Pete Sixsmith‘s first encounter with QPR was not against Sunderland but Darlington shortly after Rodney Marsh had scored one of the three goals that won a side then in the Third Division the league cup final against top flight opponents, WBA, despite having been two down at half time. The game at Feethams is largely forgettable, but Sixer recalls with a grumpy harrumph the din made by Hoops fans with a drum and shares a delightful anecdote about Marsh’s post-match evening out.
This is the latest instalment in our Memory Man’s entertaining and rightly acclaimed twin series on Sunderland opponents: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team (for SAFC home games)/The First Time Ever I saw Your Ground (when we’re away) …
On Saturday we welcome to the Stadium of Light Queens Park Rangers, the only team beginning with a Q that we have ever played in a competitive match.
Of the 32 league games between the two, we have won 12 while they have won 13. We have a chance to level things up as we go into an October that will probably define our season. Three Bs come after that and we would hope to be taking 10 points from the month’s fixtures and move away from the relegation area and into the relative calm of mid table. Or not.
The first time Rangers played at Roker Park was a grim 0-0 draw over Easter of 1969. They were hopelessly adrift at the bottom of Division One, while we were just above the relegation zone, as Alan Brown completed his second season back at the club in his second stint.
The teams that day were;
SAFC Jimmy Montgomery; Martin Harvey, Len Ashurst; Brian Heslop, Charlie Hurley, Ian Porterfield; Colin Todd, Gordon Harris, Paddy Lowrey, Colin Suggett, Dennis Tueart. Sub; Malcolm Moore
QPR Alan Spratley; Dave Clement, Alan Harris; Tony Hazell, Ron Hunt, Ian Watson; Ian Morgan, Alan Wilks, Mick Leach, Frank Sibley, Barry Bridges. Sub; Les Allan
For us, the old guard were on the way out. This was King Charlie’s penultimate game at Roker, while George Mulhall, who missed this one, played his final game as Charlie bowed out.
Paddy Lowrey was a quick young forward who had been signed from Newcastle United and had scored against them in an FA Youth Cup game that we won at the later to be Sports Direct.
Brown liked him, but he was too lightweight and made an unlucky 13 appearances scoring three goals before moving on to play in Belgium and then Darlington and Workington in the basement division of the Football League.
Rangers had risen quickly from Division Three and won the Football League Cup and the Second Division, but had found the leap into the top league too much for them. They were relegated with 18 points, finishing 12 behind Leicester City and 13 behind Coventry City who experienced their first narrow escape from the drop.
Manager Alec Stock, who had masterminded Yeovil’s win over us in 1949, had resigned at the start of the season, Bill Dodgin had been found wanting, Tommy Docherty had lasted 28 days and the managerial reins were handed to Les Allan as they prepared to drop back down to the Second Division.
Star player Rodney Marsh was injured for much of the season and the rest of the squad was weak. But they did go down and reorganise themselves and were a much stronger team in the mid 1970s under Gordon Jago and then Dave Sexton, playing some stunning football with the likes of Stan Bowles, Dave Thomas, Gerry Francis and Phil Parkes, he of the Cossack hair spray.
However, this wretched goalless draw was not my first glimpse of the “Rs”.
I saw them at dear old Feethams, Darlington, on the March 27 1967, 23 days after they had become the first team to win the Football League Cup at Wembley. They had come back from 2-0 down to West Bromwich Albion (winger Clive Clark having bagged the brace as we footy writers say), game looking over at half time.
We were in the process of giving the Mags a 3-0 hammering that day (Kerr 2, Mulhall) and I imagine the 50,445 squeezed into Roker were not surprised at that scoreline.
When the final score from Wembley was announced over the tannoy, they would be, as the Third Division team had fought back to win 3-2. Roger Morgan got one back and then Marsh scored what he described as “the defining goal of his career” as he went on a mazy run and fired in a right foot shot which hit the post and went in.
The Throstles were struggling and Rangers went for the jugular as Mark Lazarus tapped the ball into an empty net to win the game and elevate QPR from a London lower league club into National Treasures.
Three weeks later, they pitched up at Feethams against a side that were desperately looking to maintain their place in a division they had just been promoted to.
