The following article comes from a 1970’s football periodical:
‘It took me over ten years as a professional to reach the First Division – but I don’t think I have wasted any time. Now I’ve got myself a few Scottish caps I really feel on top of the world.
I’m aiming for at least another six seasons at the top. If I am not still a First Division player at age 36 or 37, I’ll be disappointed. I don’t have any weight problems or fitness worries. I may not even have reached my peak yet as a midfield player. And over the past year or two I have been able to get a close-up of Frank McLintock doing his stuff so wonderfully at an age when most players have already hung up their boots.
I believe the late20’s – I was 28 – is the ideal time to reach the top. You know all about the ups and downs. You’ve had it tough in the lower divisions. So nothing is taken for granted. I began to feel I was getting somewhere in the game when I joined Notts County in 1968. Though the day I signed, County were in 90th place in the Football League. Two places from the bottom of the 4th Division !
My few years with Middlesbrough can be written off – despite I was in the team that won promotion from the 3rd Division. I was never really in favour at Ayresome Park. I couldn’t win a regular first-team place under manager Stan Anderson, so the move to Notts County opened up a new career for me.
Notts County were a side with great tradition, but they had been going through bad times. There was only one way to go – up. And that is how it’s been for me ever since. Every season since I joined Notts County I have finished higher up in the league. And I hope the improvement is not yet over. The season I went to Meadow Lane we climbed from 22nd to finish 19th. The next year we were seventh. A year later we were champions of the Fourth Division.
Our first year in the Third Division almost brought us promotion again. Eventually, we finished fourth. But we clinched matters twelve months later by finishing second behind Bolton Wanderers. We ended our first year back in the Second Division in 10th place. When I moved on to Rangers, County were just in the top-half of the table.
Now I won’t be content until I make it to first place in the whole of the League. Of course, last season, Rangers spent some time at the top of the table – and finished runners-up. Now, I’m as confident of Rangers eventually winning the title as I have always been of making the grade personally in the First Division.
I have always been an organiser on the field. That’s why I got on so well in my six seasons with County. Billy Gray, who signed me, left soon afterwards. Jack Wheeler, the caretaker manager, made me team captain and took me into his confidence almost from the word go. I had complete freedom on the field. Once the team was on the pitch I was in charge. Any decisions were mine. Positional changes, penalties, the lot.
And we did so well, the thought of moving anywhere else never occurred to me. We were always in the forefront and I was happy. Then Bournemouth made a bid for me and that sparked-off a fantastic set of events. The South Coast club were then top of the Third Division and looking good for promotion. We were several places below them. County accepted an offer of around ¬£125,000 for me. The deal was virtually signed and sealed.
Having talked things over with the then Bournemouth manager John Bond – now manager of Norwich City – I was excited about the prospect of joining him at Bournemouth. Then the whole thing fell through ! One minute I was virtually a Bournemouth player. Next I was back with Notts County. I gather the bother was over how the fee was to be paid. It became the subject of a law case when County sued Bournemouth over the breakdown of the transfer. I had to give evidence at the High Court in London.
Bournemouth won the case, and all it did for me was to leave me feeling slightly shattered at the way a player’s career can be turned upside-down so easily. My form definitely suffered for a while over the head of it. But, in the end, it was all for the best from my point of view. Bournemouth missed promotion that season. We took their place.
It was two years and a lot of transfer rumours after that that I was telephoned at the ground one morning by the Chairman, Mr Jack Dunnett. He told me that terms had been agreed with Queen’s Park Rangers. I was thrilled. I thought of how many great footballers Rangers had and could hardly wait to put my name on the form. I knew that, with my style, I couldn’t fail to fit in.
Well, it has all worked out wonderfully. I couldn’t have picked a better club to join if I’d been given a free choice. I was lucky in one respect. I was signed to take the place of a player with very similar ideas about the game. Terry Venables. Just as much the organiser on the field when a Rangers’ player as I was with Notts County. To slot into Terry’s position all I had to do was play the way I knew best.
Then I had around me big-name international like Frank McLintock, Phil Parkes, Dave Thomas, Stan Bowles and Don Givens. It was all very comforting. My only doubt was about my habit of talking my way through a game. It struck me some of my mates might not like it from a new man. But I fitted in from the word go. Good players know that when you have a go at them it’s for the good of the side. They accept it.
Playing for a club like Notts County really brings you down to earth. There’s little glamour in it. No national newspaper coverage, no television cameras and the like. You learn to concentrate on the basics of hard work. Playing for so long in those sort of conditions was good for me. I’m glad I got such good grounding in life and football by working my way up through the grades.
I first got going with the school team in my home village of Banchory, which is 18 miles from Aberdeen. After making the county team for the U12’s, I suddenly found myself whipped off with the family to Middlesbrough, where my father had got a new job. And there, in my school team, I was spotted by Harold Shepherdson, then trainer at Ayresome Park. Soon after, they signed me.
My problem at Middlesbrough was that manager Stan Anderson fancied Irishman Eric McMordie more than me for the particular position in the team. So Eric was in the team and I wasn’t. I asked for a move several times. Eventually, Billy Gray came to sign me for Notts County. Ironically, after Stan Anderson left Middlesbrough, Eric McMordie lost his place. That’s the way it goes.
I’m lucky at Rangers to have a manager like Dave Sexton who has similar ideas to me about the game. Dave is a great admirer of the continental style. He has tried to base our style on the possession game adopted by the top Dutch and German teams.
We put a lot of thought into our play. Particularly in the matter of free kicks and other set pieces. A number of different signals have been developed to alert the other players about the type of free kick we are taking. When I stand over the ball at a free kick, I’ll give a signal to let the other players know what’s coming. Like a chip into space for such as Don Givens. A “scoop” over the defensive wall for Gerry Francis. Or a short ball for somebody else to drive.
Every player knows his role for each free kick routine. If he’s not directly concerned he’ll be trying a “dummy” movement to attract attention away from the main action. It’s my responsibility to decide what we are aiming to do. We work variations galore in training. When it comes to a match it’s for me to decide which routine best suits the situation.
It’s great to be with Rangers. And I’m sure the best is yet to come – for me and the team.’
Don Masson arrived at Loftus Road in December 1974 and went on to make 144 appearances for the R’s. He was exchanged for Derby County’s Leighton James in October 1977.