A Brief Encounter In The Sahara Desert And Other Memories.

I first came into contact with Steve Russell some years ago when he was involved with the LSA and I happened to mention to him a strange encounter with an Algerian QPR supporter in the Sahara Desert in 1979. Since then I have been promising Steve that I’d write a piece about this event. As the years have gone by and my natural laziness has gotten worse, I’ve often thought about that Sahara incident and said to myself: ‘It’s really not that interesting anyway’ and that’s been my excuse for doing nothing about it until now

However, since I’m going to Loftus Road and will be paying a visit to the Ayatollah himself when he’s holding court pre-match in the Connie, guilt (or maybe fear) has got the better of me and I’ve decided to make an effort to put something into print. There is a great bunch of Irish R’s at the moment and they continually amaze me with the number of games they manage to get over to see and the great posts and articles they contribute to the Indy R’s and other QPR websites. I’m certainly a bit older than most of the current Irish R’s and I suppose there might be some interest in the recollections of a slightly older R, so here goes…

Growing up in the 60’s I had two sporting obsessions – playing football (at which I was completely useless) and Subbuteo table soccer (at which I was pretty handy). The Subbuteo connection is interesting, as to this day I have a fully functioning set of the greatest game ever invented, and two of the teams in my collection are the Glasgow Celtic 1967 European Cup winning team and the great QPR side of 1975/76.

1967 The Year of the Hoops !
1967 was a significant year in my football supporting life; QPR won the League Cup, Glasgow Celtic won the European Cup and I witnessed the greatest performance ever by an Irish League team when Glentoran (bend the knee to Finney) held the mighty Benfica to a 1-1 draw at the Oval in Belfast. Actually I missed Eusebio’s bullet volley late equaliser as my mate’s dad left early to avoid the crush ! Celtic were the only team I had any big interest in at that time, so reading about Third Division QPR’s League Cup win merely registered my interest and a certain curiosity to be rekindled in later years.

In the days before wall-to-wall TV football and the internet, information about English football came to me mainly through reading the papers and picking up odd scraps of information. One strange find was a copy of ‘The Road to Glory’, the photographic souvenir booklet produced to commemorate those great seasons from 1966 to 1968. This little gem also features a great picture of the Wembley March, featured in one of Steve’s marvellous collection of badges. Another great QPR item I acquired in those early years was a copy of the Evening Standard of 3rd October 1970, which was a 20 page QPR Special which looked forward to the 1970/71 season. What interested me most about that supplement was a feature showing an 18 year-old Gerry Francis playing my beloved Subbuteo with his dad ! My interest was starting to grow.

The obsession really took hold in the early 70’s when UTV (the Norn Ireland version of ITV) took the Sunday afternoon LWT programme, ‘The Big Match’, featuring the screaming Brian Moore and a healthy dose of Rangers ! When I began to have a bit more cash available, I started to make the odd foray over to HQ in the early 70’s and was able to visit Loftus Road for a good number of matches in the great 1975/76 season. Strangely enough, one of the games I enjoyed most was not at HQ, but was an away match against Tottenham in February 1976, which we won 3-0 with goals from Gerry Francis (2) and Don Givens. We wore the classic Feyenoord kit and the football was like watching Holland vintage 1974, total football and all ! I bought my match ticket from a couple of kids outside the Ground for well above face value and remembered thinking what a bargain I’d got ! When I took my seat the bloke beside me asked how much I had paid for the ticket and when I told him he couldn’t stop laughing. Turns out it was a spare ticket he had which he just gave away to those kids !

I also managed to get to a good number of home games in the 1976/77 season, including the UEFA Cup home games against FC Cologne and AEK Athens. The funny thing about the AEK game was that it was meant to have been played at Wembley, even the programme was printed as a Wembley souvenir, but it was actually played at HQ. In December 1977, I came over to London with a mate to take in a few shows, see our home game against Manchester United and also travel to Cologne for the UEFA Cup away leg. When we reached Shepherds Bush Station on the Saturday, we were greeted by a sign that said that the match had been cancelled due to a frozen pitch. So a quick think about which London teams had under-soil heating led to a mad dash over to North London where we saw Malcolm McDonald score a hat-trick in the 5-3 demolition of his old team Newcastle. Not a bad consolation for missing the R’s that day.

The trip to Cologne was by over-night coach and cross-channel ferry to arrive exhausted in the beautiful twin-spired gothic cathedral city. I still remember the shock of seeing some of the hardy souls on the ferry tucking into pints of beer with fish and chips at three in the morning ! The match of course is well known to R’s fans, with the early goal, the sending off and the ultimate in Alamo type sieges, all ending well enough for the R’s.

