Great Football League Teams 7: Queen's Park Rangers 1982-3
Queen’s Park Rangers might well have found themselves to be temporarily surprised to be operating outside the top flight as the 1982-3 season kicked off. Though a club that had spent most of its years in the Third Division South, the previous decade had been garlanded for the Bush Rangers. A second place finish behind mighty Liverpool under Dave Sexton was the highlight of course, but just the previous season, the Super Hoops had also attained an FA Cup final, losing somewhat unluckily to media darlings Spurs after a replay. They also enjoyed the guidance of one of the warmest managerial prospects in the game; one Terence Frederick Venables.
The Dagenham Boy’s “Team of the Eighties” had fizzled out at Crystal Palace but he had been at Loftus Road since the dawn of that decade and continued to forge a reputation for attractive football. True, his star player Clive Allen had been forced out of the action after only two minutes at Wembley, but QPR still had young talent to smoulder.
That performers of the magnitude of Glen Roeder, Steve Wicks and the Toronto Blizzard-bound Tony Currie in particular were forced to spend much of the season out of the team illustrated Venables’ strength of purpose and even a historic match winning goal for Northern Ireland against West Germany failed to earn Ian Stewart a regular place.
Roeder was denied playing minutes for all bar a few winter outings by Gary Waddock, a ginger-barnetted destroyer who did a wonderful job of protecting a centre back pairing of the hulking Bob Hazell and the man to be eventually humbled by a hombre called Diego, Terry Fenwick. Young Londoner full backs Ian Dawes and Warren Neill had the ability to launch attacks from deep and John Gregory plied away chippily ahead of Waddock: verbals and physicals in perfect tandem.
Allen returned in October and scored immediately in a 3-2 win over Burnley. Thereon in, he formed his own Flanagan and Allen partnership with ex-Charlton striker Mike, once of New England Tea Men and the possessor of an astounding perm even by the standards of the time. That said, it was actually the near forgotten Tony Sealy who topped the hit parade for Rangers that year with 16, only one ahead of on the pitch leader Gregory.
Rangers swept to the title by 10 points from Wolves, with Leicester and a very talented Fulham side trailing most closely. Hammerings were dealt out like confetti with Cambridge (4-1), Grimsby (4-0), Shrewsbury (4-0), Derby (4-1), Middlesbrough (6-1), Rotherham (4-0) and Charlton (5-1) all chastised deeply. A 2-1 win over Wolves near the end avenged an earlier 4-0 reverse at Molineux.
Of course the statistics, dimmed by time, mask a hugely crucial factor in QPR’s success that year. With only two defeats at home, Rangers had a lot to thank their plastic pitch for. I attended a late season 1-0 win over Leeds United and, despite the exquisite skills of Eddie Gray, it was a case of pinball wizardry on a grand scale (as described retrospectively in this David Lacey article in The Guardian). Opponent after opponent failed to adapt to the Omniturf, a early, crude prototype of a trend that was mercifully extinguished a few years later.
Not that the west Londoners were complaining. QPR managed a superb fifth place the following season, with Allen fully fit and plundering goals aplenty. He was to go on to become even more prolific with Tottenham and the future El Tel used it all as a launch pad for a job application in Catalonia. Artificial surface or not, this year’s vintage ain’t a patch on ‘em.