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75/76 through fresh eyes - Column
Thursday, 28th May 2020 16:07 by Theodore Lloyd-Hughes

The club's recent runthrough of QPR's 1975/76 title bid gave younger fans a chance to see our greatest ever team for the first time. Theodore Lloyd-Hughes gave LFW's his key takeaways from a first viewing 45 years later.

Spending the best part of fifteen years sitting in the same forty centimetres of curved blue plastic you see a few things. I’ve seen a diving Lee Cook header creep over the line to ignite a comeback against Leicester City, a stepover and a stab of the left foot from Adel Taarabt to snatch all three points from Cardiff City and an overwrought Juan Mata mercifully decline to take a corner for “you know who”.

However, it is the things unseen that I’ve found myself particularly consumed by as we isolate. This moment of pause has made me search for more connection with the history of QPR. Whilst the “Back in R Day” programme features, the Forever R’s anointments and the QPR Podcast’s heartfelt past player interviews have always given me some idea of QPR folklore it is not until the club’s recent broadcasts had I truly seen these historical hooped feats.

As if for the first time I witnessed the free spirited Stanley Bowles and a team from West London that, at least for one season, were as good as any in the land. I saw old stories I’d heard from the terraces or the Crown and Sceptre come to life. So thank you to the club for sharing this comprehensive account of the 1975/76 season. You turned faint whispers into vivid songs.

Here are a few thoughts on QPR 1975/76...

Don Masson: a forgotten Rangers great

“We’ve tried to adopt the continental way of playing, Dave’s a big fan of the Holland team…”

I don't want to speak on behalf of any uncultured or ill-informed Rangers fans but I was unaware of just how good Don Masson was before watching the 1975/76 season. Yet now, I can’t think of a more forgotten midfield talent to have played in the Hoops. I’ve read that he was considered the final piece of jigsaw for Dave Sexton’s side when he arrived in West London, aged 29, having never played in the First Division before.

I was too young to remember Ray Wilkins in a QPR shirt but Masson appears to be a comparable mercurial midfield general with a penchant for deft through balls or crosses. As if Dr Frankenstein had merged Shaun Derry and Ale Faurlin into one player. There’s something so stylish yet assured about Masson’s continental flair married with Aberdeenshire grit. A calm and cool figure between the fiery Stan Bowles and energetic Dave Thomas. The Scot was firm in the challenge and even firmer at finding the net from outrageous angles. His opener in the enthralling 3-2 win over Stoke City perhaps the pick of a stunning bunch of goals from that season. Simply put, it is the toppest of bins.

Phil Nutt’s debut goal vs the holders

“I still can’t really believe it...I was in a daze...something you dream of”

Another name I was unfamiliar with before this comprehensive viewing of 1975/76. Unlike Masson, I do not have any firm belief that Phil Nutt has been wrongly left out of the canon of R’s greats. However, there is something mystical both in 1975 and today about the young youth team graduate, out of nowhere, scoring his debut goal. The softly spoken 17-year-old, from Pimilico, was more a precursor to Tom Hitchcock than Richard Langley, but I still feel passionately about his contribution and perhaps more importantly the “limbs” he provided that December evening.

Derby County arrived in Shepherds Bush as the current First Division champions. They had been embarrassed by the Super Hoops at the Baseball Ground 5-1, back in August 1975. So for the return fixture, the Rams were out for blood. An injury to Don Masson at halftime meant Nutt joined the fray with a QPR career equal in length to the time it takes to get from Liverpool St. to Shepherds Bush on the central line. Time stops as he leaps. Believe me, it really does. He lingers in the air. Incognito between the Derby defenders as John Hollins wafts a hopeful ball in. The levitating Nutt masterfully deposits his header beyond Graham Moseley. There’s a beat, a breath and then the rapturous noise of the broken deadlock. The whole QPR side swarm, embracing him as if he were their kin. Whether it is 1975 or 2020 this moment stands out as a raw retelling of what every young QPR fan goes to bed dreaming of.

Undefeated in W12: a blessing and a curse

“Come away from London...they are not really championship standard”

The few flaws that this QPR side showed, was away from home. In some ways their poor record at places like Old Trafford, Anfield and of course Carrow Road would define 75/76’s untimely ending. Learning how QPR had started the season unbeaten after ten matches(W5 D5), I felt that their first loss of the season, at Elland Road, was a sign of things to come.

In their first loss, the Rs characteristically take lead. After some side-burns on side-burns crime, Leeds’ dashing one club man Paul Madeley is outfoxed by Gerry Francis, who drops a shoulder and shimmies away delicately. Only to then be brought down by an uncouth sliding challenge. The debonair Bowles then dispatches the spot kick calmly. It’s not long before a hoofed long ball lands ahead of Frank McLintock who anxiously miscontrols it and allows Allan Clarke to plunder. 1-1, and Yorkshire is humming. A few minutes later, John Motson is suddenly roaring “...a Lorimer special!” and the game is gone. 2-1 to the Whites. A ludicrous pure strike on the half volley. A worldy made only more sublime by Don Masson’s wily attempt at a Suarez-esque hand ball on the goal line. A fair endeavour by the Rs number 9. He was at the Theatre of Shithousery after all.

