Part One of this article appeared on 17th May and covered the end of Rangers 1975/76 league season, up to the final home game v Leeds United. Here’s the concluding part of the story of that epic season, 35 years ago, when so much was still to occur after Rangers final match of the season.
The day after the Leeds game, Sunday 25th April, the team flew to Israel for a friendly match versus Maccabi Tel Aviv, to be played on the Monday. Gerry Francis was given permission not to attend the end of season trip as he was moving house. Stan Bowles was due to travel, despite his fear of flying, but his nerves got the better of him, and as the coach arrived at Heathrow, he spoke to Dave Sexton and said that he was not travelling. In Stan’s book, ‘Stan the Man’, he mentions that Sexton called Jim Gregory to advise him that Bowles was refusing to travel. Sexton was especially concerned as the contract with the Israeli club guaranteed that a certain number of internationals would be in the side and he was already one man down with Gerry Francis’ absence. Maybe he was also thinking ahead to what the UEFA Cup campaign might potentially bring in terms of fun and games with Stan. Gregory asked Stan to speak to him and the upshot was that Bowles missed the flight and instead went for dinner at Gregory’s house near Roehampton that night ! Sexton was none too pleased, but he had no choice other than to let Stan go home as the Chairman had okayed it.
Another contributing factor might well have been that top German side SV Hamburg were visiting the UK on a scouting trip that week. Ron Phillips, the long suffering QPR Club Secretary, was quoted in ‘The Times’ the next day, 26th April, as saying: “Hamburg have been interested in Bowles for a long time and had representatives at the Leeds game.” Hamburg reportedly had ¬£200,000 to spend on Bowles. In his book, Stan makes it clear that he did meet the German side, but was not interested in a move abroad and in the end it was Kevin Keegan who was signed by Hamburg a year later.
In Tel Aviv on Monday 26th April, in 97 degrees Fahrenheit heat (36 celsius), Rangers lost 1-2 to Maccabi with recent R’s signing Peter Eastoe scoring in the first half to give Rangers the lead and Spiegler and Malmilian then scoring to win the game for the home side in the second half in front of a capacity 22,000 crowd in the Bloomfield Stadium. Whilst on the Israel trip a visit was made to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Both Dave Thomas and Don Masson left messages in the wall – divine intervention type requests ! Rangers returned to the UK on Friday 30th April after a few days post match holiday break.
Two days after the game in Tel Aviv, on Wednesday 28th April, a relatively weak QPR squad of Richard Teale, John Beck, Martyn Busby, Ron Abbott and Keith Pritchett plus the unexpectedly available Stan Bowles, lost in the final of the then annual London Evening Standard 5-a-side football championships – a competition that Rangers had won 3 times in the previous 5 years. Rangers got off to a good start by beating Fulham 1-0 in Round 1, John Beck scoring the goal. Stan Bowles scored in the next game against Watford which ended 1-1 and Rangers went through on penalties. The R’s reached the final after defeating West Ham, 3-2 in the semi final, with Bowles, Abbott and Busby the scorers. Orient trounced Rangers 1-6 in the final though, with John Beck scoring his second goal of the tournament.
On Saturday 1st May, Second Division Southampton unexpectedly beat Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup Final. Rangers had agreed to play Southampton many weeks before this in the Mike Channon Testimonial match on Monday 3rd May. The result on the Saturday therefore meant that the testimonial game was now going to potentially be a dry run for the FA Charity Shield if Rangers were to win the league.
By the late morning of the match, all of the seat tickets had sold out. Garry Lane, a lifelong Southampton fan and at the time an employee at the Southampton Echo newspaper, recalled recently: “I remember leaving the office with my wife Dulcie at 5.30pm and heading straight to the Dell as we knew the ground would be packed. The city had been celebrating the Saints FA Cup win for nearly 48 hours straight, especially the day before when the cup had been paraded. The ground was mobbed with an attendance of 29,508 – the largest of the season. Before the game Bobby Stokes, the goal scorer versus Manchester United, was presented with a new Ford car. The only problem was that he couldn’t drive ! The cup was paraded again and then the match kicked off. At one stage Peter Osgood ran over to someone near me in the West Stand and asked how a dog that had been racing that night had got on !”
