Tony Roberts on a decade at QPR and what happened next - Interview
Wednesday, 11th Oct 2017 15:49 by Ron Norris
In the latest interview from QPRnet's Ron Norris, we hear from former QPR goalkeeper and coach Tony Roberts on his decade as a player at Loftus Road and his penchant for unusual cameos in the opposition penalty box.
QPRnet: So if things had been different you could have ended up at Chelsea instead of QPR?
TR: Possibly, I had been at Chelsea on trial in July '86, it was at Harlington where QPR train now, but I got injured and didn't hear anything back from them after. I went back home and got invited to QPR and that was it really. I managed to get in the youth team and by the end of the season I was offered a pro contract.
QPRnet: You’re a 16-year-old goalkeeper and you’ve got David Seaman at the club ahead of you. Daunting or brilliant?
TR: There were a few good keepers at the club in my early years, the likes of Peter Hucker and Paul Barron, Nicky Johns came along later and Dave signed in the summer of 1986 I think. To work with him was an incredible learning experience.
I’ve been lucky to work with great keepers in my career like Seaman, Jan Stejskal, Neville Southall and great coaches like Bob Wilson, you can't fail to learn a lot from people like that. It's been great for my personal experiences and it’s really helped me now with my coaching in The Premier League and for Wales.
QPRnet: You made your debut at 17, do you remember much from the day, what did you think of your performance?
TR: Yeah, we used to train at Hanger Lane and Dave got injured, I think he dislocated his finger. I remember Jim Smith coming up to me and saying, "you're playing", I was pleased about it, happy days I thought. I played about five games I guess and then Paul Barron came in as I remember. They had planned for me to go out on loan, I went to Weymouth in the Conference, I was there for about three weeks but got called back.
QPRnet: I was going to say that these days kids of that age are loaned straight out but back then I guess you did a lot of your growing up in the reserves?
TR: Yes, it was very different then, a different way of football. The best players from Saturday's youth team would play in the reserves on Tuesday in The Combination. It was a great environment to learn because you would have five, six, even seven first team players playing with the best youth team kids. They were good games, physically and mentally competitive and you could learn so much. These days with the under 23's there's hardly any first team players involved so getting young boys out on loan now is massively important.
Looking back I think it was a better way for players to develop. You could learn so much from getting a rocket off Alan McDonald or Terry Fenwick, you were in awe of these guys and you knew you had to be on it. These days it's just kids against kids.
QPRnet: When Seaman left and Jan Stejskal came in you guys jostled around the number shirt for a bit, what was Jan like?
TR: He was brilliant. He came in after the World Cup. Don Howe was totally straight with me to be fair, he started with me knowing Jan would came in a few months. I think he found it difficult to begin with, learning the language and understanding the different style of football but he was great I learned a lot from him.
QPRnet: That early to mid-90’s side was fantastic to watch, maybe we didn't realise how good we had it. What was it like to be a part of?
TR: Looking back now it was amazing. We were the top team in London and would have been in Europe if things were different then. What a set of players we had, Les Ferdinand, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Sinclair you think back and you remember how good the guys were. We had a great team spirit, there was loads of banter but most importantly we all worked hard for each other and put it all out on there on the pitch.
QPRnet: And playing under Gerry Francis must have been a good period for you?
TR: Yeah Gerry's a top man, I got on with him really well. He was a strong character and he would tell you very straight how it was. He had no problem telling you when you weren't playing well but equally he was quick to praise you when you had a good game. He just wanted to help you develop and that wasn't just with me, he was like that with everybody. We had players come through that went on to have great careers and they would probably all say that that Gerry done well for them back then.
QPRnet: By now you were getting picked in the Wales squad but much like Seaman or Stejskal at QPR you had Neville Southall in front of you for Wales. Feels like bad timing really.
TR: It did a bit! I was in and out at QPR of course but I did always have great keepers around me. The positives were they all helped me so much, like I said earlier Dave helped me so much when I was young at QPR and Neville for Wales was much the same.
They were very different personalities, Dave was quiet and calm whereas Nev was more like myself going at 200 miles an hour. He taught me not to get hung up on mistakes, it happens to every keeper and of course I made some, but you have to shake it off and move on. I try and pass this onto my boys now, shrug off mistakes, don't worry about the crowd. As soon as you let those things get at you you've lost concentration.
QPRnet: So as a keeper when you lose do you feel it more being the one that conceded the goals? Even if it isn't necessarily your fault.
TR: Yeh but that's all part of it. You can take it to heart but sometimes you just can't do anything about a goal, remember the attackers have to get past ten others before they get to you. Obviously if it's your mistake, like a bad kick or it goes through your hands, then you feel like you've let everybody down.
QPRnet: We interviewed Richard Thompson recently about his time at the club. How did the 90s players feel when we regularly lost a big player each year?
