Sharon Smith worked in the QPR club shop in the 1980’s and regularly watched the youth team, reserves and first team play, home and away. She now lives in Ireland and works for the Irish PFA and travelled up to Belfast for the tribute game for Macca on 10th September.
“When I heard that Alan had passed away I felt that I’d lost a friend. I know he’s a hero to QPR fans, but he was always my mate Macca. He’d always take the piss out of everyone – and I never escaped that ! What I will miss is his smile and his laughter. Macca always had a smile on his face. Oh, and his colour ! His dress sense was never dull, he always had a bit of colour – I have a photo of him at London Zoo and he’s wearing WHITE shoes !
I first came across Macca when he was 16 and I was 12. I used to watch the QPR youth team, reserves and first team all over the country and, with all our home games played at Loftus Road because of the Omniturf pitch the players were always around the ground. I used to work in the club shop and Macca would always pop in and say hello.
(Photo by Ariel Friedlander and used with permission)
I’ll never forget his battles with Mark Hughes when QPR met Manchester United over the years. He was a beast and he would not be beaten by them ! And his performances for Northern Ireland against the Republic of Ireland always gave us something to talk about as I’m a big Republic of Ireland fan.
I remember standing on the terrace at the Clock End at Highbury one year. It was lashing rain and Arsenal had a corner. As the lads were waiting for the ball to come over and Macca looked into the crowd and said “Hello Sharon”. I was gobsmacked ! Macca saying hello to me when he should be defending the corner ! Later we were at a QPR supporters do and he came over to me and said: ‘You looked like a drowned rat today.’ Thanks Macca!
(Sharon Smith pictured with Macca at the 1985 Open Day)
In more recent years I dealt with Macca when he was involved in the Setanta Sports Cup, a cross-border cup competition between the teams from the Irish League in the North and the League of Ireland in the Republic. I work for the PFAI, the League of Ireland Players Union, and I walked into the launch of the competition and Macca was there. He saw me, said “excuse me” to the people he was talking to and came up to me with that big smile of his giving me a big hug and asking me how I was. We had a good chat that day and then, a year or so later, Macca was managing Glentoran in that competition. He led Glentoran to the final against Cork at Turner’s Cross and, despite taking the lead, Glentoran lost 1-2. He was not happy !
When I heard that he had died I just couldn’t believe it, and still can’t. I heard that there might be a game in his honour and, once it was announced, I contacted some of the Northern Ireland boys who were apprentices at QPR when Macca was at the club in the 1980’s and 1990’s. John Murray and Stephen Lynch from the 80’s and Gary Wilkinson, Darren Finlay and Darryn McGill from the 90’s. I sent them all a private message on Facebook saying that’d I’d see them at Seaview on Monday 10th September – no excuses !
I drove up from Dublin and my friend Claire Ambrose came over from London for the game. It was great to see Lynchy, who actually played in the match, plus John Wilkie and Finn. It was so good to see all the old players taking the time to play in the game for Macca. He would have loved it. The rainbow that came out just before kick-off was a sign that Macca and Billy Beggs, another QPR and Northern Ireland old boy who sadly passed away in March this year, were checking in on proceedings. I can only imagine the mayhem those two are causing up there right now, ‘cos they spent a lot of time winding people up down here back in the day. Times that we now treasure.
(The above pic was taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)
I know that Macca wore the No.5 shirt for QPR and Northern Ireland, but I got ‘McDonald 6’ printed on my QPR shirt. Why ? The shirt was the one he wore when we beat Manchester United 4-1 at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day in 1992. For some reason Macca wore ‘6’ that day and, for the rest of the 1991/92 season, Darren Peacock wore No.5.
I was talking to Darren Peacock after the game in Belfast and I told him that he was the reason I got number 6 on my shirt (which I was wearing at the game). He explained that he asked Macca if he minded if he wore the No.5 shirt – players and their superstitions ! Macca didn’t care what number he wore, just so long as he had a shirt and was on the pitch. He didn’t have to give up the No. 5 shirt, but he did ‘cos he knew that it meant something to Darren. I then got my No.6 shirt signed by all the players and I’ll always treasure that shirt.
Claire said that the 0-5 defeat to Swansea on the opening day of the season was Macca having a bad joke on us – letting us know that he wasn’t happy with the performance. And it’s funny how the game in Belfast finished 3-2. 3 + 2 = 5. He was happier with what he saw at Seaview !
Rest in Peace big man, you’re sadly missed by the QPR family.”
John Murray is now a partner in a roofing firm, Prentice Roofing in Lisburn. He also does unpaid coaching with one of the top boys clubs in Northern Ireland, Ridgeway Rovers U13’s.
“Being around Big Mac, as Alan was known in Northern Ireland, whilst a young player at Loftus Road in the mid-eighties was an absolute dream. I had been to Manchester United and was waiting on them getting back to me when Chris Gieler, the head of the QPR youth development team, came over from London to watch a schoolboy training game that I was playing in. He offered me the opportunity to come to London for a trial. I went a few weeks later, got on well and was offered a contract.
(John Murray with Chris Gieler – Chimney Corner Hotel 1986)
I was from Northern Ireland and looked up to Mac as a top defender who was now living his dream playing for a top London club and representing his country at international level. Mac was great with all the young lads. I suppose he understood what we all were going through as he had been through the same system at Loftus Road. We had a great youth team and some good lads who went on to do well in the game. Myself and Lynchy used to wind up the other lads and Big Mac was our ammunition.
