Breaks in the football season nowadays tend to be due to internationals, but they’re nothing new and clubs have often filled them with friendly games to help maintain players match fitness and to generate some income.
Back in October 1987, Rangers travelled the relatively short distance to Le Havre in France for a Saturday evening friendly game. Rangers were top of the table and playing at Anfield one week later versus second placed Liverpool. It was the season where there were 21 Division One sides so each match day one team would not be playing. Rangers had only lost one league game and the team managed by Jim Smith, featured the likes of John Byrne, Gary Bannister, Alan McDonald, Terry Fenwick, Paul Parker and co. with David Bulstrode as the new Club Chairman, were having their strongest start in Division One since the 1975/76 season. Rangers eventually finished fifth and top London club.
Two years previously the Liverpool fans had rioted at the Heysel Stadium, Brussels, in the European Cup Final versus Juventus, resulting in 39 deaths and over 600 fans injured. English teams were banned from Europe – a ban that was to last for five years, six for Liverpool. Unsurprisingly the few club friendlies in Europe that were arranged during the period of the ban were high security affairs, with clubs doing their utmost to keep the details away from their fans to avoid them travelling in numbers.
HAC Le Havre were founded as a sports club in 1872 by British ex-pats like many other clubs including AC Milan, Athletic Bilbao and Genoa in Europe and in South America, Corinthians, River Plate, Rosario Central and Newell’s Old Boys to name just a few. A football team was started and Le Havre still play in Oxford and Cambridge University light/dark blue halved shirts, as did Rangers until 1892.
Around ten Rangers fans made their way to the game in France and here are some of their stories from the match played at Stade Municipal Jules Deschaseaux. The game ended with a 1-1 draw with the then recently signed Dean Coney equalising in the second half with a 20-yard drive, Israeli international David Pizanti making his debut after signing for ¬£150,000 from Cologne and another relatively new player, Les Ferdinand, narrowly missing a last minute chance to win the game for the R’s in front of approximately 1,500 fans.
Rangers’ line-up: Seaman, Neill, Pizanti, Parker, McDonald, Fenwick, O’Neill, Coney, Ferdinand, Byrne, Brock
Subs: Roberts, Maguire, Kerslake and Channing
Chris Hewitt: In the lead up to the game, the club had to keep their mouth shut about it, so to speak, due to the UEFA ban. I had found out about the match from a work colleague at Hammersmith Royal Mail sorting office who knew Dean Coney as their wives were best friends. I remember asking Daphne Biggs for the details of the game and she steadfastly refused to tell me – in fact she went so far as to tell me that there was no such game taking place !
I travelled out on the Friday evening with my Post Office workmate Paul Morrissey by coach from Victoria to Portsmouth. Paul and I managed to miss the last ferry and we had to sleep near the ferry terminal and then catch the first boat the next morning where we met fellow R’s fans Ian Furey and Steve Carter. I later wrote an article for the then new AKUTR’s (issue No.3) regarding the English FA’s attitude towards some of the Rangers fans who travelled, more on that later. The ground had a roof over three sides, which was handy considering it was pouring with rain. The only problem was that we were given the uncovered section ! We had sat in a bar opposite the turnstiles before the game and were well oiled by kick-off. When Bob Burns turned up he had a fist full of tickets that he had obtained from the teams’ hotel.
As soon as we entered the ground Paul Morrissey took my flag to put up on the fence while I said I’d go and buy a programme from the seller about 10 feet away. When we started singing I got surrounded by security who were being advised by the FA Liaison Officer. He also ordered the security to tell the programme seller to not serve me – and he didn’t !
I then got into an argument with the FA official who threatened to have us thrown out. We were then rounded up and marched to the far side of the terrace by the corner flag and put into an area down the side of the pitch (like our Paddocks, but with no tunnel in the middle). So there were five of us in a Stand that probably held about 3,000. We had no food, drink or toilet facilities – nor a roof for that matter. But where there’s a will and all that……..
(Left to right – Big Bob Burns, Ian Furey, Paul Morrissey and Chris Hewitt – photo by Ariel Friedlander)
Big Bob got talking to a Gendarme over the fence in the home end to our left. The officer disappeared and he came back 5 minutes later with a crate of 24 bottles of Kronenbourg 1664. C’est magnifique ! At the end of the game they let all the locals depart before the FA Official appeared with about five coppers. He informed us that we would get a police escort back to the ferry port to get the last ferry home that night. Ian and Steve were booked into a hotel so they stayed on. So you then had the ridiculous sight of Bob, Paul and myself squeezing into a gendarme’s own private car and he dropped us off at the ferry on his way home. The bloke had a bag of shopping on the front seat so Bob took out a huge baguette and he started hitting the copper on the head saying: “Faster faster – pronto pronto.” The copper was as good as gold and he almost seemed apologetic !
