SR: I didn’t realise that you were such a big R’s fan, how did that come about ?
SL: I became an R’s fan in October 1985 when I first went to Loftus Road on trial and then a month later as young 15-year-old, I signed schoolboy forms along with Kevin Kingsmore. I remember that season well, the build up to the Milk Cup Final and how proud I felt when we defeated Liverpool in the semi-final.
SR: I read somewhere that you even told your kids that when you die you want your ashes scattered over the pitch.
SL: I made that remark about my ashes, and boy have I had some stick ! My kids hammered me and others have said that the pitch isn’t big enough to take my remains as I’m so fat !!! It was all good fun but I stand by that.
SR: Did you get to attend many matches ?
SL: As a schoolboy with the club, I got over quite often and went to some home games. I can actually remember very, very vividly, heading to the airport and hearing the news on Gary Waddock’s injury. I think it was against Arsenal ?
SR: Who were your QPR heroes ?
SL: Whilst I was playing at the club obviously Big Mac and I loved watching John Byrne. Also I played up-front with Big Les in the Reserves as a 1st year pro and I claim to my kids that I made him the player he became ! Ossie Ardiles was also magnificent, a real legend and a big help to the younger players even though we couldn’t understand him ! Frank Sibley was our Youth Team Coach and as QPR’s youngest ever 1st team player and a 1967 Cup winner, he was a real hero. I hope that Frank is well. From previous eras, I still love Marsh and Bowles and I saw Stan recently at a game and finally got his autograph.
SR: I spoke very briefly to Frank Sibley at Tony Ingham’s funeral. When you came to QPR in the mid-80’s, was Bill Smith still scouting for us ?
SL: Yes, Bill Smith got me over along with Kevin Kingsmore and John Murray. He was a real gentleman. He passed away recently and I attended his funeral.
SR: There were quite a few Northern Ireland boys at Loftus Road around that time. How did you come to be picked up ?
SL: John Murray, Kevin Kingsmore and myself, were spotted playing for the Northern Ireland Youth team.
SR: Are you still in touch with any of them ?
SL: I am very good friends with Kinky, he’s a Duty Manager in Belfast where my Plunkett side train. He always helps out with the gear and the best slots for coaching. John is involved with the Ards Youth here. I’m also big friends with Tony Roberts and Robbie Herrera. We meet up occasionally at games. Robbie did his coaching badge here in Belfast last summer and we had a great time talking about what I see as the best years of my life. I had been in touch with Greg Costello and Gary Eaton. Maybe Gary will read this and ring me ? I haven’t heard from Lawsey since my wedding. He nicked the bus the day after my wedding. I was on my honeymoon when I read it and I couldn’t believe what I was reading !!!¬† Also, I regularly text Mark Fleming, Flembo played for our 1st team. If I remember correctly, his debut was against Wimbledon ?
SR: Chris Gieler would of been the Youth Development Officer at that time.
SL: Yes, Chris Gieler was at the club, Gielsy as we called him.
SR: First there was a one-year YTS Apprenticeship.
SL: Yes I signed a two-year YTS but I only did one year as Jim Smith gave me a three-year contract.
SR: In issue 4 of the fans newspaper from 1987, ‘The Bush Ranger’, it said that one of the best performances of the season was a 2-1 win at West Ham and that you scored one of the goals, Gary Eaton got the other. Apparently the West Ham coaches raved about you. You were then called up by Northern Ireland for a get together at Lilleshall with Macca – what do you remember about that period ?
SL: This period in 1987 and 1988 was without doubt the best two years of my life. Both for the football and the many friendships I formed, and still have. We won the Floodlit Cup in 1988 and there were seven of us that got pro-contracts from that group. With so many Irish and Welsh in the group, we all looked forward the whole week to Friday morning and our England v the Rest of the World five a-sides. There is no need to say who won though ! Herrera with dual nationality was always the difference ! Gielsy would then always give us money to go to the Kentucky on a Friday while we cleaned the boots ! It wouldn’t maybe, be great nutritional help for the Saturday game but great days indeed. We also had so many Youth Internationals in our age group, so there was always plenty of friendly rivalry.
SR: Much was written about Kevin Kingsmore who played for the Northern Ireland U18’s and scored for fun for the R’s Youth team. Do you know what happened to him ?
SL: He’s still a big friend. Kinky arrived full time the year after me. We played up-front together for the Youth team and we scored for fun. After about ten games, he got a groin strain which developed very seriously into septicaemia and was very close to death. I remember it very well. He never played again that season and I’m afraid to say that he was never the same again. I know he would of made it, no doubt at all in my mind. He’s a really good friend now and coaching himself. I’ve often tried to persuade him to renew that partnership as coaches with Plunkett but he’s involved too much with his own club.
SR: Were there any particular matches that stand out ?
