Sinton on QPR goals, memories, and the trauma of his first game back - Interview
Tuesday, 5th Dec 2017 16:50 by Ron Norris
Our latest interview from QPRnet’s Ron Norris features the club’s former winger, and current ambassador, Andy Sinton.
I was delighted to finally get a chance to talk to Andy Sinton a few weeks back. Andy was fantastic for QPR and one I loved watching in my younger days so it was a real pleasure to pick through his remarkable memory banks.
QPRnet: You made a very young debut for Cambridge aged just 16. Looking back how do you feel about that; do you think it helped you?
AS: I think so and it was one of the reasons I joined Cambridge United.
I grew up in the North East in a big Newcastle family. In those days there were no academies so during school holidays I used to go to Middlesbrough or jump on the train to Tottenham, Arsenal, Ipswich, all sorts. I had played for England schoolboys too so when push came to shove people thought I was a bit crazy to choose Cambridge United. One of my reasons for it was that I saw a lot of good young players leave home to sign for bigger clubs and within a year or two they were back playing on the local parks a bit disillusioned because they hadn't made it.
I had to be quite stubborn about it because deep down my dad would have loved me to sign for Newcastle. I remember us sitting with their manager at the time, Bill McGarry. He was trying to persuade me to sign and back then it was unusual for the first team manager to meet with a 15-year-old. Bill left the room and said I'll leave you to speak to your Dad, I remember saying we might as well go home Dad, I'm not going to sign here because it was a club that didn't seem to bring youngsters through at the time. Bill McGarry came back in and we chatted some more and I’m sure my Dad was hoping to himself come on son, sign. I stuck to my guns though and we left. I knew I wasn’t going to go there and I signed for Cambridge United.
Back then Cambridge were in the second tier and used to play the likes of Leeds and Chelsea so it wasn't like signing for a fourth division club, but it was still a small set up. I’d meet up with the England schoolboys and they would all say ‘what are you going there for?’ but I knew what I was doing, I had it planned. I was going to leave home, I was going to get in the first team early, gain loads of experience and use it as a stepping stone to better things. Two months after leaving school I made my debut on a Tuesday night. It was November 2, we won 2-1 and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
QPRnet: You then went on to Brentford for four years before moving to QPR, how did the move to Loftus Road come about, they were two very different clubs back then?
AS: Yeah QPR were in the top flight and Brentford were in the old Third Division at the time. I have to say I loved my time at Brentford and if it wasn't for them I probably wouldn't have had the career I did. I suffered a bit at Cambridge because they went from a Second Division, experienced side, to having to deal with a lot of kids playing at once. In the end we went down and I was drifting.
My ex manager at Cambridge John Docherty had gone to Brentford with Frank McLintock and they signed me for about £25k. John was like a father figure to me at Cambridge and it was his influence that took me to Brentford and for that I've got a lot to thank him for. My career was probably going nowhere at that point but the Brentford move just got me going again. I had good times at Brentford, it was a fond four years, I loved my time there. It was a good club with good people.
As for the QPR move, well there were whispers, paper reports and I was playing quite well at the time. Steve Perryman was the manager at Brentford by then, we had a great relationship and he was always driving me to play at a high level. We had a cup run as a Third Division side, we got to the quarter final and went up to Liverpool. At the time they were the big boys and had the likes of Barnes, Aldridge, Rush etc. They hammered us 4-0 but I gave a good account of myself and little did I know QPR were sitting in the stands.
I think at that point they had almost made their mind up on me but were watching to see could he handle Anfield, could he handle Steve Nicol? I guess I must have done OK because during the week Steve Perryman called me in after training and said don't go home, something might be happening. It was coming up for deadline day in March, nothing like the deadline day we see today of course, and he said just wait around for a couple of hours.
