‘Would You Believe’ and ‘Marsh goes mad in the bush’

● Saturday 2nd August Kick-Off 3pm


Rangers would normally have visited Highbury in 1969. Arsenal had visited Ibrox in 1968, however fear of crowd trouble saw Arsenal cancel. Chelsea were then asked if they would like to host Rangers annual jaunt to London, they declined. Their ‘friendly’ west London rivals QPR, kindly offered to step in and host. Chelsea’s refusal probably had more to do with the fact that Rangers demanded a substantial fee when invited to appear in Bobby Tambling’s 1968 Testimonial game. Not that I suspect QPR’s gesture was entirely altruistic, a home friendly against even decent continental opposition on an early August Saturday would at best attract only 7,000 and financially hardly make it viable. QPR could bank on their visitors bringing that number alone and bring a smile to their local bank manager in the process.

In 1968, you could have named your odds on the following accumulator:
•Putting a man on the moon in 1969.
•Jim Baxter returning to Ibrox.
•Terry Venables turning up at Shepherd’s Bush.
•Rodney Marsh going berserk on the pitch, assaulting 2 Players.

Sounding more like a grandmaster chess strategy, it was on the face of it one employed by QPR and could as well contain midfield and subs bench. In addition to a number of gifted youngsters having made their way through the ranks note how they bought Londoners primarily from other London clubs. There was also a penchant for brothers and events surrounding their arrivals and departures could not have been made up. Unless stated otherwise the following are from London :

Goalkeeper Mike Kelly joined from amateurs Wimbledon for a fee of £3000, making his debut midway through the 1967-68 season and despite the problems in front of him put in some excellent displays previous season.

He had kept the veteran, former England goalkeeper Ron Springett out of the team. Springett was part of a cash and player deal that saw QPR receive £40,000 from Sheffield Wednesday for none other than his younger brother Peter in 1967. (Are there any other cases of brothers being traded for each other in football?). Ron began his career with QPR in 1952 before moving to Yorkshire and had a remarkable career between the sticks bearing in mind he was 5’9 tall. The brothers were at least able to reunite if not midway at Scratchwood Services but briefly on the pitch when their 2 clubs were paired together in the FA Cup 3rd round in 1967!

Right back Ian Watson joined from Chelsea in 1965 for a fee of £10,000. Tall and well built, he played in every League game the previous season.

Left back Allan Harris had joined more recently from Chelsea for £30,000. Like his younger brother Ron Harris of Chelsea, renowned as a tough tackling, hardworking 90 minute player. The first adult to note and nurture the talent of the Harris brothers was their games teacher and Spurs fan Miss Hubert when the pair attended Primary school.

Inside right Ian Morgan joined QPR as a junior, a versatile performer, capable of playing on either wing or as an inside forward. Twin brother of Spurs’ Roger Morgan.

Rodney Marsh was signed from Fulham for a bargain £15,000 in 1966 and the 25 year old was now valued by pundits at £100,000. This tall, strong and an exceptionally skilful forward, was tipped as a future England international although style wise, there was more than a hint of the Brazilian about him. He liked nothing better than to bend the ball especially from free kicks, nut meg defenders and try extravagant tricks. Aside from pace the only other criticism of him was that his play could be too individualistic and though a great entertainer could sometimes lack end product for the team. However he was the fans favourite and his long blond hair made him something of a pin up star. I suspect that given Roger Morgan had been allowed to leave for £100,000, the chairman with a shrewd sense of an asset’s worth valued Marsh much higher than the pundits.

The Boss, Les Allen was still registered as a player. When he joined QPR in 1965 for a fee of £21,000, he topped the goalscoring charts that season with 30 goals. Later when he played for QPR against none other than Spurs on 15 February 1969, he became the first player-manager to have played in England’s top division for 80 years.

So why had there not been a player-manager in England’s top flight since 1889?
Being a player and a manager are 2 very different jobs which also have the potential of a conflict of interests. As most managers will concur management alone is a 24/7 occupation which is why within 18 months most player managers (and yes of course it is most likely that they will be near the end of their playing days) will retire and stick to management. It can be harder and more lonely if like Les you have been appointed through the ranks, suddenly you’re not part of the team and you have to make decisions which at some stage are going to upset friends in the team. It has to be done but it makes the job that much more emotionally draining. Of course when you’re playing, you’re expected to lead by example again increasing the emotional load on top of 2 very difficult jobs. On top of that the Allen still lived on the other side of London. According to the programme he left his Romford home at 6.45 in the morning to get to Hayes for 9.15 training. (London traffic, no change there then.)

