One year ago today we learnt that QPR legend Alan McDonald had passed away in Lisburn, Northern Ireland.
On Friday, 11th May 1990, there was a Testimonial game for Macca at Loftus Road against a Chelsea X1. Michael Wale paid tribute to him in the match programme:
‘Someone asked me the other day: “Alan McDonald’s Testimonial ? He can’t be that old ?” Indeed, he is not but although only 26, he has been at the club since he was sixteen and came over from his native Belfast.
It does seem that Macca, as he is known to his friends, has been around QPR for ever. In many ways thank goodness. He has certainly been vital in the role of ruling our central defence. Only a few months ago it was Don Howe who said to me that he felt Alan was very underrated, when the papers and fans were going on about other stars in the Rangers side.
Over the years there has been the usual rumours that he was about to be bought by either Arsenal or Tottenham (it usually is, but then they do have to keep their season ticket holders happy). But he has always remained loyal to the R’s; although he has served several managers in his career here, which must be quite an experience.
Rangers were almost the last team to seek him out in Northern Ireland. As early as thirteen-years-old he was coming over to England for trials. “That was Manchester United. Then I went there again when I was 15. We stayed in the university. United wanted me to sign on as an apprentice, but I preferred to wait for a smaller club. I felt United was too big a club. A lot of my friends had come over, and then they were not wanted.”
“It was a frightening experience at that stage of a young boy’s life. But that was all I wanted to do, play football, and become a pro-footballer. I also went to Bolton, Everton and Wolves in my school holidays. I was all set to sign for Wolves when Bill Smith, the QPR man in Northern Ireland asked me to go over to London and look at QPR. The clever thing was that they did not ask me over for trials, or to train with them. Bill just said to me ‘Go and have a holiday. They’ll pay for you. You may like it.’ I’d seen QPR on the box in Ireland. They had Irish players like Billy Hamilton and Paul McGhee at the time, so we followed them a bit. Mum and dad bought me a QPR strip, but I put an iron on it one day and it burned the middle out of it.”
Fortunately for Rangers the youthful McDonald liked what he saw in West London, and soon moved into the Greenford home of Mrs Rowley: “Ian Stewart was over already and lived there. He was two years older than I was, but we palled up, and it was good having someone to go around with, he came from back home. Neither of us had family over here so we just knocked around together.”
“At first when I came over I had six months of my schooling left to do. I went to Faraday School in East Acton. It is now the King Fahad Academy. Looking back I think that was the worst decision I made. I was just 16 and had to start exams, GCE or CSE. I failed them, because I had my soccer career to think about. And the school was all new to me. I was training with QPR on a Monday and Tuesday morning. Then I’d play for the QPR youth team on a Saturday. But the school started to want me playing for them on a Saturday. Then I started to take days off to do more training with Rangers, because that is what I wanted to do, and why I had moved to England. I think I should have stayed in Belfast for another six months, and finished my schooling off there.”
“I signed on as an apprentice for QPR at sixteen and became a pro at seventeen. You had to clean all the boots and be a general gofer, when you were an apprentice. Now they are part of the YOS. It’s good for you, because it helps you mature, and keeps you busy. You get to know how the club is run but you don’t always enjoy it at the time.”
“George Graham was running the South East Counties side when I started and when I moved up to the reserves they were being run by Theo Foley. He was a good crack, he would fly off the handle, and then have a good laugh. He was very good for young players. But I never really liked playing in the reserves. I think to play in the reserves is a helluva lot harder than to play in the first team.”
“I really have to motivate myself to play for the reserves, because they can become like practice matches. You are only being watched by, say, one hundred people, and you can hear every word that is said in the stadium. Mind you, we had a young lad recently who one week was playing in the reserves and the next he was running out at Anfield for his first league game in front of 38,000 people, which must have been fairly nerve wracking.”
“But the difference between actually playing in the first team and the reserves is frightening. There is such a big difference. The pace of the match is so much quicker in the first team.”
Then in 1986 Alan got the call to be part of the Northern Ireland squad in the World Cup: “That was brilliant. We’d just got to the final of the Milk Cup, although we lost to Oxford. Then the next week I was part of the World Cup. It’s unbelievable – every footballer’s dream is to take part in a World Cup final. We drew against Algeria, when we should have won. Then we got beaten by Spain 1-2, when we should have nicked a draw. Then we met Brazil. They beat us 0-3. They were a different class. But the memories are terrific.”
I think it was after the experience of playing against Brazil that Alan’s own game took a gigantic step forward. He seemed so much more assured and certain of himself when he returned from the World Cup. I mean if you play in that cauldron of heat and emotion against Brazil, and live to tell the tale, then only good can come of it. It just seemed to give him precious few extra seconds in his approach.
As a man, and may I say friend, I am glad to write these notes on a night such as this. He has always been a good communicator, and pleasant human being, having time to talk to fans as well as other players. Don Howe is right. Unfortunately those who don’t always deserve it, often get all the publicity. Much of it bad. But its players like Alan who are what the game needs.
He has two years of his contract left with Rangers. Let’s hope he re-signs when the day arrives, and I’ll be writing about him in another Testimonial in years to come.’
Macca, a true QPR and Northern Ireland legend who will never be forgotten