We recently spent an afternoon at the home of Mark Lazarus. He spoke openly and honestly about his football career and his time with QPR. The interview lasted around six hours and will be split into two parts. The Independent R’s would like to thank both Mark and his wife Fay, for their warm welcome and hospitality.
SR: Mark, I understand that your first club was Fulham.
ML: Yes, I played for Fulham when I was 14/15 years old. It was for the Youth side, which was then in the South East Counties League.
SR: You went on to play for Dagenham and then Barking.
ML: That’s right, but in between playing for Dagenham and Barking, I gave up football and concentrated on boxing. When I started playing again, I got spotted and signed professional forms, and that meant that I wasn’t allowed to carry on boxing.
SR: During that time, did you or any of your brothers, box against any of the Krays ?
ML: Yes, my brother Lew fought Charlie Kray and knocked him out in three rounds. Another of my brothers, Harry, who unfortunately is not with us anymore, was a gifted fighter and boxer. He fought for a British Championship when he was 16 years old.
SR: Do you remember Paddy Hasty ? He played one 1st team game for us after arriving from Leyton Orient.
ML: I remember him well, a nice man and a good player. He was an amateur player from Belfast. I played with him at Orient.
SR: You knew Alec Stock from Leyton Orient. Then when he joined QPR, he took you there for the first time. What sort of relationship did you have with him, how do you view him ?
ML: I view him with great admiration. I would say like a father and son relationship. He was the only man that could, or would, give me a clip around the ear and get away with it. He had been a Captain in the Army, he knew how to handle and motivate people. If anyone had a problem, inside or outside of football, Alec would do his best to sort it out. I never played under any Manager quite like Alec Stock. He was a very professional man and no one was in any doubt about who was in charge, a natural leader of men. I felt a great sadness when he passed away. I think of him as a great man.
SR: What are your memories of playing at the White City in the early 60’s ?
ML: I don’t think any of us enjoyed playing at White City, especially after playing at Loftus Road where it seemed that the crowd were right on top of you. I loved playing at Loftus Road, where you were just a few yards away from the supporters. At White City, there was a dog track and a running track around the pitch. The atmosphere was completely different. I think that was one of the reasons why we never had much success at White City. The crowd at Loftus Road were part of the reason for our success. I don’t think we would have achieved that had we been playing at White City.
SR: Do you remember the occasion when a well known R’s fan came onto the pitch after taking offence when you were fouled ?
ML: Oh yes, very well indeed. The Kennedy family were huge Rangers supporters and Michael and Johnny would travel on the train with us when we played away. We would chat and play cards together. Anyway, Theo Foley up-ended me and we were given a free kick. As I stood up, I saw one of the brothers running towards Theo Foley. Before I realised it, he stuck one on Theo and knocked him spark out. He was arrested and ended up in Court. His defence in Court was that he got upset when he saw one of his favourite players unfairly tackled !
SR: Did the players socialise very much with the supporters ?
ML: Often after a game, we would go into the Supporters Club and have a chat. We would sit with them on the trains when we travelled to away games. There was no ‘them and us.’ We viewed the supporters as our friends.
SR: What would be the routine for long distance away games ?
ML: We would meet up at whatever Station we were travelling from, then board the train together. During the journey we would have our meal, which was either chicken or steak. We would often have our pre-match team talk on the train. Alec would tell us exactly what he wanted us to do. When we arrived at our destination, we would get on a coach that would drive us directly to the Ground. Then we would go onto the pitch pre-game, purely to decide whether we should wear long studs or short ones. We then warmed up in the dressing room then, out we went. I always had to be the last player onto the pitch. On the journey home, we were either joyful or miserable, depending on how the result went.
SR: What can you tell us about Jim Gregory ?
ML: Jim Gregory was one of us. He always came into the dressing room before a game, always had time for a word and a laugh and joke with everyone. He would often take the whole team out for a meal. I remember that Jim had a tremendous relationship with Les Allen. At the time, it felt that everyone who was at QPR, from Jim Gregory down to the Ground Staff boys were part of the team. He was the instigator of everything good about the club. It was a wonderful time to be part of the club.
SR: You never seemed to suffer much from injuries, so what sort of preparation did you have before a game ?
ML: We used to arrive at 2pm and warm up for 30 minutes in the dressing room. Unlike today, we never warmed up on the pitch. I only really had one serious injury during my career. At Bristol City my foot got stuck in the mud as I turned and I tore my knee ligaments. I was in plaster for about 6 weeks. When you think of some of the fullbacks that were around in those days, plus some of the tackling that went on, I suppose I was lucky that I only suffered that one injury.