Of the 13 players, 9 lads heralded from London, with only one ‘northerner’ (north of Birmingham) and no players from outside England. The manager too was a Londoner. Fans and managers often yearn for a team of players born locally. At Loftus Road it was actually being practised.

In 1964 and 1966 QPR reached the semi finals of the FA Youth Cup and a significant quota had gone on to make the first team. Former QPR and Spurs player, Roger Morgan said of the 1967 League Cup Triumph. “The young players would inspire each other. There were about 5 or 6 of us who had grown up together, and there was tremendous team spirit.” (Sunday Times, 6 April, 2003) The youngsters in turn were supplemented by older and more experienced Londoners transferred into the club.

Another interesting feature was how they had seemingly gone out of their way to sign England Youth internationals as an investment for the future. An interesting gamble, as usually only 3-4 Youth internationals from a squad of 22 go on to play at the highest level.

On paper the only criticism of this team is that it seemed top heavy on forwards, and it perhaps needed a 6 footer in the centre of defence. Anyway better to watch a team that concentrates on attack rather than defence.


In the 1960’s, a favourite summertime pastime of Spurs and QPR seemed to be trading players and the most recent to go west was Terry Venables who arrived summer 1969.

The Spurs fans spoilt with Dave Mackay and Danny Blanchflower felt that their replacements, Alan Mullery for Mackay and Venables for Blanchflower never quite measured up to their heroes. A bit harsh as Mackay and Blanchflower at their peak were good enough to play for practically any club team in the world. Although the fans eventually grew to appreciate Mullery, they continually ‘scapegoated’ Venables. He was a player for whom confidence was important and having the freedom to try something different without expecting a chorus of abuse if it did not come off was important to him. The technical explanation as to why Tel did not fit into Spurs was that his style was to take too much time on the ball before passing, whilst Spurs played a faster, one touch game with the emphasis on movement. There was also the small matter that his relationship with Bill Nicholson had deteriorated so perhaps a change was best for all concerned.

Manager Les Allen had been a neighbour of Venables when Terry was a youngster, they became good friends and of course the manager given his Spurs connections was fully aware of Venables’ situation at White Hart Lane. He also knew that Venables was very experienced and a deep thinker about the game, exactly the sort of senior professional he wanted to work with the youngsters coming through into the first team both on and of the pitch and he could still more than play a bit too. It would also mark a reunion with his close friend and former Chelsea teammate Allan Harris.

Fed up with the abuse at Spurs, Tel was pleased to join QPR. Seemingly a good move, QPR fans were and are more relaxed and less demanding than those he had left behind. And as no doubt Les Allen pointed out at this stage were much more positive and supportive than the Spurs crowd and manager who when things were not going well would turn hostile on their own players.

My own experience of QPR fans is that traditionally they’ve never been too intense and boast an admirably higher ratio of comedians and humourists in their ranks than anywhere else. If Terry’s on the field cheek came off, brilliant if it didn’t well they still liked the idea. For sure, he would certainly enjoy the sharp cockney dressing room banter.

Identical twins are probably a scout’s worst nightmare, so perhaps it’s best to invite them both for a trial.

Strangely Spurs had invited a then young Ian Morgan for a trial but not his twin Roger for whom they had recently paid £100,000. Not that Ian ever attended his trial, the pair had already decided to join QPR as they had been persuaded they were more likely to break into 1st team football even though they both supported Spurs from the terraces as youngsters. Bill Nicholson had actually tried to acquire Ian when he bought Roger but QPR rejected his offer of a player swap.

For both twins, the new situation would take getting used to. They had been always been inseparable and always been on the same side in both football and cricket where they had both been offered the chance to play professionally. They had both married within 6 months of each other and both to hairdressers. They even left their parting of the ways to the last moment, Ian accompanied his brother to his unveiling at White Hart Lane in February of 1969. Still it wasn’t long until they were re-united, guess who were the opposition and who was playing for them when Roger made his Spurs debut !


The boys from West London’s Bush had a particularly varied pre season. The programme had a picture of 3 different players performing various barbell exercises. To be precise calf raises, squats and shoulder presses. (I lift weights every other day so hence I should know) Not that this was innovative, for instance Jack Kelsey of Arsenal was also a very keen user of weights. Much further back Kelsey’s Arsenal at the start of their ‘Dial Square’ era back in the 1880’s used weight training. The Royal Arsenal boasted very good sports facilities and a gymnasium. Under the guidance of the club’s more experienced players, they used the weights in the gym to build up their leg muscles in preparation for their first season.

For QPR, the idea was to increase the strength of the players for the forthcoming season in the more physically robust Division 2. There was also speed training from Ron Jones with a lot of emphasis on short bursts of speed especially in the form of ‘shuttles.’

