ! I shan’t even begin to mention his state barely one month later when the small matter of promotion was celebrated after the draw against Walsall !!!