Alec Stock was appointed QPR manager in the summer of 1959 as the successor to Jack Taylor. Many people at the time felt that his appointment would signal the start of a new and more successful era for the club. Stock won favour immediately by restoring the blue and white hoop shirts that had been abandoned a few years before in the early 1950’s. It had been a relatively uneventful decade for the club after the excitement of the immediate post war period and the club’s promotion to the Second Division, for the first time, in 1948.
In the longer term, Stock’s appointment was a major success and he is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers Rangers have ever had. However, Stock was certainly not an immediate overnight success. He is a classic example of the fact that most managers need time to build up a successful team. One area where Stock did intentionally focus upon very early in his career as the new Rangers manager was the Youth team. He helped to initiate what was the strongest and most successful Rangers youth policy that has existed to date.
Stock appointed Derek Healy to run the youth side and the accompanying scouting network. Healy had been one of Stock’s players at Leyton Orient. By the summer of 1965, six years after Stock’s appointment, 21 of the 27 professional playing staff at Rangers had started off in the Youth Team. This investment paid huge dividends. Two years later 5 of the 11 players who beat West Bromwich in the 1967 League Cup Final were graduates of the Stock/Healy era youth team – plus of course club captain Mike Keen, a Youth team product from just prior to Stock’s arrival. By 1968, Rangers were a First Division team for the first time in the club’s history – largely thanks to a home grown team.
Many of the young Rangers players of the mid 1960’s era, like Mick Leach, the Morgan twins, Peter Springett and Frank Sibley, all went on to have good careers with Rangers and a few years later the likes of Dave Clement, Ian Gillard and Gerry Francis even went on to win England caps and feature in the 1975/76 season side that came so close to winning the Division One championship.
As with any Youth side though, there will always be some good players who don’t make it, but that is not necessarily the end of their story. Paul Furlong, Tony Currie and Jimmy Langley are all examples of players who were with Rangers as school boys in different eras, but who left to have success with other clubs before eventually finding their way back to the club at a later stage in their careers. John Brooks was another young player who eventually found his way back to Loftus Road – but in John’s case it was as a fan, not as a player.
In late 2009, Stuart Bilbe, a lower tier Loftus Road Stand season ticket holder, introduced me to John before a game in the Coningham Arms pub on the Uxbridge Road. John’s a modest character and after we’d been chatting for quite a while, it was only then that he revealed that he had come up through the Rangers Youth team of the early to mid 1960’s and had made it as far as the reserves before a badly broken leg set his career back. I asked if he would mind me interviewing him and John very kindly agreed.
John was born in 1947 and his family moved from Clapham to Southall when he was 5 years old. His Dad wasn’t a football fan, but John enjoyed playing and watching the game. As a teenager he would cycle to Brentford, pay 3d to park his bike and then watch the likes of Jim Towers playing for the Bees. He also used to watch Rangers occasionally. At 15, John left school and became a sheet metal worker in Hayes. A school friend, Micky Scott, suggested to John that they both ask for a trial at QPR. John usually played in midfield, but had gone in goal for a few 5 a-side games. For the trial it was suggested that John play in goal as there were plenty of other midfield players. So the first time John had properly played in goal in an 11 a-side game was at his trial for QPR !
John did well in the trial and Derek Healy told John to keep coming back. Eventually he was offered apprentice terms by Rangers and had a leaving presentation from work. John doubled his weekly wages from ¬£4 as a sheet metal worker to ¬£8 per week as an apprentice QPR player. John made steady progress. In 1963/64 he played in 7 South East Counties League matches and 2 games for the reserves in the Football Combination. On 2nd May 1964, the Rangers Youth team played their last match of the season versus Chelsea at Loftus Road. They won and finished champions – 4 points ahead of Chelsea, 13 ahead of Arsenal and 14 ahead of Tottenham Hotspur.
In May 1964, John travelled with the Youth team to Geneva for the Martini Youth Tournament, eventually won by Torino with Rangers going out to the local Swiss team, Carouge in the semi-final. The following season John played in 24 South East Counties League games, the third highest number of appearances in the squad, and on 6 occasions for the reserves. The Rangers youngsters had quite a number of memorable games that season. On 3rd October 1964, even the first team included three 17-year-olds and two 18-year-olds for their 2-2 draw at Gillingham. John was not amongst them that day, but in April 1965 he played against Tottenham Hotspur in what had due to be a two-legged Southern Junior Floodlit Cup Final. The first game at White Hart Lane was rained off so the final was decided on the result of the second-leg that Rangers played at the White City. The game ended up a draw and the Cup was shared in what proved to be the last match that a Rangers team played at the White City Stadium. A full report of the game can be found on pages 184 and 185 of Gordon Macey’s book, ‘Queen’s Park Rangers – The Complete Record’, from 2009.
The Rangers Youth team squad at that time included Alan Davies who scored over 50 goals that season for the Youth team, but didn’t make the grade to the Rangers first team. Like Mike Keen and Tony Hazell he was a High Wycombe lad and later became Keen’s brother-in-law. He managed Slough Town for several years in the 1980’s. John also played cricket with him in the QPR 6 a-side cricket team.