The French people we came across were in fact superb, including the police. The people in the bar before the match looked after us well and when the police did come in before the kick-off the owner told them that we were just having a quiet drink and swapping souvenirs with locals and buying everyone drinks. They even posed for photos. I swapped my 1983 red and black Guinness away shirt with a local for a scarf and a hat so I was wearing a sheepskin coat with no shirt underneath !!! I wish I still had that shirt.
The English FA treated us like criminals though. Back then I had started travelling abroad to watch England play so I had become accustomed to being treated like vermin by our own football authorities. We arrived in Portsmouth about 6am on Sunday and were back in the pub in Hammersmith for opening time. The next day I went down to Loftus Road to see if I could get a programme. I went into the Box Office and spoke to Daphne. She asked me: “Were you the one with no shirt on ?’ and I replied “yes”. She then refused to sell one to me as she was obviously totally disgusted with me. I managed to get a programme from Martin Botwright eventually. Quite a trip ! The first, and so far the only, time that I have seen Rangers abroad
Steve Bacon: It was a fairly uneventful trip for me. I drove Martin Botwright and his wife, plus Jeff and Shirley who worked in the club shop at the time, to the game via the Portsmouth to Le Havre ferry. The evening was cold and very damp with quite a lot of mist. The game itself was nothing to write home about and ended 1-1. After the match David Bulstrode made sure that we were looked after with some drinks and food. On the way back Customs completely stripped my motor and then we got stuck in a traffic jam on the M3 for three hours !
Martin Botwright: My recollections of the Le Havre trip are similar to Steve’s. Not very many Rangers fans there, about ten or so. They had a supporters club shop van parked outside the ground which we went to have a look at to see what they were selling. The answer was very little – scarves etc. but nothing special for the game. As for meeting David Bulstrode, we met him after the game outside the reception and he took us into the players bar for a drink and something to eat. When we got inside the bar it was very different to an English players bar. It had drinks set up on separate tables – one table for each drink ! One for red wine, one for white and one each for whisky, brandy, vodka, beer etc. (Comment from Martin Percival – it’s lucky that Chris, Big Bob and co. were not let loose on that lot !)
I used to get my away match tickets from either, Paul Parker, Alan McDonald or Johnny Byrne at that time. (Note – Republic of Ireland international Byrne was transferred to Le Havre later that same season). The match programme was a supplement issued to the programme for their league match the previous Wednesday versus Auxerre. I took a few photos, but the only one I can find now is one of a hoarding poster showing the stadium as they hoped it would look in the future.
(Photo of the planned Le Havre stadium by Martin Botwright)
Ian Furey: It’s a long time ago now, but I think I heard about the game from Steve Edwards who has sadly died now. I think he found out about it from Neil Roberts of the Supporters Club who has also died recently. Steve Edwards couldn’t make it so Steve Carter and I decided to go. I’d never seen Rangers abroad before – and haven’t seen them since, unless you class Swansea and Cardiff as abroad ! We got up at 4am and my wife gave us a lift to Victoria to get the coach down to Portsmouth and then we caught the early morning ferry. We met Chris Hewitt and Paul Morrissey in the bar on the boat. We had never met them before, but Chris has become a good mate since the trip.
When we arrived in Le Havre, we shared a taxi to the stadium and spotted a bar more or less opposite the ground. This was many hours before kick-off and there was no one in there apart from two locals. Chris immediately said: “I’m buying everyone in the house a drink”. It was a cheap round !!! Steve Carter bought the next round and just as he was ordering this huge skinhead enters the bar. Steve asked him: “What are you having Porky ?” and the guy replies: “Lager, and the name is Bob, not Porky”. So that was how we came to meet Big Bob. He was clutching lots of match posters that he had pulled off walls all around town so I swopped a programme that I had managed to get hold of for a poster.
Once we were in the ground, we were mixing with the locals who were very friendly and wanted to swap badges, souvenirs etc. But then the police spotted us and moved us to an enormous open Stand without any facilities. It was pouring with rain and we got soaked. We spoke to Paul Parker and Gavin Maguire through the perimeter fencing as they warmed up before the game. They thought that we were insane to have travelled to Le Havre for a friendly. I then spotted that one of the perimeter fence gates was open so I casually wandered through it, up the touchline and sat down on the Rangers bench next to Peter Shreeves. I was promptly told to fxxk off and went back to the open Stand.
After the game, Steve Carter and I were put in a police van and then on to the ferry port – despite us telling the police that we had a hotel booked for the night ! As soon as the police disappeared we just got a taxi back to the hotel and then headed home the next morning. It was a crazy and enjoyable trip and I still follow Rangers home and away 24 years later.