I was sitting in the boardroom twiddling my thumbs really and he came in and said look I don't want you to go, the club doesn't have to let you go, but I think you are ready to make the step up, QPR have come in for you I think it’s time to test yourself in the big time. He was brilliant, he said if you don't feel right about it there's no pressure from us you can stay here. For me the lure of the big league …. well that's where you want to be. Then there was the lure of QPR, I knew they were struggling a bit but they had just signed Peter Reid, Colin Clarke and Nigel Spackman so I couldn’t say no.
Trevor Francis wanted to see me that night. He lived over in Wentworth so my wife and I drove over to his house, met him at this palatial mansion, and I was a bit awestruck frankly sitting in front of the first million pound player. Listen my mind was made up as soon as Steve said QPR were in for you I knew I was going regardless, but I asked Trevor a couple of questions like where do you see me playing, he said exactly where you have been and that was that. I spoke to Clive Berlin on the phone did the deal and I was in having a medical the next morning and training with the boys. I was thrilled, it was my chance in the big time.
QPRnet: It was a big fee as well (£350,000) any added pressure?
AS: For a Third Division player stepping up yeah I guess looking back it could have been but to be honest it could have been £3.50, it didn't interest me at all at the time. I had a great time at Brentford, I had done well and the fact that I was moving up the road, well the rivalry didn't cross my mind, it was just a chance to move up the divisions and forge my career. It was a huge opportunity and I was grateful to QPR and thankful to Brentford for giving me that.
QPRnet: Is it fair to say players back then were targeted for a purpose and signed to play rather than now when clubs sweep up as many as possible?
AS: I think so yeah, maybe that's the way it should work now. If you are signing someone it should be for two reasons, one to improve the squad and two to improve the team. I remember on that Thursday when I signed for QPR I did a press conference, it was a massive press conference in front of upwards of two journalists! One question was when do you think you will make your debut? Now being quite confident and sure of myself, I didn't bat an eyelid and said, “well Saturday”. I had come to play, Trevor didn't give me any promises but I thought ‘he's signing me so he must think I'm better than what he has’. Sure enough we went to Sheffield Wednesday, I'm the team, we won 2-0. Martin Allen scored a screamer and that was a great way to get going. Then we were training the next day and then at Loftus Road on the Monday against Aston Villa which sticks in my memory as if it was yesterday.
QPRnet: So you'll remember your first goal that night then?
AS: (laughs) Yep really well. It was unusually hot for March, it had been quite an uneventful game and I think it was nil nil at about 69/70 minutes. A corner came out from the right hand side of The Loft and broke to me about 17 yards out and I thought I'm going to hit this across the keeper. I didn't catch it quite as well as I wanted but you know what to see it go in was just .... I don't know how to describe it. To score on your home debut in front of your fans, in front of The Loft, to get the winning goal for your teammates, well it was almost like that was me announcing myself and being accepted if you like. It wasn't like I'd scored in a 3-1 defeat, I'd got the winner to give us three points towards the survival that we needed. To this day if people ask me to list the top five special goals of my career then that one would be in it.
QPRnet: The one at Forest in 1989 must take some beating though?
AS: Yeah I got a couple against them but the one up there where I cut in on them was decent. I credit Steve Perryman there as I was one of the first right footed players to play on the left side of the pitch so I could go either way and I scored quite a few of them at Brentford where I'd come inside and chance my arm. But yeah that Forest one was nice because as soon as I got the ball I knew the position of the full back, I knew what I was going to do, listen sometimes you get them right in the top corner and sometimes they hit row Z but that one went in and it was another nice goal to remember.
QPRnet: Things improved for QPR year on year and we probably made most people sit up and take notice during the New Year's Day game at Old Trafford. All the stories have probably been told but what was it like for you to be a part of?
AS: United on New Year's Day... it's one of the places you would look forward to going to play but you always knew you would be in for a hard game. You would look at the team sheet and you'd take a gulp but that day, I don't know, we had a hell of a team. I would make a habit of looking round dressing rooms and think if we need to dig in today what have we got? You looked across that QPR dressing room and you see Alan McDonald staring back at you. Macca, what a man but what a player. I have to pinch myself sometimes to think he's not with us you know.
