Part 1 of this interview with John Brooks, a member of the highly successful Rangers Youth Team of the mid 1960’s, was run on 15th January 2011 and this is the second and concluding instalment. After running Part One, Colin Parker and Alan Davies, who were also members of that team, posted some very interesting comments and have now got back in contact with John who they have not seen for many years.
A broken leg for any player is always serious, but for a youngster who is on the verge of a first team call up, it’s especially serious. The day John broke his leg in 1965 he was due to get a game in the first team. Johnny Collins, one of the first team regulars, came up to John in training, as he knew John had been getting a bit fed up playing for the reserves. “It all changes very quickly in this game”, Collins said. John was later told that he would be in the first team on Saturday. On the previous Wednesday night, John was playing for the reserves against Orient at Brisbane Road, John went for the ball, it bobbled on the pitch and he felt his leg go. He realised he’d broken it. Bobby Nash was also playing in the game for Rangers and Dave Webb for Orient. They both came to see John in hospital, together with Dave Sexton who was the Orient coach at the time. It was a bad break, a tib and fib fracture, and John was in plaster for 6 months.
Above picture, Jim Gregory with Rodney Marsh and Mike Kelly at their signing ceremony.
It took quite a while for John to get back to full fitness. His leg ended up three quarters of an inch shorter as a result of the injury, although this did not affect John’s ability as a goalkeeper. He eventually returned to play in the reserves, but Mike Kelly had been bought as an additional goalkeeper from Wimbledon, then a non-league team, and competition was very fierce as Peter Springett was by this time the first team goalkeeper.
Clearly John’s appearances, even in the reserves, were now going to be limited and in December 1966, John joined Ipswich. “My mate Colin Andrews knew Reg the scout at Ipswich. I went down on my day off for a trial at Ipswich without telling anyone at Rangers. They liked me. A couple of days later Alec Stock came up to me and said, ‘John I’ve got you a club. How does Ipswich sound ?’ ‘Lovely’ I said. Alec knew nothing about the fact that I’d already been down for a trial ! So I signed for Ipswich Town. Ken Hancock was their regular keeper. I got regular runs in the reserves but Bill McGarry was the manager and after a while he said, ‘I don’t like small goalkeepers’. I then signed for Northampton in October 1967.”
Not long after, McGarry left to go to Wolves and Bobby Robson came in as Ipswich manager. “My mate, little Laurie Sivell, got his chance as goalkeeper under Robson in a good Ipswich team. I was the same height as Laurie and I was as good a goalkeeper as him. I was always in the right place, but usually at the wrong bloody time !”
John had just joined Ipswich when Rangers played in the 1967 League Cup Final and he had to play for Ipswich reserves v Fulham at Craven Cottage that famous day – 4th March1967. “I was quite upset that I couldn’t be there – even my mum went to Wembley and she came home hoarse ! She didn’t typically watch me that much, but when I had my broken leg, she did come with me to see a first team game. I was sat at the front of the Ellerslie Road Stand with my leg up on a chair. It was the day when the Millwall fans were throwing smoke bombs in March 1966.They thought they were going up – they went crazy when Rangers beat them 6-1 with Rodney scoring 2 goals on his home debut !”
“I played one first team game for Northampton – but I headed the ball into my own goal ! I was going out with a girl and we had been in London all day. I planned to go with her to the first team game in Northampton that night as a spectator. Her parents ran a fish and chip shop and we had a huge fried fish supper. I then wandered into Northampton’s County Ground only to be told. ‘You’re playing tonight versus Watford’. It came totally out of the blue. I went down to the County Arms and had a couple of scotches to try and calm my nerves. I did well and we went 1-0 up but Watford shot from a distance, I tripped, the ball hit the cross bar and then bounced down. It hit me on the head and then ricocheted into the net like a rocket !”