In this era, training was held sometimes at Hayes, also at Northolt and occasionally at Mortlake and in Richmond Park. Frank Smith, the first team goalkeeper, would pick John up in his Triumph Herald and drive them to the London Transport training ground at Northolt near the Target pub. This was before the days of specialist coaching for the keepers; they tended to train with the other players and just occasionally gave tips to each other. They also threw a medicine ball at each other and practiced drop kicking. “Just guard your near post” was the main piece of advice that John was given ! Ron Springett was the England international goalkeeper when John signed for Rangers and a Sheffield Wednesday player. Springett still lived in London though and trained regularly with Rangers, the club he had joined as a youngster in the mid 1950’s. He gave John tips on how to get up onto his legs again quickly after diving for the ball, as well as some tips for penalties. Eventually in May 1967, Ron was swapped by Sheffield Wednesday with Rangers for his younger goalkeeper brother Peter, one of John’s youth team mates.
One game that John recalls well was played against Chelsea, a South East Counties match played at Hendon. John had a very bad cold. Cough sweets at that time contained drugs that could cause hallucinations and John had taken so many that he ended up seeing two big orange balls during the game ! Another memorable trip abroad for a game was for the Paris v London youth representative match. “I was picked for the London Youth side to play Paris after playing well in a game at Orient. Jim McCalliog of Chelsea and John Radford of Arsenal were also in the squad plus from Rangers, the Morgan twins and Tony Hazell. We had to wear red and white hooped rugby shirts – an awful kit. The French team had a lovely blue kit…..but we stuffed them 3-1 !”
“Whilst we were in Paris, I was out with some of the other players and we walked into a very swish shop. It was at the time when the art of feigning injuries was just coming into the English game from the continent and one of the lads was messing about and shouted, ‘Ohhhhh……me leg !’ A shop assistant who was carrying a ladder turned round to look and a display of crystal was knocked all over the place by the ladder. Then the shop alarms started going off. We legged it just as the gendarmes were arriving !”
John’s team mates at Rangers also included Frank Sibley, Ron Hunt and Micky Leach. Dave Clement was a good friend, as was Bobby Finch who was extremely fit but who died prematurely at the age of 30. One of John’s closest friends at Rangers was Colin Andrews who, after his playing career was over, was regularly on duty outside Buckingham Palace as a mounted policeman. Andrews and Peter Springett lived near the Worlds End and John used to go out with them a lot. This was very much the ‘Swinging London’ of the mid 1960’s and there was quite a lot of socialising with players from other London clubs. Alan Hudson of Chelsea lived in the pre-fabs near the Kings Road and he often held parties at his house. Bobby Keetch and Johnny Haynes, then top players with Fulham, came back to Colin’s and Peter’s place occasionally. People like comedian Tommy Cooper frequented a bar called ‘Robin Hood’ on Chiswick High Road that John and Colin also frequented and Terry Downes, the Paddington born boxer, would also often be seen around town.
John liked and respected Alec Stock, but he did find his team talks were often unintentionally amusing. However, the other backroom staff made up for this.”He’d go through the opposition line-up and make comments like, ‘I don’t know him – he can’t be any good’ and then, after Alec had left the dressing room, the coach Jimmy Andrews would go through it all again properly. The Brady brothers would often have a quick swig of whisky before they headed onto the pitch. Bobby Keetch was quite a character, as was Rodney. Mike Keen was a good lad. He was quietly spoken but he always helped you out and he was as good as gold. In some ways he was almost too nice to be the captain but he was well liked and respected and made a good captain. He had a good rapport with everyone.”
“Alec Farmer was the trainer, kit man and he also looked after the injuries. Then there was also Bert who had no fingers – just two or three left. He cleaned the boots – he wore a trilby and had baggy trousers. As an apprentice we didn’t clean boots but we did sweep the terraces, water the grass when it was re-seeded in the summer and paint the Ellerslie Road Stand stanchions. At dinner times we would play cricket under the Ellerslie Road Stand.”
QPR 6-a-side Cricket team – photo taken 1965 at the Hoover Sports Field, Perivale
Back row left to right: John Brooks, Alan Davies, John Collins
Front row left to right: Jimmy Langley, Brian Bedford, Mike Keen
“Jim Gregory was a good man. When I went to Ipswich, he later asked me how I thought we’d do as Ipswich were already a Second Division club when Rangers were promoted in 1967. I said Rangers would be fine. Many of the players would go round to Jim’s house on Kingston Hill. His kitchen fridge would get raided – especially by Ron Hunt and Rodney. Jim sorted me out with my very first new car. ¬£495 for a Singer Chamois – basically it was an up market Hillman Imp !”
“The last time I saw Jim, he was the Chairman at Portsmouth in the late 1980’s. I was doing Saturday morning coaching at the Leisure Centre in Bogner, where I still live. For a treat, I thought I’d organise a trip to Portsmouth for the kids and their parents. I went down to Portsmouth on a freezing cold match day and spoke to the Commissionaire on the door to see if I could have a word with Jim. He eventually turned up in his Rolls Royce and I said, ‘hello Jim’ and I could see he didn’t really remember me. I said, ‘I was a young goalkeeper at QPR and seeing as I was down here I thought I’d wish you well.’ A little bit later the Commissionaire called me over and said. ‘Jim wants to see you in the Board Room.’ I sat in the Director’s Box and he looked after me very well and arranged tickets for the kids for a later match. He was getting on in years a bit by then.”