Alan McDonald: 1963 – 2012
Sunday, 24th Jun 2012 14:16 by Clive Whittingham and Paul Finney
Alan McDonald, former QPR captain and assistant manager and the club’s most capped international player, has died suddenly at the age of 48. Clive Whittingham and Paul Finney pay tribute.
Alan McDonald was part of my childhood.
Every other Saturday my dad would park me in the corner of The Goldhawk with comic books and other distractions and then just after 2pm I’d set off on the long, slow walk to Loftus Road with my granddad who, by the time I was old enough to go to the football with him, was less than steady on his feet. We’d wait on the wall around Batman Close for my dad to catch us up and then we’d make our way up to the back of P Block together as a family. For those unfamiliar with the arrangements in the Upper Loft you enter via the turnstiles on South Africa Road and then, if you’re in the blocks at the far end, walk all the way along the corridor underneath the stand to reach your seats. You could set your watch by my dad, so we’d always begin fighting our way along that corridor at the same time. The public address system would begin announcing the QPR team as we entered at one end, and would have just finished naming the substitutes by the time we climbed the steps and caught sight of the pitch for the first time.
“Number two is David Bardsley, three is Clive Wilson, four Ray Wilkins, number five and captain Alan McDonald.”
‘Twas ever thus, and in my youthful naivety I thought it would be like that forever.
Once in our seats we’d sit and watch that QPR team take on all comers, with McDonald the talismanic leader at centre half. Teams that the boys at school supported like Manchester United and Tottenham would come to W12 with players like Mark Hughes and Jurgen Klinsmann and be given a thorough examination by Gerry Francis’ plucky side. McDonald was consistently magnificent. He was as hard as nails, his elbows-first battles with Hughes were legendary and QPR v Everton was probably the only time in a season you’d see Duncan Ferguson match physically, but he was also a very fine football player indeed. As the Premier League began to evolve and teams started shopping abroad for an array of technically gifted attacking talent McDonald never looked out of place.
The one time my family’s pre-match routine was broken was an FA Cup Third Round tie with non-league Aylesbury United in January 1995 when I was the team mascot. There was an odd feeling to that game, with all hope of one of the biggest upsets in the cup’s history extinguished by the decision to switch it from Aylesbury’s Buckingham Road ground to Loftus Road. It became a question of ‘how many’ rather than ‘what if’ and the atmosphere in the tunnel before the match was relaxed to say the least.
A little after 2pm, while the mascots were being shown around the dressing room area, I became embroiled in a prank concocted by Rufus Brevett and Trevor Sinclair who decided it would be a lovely idea to give me, as the QPR mascot for the day, a shirt of my choice from the kit room. Sinclair suggested Les Ferdinand’s and told me to run off and put it in my backpack upstairs, which I duly did. Some 50 minutes later all hell was breaking loose in the tunnel with the teams ready to emerge and Ferdinand standing there in just his shorts demanding to know where his shirt had gone, much to Sinclair’s amusement. McDonald, leading the team out as ever, soon turned round and told them to “stop pissing about now” because it was now time to get serious. McDonald is remembered by all his team mates as the dressing room practical joker, often at the heart of such pranks himself, but when the game kicked off it was a serious business regardless of the opponent.
Ferdinand’s shirt retrieved and now out on the field McDonald was similarly annoyed to find there were no footballs around to warm up with. As a result Macca and I embarked on a jog up and down the Loftus Road pitch, me standing all of four and a half feet tall and him running in his trademark thumbs-up style.
Rangers were playing an Isthmian League side that day, and won 4-0 in second gear, but McDonald approached the match and his personal duel with Aylesbury’s record goal scorer Cliff Hercules as he would any other game. QPR meant everything to that man and he played every game as if it was his last for the club. He epitomised everything good about the QPR sides of the 1980s and 1990s; unheralded and probably relatively unknown among supporters of other clubs, but a brilliant top flight defender in his day and highly respected by the players he faced each week.