After Northampton, John spent 9 years with Guildford City. “I enjoyed it in the Southern League. We played Watford in the FA Cup 1st Round in November 1972 and I was the man of the match. We were winning 2-1 until quite late on, but ended up losing 4-2. Mike Keen was playing for Watford at the time. Gary Peters kicked one of their players up in the air and a penalty was given so that was that, but it had been a very close thing.”
During his time with Guildford, John was working as a telephone engineer and he also did some plumbing, central heating and later worked as a landscape gardener. Guildford merged with Dorking in 1974. Alan Spratley, another ex-Rangers youth team player, was also at Guildford playing in goal. I was about 30 and I stopped as the situation at Guildford behind the scenes was bad and eventually the club moved to Dorking,
About 9 months later though, I got a call from Staines Town and they were short of a goalkeeper and they asked if I would play for them. We were on the coach to an away game at Dagenham and I said, ‘I’ve got no boots and they had to stop off and buy some for me ! After about 3 minutes, a hell of a shot came in and I was still finding my feet at the time. The shot hit the cross bar and sent a shower of rust down my neck ! We lost 2-0, but I got into the hang of it again. I played on for a while with Staines before going to Kingstonian where I did half a season until I was about 32, around 1979/80 and then called it a day.”
Above picture, the 1966 QPR team photo showing John and Alan Spratley.
“After that I coached various sports for many years. Football, cricket, tennis and rowing – all for the Inner London Education Authority Schools. The rowing was fun and I was offered a job as a full time rowing coach. I did that for 9 years. The girl’s crews were great – I had a reputation for having the best looking crew ! We got a national silver medal. Men’s crews would crash on Sunday mornings on the river as they would be too busy looking at my female crew rather than where they were going !”
“I moved to Bognor in the late 1980’s as my mother lived there and I worked in the Leisure Centre where I supervised the lifeguards. I’m a guard on the trains nowadays. Paul Greenhill is one of the train drivers and a keen QPR fan and season ticket holder. One day he suggested I come to a game. So I started watching the R’s again about 3 years ago.”
Above picture, John (far right) with Stuart Bllbe and Paul Greenhill (centre) – taken at the recent game against Coventry on 23rd January 2011.
On his first day as an apprentice, Colin Andrews and John were given the job of sweeping out the turnstiles in Loftus Road. “I came back as a fan 40 years later and I went through the same turnstiles – they seem a bit narrower now than in the 1960’s….or maybe it’s just that I’m a little bit fatter !”
Above picture, the Ellerslie Road terrace entrance under construction.
John’s view on today’s game is that football professionals nowadays are much fitter and the pitches are better and footballs are lighter. “Keepers don’t seem to go for the penalties like they used to though. I always watched the penalty taker’s feet and I was a good penalty saver. Keepers often now stand with their feet apart which means you’re rooted to the spot. You need to keep them together if you’re likely to pull off a penalty save.”
“My first wages at Rangers were ¬£8 a week which went up to ¬£9 and there was a ¬£2 win bonus in the South East Counties team. I was earning ¬£4 as a sheet metal worker for a 48 hour week. As a professional at Rangers I was on ¬£12 a week and at Ipswich I was on ¬£20 a week and would of been ¬£40 if I made the first team. At Guildford I was on around ¬£15 a week plus a crowd bonus. Guildford didn’t lose at home for two seasons, we were a strong side. We had a spell with 5,000 watching us for a while and as a result we were on ¬£70/80 per week due to the crowd bonus. I was a Post Office Phone Engineer at the same time and I was also on ¬£35 with the Post Office – so very nice money for the time ! Nat Lofthouse was the Bolton scout and he came to look at me as a possible replacement for Eddie Hopkins whilst I was at Guildford. I had had a bad week though, my dad had died and I let a couple of goals in and Bolton didn’t follow up.”
John had not been to watch football at all since he retired as a player, but he now sees about ten home games a season when his shift pattern as a Railway Guard allows it. I’d like to thank John for his time and for sharing with me the details of a truly fascinating era in Rangers history, as well as the stories from John’s varied and colourful career !