We always gave Mac’s boots an extra going over. Every time the other lads came into the boot room at the training ground or at Loftus Road, myself or Lynchy always lifted Mac’s boots and started giving them a real shine.
We did take it a bit far at times and the boys always took the bait, especially the English lads like Bradley Wright, Mark Fleming and Bradley Allen. Though, saying that, the Welsh boys, Brian Law and Tony Roberts always had something to say ! Of course Mac knew the score and he always remarked on how his boots were always the cleanest.
Great days that I will never forget……lucky lad.”
Stephen Lynch now runs his own business, Excel Sports Nutrition, and in his spare time is involved with youth football development. After leaving Rangers as a young player he joined former R’s manager Jim Smith at Newcastle, but was injured in a car accident and ended up finishing his playing career with Crusaders. He is still a keen QPR fan and has helped the club with some scouting in Northern Ireland. Stephen played in Macca’s game at Crusaders.
(John Murray with Bill Smith and Stephen Lynch – Chimney Corner Hotel in 1986)
“I have so many memories of Alan McDonald. As a young footballer, leaving home in Belfast and moving to London to play for Queen’s Park Rangers in the mid 80’s. Alan was without a doubt one of my inspirations as a young man. His outburst on TV after the draw against England at Wembley in 1985 is a legend but, honestly, that is how he was. He was very supportive to the young players, especially us young Irish lads, and he was forever giving us boots and gear. My roommate and best buddy, John Murray, was more attentive to Big Mac than I was because he was a centre-half, whereas I loved the likes of John Byrne…..and myself !!!
(Macca and John Byrne at Everton – 1987/88)
Big Mac was totally fantastic to everyone at QPR whilst I played there and, on coming home to Belfast, I signed for Crusaders FC. Mac’s brother Roy and his dad Bobby played a big role at that time and I still got to see Alan from time to time when he came to watch the Crues play. He always had time for everyone.
There are really so many good memories of Alan. He was a proper footballer, a man from Northern Ireland who was a credit to his family, his club and his country and a good friend to me. I stayed in Mac’s house when I was called up to Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland squad. Playing in his Memorial game at Seaview was an honour of which I am so proud. I shall keep my QPR shirt from the game forever. He was and is a legend and I hope that QPR fully honour that legend !”
A few days after the match, I caught up with Gavin Maguire via Skype to get his thoughts on the game plus his memories of Alan. Gavin now owns a hairdressing salon in Somerset. I asked him what his main memory was of Alan:
“Alan would never let you relax and think that you had ‘arrived’. You could never take things for granted and you had to work as if you had something to prove – the same as if it was your first day at the club. He has left me with that same belief and I now drill that into my boy who’s just signed for Bristol City Academy U11’s.”
What was the tribute game like from your perspective Gavin ?
“The level of football was fantastic. You look at people like Les Ferdinand and he is still a good player. It was a very tough game for me as I’d worked hard on a bike in the weeks leading up to the game, but some of the other players were better than me. Regaining fitness levels is very hard – it’s been a bit of a realisation for me ! On Monday night you had two groups – those who’re still in the game and those aren’t, and that was reflected in fitness levels.
Unusually for that type of match a lot of the players on Monday were still involved in the game in some capacity or other. I play for the Pompey Legends. Many of them are no longer in the game – it’s relaxing and the quality of opposition is far less. The standard on Monday was very good. The last time I had played was just over a year ago – usually the Pompey Legends play for charity about six times per year.
On Monday the Rangers squad had very different backgrounds and came from different eras as Alan was at the club for 17 years. A lot of them were Rangers players in the 1990’s under Gerry Francis and Ray Wilkins, whereas people like Wayne Fereday, Stephen Lynch, Robbie Herrera and myself were more from the 1980’s era. People forget that in 1988 we finished 5th – it was a very strong side, the highest finish at that time since the runners-up spot in 1975/76.
(Macca with Wayne Fereday plus friend at London Zoo c.1984 – courtesy of Sharon Smith)
Obviously there’s less banter with people you don’t know. I chatted to Keith Rowland, who I’d not met before – a lovely chap. To be frank I did feel a bit out of the loop with some of them, although I had a very nice chat with Les, who I roomed with before he went to Besiktas. Nothing had changed, although of course he is a coach at Spurs now and I’m hairdressing ! Simon Barker of course I know and Bradley Allen was in the youth side when I was at Rangers.”
Who stood out for you on the night ?
“Kevin Gallen’s finishing was phenomenal. The pace was very fast. I thought Sammy McIlroy was incredible for a man in his late 50’s. In the second-half I was played at left-back – not my position ! It was tough going.”
I mentioned to Gavin that I stayed on in Belfast for another day and saw Northern Ireland draw 1-1 with Luxemburg – much to the displeasure of the locals. Keith Gillespie, who had played in Alan’s tribute game, would have stood out the next night and I suspect could still play for them.
So farewell Macca, without a shadow of a doubt one of the all-time Rangers greats. From October 1979 until June 1997, he played for the club for over 17 years – I cannot imagine that we will see many (any ?) more players play for the club for anything like that period of time ever again. Let’s hope the opportunity arises for London based fans to also pay their tributes at a memorial game.