In this modern day and age it would have probably been called a damaged metatarsal but way back then in the 67/68 Season, medical jargon was more primitive and it was merely known as a broken foot. The midweek Reserve team fixture against Southend United at Roots Hall on the 8th November 1967 was to be one of the tests to see if QPR goal scoring genius Rodney Marsh had fully recovered from this injury which had kept him out of 1st Team football since the start of the Season. Although judging by the R’s results and position in the Division 2 league table (second place at the time) some less informed pundits could have been excused for thinking that he HAD been playing 1st Team football for QPR FC right from the August kick-off.
I was working at the time for a firm of Insurance Brokers in the City of London so immediately after work had finished for the day, I took the short walk to Fenchurch Street Station to catch the Southend train…yes football supporters in that era sometimes did turn up wearing a suit, collar and tie ! (None of that replica shirt nonsense then) On the train I met up with some friends from the Bush also ‘suitably’ dressed for the occasion I hasten to add ! There was a very large crowd at Roots Hall that evening. I believe it was over 3,000 and nearly half were R’s fans. The Official Supporters Club ran a dozen coaches from the Ground. Daphne Biggs and co. couldn’t sell the travel tickets fast enough ! It was amazing considering it was a midweek away Reserve Team fixture ! Yes folks, such was the pulling power of Rodney Marsh, supreme QPR icon.
To be quite honest, nothing much happened in the game for the first 85 minutes. Rangers did field a fairly strong team including Kelly, Glover and Watson but the football was non-descript. There was of course the chanting of ‘Rod-nee’ each time he touched the ball and the bizarre sight of the entire mass of Rangers fans from behind one goal walking round to the opposite end at half time where the R’s would be attacking. Then in the 86th minute cometh the man cometh the hour ! Rangers pressed forward in that famous Wembley all-white strip. The ball bounced kindly for Rodney just inside the box…he turned and hit a thunderous shot into the top corner of the net. Yes you have guessed it…hysteria…loud chants of ‘Rod-nee’ and a pitch invasion by some of the more excited fans. All hail the hero !
Rodney Marsh returned to 1st Team football at Loftus Road ten days later against Middlesboro’ and scored in the 1-1 draw. As the history books show, the R’s together with that old ‘Marsh Magic’ went on to clinch promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history at the Villa Park Finale…but that’s another story. As a ‘footnote’, the following pre-Season of 1968/69, Rodney suffered a similar injury. This time he was sidelined until January. Who said lightning never strikes twice ?
Bernard Lambert (Kerrins)
The programme cover is shown above and inside the Rangers theme continues as the editorial headline proclaims in large bold letters, ‘Rodney Marsh Back In Action’. The Southend Manager was the ex-Rangers player Ernie Shepherd and he wrote, “We hope Rodney comes through his test alright and will soon be back in the First Team. I am sure our team, which includes several experienced senior players, will give him a fair but tough reception. I will long remember Rodney’s display in the League Cup Final at Wembley last Season when he showed me that he has a tremendous amount of individual natural ability.”
In his book, ‘Shooting To The Top’, Marsh writes in detail about the match.
“It was a Reserve Game with a difference. Rangers fans proved what great folk they are by turning out in force. A dozen coaches were hired, others went across to the east coast by car and rail and all told, more than a 1,000 made the trip from West London. I find it impossible to say how much I appreciated their support. They were magnificent. A crowd of 3,092 eventually pushed their way through the turnstiles – Southend’s best Reserve gate, apparently for five years. It would be untrue to say I was anxious about my foot, my condition and my form. I was scared stiff ! I had not played for eight months and I just did not know what to expect from myself. I felt well generally, but as soon as the game started, I realised how much I was out of touch. My timing was wrong. I lacked sharpness. I was misjudging angles in giving and taking passes. I was invariably arriving too late or too early for crosses. In short, there was more wrong than right with my game.”
I remember being amazed that there was a mention of the game in whatever newspaper that dropped on the mat the following morning. Going back to that book, Rodney then describes the build-up to the goal. “Late in the match, however, I had the break I needed. Mick Kelly, our goalkeeper, threw a long ball up the centre and it bounced once as Southend’s centre-half and myself went up for the ball. The centre half slipped and as I turned with the ball, I found myself with a clear run with only their left-back, retreating fast, between me and the Southend goal. I took the ball on a bit, saw enough of the goal to justify a shot and swung my foot and as I swung, the ball hit something and bounced. It meant that I hit the ball on the volley and it hummed into the net – a full blooded drive on the run. It was one of the hardest shots and sweetest goals of my life.”
There was also a mention of the amazing scenes that followed in that short newspaper article and Rodney also wrote about them. “What happened then was out of this world. The Rangers supporters there swarmed on to the pitch waving banners and rattles and even a Union Jack or two and began dancing and shouting as if we’d won the F.A. Cup itself. They beat me on the back until I became scared they were going to put me out for the rest of the Season. Police were eventually needed to restore law and order. What a leg-up to my confidence it all was. It did me a power of good.”
The programme listed the Rangers team as follows:-
Kelly, Watson, Finch, Moughton, Hunt, McGovern, Glover, Leach, Fox, Marsh and Turpie but Marsh writes in his book that Roger Morgan and Mark Lazarus were included to give him support and provide a service that would really test his condition. He also mentions that Southend included five First Teamers that night.
(My copy of the book is the Sportsmans Book Club edition from 1969. It was originally published in 1968 by Stanley Paul)