Then you look around some more, you need someone to dictate the tempo of a game and get hold of it from the middle of the park, you've got Ray Wilkins. If you needed someone to get you something out of nothing you've got Les Ferdinand. We had two exceptional full backs Clive Wilson and David Bardsley. I used to love playing with Clive we almost seemed to have a telepathic understanding of what we were going to do. Dave was a hell of a full back too, super fit, could get up and down the pitch, great crosser of the ball.
Coming back to the point, we go to United and it’s tough but we always feel we have a chance with those players. We had gone up the night before and trained in the morning as Gerry always used to do, bit of five aside, have your meal and get ready for the game and we go out at 5 o'clock, live on the telly. I put us one up after four minutes I think, then after six or seven it’s two as Dennis Bailey gets his first and you think hang on, bloody hell what's going on here? We went on, it wasn't a fluke, we pretty much dominated the whole game, and it could have been a few more. Dennis was a smashing guy, got his hattrick and dined out on that for the rest of his life and quite rightly so. What a win, but we didn't get carried away, we knew we had done well but it was on to the next game. To go there anytime, any season and win 4-1 is pretty remarkable and I'm proud to have played my part in that day.
QPRnet: It wasn't a one off, after that we had successive home games putting four past Spurs and City 4-0 and 4-1, everything was coming together wasn't it?
AS: Yep, we had a good side all the way through, there were no big time Charlie’s. You're quite right too, City 4-0 Tottenham 4-1, I think we did Leeds 4-1 as well in a midweek game. I don't think anyone enjoyed coming to Loftus Road because of the side we had. We were as fit as anything thanks to Gerry's famous Tuesdays, we used to hate them but we knew deep down it was worth it and that in the last 10/15 minutes of a game when we had to dig in, when you are shattered, we knew it would do us good. It was a good group and Gerry was a fantastic manager.
People ask me about the best managers throughout my career and I played for some good ones, but Gerry in his spell at QPR was right up there. He gave you licence to play and gave me great self belief. The first time he spoke to me he said you'll play for England. Now that might have been kidology, because I know he did it to Les too, but I was a bit embarrassed and said you’re just saying that. He was insistent though, he said “you’ve got a bit of work to do but I can help you and if you really want it you can get yourself in the England side”. I always remember that conversation.
QPRnet: You played in the inaugural Premier League season with QPR, that whole season was brilliant for Rangers and started in great style for you at Maine Road?
AS: Yeah, that was a strange night that, this new Premier League thing had come in with Sky, Gerry wasn't very keen on it and he wouldn’t let anyone do any interviews, “they're making us play Monday, we play Wednesday, Saturday”, he wasn't best pleased.
I remember running out and there were fireworks going off and cheerleaders and razzmatazz. You think, ‘bloody hell what is all this’, but no one knew 25 years ago that it was the start of things to come. As players you just try to get on with the game though and we were one down so we had work to do. Then just after half time it came to me, I think Ollie played one square, and I had a touch off my chest to set myself and blasted one off my left foot and was very fortunate to see it go in.
QPRnet: I imagine the Everton hat trick was your personal highlight though?
AS: Yeah, I mean I'm a great team man but within the team there's always personal glories, I played 700 odd games and I only scored one hattrick so that is very special to me. First one Simon Barker's header was saved and I followed it in. Second was a left foot finish in front of The Loft and the third a corner that came out to the edge of the box, I caught it nicely and it flew through. Some people don't score hattricks, some people score loads, that was my only one and I've still got the match ball.
QPRnet: Your performances made so many goals for Ferdinand, did you two work hard on playing together or just you just hit it off?
AS: Little bit of both, there's a bit of work on the training ground and Les was intelligent enough to be able to read me. We had this understanding we worked on, as soon as I chopped it back on my right foot I wasn't going to delay, it was coming in.