TR: At the time it was frustrating but we weren't in charge, we just had to deal with what happened afterwards. We couldn’t control the business end of it but yeah when players go and you end up getting relegated it hurts.
QPRnet: We lost Gerry, Les and then Ray couldn’t keep us up, how did that relegation hit the players?
TR: You have to score goals don't you. Les went for a big fee at the time but how do you replace that? You have to invest in good players and did we do that? I guess not because we went down.
QPRnet: You broke your finger in 1998 against Ipswich and that was the beginning of the end at Loftus Road. How did the move to Millwall come about?
TR: Ray Harford took over and I knew I wasn't going to play much under him, there were times I wanted to leave but they wouldn't let me move on. That was frustrating and then the finger injury happened at Ipswich. I went for the ball, me Danny Maddix and James Scowcroft came together for it and I thought 'that hurt a bit'. I came in at half time and my finger was all over the gaff. I managed to play the second half, had it x rayed after and I was out for five months with it.
I came back for Simon Barker's testimonial at Loftus Road against Jamaica, that was mental! And after that they decided they wouldn't renew my contract. So I moved to Millwall then done my finger again. I went to America and they fitted me with this splint that solved the problem and I was able to carry on playing.
QPRnet: There can't be many players who came back from retirement to play for another twelve years?
TR: You know it's hard because at 28 you're thinking what am I going to do? Luckily Ian Holloway got me involved in coaching at QPR. I was playing for Dagenham and coaching at Rangers during the week which got me started on my coaching badges which was great or I wouldn't be where I am now. Then Dagenham got into the league and I paid some insurance money back and was able to carry on for them.
QPRnet: You made some headlines with Dagenham, scoring a goal getting sent off in the opposition box!
TR: I was talking about that this morning funny enough. I went up for a corner, headed it, keeper made a save. As it got cleared I'm running out and the fella clipped my heel. As we turned round we've come together he's put his head against me and fallen like a sack of spuds. I never touched the geezer but the ref has fallen for it and I was off. First goalkeeper ever sent off in the opposition box. What a record.
The FA Cup goal was special, scoring from a corner. I used to go up all the time when we were losing though, I quite fancied myself as an outfield player to be fair though.
QPRnet: You were also involved with QPR as a coach up until about 2007. It must have been a very different club from the one you played for?
TR: Yeah a lot of things had happened, the relegation, administration. We were on a shoestring budget. It was a different place to when I first arrived in 1986. I was there for quite a while and it got me into the coaching side and I've loved that ever since.
QPRnet: And you finally got a testimonial in 2003. That must have been a proud day?
TR: Yeah that was a great day, it was against Charlton and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to play but it was also a first team fixture and they needed Daisy playing obviously so I came on for the last few minutes. We had an old boys game before it though with all the old faces like Les, Andrew Impey, Clive Wilson and we had a bit of a giggle for 45 minutes. I scored two goals, which I was very, very proud of. I spent years telling Les I was better than him and I like to think I proved it that day!
QPRnet: You’re still coaching now. Are you happy working with ‘keepers or do you have ambitions to move into management?
TR: No I know what I'm good at. It's been good for the last two years at Swansea, a bit topsy turvy at times with the managerial changes but since Paul has come in and settled the ship it’s been great and I think he will do well. For me I just want to be the best coach I can and produce 'keepers for the club. We are doing alright at that so I'm very happy.
QPRnet: Looking back over your time at Rangers what would be your tell the Grandkids moment? What’s the one thing you will always remember?
TR: Winning at Highbury when we beat Arsenal 3-1 in 1994. hat really sticks in my mind as being a great day.
QPRnet: When Jensen scored.
Yeah funny, people often remember to mention that one to me .... We used to wind each other up, he told me he meant it as a cross, I’d mention the other three goals.
QPRnet: How would you like the QPR fans to remember you?
TR: Just someone who tried every game, yeah I made mistakes for sure but I always did my best. The only thing that is when I look back I think I was disappointed not to play more games for Rangers. I loved my time there though and I try to stay on top of things at the club. I like to look out for them, I was following yesterday when they went one up and lost 3-2 (Middlesbrough away). I always hope they do well and obviously I know Ollie and Bircham well and I really wish them all the best.
From the day I went to QPR in 1986 all I wanted to do was work hard and see if I could get through the ranks and I did it. I played for the youth team, the reserves, the first team, I played for my country. I'm really proud.
Ron first started interviewing figures from the QPR present and past for QPRnet back in 2001. Across the next 13 years he racked up more than 50 chats with players, managers and officials – you can access the archive here. With the site now mothballed, LFW is more than delighted to be hosting Ron’s fresh interviews here, even though he brought us Richard Thompson to start with. Read his recent chat with Kaspars Gorkss here.
The Twitter @QPRnet, @RichardNorris75
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