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Alan McDonald: 1963 – 2012
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

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

Pictures – Action Images

Photo: Action Images

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QPunkR added 12:55 - Jun 25
Still can't believe the news.
Alan McDonald was indeed a true legend for the Club. As stated elsewhere, it's a word that's bandied around so easily for anyone who scores more than 10 goals for a club nowadays, but he was a QPR legend through and through, in every meaning of the word.
He was the player I always tried to emulate whenever I play the game myself, and have always rated higher than much more high-profile defenders. He knew his art.

Such a sad, sad loss. Our thoughts are with his family

RIP Super Mac

YorkRanger added 13:16 - Jun 25
Guys, perfect words to capture the moment and the man.

timskyranger added 13:40 - Jun 25
R.I.P Alan. as a QPR supporter from Aylesbury I remember that FA cup game really well, thanks for the memories that bought Clive.... i'm now living in Cape Town, running a project for children with HIV, i feel along way from Loftus Road but your reports (Clive) keep me close to the action and every week/home game after reading them i feel like i'm in the Loft with you guys.

keep up the great work Clive and once again Alan you will be truly missed.

TacticalR added 15:06 - Jun 25
Thanks guys.

At a club like QPR where we have always loved flair players, McDonald probably didn't get the all the recognition he should have. Sometimes it's only in retrospect that you can appreciate the contribution someone has made.

McDonald's career pretty much coincides with our last spell in the top flight. Most of that spell in the top flight predates the Premiership, and in these days of the Premiership it's hard to imagine such longevity at a single club.

Even though he has died young, as a player and a person, he made the best use of the time he was given.

themodfather added 15:12 - Jun 25
did macca make his home debut v crewe or hull city in the league cup? i think it was v crewe, we won 8-1 and he scored.??

Rodneylives added 15:28 - Jun 25
I love the fact that even after playing against England at Wembley in his second international, his greatest dream was still to play for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park: a measure of his immense loyalty

robith added 15:29 - Jun 25
Really lovely pieces guys. Thanks both.

Really cut up about this. At 28 years old this is the first time I've really experienced a legend from my lifetime dying, though far too soon.

Growing up being tall and having no technical ability at all I was obviously made to play centre back. I used to get upset that I wasn't up front or what not, but my dad told me to look at McDonald next time we were at Loftus Road and see if he was upset he wasn't playing up front. As such he became my total hero.

My favourite memories of him are meeting him in the shop in Hillingdon Circus when I was like 11 while he was buying some fags and being totally star struck


when he went to Swindon and they came to Loftus Road. Fraser Digby got sent off and Alan McDonald went in goal and played a total blinder and we lost.

newgolddream added 16:26 - Jun 25
Remember Alan as a top player with Queens Park Rangers for many years. Was also delighted to see him manage Glentoran to a league title in 2009. May he rest in peace.

cranieboy added 17:39 - Jun 25
What a legend! I remember the first time I saw him I thought he might be a bit lightweight, how wrong was I. I can still see his commanding headers clearing our own half and often setting up attacks for our forwards to run onto. As you say, a 100% fella for sure, and a class player to boot.

jonno added 19:54 - Jun 25
There was a long period of time when Macca was at the Club that if for some reason he wasn't playing you could guarantee we would lose, but if he was then we would almost certainly not get beat. He pretty much WAS our defence. A great player, great captain and a great man. RIP.

johann28 added 20:46 - Jun 25
Very sad news. Thank you for expressing the inexpressible.

ozexile added 02:20 - Jun 26
Probably my favourite ever player. The whole team and fans looked up to him. My one abiding memory is that he never use to come out for the warm up(probably smoking). So I was always panicking that he wasn't playing. Then about 2.50pm the tannoy announcer would announce the teams and i'd be relieved. You knew that no team would bully us and you knew that the rest of our players would have to give 100%. RIP Macca you were a hero to me.

snanker added 10:32 - Jun 26
Extremely sad,sad news about one of our best club men in every sense. I spent 82-92 in London and indeed was at the 0-0 Wembley draw when he played his part in a tough Northern Ireland side. He didn't muck around and many a striker knew he'd done the rounds when Macca clattered into him over 90 minutes. He was QPR though and through and showed a loyalty to his club that sadly these days is well and truly left in the 20th century. You'll be sorely missed son thanks for the memories and a great tribute lads to a true R.

AshteadR added 11:05 - Jun 26
I was lucky enough to know Alan at a much younger age, as he used to lodge (with Ian Stewart) at my baest mate's Nans when he was part of the youth set up. We were four years younger, but my mate managed to get him to train us at Larkspur Rovers (juniors) for a bit on a Thursday night and he even turned up to watch us play on Sunday mornings a few times. He was a great influence, a real hero and someone who genuinely cared about what he did.

We used to go down to Loftus Road to watch him in the youth team and then reserves (normally with complimentary tickets from him). As his career progressed, we lost touch, only for him to appear at Wolves for his league debut (I think)? Top, top, guy.

R_in_Sweden added 13:01 - Jun 26
QPR legend, you just have to look at the heartless shambles returning from Ukraine and Poland and it puts things into perspective, part of a dying breed (no pun intended). Had a beer with him in the player's hotel prior to the Partizan Belgrade away game in the UEFA cup around 1984. Hopefully this didn't cause us blowing a four goal lead from the home leg.

He was also chatty with the supporters on the plane home. Seemed like a down to earth, decent bloke on and off the pitch.

QPR1506 added 13:28 - Jun 26
Top Man!! Will always be a QPR legend!!

JB007007 added 19:39 - Jun 26
Thanks for the great write up guys.
I seem to remember him having several spats with Kerry Dixon too.
A true QPR hero.

devonranger added 19:56 - Jun 26
boyhood hero,remember chating to him in red lion pub in hillingdon when only 15,a long time ago now! thoughts go out to the family R.I.P

westolian added 21:14 - Jun 26
Thank you both

I loved Macca, whenever his name was on that teamsheet I knew we always had a chance.

Very best wishes to his family at this extremely sad time

qprmick added 02:08 - Jun 27
We have been know for being a selling club, why nobody came in for the BIG FELLA, I will never know and thank God they didn't.Good, well written.

QPRBrian added 22:41 - Jun 28
Like many people who were first indoctrinated in the eighties Macca became a symbol of what it was, is and always will be to a Rangers man/fan. Part of my growing up, indeed my life. For those who may be too young to realise, just tho.k Clint Hill being 20 and playing the next 15 seasons like he did last season, yes, including the moody start, cos Macca weren't perfect either! Oversized shirt (somehow?), blond hair, tattoo and air of menace, thumbs up to Macca.

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