Woe betide anybody who crossed him – linesman Roger Furnandiz’s decision to award an injury time penalty against him at Newcastle’s St James Park for a questionable handball in 1994 turned out to be one the club’s greatest recent moments when goalkeeper Jan Stejskal turned Malcolm Allen’s kick aside to seal a 2-1 win but before it was taken McDonald had to be restrained by Ray Wilkins and Clive Wilson as he attempted to get to the linesman and tell him exactly what he thought of the decision.
He didn’t score many goals himself – more often than not his role at our attacking corners was to flick a near post cross onto the far for the likes of Les Ferdinand and Darren Peacock to attack – but when he did they tended to be important. On the way to the 1986 League Cup final he headed home an extra time goal at Stamford Bridge to set us on the way to a win against Chelsea. Few people on the QPR staff will have been as hurt and disappointed as McDonald was by the subsequent final collapse against Oxford United. Two years later he bagged another late header to seal a 2-2 FA Cup replay draw with Man Utd at Loftus Road.
Personally the one I remember him best for was a last minute header in another FA Cup replay at Huddersfield towards the end of his time at QPR. Fortunate to even secure a replay, newly relegated QPR were labouring against a poor Huddersfield team at the half finished McAlpine Stadium until, with the last kick of the game, McDonald steamed into the area in typical style and almost ripped the net off the back of the posts with a thumping header. In amongst the many message board tributes the idea that McDonald felt glancing headers were for lightweights made me laugh, and is especially apt when recalling that goal. It was cold, and dark, and late, and Macca was sick of the sight of Huddersfield bloody Town, so he went and sorted it out himself and we all went home happy.
He was, of course, also an accomplished international player, winning 52 caps for Northern Ireland at a time when Northern Ireland were actually half decent. They qualified for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with a 0-0 draw against England at Wembley. That result saw both countries through and there were suggestions of a fix floating around but McDonald, still only 22 years old at this stage and winning only his second cap, stood in front of the television cameras after the game and told anybody who believed it was a fix to “come and see him”.
I know having spoken to many of the Northern Irish QPR fans that McDonald was a big part of the reason they came to follow Rangers, and we’ll hear from Paul Finney shortly on that.
It’s hard to talk about McDonald without referring to his addiction to nicotine, which was so severe he’d sit in the dressing room toilets at half time puffing away, but I always find such references inappropriate in cases when somebody has died tragically young, and at 48 McDonald is no kind of age, from something where smoking is known to be a contributory factor. That particular vice, amusing as the stories may be, is not something to be held up or celebrated at a time like this.
Nor is it really the time or the place to go into any detail on how QPR treated one of their greatest ever players in more recent times, but like the smoking it’s impossible not to mention it in passing. McDonald left Loftus Road in 1997 to join Swindon Town on a free transfer. The manager at the time Stewart Houston believed McDonald’s lack of pace was becoming an issue and he spent £1m replacing him with Steve Morrow. Northern Irish heritage was just about all those two players had in common and the way Houston and QPR shifted McDonald out was an absolute disgrace – not only did he deserve much better after 16 years of service, but he was still a far better player than Morrow or anybody else at Rangers at that time when he left. He played against us at Loftus Road for Swindon once, famously going in goal for an hour of the game after a sending off and keeping a clean sheet in a 1-0 away win.
He returned to Rangers as assistant manager to his former team mate Gary Waddock in 2006 but was sacked in 2007 when Waddock was moved aside in favour of John Gregory. That appointment of Gregory instead of Waddock was the right thing to do at the time and preserved QPR’s Championship status, but again the way McDonald was treated in it all left a hell of a lot to be desired. He went onto win the Northern Ireland premier division as manager of Glentoran two years later.
On Saturday morning he went out to play golf, and never came home.
As fans search for a way to remember McDonald properly following his tragic death, perhaps his legacy at Loftus Road could be a proper programme of events and matchday invitations for former players which is an area QPR have failed in for years.
The thoughts of all at LoftforWords are with the McDonald family over in Northern Ireland at this tragic time. A true QPR legend and leader who will be remembered by all at Loftus Road forever.
Paul Finney from Indy R’s and the Open All R’s Podcast is a Northern Irish QPR fan. He kindly agreed to pen the following tribute for LoftforWords.
