The summer of 1967 was a long one for this W12 boy. All I could think of was who Rangers would play in our first game in Division Two? When the fixtures came out I was disappointed that it was Pompey and Bristol City away in the first two games but Norwich at home the following Saturday couldn’t come quick enough.
With a start of a draw and five straight wins, without an injured Rodney, this set us up nicely to have a good season, but promotion to Division One never entered my head. I was dreaming of Wembley and cup finals but that was knocked on the head, despite Alan Wilks’ five goals against Oxford, when we got beat by Burnley defending our League Cup.
My FA Cup dreams were shattered by Preston North End who we beat 2-0 at home in the league the week before only to lose at home by an Archie Gemmill inspired Preston 3-1 a week later. Rangers just didn’t turn up and it was an automatic third entry as well, sounds familiar!!!
Out of the cups wasn’t a bad thing I convinced myself, ‘we will concentrate on the league’ I told anyone who would listen and even if they didn’t I still told them. Chelscum, Gooners, ManUre, you name it Holland Park School had them, but none of them went to games home or away so what right had they to have an opinion on West London’s greatest football team?
“Wait until next season” I told them – “Rodney will show you” – well that’s another story for another time!
The next nine months of the season was massive for me, my first trips to Palace (lost 1-0), Norwich (0-0), Charlton (3-3), Derby on my 13th birthday (lost 4-0) and Millwall (dew 1-1) all left me deflated when was I going to see us win away?
With the season reaching a climax, all games were huge as promotion was within our reach. Ipswich away, Birmingham home and Villa away were the final three games and I wasn’t going to miss them.
As always money was tight and as I was now a teenager my paper round and errand boy job at the Enterprise Caf√© in Wood Lane was my route to all things ‘Rangers’, my first pair of Levi’s, a Brutus blue/white gingham shirt and a pair of Monkey boots.
Ipswich away was all-ticket and I joined a Sunday morning queue after my paper round to get my match ticket and a place on Daphne’s coach – a 2-2 draw against the Division Two Champions elect was the result but Rodney’s mazy run-up when taking his equalising penalty will always stay in my mind – pure magic.
Defeating Birmingham 2-0 in front of 26,000 in our last home game set us up for the biggest league game ever at Villa Park. It was us or Blackpool to go up as runners-up and the buzz around W12 was electric – not so at school though, all those armchair numpties just didn’t understand what it felt like to love a team, win, lose or draw and my team, my Rangers were on the brink of the ‘Big Time’.
Now anyone who knew me were fully wised up on my love of all things Rangers and one person who knew me was a customer of the Enterprise Caf√©, a local celebrity called Milton Reid who played the part of the bald-headed Chinese bloke in the St. Bruno advert. He used to wrestle under the name of the Mighty Chang and gave me tickets to watch wrestling at Lime Grove Baths, but on this occasion he left an envelope for me with a ticket to Villa Park inside – I was on my way but how I got there added even more spice to my Villa adventure.
My mate and his dad were travelling up to Villa in a van and they said that I could go with them for 10 shillings, so I agreed. Saturday arrived and with two scarves tied around each wrist I met my mate, his dad and a dozen other Ranges fans outside the Bush Central Line station by the Green.
Right on time a blue van pulled up with ‘Deins Spices’ on the side. The driver pulled up the shutter and inside were half-full sacks of; curry powder, spices, rice and cooking oil destined for the Curry houses of Brum!!!
The journey up the M1, with the shutter up for extra ventilation, was brilliant. Car upon car and coach upon coach beeped and cheered as our ‘Biriyaniloftmobile’ sped along with the sound of ‘Rodnee’ and Rangers chants coming from within.
15,000 blue and white decked Rangers fans took over Villa Park that day. Even the most fanatical Holte Ender was looking over their shoulder. We stood on the side with the Holte End to our right. I was right at the front but with the pitch raised above us, I spent 90 minutes looking up at the players.
I looked for my hero Rodney as the players came out and then over to Mike Kelly who was going through his pre-match routine of touching both posts and the crossbar three times – and then it was game on.
The first-half went in a blur, 1-0 down and outplayed – the whisper went round that Blackpool were ahead at Huddersfield so a win was a must, but the smell of curry and defeat were in the air!
The next 45 minutes was magical, lucky and blue and white. The unsung hero that was Mick Leach headed us level – Villa players disputed the ball going over the line. No goal-line technology here, no Russian linesman either, just a ref called McCabe who liked to say yes, 1-1 and game on!!!
Rangers were now on the up and with news that Blackpool were winning 3-1 and with 10 minutes to go, the unexpected happened. A long ball over the top was chased down by Rodney, the Villa defender Keith Bradley panicked and lobbed his own on-rushing keeper – as the ball nestled into the back of the net there was a split second of silence before the Rangers fans erupted. Villa Park was a sea of blue and white.
‘The R’s are going up, the R’s are going up and now you’re going to believe us, the R’s ARE going up’ – 15,000 voices sang out. The final whistle went and over the wall went hundreds of R’s fans who mobbed the players on the pitch. Grown men kissing the turf, scarves being waved and a W12 boy in tears – My R’s ARE going up!!!
The journey home on the now spice free ‘Biriyaniloftmobile’ was a party all the way. A stop off at an off-licence and a chip shop provided a celebration banquet fit for West Londoners only. With the lingering smell of Red Barrel, vinegar and cumin, we travelled back down the M1 cheering and singing along with a cavalcade of blue and white vehicles. I even remember the traffic stopping on the motorway and fans dancing all over the road!
Saturday 11th May might not have been a Wembley Cup Final shared with millions on television, but it was a very special day that was shared by all Rangers fans everywhere. And the feeling of jubilation after the final 90 minutes of a long season is one that was felt by ‘Real Fans’ – who follow our team, ‘we’re Queen’s Park Rangers, we rule supreme’.
For me things changed: the advert for the local curry house in the interval at the Essoldo cinema had a new meaning. My mum cooking a Vesta Beef Curry was never spicy enough and 46 years on taking the wife for a Saturday night Ruby brings back memories of when we reached the ‘Big Time’.