They also played a lot of squash to further improve speed over short distances and enhance eye to ball coordination.

Football also figured prominently. According to the Michael Wale report in the programme, the players trained morning and afternoon. Essentially based around 5-a-side games, match drills, skills sessions. Very much like Spurs, but with a bit more praise and encouragement. Perhaps the similarities with Spurs preparation were done to help the stream of players moving from west to north and vice versa.

On the 1st August 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon and then found out it was all ticket.

Back on Planet Football, Ken Gallagher in the Daily Record was rightly concerned with far more important matters, Jim Baxter had rejoined Rangers. Ken was delighted that he would bring his unique brand of flair back to Scottish football and generally bemoaned the lack of flair in the football, especially in England. Gallagher named and shamed, “the dull robotic styles of Arsenal, Newcastle and Stoke.”

Would Baxter Make His Debut at QPR? Unfortunately not, he injured a thigh muscle on Monday. Initially he had kept it quiet from boss Davie White, in the hope that he could make his debut on Saturday. Instead he would have treatment in Glasgow over the weekend and hopefully make his debut in the ‘Prestige’ friendly against Spurs on Monday night.

The players were allowed a lie in as their day’s training had been arranged for 13.30. Afterwards the Rangers party caught the plane to London. Surely singing ‘Fly me to the Moon.’


QPR decided to take the opportunity to show off their new away kit. A good idea in theory but not in practice when the players are running around on a steaming hot August afternoon and the shirts are long sleeved and made of heavyweight cotton. In colour the shirts were red and black stripes, set off against black nylon shorts and black socks with a red top. (A fine choice of socks if I might be so bold.)

Rangers shirts had hitherto remained unchanged since 1959, I’m a great traditionalist but certainly no luddite. If something better comes along and you can integrate a traditional element into it, then so much the better. For Summer 1969, Rangers replaced their classic top with a simple but groovy jersey which I don’t think has been bettered since. Peter Hendry revealed to his Evening Times readers that these were no ordinary shirts but were made of a special lightweight fabric and had very high sleeves to combat the heat. Stylishly they had a very high neck detail and came in a clingy skinny fit. On the left breast was the clubs newly introduced ‘shirt’ badge an initialled GRFC. Not that the motif was strictly speaking new, the initials were based on a club logo which has been proven to date back to at least 1881.

I don’t know if these really did combat the heat but the simple colour scheme and stylish cut made it look the business. (and infinitely better without a sponsorship logo). The remainder of the kit comprised of white nylon shorts and blue socks with a white top. (Was there a sock swap pre match?)


75 mins : Rodney Marsh Goes Berserk.
So far a really entertaining game, played in a good spirit despite the fact that both teams were working hard and playing competitively. A thrilling finale is set. Then… Kai Johansen attempts to slide tackle Marsh on the ‘Ellerslie Road’ touchline. Marsh’s dummy is too clever for him and he follows through. A bad but unintentional challenge. Both players tumble to the turf. Marsh then lashes out with his feet. He rises and continues his attack. Fed up with kicking him, he shakes him and throws a flurry of punches.

Other players rush to the incident and Bobby Watson of Rangers is quickest to reach the scene. Marsh turns his attentions away from the now prostrate Johansen and headbutts Bobby Watson in the face.

Eventually a fan, a photographer, 2 QPR officials plus a nervous looking linesman restrain the hysterical Marsh. The fan and the photographer deserve huge credit for intervening in a situation which was not theirs to deal with as the police and referee were perfectly happy to sit this one out.

Does the referee send him off? No. He merely wags his fingers and delivers a lecture to Marsh.

You would think that with hundreds of good Metropolitan Constables specially drafted in for fear of violence, one of them may have just witnessed an assault, not one does but they seem rather more interested in the Rangers fans voicing their fury at the appalling double assault.

For the moment I’ll leave you with the thought that John Greig and Willie Henderson might with hindsight have signed their newly ‘unemployed’ chum Ken Buchanan for the day – Mind you thank goodness, Marsh did not attack Willie Johnston. They could have sold out Wembley if he had.

Meanwhile the hapless Rangers physio has his work out as he simultaneously tries to treat both players.

Amazingly, once play restarts, Marsh bursts through powerfully and Gerhadt Neef dives bravely at his feet to save a certain goal.

To his credit, Les Allen then removes Marsh from the field replacing him with Frank Sibley. Whether his motive was to punish Marsh or protect him from any retribution it was a very good decision. It goes some way to assuaging the anger of the Rangers fans who raise a large cheer at his departure.


The remainder of the game is played with a bitter taste in the mouth. QPR do not seem to want to cause further upset to their guests, and Rangers for their part do not seem to be interested in making an exciting game of it anymore. Perhaps both sides under instructions to simply play out time.

