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Simon Barker - Patreon
Wednesday, 31st Mar 2021 13:37 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon

Simon Barker scored 41 times for QPR in 388 appearances between 1988 and 1998, winning at Old Trafford and Anfield, suffering the heartbreak of relegation, playing for ten different managers, and narrowly missing out on Italia 90 along the way.

LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 16 years and publishing them free-to-view. This season, in addition for the first time, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the full interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read an abridged version for free below…

Early days

I’m always interested in how players got spotted in the first place. What’s your story?

It was different in my day as a young footballer in the 1970s. As a budding footballer you played for Cubs, school, you’d play for your town team like I played for Swinton, I played for Salford Boys, and there were a lot of scouts around at that time. School football was a bit thing back at that time, you didn’t have academies before the age of 16. On school holidays you would go and trial and train at different clubs. I travelled all over the country and would see all the same boys at these trials, the best young players in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and very few from abroad which is the opposite to how it is now with academies.

I started training with Blackburn and Man Utd from 14 and was offered schoolboy and guaranteed apprenticeship forms by both clubs. I looked at it at the time and went with Blackburn because I’d have a better chance of getting in the first team a lot earlier. In my opinion, still, I made the right decision. I played for Blackburn when I was 18, I played more than 200 times for Blackburn, I got four caps for England U21s, I enjoyed my time there. A lot of senior players in the team, they looked after me well, I learned the trade, Bobby Saxton was my manager there and then Don Mackay towards the end. It was pre-Jack Walker money and Kenny Dalglish, my final year at Blackburn they’d just started to spend a little bit of money on people like Ossie Ardilles and Steve Archibald and we lost in the semi-final of the play-offs to Chelsea.

More than 30 years on we often have this debate on our site about players who sit in academies until their early 20s, versus those like Bright Osayi-Samuel who’ve played 150 times for Blackpool by the time they’re 20. You took the playing option when you were that age, looking at the situation now where do you land on it?

There is a big thing now about academies and whether there should be something in between like the Central League, the reserve league in the north, or the South East Counties as it would have been for QPR. There’s a lot to be said for it. You used to have B Team, A Team, Reserves and then the First Team. I remember playing A Team football against Liverpool as a 16-17-year-old apprentice and playing against very, very good players. You think, ‘oooof, he’s a good player’. I remember three or four players from then that didn’t even go on and make it, but were very good, very accomplished players and it made you learn very quickly. You learnt from them, the way they played, their first touch, and also how to look after yourself because a lot of the tackles that went on in those days… not saying it’s right… but you had to know how to protect yourself. Then you move onto the reserve team where you have first team players who were perhaps coming back from an injury, and you had to play with them. Most of them were good pros, they wanted to help you, there were others who were maybe cheesed off at being out of the side and weren’t in the mood to help you, maybe I was lucky the vast majority I learned a lot from those senior pros.

I know now there’s a lot of talk about the academy system. The pitches are unbelievable, the ball is perfect, the equipment, you’ve got everything. It’s very, very neat, every player is very, very technically good, and that’s a good thing. But there aren’t tackles in the game, and they’re only playing against their own age group. You don’t learn as quickly. You don’t have to learn as quickly as we did in a very tough environment.

Yeh like I say we talk about this a lot on our site, you have academy boys coming on loan to QPR who even at 22, 23 are physically nowhere near the level they need to be at for Championship, but then at the same time ten years ago we were all writing think pieces about how technically inept England were compared to Holland and Spain and I’m not sure you’d say that about England now.

Absolutely I watch England and the technical ability of the young players is there, and they do have a lot of drive in them I can see it in them, chasing back and winning the ball. This England team is probably the first/second generation of the academy system, but then quite a few of the players in this team did come through the lower leagues and had to be in there among the senior pros, get to Championship level and then get a move to the Premier League. That was how it was in my day and I do believe it does give you that resilience you need when it’s all put on a plate for you. Of course, there are players like Phil Foden who’s come through the Man City academy, but everybody I speak to who knows him talks about his drive from the very outset, and he’s carried it through. As an industry, which is what football is now, we have to make sure we’re not taking that desire out of players. Money does that, but the very best players no matter how much money they’ve got still have that drive and desire. Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Les Ferdinand, in my era, made good money, but still had that unbelievable drive. Les played until he was 38, 39, still had that drive and desire to play, and to improve, and the best players have that.

