If I mention Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, older supporters will immediately think of the quirky BBC series ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. Amongst the most famous sketches from the show were the ‘New Gas Cooker’ sketch and the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ sketch. Both of these were filmed in Thorpebank Road, Shepherds Bush in 1969. So what’s that got to do with Queen’s Park Rangers ? Well nothing, but if you visit the following Site, it will give you an idea of how Thorpebank Road looked in those days:
But we have to go back to the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, to find the connection between Thorpebank Road and Queen’s Park Rangers. Rangers were then in the Third Division. The players were not well paid and often had to live as lodgers in houses close to the ground in Shepherds Bush. For some unknown reason, Thorpebank Road seemed to have more than its fair share of Rangers players living in the road.
In those days, lodgers were a necessity for some families. Mums were housewives and Dads were the breadwinners, usually earning low wages. Most of Shepherds Bush was a working class area. The houses in Thorpebank Road would be described as two up and two down. This meant two bedrooms, a box room and a bathroom/toilet upstairs. Downstairs had a living room, front room and kitchen. Strangely, the houses did have the luxury of both an inside and outside toilet. In those cramped conditions, the lodgers had no choice but to live as part of the family and muck in. My own parents lived in the road and took in lodgers for several reasons. My brother Harry was born in 1945 and I was born in 1950. So as you can imagine with the four of us, and lodgers, our house was pretty full at times.
Famous players that I can remember lodging in the road were Bobby Cameron, a schoolboy Scottish international who joined Rangers in 1950. He scored 59 goals in 256 appearances, before moving to Leeds in 1959. Then there was Clive Clark, who came from Leeds in 1958 and later moved to West Bromwich Albion in 1960. Other players included Peter Angell who played from 1953 to 1965 and made over 400 appearances for Rangers. Bernard Evans, who played from 1960 to 1963 and scored 35 goals in 78 games and George Whitelaw who played from 1958 to 1960 and scored 10 goals in 26 appearances. I also recall Peter Hobbs, but can’t remember much about him. My brother remembers that he came to Rangers from Sittingbourne. The two players that stayed longest at our house were Joe Cini, a Maltese international and Don Tomkins, from Wrexham in North Wales.
Joe played for several clubs in Malta including Hibernians, Sliema Wanderers and Floriana. He was a skilful outfield player and represented Malta at international level. He also captained the National team many times. Joe was the first Maltese player to play in the English League, firstly for Leyton Orient and then the Rangers. Another time I remember Joe taking us to the ground. We changed in the Rangers dressing room before going out onto the pitch. At that time there was only the wooden Ellerslie Road Stand. The rest of the ground was stone terracing, with iron crush barriers and the low perimeter wall. The only other building was the old refreshment hut, which was little more than a garden shed
Don had been in National Service before joining Rangers. He was posted to Cyprus during the troubles of the mid 1950’s. I remember him teaching me survival tips that he had learnt in service. One was how to make a hunting weapon similar to an arrow, but propelled by a piece of string. He was also an accomplished bricklayer and built a coal bunker for us in the back yard. Up until that time the coal was stored under the stairs. I have this funny memory of him helping to rearrange the rooms and beds. He told us to put a mattress on his back and he would carry it downstairs. The weight was too much for him and he ran down the stairs, legs going like a cartoon character. Luckily the front door was closed otherwise he would have ended up in a heap on the pavement !
My brother, who was five years older than me, was a keen supporter. Being a teenager, he relished mixing with the players. He remembers Joe taking him to an expensive Italian hairdresser and also proudly wearing expensive Italian clothing passed on to him by Joe. I must confess that being much younger I was more interested in the presents the players used to give me. One Christmas, my present was a magnetic football game. I seem to remember that Joe and Don enjoyed playing with it as much as I did.
The South African player, Stuart Leary, came to stay for a short time. I think it may have been when he first arrived at Loftus Road. At that time he was playing both football for Rangers and cricket for Kent. He must have been quite wealthy because he used to drive a new Jag. He certainly turned heads in our road, because in those days very few people owned cars and a Jag was quite a rarity.
I remember various people visiting the house including Tony Ingham, the trainer Alec Farmer and the Manager, the great Alec Stock. On one of these occasions, we were asked to accommodate three young lads who had come down for a trial. By rearranging the house we managed to squeeze them all in one bedroom.
By the mid 1960’s, all the players had left the road and Rangers were on the way up. Winning the League Cup on 4th March 1967, the day after my birthday – and yes I was at Wembley. They then went on to gain promotion to the Second and then the First Division. The rest is history. Joe returned to Malta and continued playing football, but became a goalkeeper when his legs started to give up. When he finally retired he started designing and making Sulkies – a cart used in horse trotting races. I’ve been over to Malta twice; once in the 1980’s and again in the 1990’s, and on both occasions meeting up with Joe. On my last visit, my friend and I went out to dinner with Joe and a group of ex-Floriana players. We all ended up very drunk !
As a postscript, in the 2008/09 Malta Football Awards, Joe was given a special Career Award.
About The Images:
1.The top one shows me with my brother Harry and Don Tomkins
2. Next down is Joe Cini with my brother and that’s me with the hat on !
3. On the hallowed turf with Joe Cini
4. With Mum, Dad, Don Tomkins and the cat
5. Joe Cini in Malta at a Floriana players re-union