Picture the scene: a room with four comfy brown leather arm-chairs. A fire blazing in a modern wall fireplace. Picture-windows looking out over night-time London. A glass table set with glasses of water, plates of cheese & biscuits, coffee cups. A sideboard with a coffee pot of freshly-brewed coffee and, next to that, cut-glass crystal decanters with whisky and sherry. And three ex-QPR players – Dave Thomas, Gerry Francis and Stan Bowles – having a laugh together as they reminisce about the good-old days of 1975/76, prompted by host Jeff Stelling. That`s the Sky Sports show “Time of Our Lives”, recently aired and enjoyed by, well, me!
Bowles really is funny! He spent the entire programme slouched in the chair, only sitting up, now and again, when he wanted to readjust his slouching position! And as for his memories – very little about the football – more about the off-field shenanigans he got up to; sometimes alone, sometimes with his side-kick, Don Shanks! What a pair! And Dave Thomas and Gerry Francis just let him ramble, smiling fondly at his stories, even egging him on to delve deeper into his memory banks. They really like him after all this time!
The programme took a serious turn, momentarily (nothing seems to remain serious for very long with Stan Bowles around!) as Francis discussed the “leaders in the dressing room”. Frank McLintock (ex-Arsenal captain during their Cup/League double triumph in 1971) and Dave Webb were two names mentioned. John Hollins would make the team laugh out on the pitch! The team, in Francis` opinion, was a great mix of experience and youth; and he pondered how the talented ’75/76 team would fare in today`s game:
“The fact that people like Stan (a nod of the head in Stan`s direction) and Don Givens and maybe Dave (a nod of the head in Thomas` direction) up front wouldn`t have the sort of tackling that some of these boys had to suffer. It`s much more pro now for the talented players, which is as it should be, and certainly these boys would`ve really shone in today`s football, I think.”
To which Stanley interjected (and thus bringing the serious conversation down to earth with a bump): “I`m glad you told me that now coz I missed all that when I was in the betting shop!” See – nothing can remain serious for Bowles for long!
Something that struck me, listening to Francis talk about how that team was filled with winners and fighters, (that they went out each game to win – not draw or lose), is the difference between the ’75/76 team and more recent QPR teams. We haven`t really had that “winning mentality” for a long, long time now – the mentality that Holloway instilled but couldn`t maintain (hence why we didn`t win the 2nd division league in 2003/04) in our promotion-winning season five years ago. With that mentality running throughout our current squad, we could go places now – but . . . !
Back to 1975 and the seeds, of the type of season we were to have, were sown in the pre-season friendlies in Germany, beating their top sides easily and following that up with a 5-1 away win at Derby, with both McLintock and Webb missing, and with Bowles scoring a hat-trick.
Did you know that Stanley doesn`t really remember many, if any, of the goals he scored? I`m betting Rs` fans remember them all! He modestly acknowledged that he had, indeed, scored a hat-trick at Derby. But he also admitted that, not being a watcher of football, about the only goal he could actually remember was the one he scored against Cologne when he broke the European record!
And who remembers the opening game of the season? At home to Liverpool? Remember the score – well, it was 2-0 to the Rs! And Francis admitted that, after that game, the team felt that they had it in them to “be consistent enough and go all the way.”
“The particular goal that, well, the team scored, really, coz it became goal of the season: Phil rolled it out and no Liverpool player touched it until it was in the back of the net. One-two`s and passes.” A flick-on from Stan, another from Givens, with Francis racing from the middle of the field to receive the ball from Givens just outside the area and run into the box, ahead of two Liverpool defenders, to sweep the ball into the back of the net. I remember, I remember!
Francis added: “The way in which we won – we won fairly easily that game and deserved to win. Obviously, we really played Liverpool off the park so it gave us a big lift as well as perhaps surprising some people in the country.” In fact, we were to go the whole of that season unbeaten at home!
And how did they feel, playing at home in front of the Loftus Road faithful? Remember, back in the day, the stadium was very different to how it is today. The Loft and School End were open terraces where the fans could actually stand. And there was a different atmosphere then than it is now, particularly with it being an all-seater stadium now; as I know personally having stood in the School End to watch us trounce Arsenal on the penultimate home game of that season in April `76 (why I was among the Arsenal fans is another story – but suffice to say, I was ordered to keep my loyalties close to my chest but I was unable to do so when Francis scored the penalty winner that afternoon – I went beserk, to the consternation of the person who had taken me!)
Bowles` opined: “It was fantastic for all of us, really. It`s so close to the ground (I think he meant pitch!) and when it was sold out it was a fantastic atmosphere and that put a lot of teams off, as well.”
“It`s a club that is many people`s second favourite club, isn`t it?” Francis offered. “We`ve never really had any trouble there. It was a nice stadium at the time, and obviously it`s still going now. Good views from there wherever you went. Being that it was close, when it was full, it was a fantastic atmosphere. Obviously, with us playing some of the football that we played that year, we were very popular at that stage and for those few years after.”
Bowles talked about his own personal skills and admitted that it was “only a knack” being able to do tricks with the ball. You needed much more than that to be a good footballer. “I could do them all,” he explained. “at the right time, say when we were winning 3-0. Then it`s like taking the mickey. I was a bit arrogant!
“I was a team player but I could be very arrogant when I felt in the mood, without a doubt,” he continued. He thought that was why he didn`t get on with the England players and why, in his opinion, he didn`t get many caps.
Did you know that, in fact, our team boasted a whole host of internationals then? Givens played for Eire, McLintock and Masson were Scottish internationals; and Clement, Parkes, Gillard along with Francis, Thomas and Bowles, all played for England at one time or another – not necessarily at the same time, though!
Bowles has a whole host of off-the-field anecdotes to relate. How about the time he took boot-sponsorship money (the grand sum of £300) from Adidas on the afternoon of one particular day; having taken his sponsorship money from Gola (£250), with whom he actually had a boot-sponsorship deal, that very morning! And then, having received a pair of boots from both companies, he painted the Gola sign over the Adidas sign!
“It started raining and it ran off – so they spotted it! I got sacked by the both of them!” he confessed. Thankfully, things seem to have gone right for Bowles on the pitch – forget what happened off it!
“Football was a joke for me. I used to just go out there and have a laugh, know what I mean?!” he admitted. And he took a swig of water – only he didn`t realise that his glass was now empty! As I said – at least Bowles got it right on the pitch!
“I used to drink in the Springbok and Dave (Sexton) had a thing about that. I said to him, ‘listen, once I`ve finished I can do what I like`. We used to have a book telling us what we can do or can not. He said, ‘did I have my book` and I said I couldn`t remember what grille I dropped it down!” And Bowles still drinks in the Springbok to this very day. Look out for him next time you`re there!
“I still go in there now. Actually, I met Gerry going to the game” and Francis jumped in, completing the story:
“I was taking my son to a (recent) QPR game and people were out there and I was signing some autographs and Stan walked across. I said, ‘hello mate, are you going to the game?` And he said, ‘no, no. I`m going to the Springbok and to the betting shop!`” exclaimed Gerry Francis, in an exasperated manner.
“Gotta get your priorities right!” quipped Bowles – and it was off air for another advert break!
In the final instalment of “They Had The Time Of Their Lives”, Stan tells about the time he and Don Shanks ended up in prison, amongst some other memorable stories as he, Gerry Francis and Dave Thomas remember the good old days that were the season of 1975/76. Join us tomorrow but in the meantime:
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And don’t forget to enjoy They Had The Time Of Their Lives – Part One Just click here: Time Of Their Lives One.