Over 5,000 people were estimated to have been locked out of the match, with the kick off delayed as people tried to gain admission. The match was not a full blooded affair, with many of the Southampton players still the worse for wear after their Cup Final celebrations ! Bobby Stokes opened the scoring after 30 minutes, with Frank McLintock equalising just before half time. Early in the second half, the crowd started to spill out onto the perimeter of the pitch. Stokes scored again and then Peter Eastoe got a deserved equaliser in the 79th minute after a pass from Stan Bowles. In the final minute, Peter Osgood shot a goal. At the same time the crush around the pitch had got too much and some of the crowd from the Milton Road End had run onto the pitch. Some people claimed that the ball had crossed the line. When asked after the game, local referee Alan Robinson from Waterlooville replied: “I blew the whistle before the ball hit the spectator. The game was all over.”
The Southampton team appeared in the Director’s Box with the FA Cup…and then most of the crowd and the team headed for the local pubs yet again ! Robin Haldane, a young Rangers fan at the time recalls: “It was a good evening for Mick Channon. The game was a bit of a joke though, I actually thought we had lost 2-3 as everyone ran onto the pitch at the end and I then headed for the exit. I never have been completely sure of what the official score was !”
The following footage from You Tube is poor quality, but it does capture the chaos of that night at the Dell:
So it all boiled down to Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Liverpool the next day, Tuesday 4th May, at Molineux. A 0-0, 1-1 or 2-2 draw would give Liverpool their ninth championship on goal average, (these were the days before goal difference was used to separate teams in the league table with the same number of points), but 3-3 would give Rangers the trophy. Wolves also needed to gain points – lose and they would be relegated. Birmingham needed to gain a point at already relegated Sheffield United to send their Midlands rivals down.
For the Rangers players and officials the opportunity to watch the game live on a closed broadcast at the BBC Studios in Wood Lane was made available. Dave Thomas was asked to commentate for BBC Radio. Thomas therefore had the dubious pleasure of watching the game live on a monitor in the studio, whilst commentating on the goings-on on the pitch at the same time. Gerry Francis, Stan Bowles and Coach Frank Sibley plus Club Secretary Ron Phillips and his assistant Sheila Marson amongst others were also present in the studio. Everyone was of course keen to see Wolves win – but there was more than just Championship medals at stake. Stan had the chance that night to win ¬£6,000 on a 16-1 bet for Rangers to be Champions, and there was also a ¬£6,000 club bonus per player. Ron Phillips saw this as an opportunity to be repaid the ¬£3,000 worth of wages that had already been advanced to Stan that season !
Other players and officials were elsewhere. Don Masson was on Scotland international duty and the Scotland squad were at Ibrox that night to watch Rangers v Dundee United. Masson, born in Banchory near Aberdeen, had never played for a Scottish club and had had an excellent career at Middlesbrough and Notts County prior to signing for QPR in December 1974. He had been on the verge of the Scotland team for many months previously but inexplicably kept missing out on selection. Approaching the age of 30, some people felt that he was too old for a first cap. In the end he got the call up he deserved for the Home Internationals after Willie Ormond, the Scotland Manager, had seen him at the Leeds game and had been suitably impressed.
Masson was to make his international debut 2 days later in Scotland’s 3-1 win over Wales at Hampden and scored his first goal for Scotland v England on 15th May at Hampden Park, a great first half effort in a match now largely remembered for Kenny Dalglish’s daisy cutter through Ray Clemence’s legs that won the game 2-1 for Scotland. Dave Sexton was also in Scotland the night of the Wolves v Liverpool game, in Edinburgh watching a European Basketball tournament ! Chairman Jim Gregory was in the South of France on his yacht – the suspense just too much for him. Ron Phillips had instructions to call him after the game with the match result.
For the fans television was not an option. Sitting with your ears glued to BBC Radio 2 and its then static filled medium wave broadcasts was the only option available…unless you felt that you had to be at Molineux in person. Two coaches were run by the Official Supporters Club. One of the passengers was Robin Haldane, still getting over the events of the previous night at the Dell. Others drove up to Wolverhampton. My father, Frank Percival, and his cousin Peter Robinson were lifelong Rangers fans and, together with my brother and I, were season ticket holders in the South Africa Road Stand. Rangers did have some Stand tickets on sale for the Wolves v Liverpool game on the day of the final home game v Leeds but, understandably Daphne Biggs, the Supporters Club Secretary, would only sell them to people travelling on the official coaches so we just decided to take our chances.