FINAL SCORE : QPR 3 (Venables [pen], F Clarke, Morgan)
RANGERS 3 (Henderson, Smith, Watson/Hunt)

Attendance : 16,752 well behaved supporters.
But there’s always that mindless idiot who spoils it for everyone. This one was playing.



Les Allen made no excuses for Marsh’s behaviour and fined him £50.

The QPR secretary, Ron Phillips told the West London Gazette. “We cannot allow retaliation by our players but one has to sympathise with Rodney Marsh. His legs are very badly scarred as a result of the tackle which led to the incident.”

In 1964 we heard about Red Star’s genius ‘Sekki’ Sekularac who served 2 suspensions of 18 months apiece. All I can surmise is that either they had to summons a division of the Yugoslav army or English football took a very liberal view of thuggery on the pitch. In another time and place, Marsh’s disgraceful antics could easily have sparked off a riot.

Despite the heavy police presence the Rangers fans behaved magnificently all afternoon. There was estimated to be 4000 fans in the School End, and a few thousand more around other parts of the ground. Many more may have travelled had Jim Baxter been fit. They showed admirable restraint not ‘to become involved’ when Marsh self detonated. Against another team, what could have followed may have been very nasty. The fan (I don’t know which team he supported) who helped to restrain Marsh also deserves considerable praise.


The Ken Buchanan link was not exclusive to Rangers. Traditionally many boxers used football clubs for their training. Steep terracing was better than running ‘Rocky’ style on pavements. (No traffic, petrol fumes or pedestrians in the way.) Plus there was a physio and trainer usually on hand, happy to offer advice. Also the equipment required by a boxer in the 1960’s could also be found amongst club’s apparatus. It made a pleasant break from the monotony of the boxing gym and players and boxers got on well. They came from similar backgrounds and were usually fans of each others’ sport. It could also be a mutual learning experience. Boxing is a lonely sport so it’s enjoyable to feel part of a team, being with fellow sportsmen and enjoying the dressing room banter. Footballers also see how dedication and discipline mould a successful sportsman in one of the toughest sports of them all. Footballers of course want to show that no boxer is fitter than them and will work harder if a boxer trains alongside them. Boxing can also be a convenient metaphor for a club to show how they will try to look after and help one of their own fans and of course there is also a money angle. Football clubs can earn substantial sums hosting a world title fight and supporters are a ready made fanbase to provide atmosphere, encouragement and cash at the turnstile. Most football fans enjoy boxing and to have a fellow supporter who they can relate to and represent them is very exciting.

In the 1940’s, Jackie Paterson used Ibrox as a base for his world title fights and Rangers were always delighted to welcome boxers and sportsmen to use their facilities. Mr Struth had a passion and fascination for all sports and used to host an annual Ibrox Sports day on which a number of Scottish national and all comer athletic records were broken. In addition to Ken Buchanan, another favourite with the Rangers players was Walter McGowan who would drop into Ibrox for a loosening up session. When he won the World flyweight title at Wembley, Willie Henderson was part of a ring invasion by his fans!


Former legend Willie Thornton rejoined Rangers as White’s assistant in September 1968. Thornton played for the club between 1937 and 1954 scored a staggering 144 goals in 224 league games and of course served his Country with equal distinction on the field of battle, winning a Military Medal. Then they brought back Thornton’s friend, former team mate and fellow Ibrox legend Willie Waddell as manager.

Benfica still fielding and led by the great Eusebio came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat Celtic 3-0 in Lisbon but still lost this European Cup tie. (Season 1970-71 was the final season before the introduction of the Penalty Shoot Out and the toss of a coin determined the outcome of the drawn tie.)

Stein’s Celtic then showed their mettle in the next 2 rounds defeating the Italian Champions, Fiorentina and Don Revie’s Leeds United in the semi’s. England and Italy getting an idea of what it was like to be Scott Symon or Davie White.

The Final against Dutch team Feyenoord was widely predicted to be a walkover, not least because the Dutch had enjoyed a comparatively easy route to the final. However the shrewder pundits would have noted that it was no coincidence that this would be the second consecutive season that a Dutch team would contest the Final. (Ajax of Amsterdam beaten by AC Milan in the 1969 European Cup Final.)

Feyenoord shocked Europe and Stein with their simple but brilliant brand of football. One touch, with lots of movement (I’m sure Bill Nicholson and Eddie Baily would have been purring) and the innovation of an attacking sweeper.

Cheered on by a fanatical support who outnumbered and outsung their opponents, a new force had emerged in European football, for Dutch football the future looked bright.