How did the move to QPR come about? Jim Smith the manager, £400k a big fee…

I was coming to the end of my Blackburn contract. We’d missed out on a promotion to the First Division two or three times. I was playing England U21s at the time and I met Paul Parker through that, he became a good friend and we kept in touch, he was at Fulham and I was at Blackburn, he got a move to QPR and as I came to the end of my contract I decided I wanted to go. It was pre-Bosman so you were still held to your contract, but a few clubs were interested and QPR came in and made a firm offer. It was a club record fee both QPR spending and Blackburn receiving at that point, obviously long since blown out of the water. It was a great move for me. I didn’t know Jim Smith at the time but he’d been a Blackburn manager previously, QPR were doing really well and had been in the League Cup final the year before…

…only year they didn’t hold the final, such a shame…

…indeed, but still a great move for me. It was also the year they pulled up the artificial pitch and went back to grass which was good for me, I’d played on it for Blackburn and did not like it.

Did that swing the move?

I think I still would have come, but it would have made a difference absolutely. It was a real plus they were putting grass back in.

I was really looking forward to it. I signed at the same time Trevor Francis did, he was really good with me, him and his wife Helen who’s sadly subsequently passed on. I moved down close to Paul Parker and it was good.

Jim Smith, who signs you, leaves. That must be a blow, the manager you move down to play for departs.

Absolutely. I remember at the time I’d played a little bit, I was sub a little bit, but I was involved. When Jim left for Newcastle Peter Shreeves took over for a couple of games as caretaker and then Trevor Francis took over as player manager. And… *sigh*… at the time… *sigh*… I’ve had a long time to think about this, and I’ve had many conversations with Trevor since… He was great for me when I first went down to London, he looked after me. When he took over as manager I hardly played. He obviously took a look at me and thought I wasn’t his cup of tea. Looking back now he wanted experience, he brought in Peter Reid and Nigel Spackman, and I hardly played. I played in the reserves and Keith Peacock was the manager, I still see Keith a lot and I always make sure to tell him he kept me going at QPR with his enthusiasm, the way he was. He kept me involved, kept me going when I was on a real downer, I would have gone back to Blackburn on the next train.

You’re thinking you’ve made a big mistake here.
Of course. Absolutely I did. I’ve gone from playing regularly for Blackburn and in the England U21s, I’ve come to QPR and now I’m playing reserve team football at Yeading in the South East Counties. I spent most of my year there, in the reserves, with Keith keeping me going. I remind him every time I see him, thank you for that time. I’ve spoken with Trevor since then, I understand completely now. I’m not saying leaving me out was a mistake but he’ll tell you he made a lot of mistakes back then. The Martin Allen situation up in Newcastle, I was up there for that, he left the hotel and went home for the birth of his son. Trevor came in for a lot of criticism for that but he came from a different generation where you got on with it. My father wasn’t at my birth, you got on with your job, your wife would have kids, and that was it, you had a job to do.

Did he just struggle with the player to manager transition, he’d gone from being in the dressing room, still probably our best player, to trying to be the manager, and not many people at QPR had a good word to say about him…

Well you’re right, I remember some of the goals he scored for QPR, a hat trick at Aston Villa one in particular. A great player. It’s difficult, you’re managing people, have you had any training to do that? Nowadays there are courses but it still doesn’t prepare you for that environment, that job, people think you pick the team and you get on with it. There are disgruntled players, issues that transpire, incidents that occur, and you’re not prepared for them. I see that now as an older person with more experience. Back in the day I saw myself, I wasn’t playing, I was upset, I believed I should be playing, and that’s what most players are like. I understand that now far more than I did at the time. Trevor went on and had a good managerial career, particularly at Sheff Wed, because he learned from his mistakes. As a player you look after yourself, as a manager you have to look after everybody while getting results at the same time.