In fact, that season QPR would not win away from Loftus Road until a 2-0 tilt at Villa Park on the 31st of January 1976. All seven of their league defeats that season would be away from home. How familiar this trepidation would become to even us younger fans as well. In a strange twist of fate, Ian Holloway’s 2003/04 promotion side would also go unbeaten at Loftus Road, they would also lose 7 matches on the road and they would also finish 2nd in the division. Thankfully without the bittersweet ending that the 75/76 side endured. Footballing DNA is one of football’s many cliches but this QPR side has me contemplating the very fabric of our football club. How what is threaded from before, lingers on in the Hoops of today.

Dave Thomas: a whirlwind with no best foot

“It wasn’t a fashion. I hated shin pads, hated them”

As a keen AKUTRs reader, I think I learned about the “wrong” Dave Thomas first. Any jokes or satire I would read around the aptly named editor of the club fanzine, were lost on me until I later learned about the fabled winger of the same name. Beyond that one goal Vs Wolves, in 1974, and perhaps certain montages on the big screen before kick off, I don’t think I had ever properly watched Dave Thomas play before. More recently Dave Thomas’ moving appearances on the QPR podcast and as a Forever Rs inductee, at half time with his dog Hannah, had kept him on my mind.

The tremendous spirit that younger fans will have seen in Thomas today, as he combats blindness, can be recognised in his courageous approach on the pitch in 75/76. I can’t overstate it. Dave Thomas just never knew when he was beat. From what I can see, his iconic naked shins were an act of false vulnerability. He feared no one. His rangy bare limbs said: I care more than you, I’ll run faster than you and I’ll hit the ball harder than you. At the very least, it adds to the mystique of one of QPR’s purest dribblers of the ball. Watch any clip in monochrome or blurry technicolour and you are always able to pick out Dave Thomas. So long as the BBC cameras could keep up with him.

Thomas played like an unrelenting winter downpour. A gust of skill and subtle swift movements. The two key aspects of his game were: startling speed and seamless ball control with both feet. Honestly after two and half hours watching this QPR side, I cannot determine which was Thomas’ favoured foot. His mazey run and driving finish to bring the Rs briefly level against Norwich City - in arguably the most heartbreaking match of the season - reminded me so much of Bright Osayi-Samuel. Quick to shift his body, change the angle and create space with the alternating foot.

I couldn’t help myself. I roared when I saw Thomas tirelessly sneaking in at the back post, on the final day of the season, Vs Leeds Utd. At the time he believed he’d scored the goal that would give QPR their first ever First Division title. His shy smile beaming as he turns away from goal and hops into the colossal arms of Dave Webb. Fans spilled over onto the pitch and championship win bonuses were paid out. The Rs “greatest side” were seemingly home and hosed. That momentous goal by Dave Thomas, despite what happened ten days later, glows forever in a timeless sun kissed hue.

The Twitter @theodore_sdr

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BrianMcCarthy added 17:13 - May 28
Excellent writing, Theodore. Really enjoyed reading it all.

Phil Nutt, by the way, was held in high esteem by many R's fans I know. Seemed to have a fine career ahead of him but did his cruciate only a few weeks after that Derby goal.

Paddyhoops added 09:33 - May 29
Brought me right back to the 70's. As an 11 year old living in Ireland. You weren't supposed to like little old Queens park Rangers. Man utd, Liverpool,Arsenal and leeds the clubs of choice. Not for me and my brothers.
The glorious Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis and of course our own Don Givens brokered the deal for us .
I've lived in london now for nigh on thirty years and pretty much get to every home game.
I was born in the now long gone Chiswick maternity hospital so it must be in the blood.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane Theo.
Many more to come!!

sportsdaytheo added 16:34 - May 29
Cheers for the kind words. Especially from people who were there and have a primary account of this team.

Brian, I really appreciate that context on Nutt. Felt very caught up in his miraculous introduction and find myself wondering about his career as a whole. There's a brilliant interview with him on the club's broadcast. He appears so youthful and humble. What could've been.

Paddy, I was born in also the now "long gone" Queen Charlotte's Hospital in Hammersmith, so I empathise with your comments. There is definitely something in the blood. The QPR DNA. The young fans of today's connections with Adel, Chery and Eze I think taps in to a lot of what this team and Stanley represented in the 70s. Players worthy of the price of admission, regardless of the result. The beautiful game.

Myke added 10:10 - Jun 3
Brilliant piece Theo - excellent fresh perspective on the r/season why I became a QPR fan. One thing you didn't mention,and is often overlooked, was the standard of the playing surfaces back then. So for QPR to play 'total football' in December/January/February on what were little more than quagmires was even more exhilarating and astonishing. You mentioned Thomas' close control - imagine what he would be like on today's billiard tableesque surfaces - not to mention Stan Bowles.

I alway felt that Masson was underrated and overshadowed by the more dominant personalities like Francis and Bowles even when he played, so it is no surprise that he has been 'forgotten' in the interim. But for me he was the complete mid-fielder - remember Scottish football was far stronger than today - and really was the final piece in the jigsaw.

Paddyhoops, I can relate; I too was 11 years old when being mesmerised by Thomas, Bowles et al. The only difference was I was born in a little country cottage in Sligo, the ruins of which I can see from my kitchen window as I write this piece. I have watched us 'in the flesh' only a handful of times but the passion burns as brightly now as 44 years ago! Actually there is one other big difference between my family and yours; my older brother was/is a Liverpool fan and boy did he torment me after the Wolves game!

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