This is the first in a new series of personal accounts to commemorate that historic day at Villa Park 40 years ago. Thanks also to Bernard for scanning some of the pics from his West London Observer souvenir supplement. The clarity isn’t the best but the images are wonderful and I will use as many as I can – Steve Russell
Dateline Saturday 11th May, 1968, venue Villa Park. There comes a tide in the affairs of men which if taken at the flood etc etc. Well the waves of opportunity were certainly breaking upon the shores of Loftus Road. We were only 90 minutes away from reaching the top flight of English Football for the first time ever in our 86 year history. Nerves, anticipation, hope, pride ? Yes, most of the 15,000 Rangers supporters would have felt those emotions as they travelled forth to Birmingham to watch the R’s play Villa in the final Second Division match of the 1967/68 Season. The situation was as tight as the proverbial shark’s rear end. Ipswich were top, two points ahead of QPR and Blackpool but the R’s had the better goal average. If only we hadn’t lost those Easter away fixtures at Cardiff, 1-0 with a missed penalty and 3-1 at Middlesboro. Yes, life is full of ‘if only’.
Our group included Indy R’s member, Colin Woodley and we set off to the match by train from Euston Station. Also in the party much to my astonishment was my Father, a lifelong Fulham supporter ! Perhaps he had a vision of what the future was going to be like at Craven Cottage for the next 35 years ! On arrival at New Street Station, we headed straight for Joe Lyons for our pre-match meal. The Cadby Hall connections of my Grandfather and Colin’s own Father held considerable sway I’ll have you know.
Inside the Stadium, the crowd of 33,785 was in good voice and a sea of blue and white was everywhere. Even half of the giant Holte End terrace was taken over by R’s fans. Villa were a poor side that year and were in the bottom six of the Division with nothing to play for. Surely this was to be our day. If we won, we were up, provided of course that Blackpool did nothing stupid like winning 9-0 at Huddersfield !!! The game kicked off. It was a nightmare start and it got worse as the first half progressed. We were a goal down in under 15 minutes and were never at the races. Thank heavens for the half time whistle and the news that Blackpool were losing 1-0 at Huddersfield.
After the interval it was a different story. Rangers stormed into the attack and took the game by the throat. There was huge pressure on the Villa goal and corners a-plenty. The long overdue equaliser came twenty minutes from the end. A Les Allen corner on to the head of Mick Leach…on to the woodwork…scramble…was it over the line ? Yes !!! But I was damned if I could see from my position in the halfway line enclosure. Then with eight minutes to go, a Clarke/Allen move sent the ball through to Marsh. Rodney could not quite get there but the Aston Villa defender Keith Bradley did and deflected the ball into his own goal. Villa 1 QPR 2 !!! Absolute delirium erupted among the massed ranks from West London. The blue and white colours were bouncing all around the Ground.
This was followed by one of the longest seven minutes of my life. What relief and what joy when the final whistle sounded. Hundreds of fans invaded the pitch and swamped the players. A total stranger built like the wrestler Giant Haystack, grabbed hold of my Dad in a Bear hug which nearly squeezed the life out of him and lifted him high into the air. “You don’t experience that sort of thing at Craven Cottage do you Dad ?” As a sporting gesture, the hosts played Cliff Richard’s record, ‘Congratulations’ over their tannoy system and there were beaming smiles all round. Meanwhile, out on the pitch, the players were trying to make their way to the dressing room in possession of as much of their football kit as possible. Too late boys, the Mob has spoken !
Hooray, we had reached the ‘Promised Land’. From the Third Division to the First in consecutive Seasons. Ipswich had drawn 1-1 with Blackburn Rovers to deny us the Championship Trophy but in the words of Catherine Tate…was I bothered ?
Bernard Lambert (Kerrins)