We had a fantastic side but Les was like the sprinkling of stardust if you like. There would be many times I would put an average cross in and Les would make it into a brilliant cross because of the timing of his runs, his desire to get on the end of things, he's not the biggest but he could hang in the air. Les was certainly someone I really enjoyed playing with and yeah I made a couple of his goals but he was great for me too because not all of my crosses were that good.
QPRnet: Finishing fifth that season was an achievement that it’s easy to under value?
AS: It's not until you look back really that you see it fully. People talk to me about what a great side we were and it’s true. We had a fantastic camaraderie and team spirit, it wasn’t a massive squad so we were very close knit. The dressing room used to look after itself with Bardsley, Macca and Ray right in the thick of it, sometimes just a look from Ray was all it needed. We used to demand the best from each other, if Les wasn't getting near crosses I'd be on him and vice versa, if he was making runs and I wasn't hitting him he would soon tell me. If you let a runner through midfield Macca would let you have it. So before we got in the dressing room we would have pretty much sorted stuff out on the pitch. It was a real strength to us, nothing was personal it was all for the good of the club, all to win games and to finish as high as we possibly can.
Very often a bunch of us would go off golfing on a day off. Sometimes after training we would organise a bite to eat at a local restaurant, just eat and talk about the game for a couple of hours. It was friendly but professional, we knew what we were trying to achieve and we were quite demanding of each other which I think is so important.
QPRnet: You earned twelve England caps, you have to be proud of that but were you disappointed not to get more?
AS: Listen when I was growing up in Newcastle if someone had said you will play 700 odd club games, you'll play most of them in the top flight for this club and that club and by the way we'll chuck in twelve England caps I would have paid money for it. I was really proud to get them, I guess it could have been more because I was sub a few times and you don’t get a cap unless you get on but equally it could have been less.
I don't mind saying this but I always looked at myself as John Barnes' understudy and he was, well I know the arguments out there that he never produced it for England, but let me tell you John Barnes was a hell of a player, some of the things he could do were amazing. So I had to bide my time and I got a few of my caps playing in various positions being Mr Versatile, jack of all trades, master of none. I took that as a compliment actually and to play international football in various positions is something I looked at with real fondness.
QPRnet: Obviously I don't want to talk to harshly about someone not here to defend themselves but I always felt Graham Taylor treated QPR players pretty strangely. If yourself, Bardsley, Wilson etc had all been at Arsenal, Liverpool, United you would have been in every squad. Particularly the full backs and I think he missed out there by ignoring them?
AS: I'm a little bit biased but I might say that too yeah, I mean Clive Wilson, I know people might say Willo had Stuart Pearce, Tony Dorigo or Julian Dicks in front of him but his form was absolutely incredible and to not even get a call up was a bit strange to say the least. Bardsley got his debut in Poland and he probably should have had more with what he was producing, he was more like a modern day full back if you like. So yeah I think I probably agree with you on that.
QPRnet: I’d like to talk a bit about your move away now, because you left QPR that summer. We interviewed Richard Thompson recently he said you wanted to go, Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday bid for you, you went to Wednesday. How did things happen from your side?
AS: I didn’t want to leave but it was a case of knowing your worth really. If I was to flip that around, what did I need to move for? We were top London club, had finished fifth above Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea etc so I didn't have to move for that. I didn't have to move to get in the England squad because I was in it. So I didn’t need to leave the club for personal or footballing reasons.
When I was away on international duty some of the other England lads would be pulling my leg saying ‘oh the gaffer is interested in you’ and you hear things on the grape vine and what was coming through was that if I was one of the best in the country then I was being a bit devalued if that makes sense. So I went and spoke to Gerry, he was fully understanding and said he would have a chat. I had two years of a contract left and he went to speak to the board. Now the frustrating thing was they didn't come back and say ‘OK you have talked about X amount, we can't get you that but we can give you Y’, there was just nothing. Then a week later I see Trevor Sinclair come in the door so I'm thinking hang on a minute … So it was a little bit jumbled if you like because it was portrayed that I wanted to move, I didn't, but what I did want was the pay I should have been getting. Equally though if QPR had come back and said no, you have a two-year deal, the type of guy I am I would have got my head down and played.
