This part contains, in no chronological order, some reflections on the life and times of being an R’s supporter in the 50’s and 60’s.
One aspect of Loftus Road which today is alien to supporters not so long in the tooth as yours truly and a certain Kerrins (!), is the condition of the pitch. For those of us who cut these soon to be long teeth in the 50’s and 60’s, the speed with which the pitch turned from a verdant green to a curious red/brown colour was a joy to behold. (I’m not sure if the rusty roof of the old Ellerslie Road Stand added to the colour ?) It was inevitable that subject to the weather, it would soon become a hard packed or quagmire-like creation devoid of grass other than a few tufts in each corner.
The Prima Donnas of today should be made to play in such conditions week after week and that would soon sort the men from the boys ! The fetching brown colour was then muted by copious amounts of sand and you expected to see bucket and spade holiday makers removed from the pitch prior to matches. It must have been very frustrating for the Groundsman who had little chance to fine tune his mowing skills. At the end of the Season we prayed for an early and mild spring so that we could remind ourselves what grass looked like ! It’s a tribute to the great R’s teams of the period that they produced such superb football on such surfaces. It was no wonder we tried the plastic pitch experiment as the building of new Stands only worsened the situation.
The terraces were obviously standing-only in the 50’s and 60’s and a somewhat intimidating environment for a young lad. In particular, the exit from the School End terrace to Ellerslie Road was via a long, rather narrow passage and it was like being carried along on a tidal wave but at least it saved on shoe leather as your feet rarely touched the ground. There was a Boys enclosure at the Loft End but I do not think we used it much. No doubt Kerrins will correct me but this was a feature I can’t remember seeing at other Grounds. One good feature was that you could change ends usually via the pitch without fear of solitary confinement and hard labour. This proved very useful for away games when you didn’t know which end the bulk of the R’s supporters would be.
This was very desirable at some away games such as Millwall ! Now that was an intimidating away trip ! Visiting the old Den in Cold Blow Lane was an experience not to be taken lightly. I can remember one game, possibly 67/8, which was a 1-1 draw with Marshy scoring a dubious goal. Unfortunately we had found ourselves at the ‘wrong end’ of the Ground. We hid anything remotely blue and white. Our celebrations were purely internal (very messy) as to show external signs of pleasure would have invited serious grief !!! Curiously, we managed to make the same mistake at Portman Road later in that Season when we needed to get something to ensure promotion to the old First Division. The Marshy trick of leaving his leg trailing when being chased in the area produced another dubious penalty. We celebrated that goal…a big mistake as things turned a bit nasty for a few minutes ! We probably pushed Kerrins forward as a human sacrifice !
I can remember one home game in the early 60’s when a friendly had been arranged, usually due to our early Cup exit, yes we were good at it in the early days ! I think it was Hibernian who came down, if so, it was February 1964. It was played in dense fog and if it had been a league game, it wouldn’t have started. Having the ability to move the whole length of the old open South Africa Road terrace proved to be invaluable as it was the only way we could have a clue what was going on in the game. Even then we relied on the sound of fans behind each goal to confirm if a goal was scored ! We must have run miles during the match !
It was also about this time that an excellent Youth Team was being produced with several members appearing for England and also became first team regulars. I can recall one very depressing Saturday morning on the usual boggy pitch when we played out last Youth game of the Season against Chelsea and needed to win to take the League title. If we had lost, the title would have gone to Chelsea. A large crowd turned up for the game and we won. It is a tribute to our supporters that day that there was such a large crowd as it was Cup Final Day and valuable drink purchasing time was taken up prior to the Wembley Final.
Remember these were the days of no mobile phones, football programmes on TV, Teletext or personal computers to obtain information of transfers, teams etc and sometimes you would not be aware of signings until the team ran out for the match. We take such things for granted now. Even half-time and full-time scores would be displayed on pitch-side boards with letters of the alphabet indicating the games. It was a luxury to have these confirmed over the loudspeakers !
Talking of programmes, we may moan at the numerous errors in the present match programmes but those of the 50’s and 60’s were a joy to behold with wrong names under pictures etc. For those who collect programmes, that is the reason they frequently have alterations written in them by the original owner. I have an early 60’s handbook in my collection which even managed to make numerous mistakes in a summary of the previous Season. We did sometimes have also the chance to be closer to the players as supporters frequently travelled on the same train as the team to away matches. Players who were injured would also join the R’s faithful on the terraces during away matches. Mark Lazarus was one who frequently did so and this was appreciated.
I hope this has given a flavour to the younger readers of what it was like to follow the R’s in the early days. Many only know the present Ground and did not experience as we did, the amazing transformation from 1968 to 1981 with the entire stadium being re-built. We may criticize the cramped conditions and it may now be showing signs of age but we have a Ground that we could only dream about prior to 1968 (and we now have grass all Season ! ) Many have also not had the good fortune to see in the flesh the great teams and players like Stan the Man, Marshy, Gerry Francis, Dave Thomas and the like. You will understand why those of us who did are unable to accept the low standards that we must put up with now and demand more for our money. Perhaps with new owners this will be a new dawn and the start of a new period we will talk about in the years to come…I hope so.
(The image above comes from the 1960 Rover comic series, ‘ABC Chart of Football Colours’. The player featured is Keith Rutter and the photo part came separately to stick on the card. There was one for each team and are now very rare – Steve Russell)