Farewell to the king – Column
Sunday, 30th Jul 2017 21:03 by Simon Dorset
The QPR family came together on Saturday to pay tribute to the club’s greatest ever player Stan Bowles, and raise funds for his ongoing Alzheimer’s care. Simon Dorset was there for LFW.
My earliest memories of coming to Loftus Road are a rose-tinted collage of sunny skies, free flowing football and an adoring home crowd expectantly waiting for their hero to thrill them with his sublime skill.
In his prime, Stan was untouchable. His immaculate ball control, teasing twists and turns and deceptive change of pace left the best defenders in the country chasing shadows or floundering in his wake. His delicious cocktail of outrageous genius, a carefree manner and boundless confidence, all vying for prominence behind his mischievous smile, was totally beguiling.
Since the desperate news that Stan had been diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s broke in June 2015, the officials and staff of QPR have not been found wanting. The home match against Rotherham early in the next season was swiftly designated to be in his honour. Fund raising including the proceeds from an extended matchday programme and the auction of specially designed shirts worn by the players raised over £23,000 which was equally split between providing care for Stan and the Alzheimer’s Society.
Brentford, another of Stan’s former clubs, followed suit by producing their biggest ever matchday programme for their home match against Rangers, donating £1 from every sale to the two causes. Since then, Andy Sinton and his colleagues have worked hard to keep Stan engaged with the club, initially as part of the 40-year anniversary of the 1975/76 season and then by making him one of the first inductees into the Forever R’s club.
In the face of ever increasing criticism from a minority of supporters decrying his lack of immediate action, CEO Lee Hoos set about trying to find a more enduring solution for Stan rather than simply a testimonial match. After witnessing the all too predictable splintering of the People’s Front of Shepherds Bush, the Popular Front of Shepherds Bush and the Shepherds Bush People’s Front, Hoos set up his own committee to report back on a number of issues which had been identified such as not jeopardising Stan’s local healthcare funding and how to avoid creating a heavy taxation burden for him, broadened with the desire to extend the scheme to help other former players who develop similar needs. Dave Thomas breaking down in tears on the pitch at half time last season as he thanked supporters for their help getting him a guide dog, and Frank Sibley’s recent appearances at the club remind us that this doesn’t begin and end here.
In early June 2017 Hoos announced the formation of the QPR No 10 Foundation, the brainchild of his committee, which he described as a charitable fund managed by QPR in the Community Trust, designed to raise funds through generating public awareness and the hosting of special events, with the aim of providing medical assistance, physical and pastoral care, and other requirements of former players, managers, and club personnel. The pre-season friendly against Bournemouth had already been designated as a benefit match for Stan and so became the first event to be linked directly with the foundation.
Basing their decision on past experience, the club decided to initially only open the South Africa Road stand and Lower Loft to home supporters. Considering how poorly supported testimonial matches have been in recent times (Kevin Gallen’s attracted 5,802 supporters, Gary Waddock’s 4,474 and Gavin Peacock’s 5,580) this seemed a sensible move to try to reduce the cost of staging the fixture and therefore increase the size of donation to the foundation.
This too was criticised, with some saying it would put people off attending, and others accusing Hoos of “setting the game up to fail”. While passion and a desire to see the best done for Stan is admirable, too much energy has expended on attacking “splitters”, squabbling over the ownership of ideas and accusing anyone who had the temerity to question their pronouncements of not understanding the club’s history. There has been hostility towards club officials and fellow QPR supporters which was wholly undeserved.
Thankfully, those who worked tirelessly to make this match, the associated fund-raising and the foundation a reality maintained their dignity. A perfect riposte would have been if Dave Thomas had been in his usual spot on the South Africa Road selling larks’ tongues, wrens’ livers and wolf nipple chips instead of AKUTR’s but, regrettably, there was not a chaffinch brain in sight.