Another thing is I'd just moved house, I still had boxes to unpack, my first child had just been born so I certainly wasn't looking to move again. That's the bit that frustrated and annoyed me the most. If you look at the facts, yes I said I wanted a better deal but only on a par with what other people were getting that I was keeping out of England sides. That wasn't to be so no hard feelings, QPR were a business and they were going to take the best offer that came.
There were two clubs in for me, I spoke to one and I told that club and QPR that I wasn't going to decide until I had spoken to the other club. I wasn't given that opportunity for the best part of three or four days so the first club then apparently pulled out and once that happened I was then allowed to speak to the other club which was Sheffield Wednesday.
QPRnet: I remember the game you came back to Loftus Road very well, I don’t I’ve ever seen such sustained stick for a returning player. I can remember your face and it looked like it really affected you, it must have hurt?
AS: It did hurt, listen I knew something was coming but I was a little bit saddened by the extent of it. I realised then that a lot of people had been fed a one-sided story but what will be will be I was really sad, it did affect me I remember sitting on the bus on the way home down in the dumps, I think we won that day but.... well it wasn't nice that.
I think it was just my turn to go. If you look at the previous history I saw Dave Seaman go out of the door, Paul Parker go out of the door, Roy Wegerle go out of the door, then it was me, Peacock soon followed, Les soon followed so every year someone was sold.
I can’t blame the fans, if you are told a certain story you are going to believe what you are told and I think that was the case here but I've told you how it was for me. I have to say though even that day never clouded my memories of what I had at QPR, that ‘welcome back’ if you like, it never took away the great times I'd had at the club, the great relationship I had with the fans and the love to play at Loftus Road. Also I have to say that when I went back the next time and certainly later times I've got a great reception.
QPRnet: Still it was a big fee for a player who had been excellent. We reinvested a smaller amount and got a decent replacement. Your move is really an example of how QPR should function?
AS: Yeah, Trevor came in the door probably a week before I left, I saw him come in and thought well there's something already done. Trevor's a good lad, he went on to have a fantastic career and that is the way QPR did business. We have almost gone full circle now as that is what we are trying to do again now. We are trying to get the Andy Sinton's from Brentford, or the Sinclair's from Blackpool or the Bardsley's from Watford. Get the rough diamonds, polish them up and move them on, there's no harm in that. If we get someone for not a lot of money and make a lot on them then that's good business sense and the right approach.
QPRnet: You played for three QPR managers, Trevor Francis, Don Howe and Gerry Francis, how did they compare for you?
AS: Well Trevor signed me and gave me the chance in the big time. He was someone growing up that I used to idolise, I said how awestruck I was sitting in his mansion you know, £1m player, scored the winner in the European Cup Final and he's going to be my manager. Amazing and he was really good for me at QPR.
After he left Don Howe came in, Don was a great football person and he had an unfair reputation of being a bit boring but we only used to spend one training session a week organising the back four or five, however he played at the time, the rest of it was about forward play, getting me on the ball, getting Dave Bardsley bombing down the right. Yeah he was a fantastic coach, he lived breathed football, you would sit down at a dinner table and he would start moving pepper pots around, if you make this run Andy you can affect this that and the other. He was nonstop!
After Don then probably the biggest influence on my career came to the club in Gerry Francis. Gerry used to give me personally a bit of freedom, he would say to me if you're not getting the ball have a little wander inside and he was probably the first manager I played for that gave me that licence because he knew that if I lost out I would get back into shape. He was super, I kept in touch with him and when I was ready to come back south he signed me again at Tottenham and I really enjoyed working for him there too.
For all different reasons I've got a hell of a lot to thank all three for and in their own distinctive way they were all really good football people and really good managers.
QPRnet: You played on into your late 30s, anything you credit with extending your career?
