Is it really 30 years ago since that never to be forgotten FA Cup run ? A hell of a lot has happened to our club in the years since. Some of it, if it appeared in a film would be deemed to be too unbelievable.
The 1981-82 season had commenced with Terry Venables about to start his first full season at the helm having joined us from Crystal Palace the previous October. As 1982 started there had been doubts about us even taking part in the competition as the FA were in a quandary (no change there then !) about letting us participate due to our plastic pitch. In fact, Middlesbrough who we drew at home in the 3rd Round were threatening to boycott the tie unless we played it at a neutral ground, citing the pitch gave us an unfair advantage. How ironic that having drawn the first game, we went to Ayresome Park on a Monday night and knocked out Malcolm Allison’s side with a Warren Neill headed winner !
In the following round five days later, we drew Blackpool away where a 0-0 draw was achieved, surviving a strong penalty appeal by the hosts. Three days later on the plastic, we thrashed Blackpool 5-1 with Clive Allen grabbing four goals. He remains the best ‘pure’ goalscorer that I have ever seen for Rangers.
The 5th Round saw us playing Grimsby Town at home who we had beaten two weeks earlier at Loftus Road 1-0. We won 3-1 this time with Mike Flanagan playing a blinder. This was the time when the Press started picking up on the Flanagan and Allen “strolling” theme after the popular Music Hall stars. There was a superb banner of this when we reached Wembley.
We were now set up for a Quarter-Final against Crystal Palace. We were drawn out of the bag first again and this set up Terry Venables against his old team with Clive Allen facing the club he left in the summer after being labelled a “one million pound misfit”.
It was a nervy, edgy game that looked like going to a replay my Dad had decided, he thought so as we walked down the steps from the back of the South Africa Road Stand with two minutes left to play and planned for the horrendous mid-week journey to South London. We stopped on the stairway with hundreds of others as Tony Currie was about to take a corner. After a melee in the box, it arrived at the feet of who else but…Clive Allen, who turned and struck it into the net at the Loft End. There was bedlam as everyone hugged each other while Clive being the emotional person he is, ran the length of the pitch to taunt the Palace fans who had been giving him stick all afternoon. That was it, we were in the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup for the first time in our history. A year in which historians believed at the time was our 100th season.
The time then came for the scramble for tickets. It wasn’t as bad as some fans had thought with Ron Phillips, the QPR Secretary, even criticising our fans when tickets were still remaining in the days leading up to the match, stating that if fans wouldn’t buy tickets for a game of this magnitude on the other side of London when would they ?
My memories of the day are of it being a typical early Spring day with the sun shining, although in the photo I have added on here, I am wearing the traditional late-70’s/early 80’s duffle coat ! My Dad and I got the train from Greenford to head for Arsenal tube via Holborn. My first thoughts were as an 11-year-old was that I hadn’t seen so many Rangers scarves, hats and rosettes in my life. Getting out at Arsenal tube, the crush was incredible, something that I wasn’t used to at Loftus Road where we were averaging around 11,000 in the Second Division. This really was the big time with vendors everywhere selling everything related to the game you could think of. You couldn’t possibly explain to an 11-year-old nowadays just what a big occasion this was. Then the FA Cup was everything, pretty much the only live domestic game we got to see each season on TV was the FA Cup Final and we were 90 minutes away from having the television cameras on our coach, direct links to the team’s hotel and all that went with it.
My memories are of getting into the stadium and myself and my Dad bumping into two brothers who sat next to us each week at all the home games. They had sat there ever since I had started going as a 7-year-old. The funny thing is that in future seasons we never saw them again, perhaps the success of the Venables era scared them off !
We took our seats in the lower tier of the Stand where the teams came out, with the old ‘greenhouse’ dug-outs that they had at Highbury in those days. One thing that shocked me and I don’t think I have seen it at a match ever since, was that the bloke in the seat next to me had a TV on his lap and was watching the Grand National on it !!! I’m sure it was round about half-time when the race started. When I related this story to my mate Gerry a while back, he’s such a racing expert that he knew the horse, the jockey and the trainer in an instant. I later checked it and he was right.
We were sat right next to the West Brom fans who were housed on the Clock End. I can remember there being a very lively atmosphere, but didn’t see any trouble near us. A mate of mine was stood in the North Bank that day with his Dad and Brother and they said that it was a different story there.
This had to be one of the most nervy matches in our history even though we had nothing to lose as the underdogs. West Brom were in the top flight and had already reached the semi-finals of the League Cup that season. The main threat to us came from their centre-forward, Cyrille Regis. However, he was to be marked by own Bobby Hazell who turned in the greatest defensive performance I’ve ever seen that afternoon. He didn’t give Regis a sniff and even got forward to have a hand in our goal.
The moment we scored, the 78th minutes, and I don’t even have to look the time up, it’s ingrained in my memory, the ball was bouncing around like it was in a pinball machine. Bobby Hazell played it forward into the box and big Alastair Robertson hacked the ball away only for it to hit the knee of Clive Allen and rebound into the net. In the words of John Motson: “He didn’t know much about it, but he’s scored !” A typical Clive Allen goal !
It was pandemonium. I unfurled my new Rangers flag, bought at a previous home game and nearly took the eyes out of everyone around me. Strangers were hugging each other and we were 12 minutes from Wembley ! It’s no exaggeration to say that they were the longest 12 minutes of my 11 years on the planet. The tension was incredible, but finally the whistle blew and we had done it. It didn’t seem real, Queen’s Park Rangers FA Cup Finalists. This only happened to the other kids at my school, the Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool armchair fans who’d rub it in your face.
On coming out of the stadium, I remember the pure elation of our fans and the sheer dejection of the Albion fans. There was some trouble as the Rangers fans taunted the Albion supporters with cries of: “We’re Gonna Wembley, You’re Not, You’re Not.” It had to be the longest queue ever to get into Arsenal tube station after the game. It snaked round very nearly the whole stadium, but it was worth it of course.
My next memory is of getting off the train at Greenford and getting into my Dad’s Renault which had a sun roof in which we flew my Rangers flag out of. Everyone was cheering as we drove down the streets. Greenford was a real Rangers stronghold then. The first people to greet me when we parked up were a couple of mates of mine from a few doors up, decked out in their Spurs shirts. Of course it would be they who we would be playing on 22nd May at Wembley.
As a special celebration, my Mum took myself and my Sister down to the Ballot Box pub at the bottom of Horsenden Hill, which is a minor miracle in that current climate that it’s still there, with the same name. My Mum commented to me that I looked like I was on “Cloud Nine’. I was, I still couldn’t believe it, MY Queen’s Park Rangers were going to Wembley !!!
(The top pic was taken outside my home in Berkeley Avenue, Greenford)