Stan, flanked by Gerry Francis and Don Shanks led the teams out onto the pitch to an outstanding ovation. The timeless chant of “Stanley, Stanley” greeted their arrival. For all that Alzheimer’s has stolen from Stan, the showman in him remains strong; arms raised, he milked the applause from the crowd before leaving the pitch in the care of the current QPR players.
Holloway had selected a 3-5-2 formation to start this match which, considering our well-known issues at right back, was a sound decision. Every time Bournemouth attacked down their left flank, Wszolek and Scowen faced up against Gradel, thankfully leaving Perch less exposed. Onuoha had the unenviable task of defending between Lynch and Perch, with Robinson and Wszolek as wingbacks. Scowen, anchoring the midfield, made a very encouraging impression and allowed Freeman and Luongo to press further forwards. Smith, with Washington careering around him completed the starting eleven.
Despite attracting some negative comments, Bournemouth were excellent opposition for the day. Their crisp passing and intelligent movement was a joy to watch as you would expect from the side that finished ninth in the Premier League last season. They should have been in front in the first minute of the match, but Josh King wastefully shot over the bar from Gradel’s low pullback after a swift move had released him into space behind our back three. Rangers battled back and created a few opportunities, but neither Smith nor Washington showed any great conviction in their finishing, while Bournemouth always remained a cut above us and there could be few complaints when Jordan Ibe cut in from the right and shot into the far corner just before half time.
Stan literally danced onto the Loftus Road pitch during the interval. Everyone in the ground rose to greet him, to thank him and to bid him the fondest of farewells; He revelled in the acclaim as Don Shanks gently steered him around the ground. What a magnificent friend he has been to Stan. The interviews with Andy Sinton, Gerry Francis, Ian Gillard and John Hollins slipped by me, I was just as transfixed as ever watching Stan as he made his final indelible impression in the history of Queens Park Rangers Football Club. The cheering from every section of every stand increased in volume as Stan approached; no one wanted this moment to end. I was glad to spot a Nottingham Forest flag displayed prominently in the Lower Loft and am really pleased to say that the Bournemouth supporters more than played their part, standing and heartily applauding. It was gratifying to see Shanks take Stan over to thank them before leaving the pitch and disappearing down the tunnel for the last time.
At the start of the second half Furlong replaced Lynch as we reverted to a standard back four. Bournemouth comfortably retained possession without really threatening too often until a raft of changes at around the hour mark added some fresh impetus to our play. In particular, Borysiuk as the fulcrum and Manning at left back had a very positive impact on the match, as did Goss when he latterly replaced Perch in the heart of our defence. Rangers applied some pressure as the game drew to a close which culminated with an excellent Ngbakoto freekick which unluckily rebounded off the post onto their goalkeeper’s legs but somehow did not find the net.
There were things to like about our performance. Scowen looks like a very useful acquisition, Luongo should have always been playing further upfield, and Borysiuk’s forthright tackling and range of passing was impressive. There were also many to dislike. Smith and Sylla were far from impressive, to the point where, on the journey home, I was advocating a front two next Saturday of Washington and Ngbakoto and keeping the ball on the ground. A back three of Lynch, Onuoha and Perch does not fill me with confidence. I don’t know if Goss has what it takes to play there full time, but I’d be happy to try and then slot in Hall for Lynch when he finally recovers from his tendonitis.
But those are questions for another day. This one, as with so many of those sunny, free flowing days back in the ‘70s, belonged to Stan. Sadly, he cannot remember those days, but those of us who do, will never forget.
Trapped in the clutches of this most heartless disease, time has taken his independence away. His genius may be lost, he is far too easily bewildered and his confidence waned, but Stan’s mischievous smile is just as beguiling as ever. Stan clearly knew we were there for him and if all we managed to achieve was, just for those brief minutes, to let him know how loved he is, it was worth every second of everyone’s time.
There is just shy of £50,000 in Stan’s Go Fund Me account. If everybody who reads this article sticks a fiver in it will break that total by tomorrow. Click here to donate.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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