AS: I worked hard at my fitness, I trained hard. Kids ask me these days about playing for England and I still say I don't think I was one of the best but I made myself as good as I could be with practise. Practise on my weaker foot, taking balls out after training and working on crossing. As I got older I worked harder on various aspects and I'm very proud to be playing at Wolves at 37. I didn't have too many injuries, certainly at QPR I had pretty much five years unbroken. Had a few knocks at Sheffield Wednesday but when you look at what some of the guys have in their careers I was very lucky to only have two knee operations, a broken foot and a few niggles here and there.
QPRnet: How do you feel about modern wingers, how do you think the game has changed compared to your day?
AS: I don't think I was an out and out winger really and I was one of the first to play right foot on the left side but you’re right I think fullbacks today are the ones encouraged to get high and wide, they are fit and energetic, and they get up and down then the middle of the pitch narrows off and leaves the emphasis on them.
I met Dave Thomas, he’s a great, great man and I love being around him because he is so positive. We were talking about this and said we don't think there's anything better in the game than when someone picks the ball up, gets past someone, gets to the byline and puts a cross in, it's a dying art you know. I'm a bit biased but I love to see it. I harp back to when I played my first thought was can I go forward? Can I get at my full back? Can I back him up? I still love to see people play wide, run with the ball, beat people go either way.
QPRnet: Get some chalk on your boots!
AS: (laughs) Exactly what Dave Thomas said!
QPRnet: Do you feel coaching is behind you now?
AS: Probably, I went in after I finished, I started at non league and I was quite successful. I got to the Conference with Telford and loved my time but it ended up a bit frustrating for various reasons. If someone came knocking now it would have to be really something special. I'm not talking about managing but if someone was to say come and work with the youth team or the wide players then I'd love that. I see a lot of players and I think sometimes they get lost to the game, I'm not saying anyone should have a free meal ticket but there's a lot of knowledge out there. There's a lot of people who could influence in certain positions. I'd love to be doing a little bit more of that but regardless I'm really happy with what I'm doing now and the role I've got.
QPRnet: How are things working at QPR, were you surprised to get a call to join the team?
AS: Yes, I was doing various stuff, I'd come back for a few games, do a bit of hospitality and really enjoyed it. I came back with my lad one time and he said ‘Dad what was your favourite club?’ I said this is son, this is my club. He said what do you mean I said well this is my club, this is where I made it, where my fondest memories were had and where I enjoyed the best part of my career. So to get a call asking if I would be interested in this role, well I didn't have to think twice I said yes straight away.
You know it's a super club QPR, it’s got a great tradition. When I was away from it I would keep an eye and it was so sad to see the way things went. Now we are trying to get it back to what it was, get back to what QPR stands for and it's been really enjoyable. I've thoroughly enjoyed every minute, I want to play my part and help get the feel good factor back again. I'm loving being back there now. It's not the same as playing but it's the next best thing.
QPRnet: What would be your personal highlight from your time in Hoops, what’s the one thing you will tell the Grandkids about?
AS: I think we've talked about them all, I will always remember my first goal, Aston Villa on the Monday. I will always remember my hattrick against Everton, Man United away, the first goal on Sky on a Monday night. I wouldn't say one in particular as I was proud of a lot of things at QPR.
Overall I had some fantastic years and it was a real privilege to pull on the blue and white hoops. To play at Loftus Road in front of the QPR fans was the best time of my career and it is fantastic to be there again now, at a great club with great fans.
It's been a difficult few years for one reason or another but I genuinely think, and I'm not just towing the party line, I think we are heading in the right direction. It might be a slow burner but if we all pull together and get on the same hymn sheet then we can get back to what QPR is all about - players bursting with pride to pull on the shirt and putting a real shift in. I think for most fans that is all they really ask for. Anything else is a bonus.
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 chats with Kaspars Gorkss and Tony Roberts here.
The Twitter @qprnet, @loftforwords, @richardnorris75, @AndySintonQPR
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