My brother Dave and I left school early and by 5pm we had arrived in Wolverhampton. The town was already seething with Liverpool fans, with little sign of many home fans. We joined the queue to try and get into Molineux – our blue and white QPR scarves hidden from display. However, I hadn’t hidden my scarf well enough and a guy behind me in the queue spotted it. “What have we got here then ? Some Evertonians ?! ”
“No” I replied. “Queen’s Park Rangers fans”
“What the hell are you doing here ?” the Liverpool fan asked.
“If you lose, we’re the Champions” was my reply.
The Liverpool fan scoffed and said: “We’ll not be losing this game pal.”
By 5.45pm it was clear that Molineux was already full for the 7.30pm kick off. The Liverpool fans smashed the gates open at the South Bank End and a few hundred fans gained entry, but the stewards and Police soon stopped the flow of people into the ground and the queue stopped moving.
By 6.45pm we gave up hope of getting in and set off for home. There were still dozens of coaches arriving from Liverpool. There was no way any of those fans would have got in, unless they had Stand seat tickets. This was of course a time when the vast majority of the capacity of most grounds consisted of pay on the day terracing. The official attendance was 48,900, but there must have been at least 10,000 locked out that night. So we had to settle for listening to the game on the car radio on the way home.
Surprisingly Steve Kindon scored for Wolves in the 13th minute. Maybe Rangers would be Champions, despite the odds ? Wolves were still in front with 14 minutes to go, despite great pressure from Liverpool. Agony ensued though…as Keegan, Toshack and Kennedy all scored in the final minutes to win the game 3-1 for Liverpool.
Here are the goals plus Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles recollections of that night:
As for the Rangers fans who did make it to the game, Robin Haldane recalls the terraces being packed solid and a Liverpool fan stumbling onto one of the Rangers coaches after the match. He was bemused when he received the reply “London” to his question: “Where is this coach going to ?”
One of the Rangers fans even gave him a bottle of champagne that had been stashed away, just in case, and the Liverpool fan stumbled off the coach and into the night clutching his prize.
Listening to the Radio 2 commentary in the car on the journey home, my brother Dave and I were choked with the result. I was 12, my brother 10. My Dad put it into a bit of perspective though. He’d been following Rangers since the age of 8 in 1926; they’d had to apply for re-election at the end of his first season as a fan. That summer the club had changed colours from green and white hoops to blue and white in an attempt to change their luck. So much for that ! The 1926/27 season had got off to a great start with the Club Secretary forgetting to submit the club’s application to compete in the FA Cup ! My Dad summed it all up by saying: “Think about it. Rangers have finished second at the end of their fourth ever season in Division One. We’re top London club, something I never thought I’d live to see. Next season we will be in Europe. Our time will come.”
Rangers’ Chief Scout, Ron Howard, was one of the QPR officials and players who watched the game at the BBC TV Centre. He was quoted in the ‘Willesden and Brent Chronicle’ on 7th May as saying: “It’s a bitter disappointment. Prior to the game most of us had written the championship off. We thought Liverpool would earn at least a draw. But when Kindon scored we all hit the roof. Stan couldn’t watch the game after the opening moments and went for a walk. But really Liverpool deserved to win. Only goalkeeper Pierce kept Wolves in the game with some excellent saves. But with all of Liverpool’s pressure and with only 14 minutes left, we all felt that maybe we might be the champions. It was not to be, Wolves collapsed in the end. Nobody could ask for more from QPR though – 27 points from the final 30. We have had our best ever season in the 80 year history of the club. I believe we will do well in the UEFA Cup next season.”
For the third season in a row, Rangers had finished as the highest placed London club in Division One, but it was little consolation. Howard’s forecast regarding Europe turned out to be correct however….but that is another story for another day.
I’d like to thank the following people for their kind help with the preparation of this article: Robin Haldane, Chris Hewitt, Steve Russell and Richard Porter for their R’s recollections, Stuart Bilbe for some of the photos, Dave Hantman and family for their in-depth research in both London and Tel Aviv on the Israel trip, Gordon Macey for the details of the London Evening Standard tournament plus Southampton fans Garry and Paul Lane for their help with the Mike Channon Testimonial match. Congratulations to Saints on their promotion to the Championship ! Thanks also to Dave Thomas of ‘A Kick up the R’s’ fanzine. This article originally appeared in print in issue 255 on the day of the Leeds game. This Indy R’s online version is expanded and also contains some additional images.