The ‘Sahara incident’ involves, amongst other things, one replica Adidas QPR shirt and an Algerian fan of Rachid Harkouk. I was on a Christmas/New Year holiday to Algeria in December 1979 to January 1980 and one incident among many others (including races up a 200ft sand dune !) that happened on that strange trip, was meeting an Algerian bloke at an oasis in the Sahara Desert in the south of the country. The guy was a massive fan of Harkouk, who had joined us from Palace that year, and he literally begged me to let him have my QPR shirt; offering me all sorts of inducements (some of which cannot be mentioned on such a wholesome website as this). Anyway, in the interests of international relations, I let him have the shirt in exchange for a pair of Italian sunglasses and an invite to one of the most unusual parties I’ve ever attended !!!

Plastic Fantastic !

In the 1980’s my brother-in-law was a big cheese in Guinness (he led the team that invented the draught Guinness in a tin gizmo) and he was able to get me loads of freebies, including tickets for matches at HQ. One of the most enjoyable games at that time was against Leicester City (including Lineker and Smith) on the plastic pitch in May 1985. My brother-in-law had taken me to one of those own-brew real ale places that were all the rage at the time; and the combination of rocket powered ale and hot sunshine meant I floated half-pissed into my seat in the South Africa Road Stand just in time to see the first of seven goals go pinging in ! The R’s won 4-3 and the ball flew around as only the plastic pitch can manage to do, and I went home (via the real ale place) very drunk but well contented.

Stand By Me !
Skipping forward to the 90’s, an interesting game from that period was the Sunday lunchtime SKY TV match against Manchester City in October 1997. A pretty poor R’s team won comfortably against an even poorer City with goals from Karl Ready and Gavin Peacock. The best bit of the game was the City fans giving the Gallagher brothers, who were sitting in the South Africa Road Stand, serious stick about getting their cheque books out. After the match, I was hanging around the players’ entrance and saw Frank Clarke giving it some to a few mouthy City fans. Shortly after that, Noel Gallagher came out and I had a long chat with him, while getting his autograph for my sister who was a massive Oasis fan at the time.

Now that the family are mostly grown up and I haven’t been completely financially ruined, I’m managing to get over to a few more games, and I hope to keep this trend going. That feeling of excitement when leaving White City tube and walking along South Africa Road on matchday, or leaving Shepherds Bush station onto the Uxbridge Road, never fails to get the hairs on the back of the neck rising. When I was in London last November on business, I went over to HQ to get the new shirt and a ticket for the Charlton game. I was feeling very nostalgic when I was walking down Loftus Road and seeing the Ellerslie Road Stand coming into view, and it took me back to the 70’s as I imagined I could hear the chant from the Loft End, ‘Stanley, Stanley give us a goal.’ Great stuff !

These are some of the highlights from my QPR supporting years, or at least they are a few of the odd games and incidents that have particularly stuck in my memory. As I said earlier, there are many better scribes on this website with a host of stories and experiences well beyond anything I can contribute, but hopefully these few musings from one of the older Irish R’s will be of some interest to some of you.

Jim Johnston

6 thoughts on “A Brief Encounter In The Sahara Desert And Other Memories.

  1. Really enjoyed the read and can empathize with a lot of what you’ve said Jim.
    Think we must be of a similar age!
    They were great days with a real buzz about the place.
    The Sahara incident is classic.
    It’s true what they say.. Rs, they get everywhere!
    Thanks for taking the time out to write this.
    Thanks again to Steve Russell.

  2. Thank you so much Jim for the story, a hell of a read mate.
    God I wish I had of been around to witness that great night at the Oval and history tells you the Glens became the first team ever to lose on the away goals rule.
    The wee lads from Belfast done good.

    As for that UEFA Cup match, that seemed some night and you saw the R’s in Europe. That is something else I wish I had of seen mate.

  3. That was a good read Jim.

    I understand Rachid Harkouk once lived in the Emlyn Gds area.There are people on here who knew him personally from his younger days.

  4. I remember being in Turkey in around 1990-91 & some crazy local kept asking me if I knew Leslie Ferdinand & wanted to buy my Rangers shirts I wore all holiday. They were mad about him over there. It wasn’t long after he’d scored a brace v Chelscum so I agreed he was a G*d but wouldn’t part with my shirts.

  5. These stories remind me of the winter of 84 during the Miners strike,i wore my QPR scarf everyday on the picket line,but this was no ordinary scarf,this had been to Wembley twice,Blackpool away,Highbury,seen us beat Palace and Grimsby and draw with Boro,this was my lucky Rangers scarf,red and black one side,blue and white on t`other,anyway to cut a long story short i ended up giving this priceless piece of Rangers memorabilla away to a striking Miner who asked if he could have it for his lad,well i hope the lad has looked after it because if your reading this id like it back now !

Comments are closed.