Most of the match detail is a blur after all these years but the joy of the occasion is clear in my memory. I was living in the Vale Flats over at Acton Vale at the time and our group, Peter Clarke, Keith Hunt, Steve Bass and myself made the trip to Villa Park by train from Euston Station. We were packed in like sardines but with hope in our hearts, ‘Come On You R’s’ !
When we arrived at the ground, a lot of Rangers fans were entering via the Holte End so we saw nothing wrong in doing the same. Thankfully our position on the terrace was near the front and wide to the left thereby avoiding the crowd disturbances and missile throwing incidents ! The situation with the other teams at the top , Ipswich and Blackpool, was very close but as long as we won we would be promoted.
I remember that the majority of the game didn’t go well and at 1-0 down the dream seemed like it was over but I prayed to my recently deceased dear old Dad (a Queen’s Park Ranger bless his Soul) and ‘Hey Presto’ the two slices of fortune from above and we won 2-1 ! I am sure many of you will be familiar with the film, ‘Escape To Victory’ but for us at the final whistle it was ‘Conga To Victory’ into the streets of Birmingham. We stayed in Brum for the post-match celebrations and some of us even tried to toast the team at the ratio of one pint of beer for each player. On the late journey home, we were R’s supporters drunk with success.
The next day the ‘Sunday Mirror’ headline proclaimed ‘Rangers Miracle’. Roy Peskett went on to write…..More than 1,000 triumphant fans escorted Rangers off the field – and into the First Division – after a near Soccer miracle. The nervy Londoners snatched promotion with a goal that nearly wasn’t and one put into his own net by a Villa defender. Rangers were a goal down to a brilliant Mitchinson effort in the 14th minute. And, although they had forced nine corners in the first 25 minutes of the second-half, they were playing so badly that in the words of Manager Alec Stock, they never looked like scoring.
Then tireless veteran Leslie Allen – one of the 11 Tottenham immortals who carried off the “double” seven years ago – swung over yet another pinpoint corner. Up went Mike Leach, who had scored that sensational last-second life-saver at Ipswich two weeks ago, and once more his accurate head did the trick. The ball shot off the inside of a post and goalkeeper Dunne swept it out. But referee Leo Callaghan, who next Saturday is in charge of the Cup Final, instantly awarded a goal. Afterwards Villa’s Mitchinson, who was standing under the bar, generously admitted “the ball was a yard over the line.”
Still Rangers were apprehensive. As the anxious knot of Rangers officials on the touchline signalled that their nearest rivals Blackpool were leading 2-1 they reeled back under fresh Villa onslaughts. Twice Kelly made brilliant full-length saves and then courageously prevented another goal by diving at Rudge’s feet. Desperate Rangers shrugged this off and after Keen had twice tried to force the ball past a mass of Villa players from close-in, they got the goal they so badly wanted. And what a gift ! As Allen tried to find Marsh in the penalty area, full back Bradley dived in and diverted the ball back. The goalkeeper was out of position and the ball sped into the empty net.
Rangers were staring unbelievingly as if the Gods had relented. Then, and only then, were they on top, in the last eight minutes. Villa stimulated by the second largest home crowd of the season (33,785), gave one of their best displays. Gone was the hesitant fumbling of recent weeks which had brought them the slow handclap from their own supporters.
In Monday’s Daily Mirror, Ken Jones wrote….Queen’s Park Rangers may have to spend as much in the next three months as they have in the past three years if they are to survive in the First Division. Their climb from the Third Division to the First in two seasons cost only £120,000 in transfer fees. It is less than Spurs paid for Martin Chivers and makes their achievement even more remarkable. But Rangers must now decide quickly between keeping faith with the men who have brought them up and bidding for those who can keep them there.
Chairman Jim Gregory told me: “We must look at the situation from various angles. In the first place we are a better side than we looked against Aston Villa on Saturday – or for that matter over the past month. We have some fine young players and others with experience of First Division football. But there must be some hard thinking done during the next couple of months. There is a lesson to be learned from Coventry, who have only just managed to get out of trouble in their first season in the top class. But the players and our Manager Alec Stock and Coach Bill Dodgin have achieved something tremendous and it is no good being afraid of First Division football. We want to make a show and I like to think that we shall. Our supporters have been marvellous and we owe that much to them. Money has got to be available for players if the right ones come along. It’s not as easy as it sounds and it would be pointless signing men who are only as good as the ones we’ve got. Our ground will be an advantage to us because no First Division club is going to be keen on playing there. Obviously there are problems but the important and wonderful thing is that we are there.”