SR: In your first spell at Rangers you made around 40 appearances, scoring 20 goals. Then you were transferred to Wolves for a sizeable fee. Can you tell us why it never worked out for you there ?
ML: Stan Cullis was the Manager and a Sergeant Major type. We never really hit it off. It was a total clash of personalities. For example, I never minded getting a telling off when we were getting beat or had lost, but I can’t understand a Manager having a go at you when you were winning. That said, I never had any problems with the players. I used to get along fine with them. I never heard Stan say ‘Hello’ to anyone, or enquire about anybody’s health or their families. He seemed closed as a person. All he would talk about was football. When I signed for Wolves, it was understood by both of us that I would not move to Wolverhampton, but once I got there, he started applying pressure on me to do so. Needless to say, I never moved up there, so I knew the writing was on the wall.
SR: Is it true that before signing for Wolves, some other clubs had come in for you ?
ML: Yes it is. Tottenham, West Ham, Manchester City and West Brom were a few of them. Although Alec Stock never told me about any of them at the time. If I had known, I would never have signed for Wolves. I think West Ham and Man City offered ¬£20,000 for me. Wolves offered ¬£27,500, so I was sold to Wolves. He was a good businessman was Alec, (laughter)
SR: Can you tell us about any representative honours ?
ML: Well, there was only the one. I played for the Football League against Holland in Amsterdam and Ron Greenwood was the Manager. We won 2-0 and I think the team was:-
Banks, Shellito, Bonds, Neill, Knapp, Appleton, Brabrook, Woolsnam, Bridges, Edwards, Lazarus.
On the strength of that game, Ron Greenwood signed Peter Brabrook for West Ham from Chelsea. I might have had a few more International honours had things worked out at Wolves, as Stan Cullis had huge influence within the FA, although who knows.
SR: Is it correct that if you had a knock or injury at QPR, it would not be dealt with by the club ?
ML: That’s correct. In those days West Ham had a man named Bill Jenkins who was a well known Physiotherapist. All the injured players from the other London clubs would go and see Bill. You normally went on a Sunday morning and his treatment room was like a ‘who’s who’ of footballers. I remember that he had pictures on his wall, of all the famous actors that had visited him for treatment. He was very good and nine times out of ten he would get you fit for the following week’s game.
SR: When I first started going with my mates in the 60’s, I used to stand by the half-way line on the South Africa Road terrace. There were some right old characters there. I can remember you coming over and acknowledging the fans with your arms raised, palms outstretched. You had a good relationship with them. How did that come about ?
ML: It started at Leyton Orient really. We had a centre forward called Eddie Brown and whenever he scored he would acknowledge the crowd by running over and shaking hands with them. He really enjoyed his football and I took that on board. My first game for QPR was at Colchester. We won 1-0 and I scored the goal. First impressions stick and I think that helped me with my relationship with the supporters from then on. When I scored at Loftus Road, I would run past the crowd shaking hands. The fans loved it and so did I. When you played at away Grounds, the crowd was usually against you, so if you like, that made me appreciate the support of our home fans even more. I remember once, I scored and ran along shaking hands. Outside the Ground after the game, a guy approached me with a complaint. Apparently I had touched hands with most of the supporters behind the goal, except him ! Sometimes you can’t win, (laughter)
SR: There is an old story about you upsetting the Shrewsbury fans in a game there.
ML: That’s very true. It was one of those days when I was having a good game. The ball came to me and I flicked it up onto my knee and started juggling it from one knee to the other. As I was doing so, I turned and faced the crowd and waved to them. Well, that got the Shrewsbury fans going, so the ref stopped the game and booked me for ‘inciting the crowd.’
SR: Alec Stock sold you for a second time, to Brentford.
ML: Yes he did. It was a swap for George McLeod, plus ¬£10,000, although I never asked for a transfer.
SR: If it was a surprise that you were sold for a second time, then it must of been an even bigger surprise when you eventually came back for a third spell.
ML: I was suspended at Brentford at the time. I was playing snooker one day when a friend, Dennis Signy, walked into the hall and told me that I was going back to QPR. I thought he was joking until he told me that Alec Stock had made Brentford an offer, which they accepted. I just looked at Dennis and asked him to show me the contract, where do I sign ? So for the third time I was on my way back to QPR.
Steve Zico and Steve Russell
(Part Two will follow later this month)