The Quakers were managed by former Newcastle United coach Jimmy Greenhalgh, who had taken over when Lol Morgan decamped to Norwich City. The bulk of the promotion team was still there, including record appearance maker Ron Greener, former Middlesbrough player Ray Yeoman, former Newcastle centre forward Bobby Cummings (who missed much of the season through injury) and midfielder Alan Sproates, Hetton born and Sunderland formed, who was an outstanding player in a struggling team.
The game was played on Easter Monday; we were without a game having beaten Sheffield Wednesday at Roker on Good Friday (Baxter, Martin) and then lost at home to Everton the next day. We went on to lose the return game at Hillsborough 0-5 on the Tuesday night as our season faded away into oblivion.
There wasn’t much to play for at Feethams either. Rangers were cruising the league and eventually won it by 12 points from Middlesbrough who pipped Watford on goal average for the second promotion place.
For Darlington, they had been walloped 4-0 at Loftus Road on Good Friday and relegation was looking more and more likely as the season went on.
Over 9,000 turned up to see the visitors parade the League Cup (not sponsored by an obscure Thai soft drinks company in those days) and the Rangers fans turned up with a drum which they beat incessantly throughout the game.
I have a view on drums at football matches. You can probably imagine what it is. Clubs with drums are not to be allowed promotion and should be demoted to the local equivalent of the Brandon and Byshottles Sunday League where they will be made to play on the worst pitch in the league, allocated the worst referee in the league and given sour oranges to suck at half time. But it was a novelty in 1967…
Rodney Marsh (he of that ever so witty song in the 1973 Cup season) played and was marked by Alan Sproates; as befitting a Hetton lad, Sproates marked him effectively and with vigour.
After the game (an uneventful 0-0 draw) Sproates ended up in La Bamba, Darlington’s premier night club and a place where my father once played piano for Dusty Springfield.
Marsh also pitched up, saw Sproates, went over to him and said “F****** hell, you’ve just kicked me all over the f****** park. I’ll keep well away from you.” They shared a few pints and parted the best of friends. I don’t think Dusty was singing that night.
Clive Whittingham, our QPR ‘Who are You?’ interviewee reckons 1-1 for Saturday, so that’s an official entry in the Guess the Score competition. Plenty of other possible scorelines, and loads of improbable ones, still available. Have a go, whoever you support, at https://safc.blog/2017/10/safc-vs-qpr-guess-the-score-quick-points-required-but-holloways-confident/
There will be no Rodney Marsh or Roger Morgan or Mick Leach (a vastly underrated player) on Saturday. Instead we will be able to feast our eyes on Northern Ireland international and former postman Conor Washington, hardworking Jamie Mackie and one time loanee here, Nedum Onuhoa, he of that sensational goal at Chelsea when we thought that Steve Bruce had put together a decent team. Ha!!
Manager Ian Holloway is having to pick up the pieces after their two disastrous years in the Premier League and the likeable Bristolian has brought some stability to a club that was, at one time, even more disorganised and dysfunctional than we are.
They are currently six points ahead of us. Let’s hope we have halved that deficit by Saturday evening.
* The photograph of Rodney Marsh is taken from Nigel Mercer’s fascinating Australian website, Nigel’s WebSpace. Nigel has kindly given me permission to use examples from his site,which you the check out. It is a goldmine for anyone interested in football history.
It first appeared here when Ken Gamble included the post-Wembley exploits of QPR in the late 196s in an affectionate look at the football that enriched his student days in London:
I’ve never been a fan of the brilliant yet cocky and arrogant sportsman such as Gazza or Kevin Pietersen or Jimmy Connors, but I’ll make an exception for Rodney Marsh.
For sheer unadulterated enjoyment (the exact opposite of current fare at the SoL), a trip to Loftus Road in the late 60s was unforgettable. It was football with a smile on its face and being Division 2 (the present Championship) meant that results had no bearing on Sunderland’s progress.
Marsh was entertainer supreme, hamming it up for the crowd with his skilful tricks, yet his ball control, vision and finishing were first class. I imagine it must have been similar to watching Shackleton at Roker, although this was before my time.