First of all I never thought, at the age of 42, I would be writing about the death of a QPR legend and that it would be Alan McDonald. I am still upset and numb at the sad news of the passing of Alan but no matter how sad we feel as QPR fans my thoughts go out to his wife and family. To lose someone so young is so wrong and I still cannot take it in that I am writing this.
I grew up near Alan in Rathcoole, Northern Ireland. We went to the same school although in different years as he was six years older. His brother knew my family and it was him who gave me a match programme that was from a London club called Queen's Park Rangers. Inside was the news that they had just signed some kids from Belfast and one of them was Alan McDonald. That was the first time I heard of QPR in real terms and the rest is history.
His family, I can tell you, were so proud of Alan as was his school and friends. He was the older brother that I never had, someone that I looked up to. I know that makes no sense but he was only a wee bit older than me and yet I guess I felt I knew him as he was from my neck of the woods where I grew up.
One thing about him that stays in my mind was his walk. I know that may seem very strange but he had this weird way about him on the pitch. He played from the brain, one of the cleverest players I have ever seen, but you could spot Alan a mile off with his swagger and blond hair.
He had no fear of anyone and played with the heart of a lion but he would also read the game so well you could also tell the others around him looked up to him so much. He was a leader. He would also in his later years look after the younger players on the pitch (ask Vinnie Jones about that…).
I was at Wembley on the night of the famous quote: “If anyone thinks that was a fix, can come and see me....and I'll tell them it wasn't a fix cos we bloody earned that and anyone that says different is a joke.” I was so proud so see big Alan play in such a fantastic game. It was only his second international appearance at the age of 22 - not that anyone would’ve known.
Thinking of that night puts a tear in my eye and it was clear then that the Big Man would make the QPR and Northern Ireland shirt his own and I can say hand on heart that man never gave anything less than 100% for either.
Football gives us people to look up to and Macca was one of them. He played like we would have done given the chance; the passion, the pride, the love of the shirt. He knew the meaning of our club and what it meant to us. He played like he had to prove himself week in week out. He was sometimes very harsh on himself as a player, he never got a big head never or forgot how lucky he was to wear our shirt. I see people kiss a badge and say how they love a club and so on but Alan said it on the pitch.
Trust me he loved our club even when the it let him down. When he was sacked as assistant manager in 2007 Rangers did it by text. I last spoke to him at a Glentoran away game in Sweden and I asked him about that but he loved our club and for that reason will not say what went on. He would not say a bad word about, and I quote, "my Queen's Park Rangers". I was told by others of what went on both times and that hurt Alan a lot.
I was talking to fellow fan Chris Hewitt in the wake of the awful news this weekend and he said something I never thought about until he said it. Alan McDonald, for people around our age group, was the player we have seen the most play at QPR and his like may never be at the Bush again. Again I fight the wetness of my eyes as I write about the man. There are so many memories of him in the Super Hoops and the green of Our Wee Country. As I play games back in my mind, one that stands out is a home game versus Liverpool. He was captain and he was outstanding. He was up and down that pitch like a madman trying to head them away or head them in and make that tackle. Each time his face fixed and his neck and body strained as this mountain of a man gave everything he had for them hoops, his team mates his family and our fans.
I will end this now as I really am finding this so hard to write and I am so grateful to Clive for asking me.
Alan you gave us so much to many of us Northern Ireland Hoops. You are the reason we fell in love with our great club. You have been taken away from us before we as fans said a proper goodbye to you. I am so sad you will never know how much we loved you as a player for our great club. Our pain is a real one but please may God be with his loved ones today as they cope with this awful loss. My thoughts go out to them at this sad time.
We as a club were so lucky and I would say blessed to have seen Alan McDonald play for us. We will never forget him and I raise a glass tonight for a very special player and a very decent human being. Alan McDonald God bless you.
Finney and several other QPR fans are meeting at the ground this evening before heading to the Crown and Sceptre to toast Macca’s memory prior to the England v Italy match. He has asked LFW to invite anybody who wishes to join them to do so. More details.
Tweet @loftforwords, @paulfinney1969
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