Ariel Friedlander: I was one of the club photographers at that time and this was my first and, so far only, trip abroad to watch Rangers play. I travelled down by train from London and caught the over-night ferry to France from Portsmouth. I arrived in Le Havre at 6am for the 8.30pm kick-off. I had arrived early so I could take pictures of the team training at lunch time at their hotel, but I knew there would be a lot of time to kill during the day.
As I got off the ferry, a very big skinhead, complete with English rose tattoos and wearing a white short-sleeved shirt, greeted me with: “Alright Ariel ! Seen any other Rangers ?” By this time I’d become known to many of the Rangers faithful. I replied: “No, I think it’s just us”. He introduced himself as Big Bob and asked me if I fancied a drink. With Le Havre being a port the bars are open very early – in fact they opened at 7am. I quickly realised that I could not keep up with Bob’s consumption. I was in danger of turning up at the hotel completely drunk and never being allowed to take photos for the club ever again. So I had to come up with an escape plan.
As we walked from one bar to another, Bob spotted a poster on a wall of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right wing French political party, Front National, and he insisted that I took a photo of him posing alongside the poster. By the time we got to a third bar I was getting a bit concerned. Fortunately Bob decided that one of the barmaids fancied him. That gave me the opportunity to say to him that I needed to go off to find the team and he was happy to stay in the bar. I left and found the hotel and took photos of the players whilst they trained. They then kindly invited me to stay on for lunch. On the way to the hotel I had spotted a poster for the match in a barber’s shop window and I asked for it and was given it. All of the players signed it for me and it’s the only piece of Rangers memorabilia that I have properly framed up on my wall.
After the photo session, I took a taxi to the stadium which was the other side of town and I was totally overcharged by the taxi driver. As I got out of the car it started to rain as I entered the ground and it then really poured down. The stadium had a covered side for the locals and there was a big uncovered terrace where they put the 4 or 5 Rangers fans. They were all standing there singing and dancing with their shirts off with countless police surrounding them ! It was a horrible wet night and I got really muddy taking photos from the side of the pitch. After the game I started walking back to the ferry terminal, which was quite a way away, and there was no sign of any taxis.
As I was walking in the rain the Rangers team coach drove past me and Dave Butler the physio spotted me and stopped the coach and told me to get on board. I asked if he was sure and he said: “Just get on board Ariel, I have a daughter your age”. It was quite amusing because I always got the Supporters Club coaches to away games. Daphne always thought that was a bit of a liberty on the part of the club and that they should have paid for the ticket. On the darkened coach I could hear some of the players saying: “Shhhh….there’s a lady on the bus”. I looked around thinking: “Who are they talking about ?!”
(The QPR Directors in Le Havre. Left to right: Robin Turner, Robert Noonan, David Bulstrode, Tony Chandler & Tony Ingham – photo by Ariel Friedlander)
I was dropped at the ferry terminal and I then got chatting to an elderly couple from the Isle of Wight. They were a very nice couple and we talked about gardening. But then Bob and his mates arrived. They were totally tanked up and carrying traffic cones that they had nicked from somewhere. More greetings of: “Alriiiight Ariel ? Want a drink ?” Not surprisingly the couple vanished. So I had one drink and then it was time to crash out. I headed to the other end of the ferry and laid down on three seats with my coat on top of me and all my camera gear around me for safe keeping.
Next morning I awoke and there they all were sleeping around me to make sure I was ok. I headed off and got on the train and who was on it – Big Bob ! We get off the train and I got the bus. Bob’s on the bus. I change buses. Bob changes buses. I decide to head for Holland Park to see my friend. Bob gets the bus to Holland Park. At this stage I lose it and shout: “Are you following me ?!” To which Bob replies: “Yes, you’re QPR, I have to make sure you get home safely.” I felt SO guilty about all the thoughts I’d had about him. I believe he got banned soon after that for hitting a policeman at a match. I was told a few years ago that Bob had diabetes and he’d lost a leg as a result. It didn’t stop him watching Rangers though. Apparently at his last match he was sitting on the touchline in a wheelchair and he tried to trip up the linesman. He was Rangers until he died.
I’d like to thank Ariel, Chris, Ian, Martin and Steve for their recollections of the trip to Le Havre plus the memorabilia and photos that accompany it and to also dedicate this article to the memory of Big Bob Burns – Rangers ’til he died.
Ariel’s recollections form part of an in-depth interview about her time as a Rangers fan and the period that she was an official club photographer. This will appear in the near future accompanied by many of her photos, some of which are previously unpublished.