SL: Yes, there are many. The two goals against Spurs Reserves at Loftus Road, playing up-front with Big Les and offering Neil Ruddock a fight !!! Amongst our group, there will never be a trip or night out where we don’t laugh at my sending off against Norwich for hugging the referee. Some say that I jumped on his back. To shorten a very long story…the ball hit the ref and then went in off his leg as part of the field of play. I congratulated him a little too much for his liking and off I went ! The ironic thing was that John had been sent off earlier so as I walked down the tunnel, he bent over laughing. All our lads ran into the dressing room at the final whistle laughing and I remember begging them to stop before Frank came in as he was gonna kill me ! Frank came in and told me what a fool I was etc etc then he burst out laughing himself ! Gary Eaton’s dad has it on video and I’d pay thousands to get hold of it. Jim Smith and Peter Shreeves were at the game and I got fined a weeks’ wages although months later Doctor Fraser told me that he was with the staff when it happened and they said that it was the funniest thing they ever saw in the game !!!¬† It’s my very sad claim to fame and as a coach now, I would never allow my lads to do it, but it’s something which will keep us all talking about when we are all old.
SR: Jim Johnston, an R’s fan I know from Carryduff, told me that he’s related to David McCallen. Apparently, he went on to play in the Irish League with Linfield. Did you know him ?
SL: David McCallen went to QPR on trial and he should have got a contract. He later went on to have a magnificent Irish League career.
SR: You eventually secured a two-year pro-deal, but unfortunately things didn’t work out and you must of been very disappointed not to have made your 1st team debut ?
SL: After winning the Floodlit Cup in 1988, I had a knee operation and never returned until November. I never ever regained my fitness or form and my attitude was poor. I regret thinking to myself that ability will get me over the line, but it didn’t and doesn’t. I tell my kids that ability is only 25% and its 75% attitude. I look back and it’s great that I can pass on what little knowledge I possess. The attributes needed to leave home in Belfast and move to London and try and make a career as a footballer. I didn’t so I’m able to help. I have lots of kids on our books at St. Oliver Plunkett FC who have a chance and it’s great for them especially the ones who are blessed with loads of ability. It’s not just about putting on your boots and playing, there is a lot more to it than that.
SR: Jim Smith took you to Newcastle but that only lasted a year and you then went back to Northern Ireland and played for Portadown and Crusaders.¬† When did your playing career actually end ?
SL: I went to Newcastle in July 1989 and did quite well however, not good enough. I was involved in a car crash and had plates put into my arms. That was in January 1990 and I never played again that season. Jim Smith being the man he is, paid me up my wages which he didn’t have to do. He was, and is, another great person. I played Irish League for four or five years, doing well some seasons and not so well in others. I had fallen out of love with the game and I stopped playing at 25. I never played another game until about three years ago.
SR: When did you return to the game ?
SL: My love for the game re-surfaced when my own lads got involved with St. Oliver Plunkett FC and it is like how I felt when I was ten again. The smell of new boots at Christmas, and taking a ball to bed with me as a kid, are similar feelings I have towards the game. I love it again and wish it had never gone away. I am coach to a 1997 group and have had them for four years now. I have five of them at the Liverpool Development Centre in Belfast and seven in the IFA County Excellence programmes. We lost out to Linfield by two points in the NIBFA National League and I think one or two have a chance. We will continue to work hard together and develop these kids. As some maybe don’t know , Jim Magilton is my brother-in-law, he pressed and pressed me for years to get more involved with scouting¬† etc, and when he was appointed at QPR, he asked me to scout there, there was only one answer. This to me is the best club in the world and my club. When Jim left the club it was him who demanded that I stay at QPR because as he put it to me, I was QPR for four years, whereas he was QPR for four months. Also, he knew that I have the interests of kids and development at heart and there’s way too many idiots over here filling kids with garbage and claiming to be scouts. Plunkett will have eighteen sides next year and are without doubt, along with Linfield, the best schoolboy set-up in the North.
SR: How were things after Jim Magilton left the club?
SL: The turmoil of Jim leaving and the two or three Managers straight after, made my role very difficult but that stability has now been assured. Steve and I have spoken at length since the end of the season about my role, and how we can put QPR back on the Northern Ireland map. I sent three lads over whilst Jim was in charge and I’m delighted to say Gareth Deans has just started a scholarship. He has a great attitude and work ethic and it’s up to him now. It’s not those who have it but those who want it. Obviously I didn’t want it enough so I could maybe, become the best scout the world has ever seen because I will be able to help these kids who I see potential in. We worked very hard to get Gareth across and I know that my rewards will be nothing more than pride if he manages to make the step up and play for QPR.
SR: I was pleased to see that our U16’s are competing in the Foyle Cup in Derry later this month. What can you tell us about the tournament and the immediate future ?
SL: Steve Gallen has been a great help and we aim to work hard together starting with the Foyle Cup. It’s a magnificent tournament and a good build up to the Milk Cup which I hope that next year QPR can send one or more sides. Jim Magilton has been coaching my group since Christmas and has them passing and playing some magnificent football. He’s a real asset and his passion for the game is infectious. We don’t want him getting another job in England, not yet anyway ! We are going to Austria next week, with my lads, for a UEFA International tournament in Linz. Then the week after my second weeks’ holiday, is in Derry as Plunkett have two sides competing, and now QPR too. I will make sure that they are looked after. Two clubs close to my heart and it doesn’t get much better !!!
SR: Thanks very much Stephen and good luck.