The film ’28 Days Later’ and the follow up ’28 Weeks Later’ depicted a desolated, post apocalyptic London with a handful of human survivors feeling totally lost whilst they wandered amongst the devastation. For many Rangers fans that was precisely how we felt on 20th April 1986, after the 3-0 Milk Cup Final defeat versus Oxford United.
For the past 28 years many of us have wondered why Rangers were so awful that day, against what was a fairly unremarkable opposing side. Earlier this year Michael Hollamby and I met and interviewed the former long serving QPR Club Secretary, Ron Philips. Ron was well loved by Rs fans for his wit, his writing style and the award winning programme that he developed from his appointment in 1966 until his departure in 1989. The interview will appear in full later this year, but one story that he told us about that game in 1986, Rangers last visit to Wembley, can now be shared ‚Äì 28 years later.
‚ÄúQPR had a splendid run in the Milk Cup ‚Äì thrashing Hull City and beating Division One giants like Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Chelsea. Eventually they played Oxford United in that years Milk Cup Final and, in view of their excellent form, they were the outstanding favourites. In the event however they played like zombies, sleep walking through the entire game, with the unavoidable consequence that they were whipped by Oxford 3-0. To add insult to injury it was the ex-Rangers player Jeremy Charles who scored Oxford’s third goal.
I sat beside Ernest Saunders in the Directors Box (yes, he of the Guinness Share Manipulation Fraud). Mr Saunders, in his pre senile dementia days, was attempting to put together a bid to buy QPR on behalf of Guinness, after which he would probably have become a Rangers director. His memory at that time was first class, but I can imagine he would have wished for amnesia after he witnessed Rangers’ performance that day. As it was he could not conceal his impatience with the QPR players. After we conceded the second goal he got up and said to me ‚ÄùThey surely cannot expect us to watch any more of this!‚Äù . Then he walked out: an unheard of gesture at a Cup Final!
Years later, I discovered the reason for the team’s poor performance that afternoon. It has always been the custom for football players to be given sleeping pills the night before a big game. On the night before that Cup Final, many of the Rangers players were so nervous that they were given three Mogadon tablets each to ensure that they slept well. One Mogadon tablet usually does the trick. A dosage of three tablets probably ensured that they were still fast asleep and dreaming when they took to the pitch that day.
I now wonder how different events might have been if only that sleeping pill dosage had been reduced. Rangers would almost certainly have won the Cup Final, the merger with Guinness would probably have gone ahead and QPR would now be under completely different ownership.‚Äù
After Ron relayed this story Michael and I pushed him to name the person who distributed the tablets that night. Ron, being the highly professional man he is, would not name the person and would only tell us that they are no longer alive.
Mogadons are less well known nowadays than they were in the 1980s. They were tablets containing the active ingredient nitrazepam. As nitrazepam remains active in the body for many hours, drowsiness and muscle weakness can result. It can impair concentration and alertness and this may last into the next day.
So, now we know why it looked like Rangers were half asleep that day 28 years ago‚Ä¶.it’s because they were! Was the Rangers manager on the day, Jim Smith, also somewhat dazed and confused? Well you can determine that:
‚ÄúTalking of proud moments, when I led QPR out at Wembley for the 1986 Milk Cup Final, I felt immensely proud that my team had made it ‚Äì Oxford not QPR. We were in the tunnel for an age before the game and there was more banter between me and the Oxford lads than my current team ‚Äì I knew them a lot better than my own lads. I couldn’t really lose that day. People say I looked dejected and shell-shocked, but the reality was that my team had won the Cup, with the greatest respect to Maurice Evans and I couldn’t celebrate with them, for obvious reasons. It was a bit like getting married and divorced all in one day!‚Äù
Most definitely a day to try to forget.