Is it awkward when you bump into people like that again in the present day?

Yeh it’s sometimes awkward. It’s important to talk about things and get it out. People react in different ways, there are reasons they do what they do, and you maybe don’t know why. For my career the greatest thing that happened for me at QPR was Don Howe coming into the club. He came in as assistant manager, Trevor brought him to the club. Players love people who love them, and want them to play. I know Don was pushing for me to be playing and I eventually got back into the team at the end of 1988/89 and playing two games against, I think I’m right, Tottenham and Liverpool….

…you are right, I’ve got it in front of me…

…well that’s good, because I don’t remember many things, and it’s great at the moment on social media when people are bringing up old clips and showing old goals. I saw a comment the other day about me scoring 41 goals for QPR, somebody remarking they didn’t realise I’d scored that many. The good thing about it is they never show the bad bits, and I remember two or three times at QPR being booed whenever I touched the ball. Those moments are there just as much as the good times by the way. I remember an old pro telling me ‘don’t worry about it, keep showing for the ball, if you’re getting booed don’t hide, keep going and getting the ball. It’s the easiest thing in the world to hide, go and show for the ball and then keep it simple.’ It was the best advice I ever got. Yeh, I’d go and get the ball, and give the ball away again, and think ‘for goodness sake’, but it was character building and it was great advice. I’m glad I could do it and I managed to get through it to a time where the fans were back on board.

At the end of my time Paul Murray and Nigel Quashie were coming through, really good young players, and I hope in their recollections that I was good with them. The easiest thing was to resent young players coming through in your position, I like to think I tried to help. I competed absolutely, but I tried to help. I love seeing Paul and Nigel now doing well themselves as coaches, that makes me feel super old seeing them coaching when I remember seeing them come through.

Golden years

There’s obviously the cup run that everybody remembers, the goal against Liverpool, a great Don Howe season, why did it go well?

We had good players. We had very good players. I still say David Bardsley was one of the best full backs, he started every attack. My very first season it was Mark Dennis at full back, from Southampton, and what a good player Mark was – he had a reputation, loved a tackle, but an absolutely lovely lad, you wouldn’t want to be against him by the way. Kenny Sansom was different class, a great player, and after that Clive Wilson and Rufus Brevett who were both great players in their own way – Rufus particularly defensively, Clive going forward was unbelievable. Alan McDonald and Paul Parker before he went to Man Utd, and then later Darren Peacock. We had a very, very good side. Ray Wilkins, Andy Sinton… Les as well… Andy Impey came through from the youths, Ian Holloway came in, and I even remember playing with Steve Hodge a bit later on. Very, very good footballers. A good side.

Don was great. He was seen as a defensive coach but I never really remember him working that hard with the defence. A lot of the training he did was attacking, though he wanted to defend well as well. We were a good side with good players. The Liverpool game, in that cup run I just had a little feeling we would go all the way. It was so disappointing to draw that game 2-2 and lose the replay to a Peter Beardsley goal. We thought we were going all the way, I certainly did. That was the quarter final, I think we got to that point twice and that was as far as I ever got in the FA Cup. I don’t have many regrets, but not reaching the FA Cup final is certainly one of those. I only ever won the Full Members Cup final for Blackburn. But we had great times back in those days, a good side, top London club, nowadays that finish would get you into Europe and that’s a disappointment as well.

Twice I felt we got really unlucky cup draws, Liverpool that year, then again in 1995 when we ended up with Man Utd away. Can you still see yourself going through on goal, do you still have that memory, can you still see it, going through on the goal and finishing that at the Loft end?

I can. Back in 1990 there was very little football on TV. It was a live game, BBC, Sunday afternoon, a big audience, free to air. We were playing well, Liverpool were the top team. But… yeh… I do… and I can... I see it back now it’s often on social media, it’s great to relive. I was younger and had a lot more hair. It was a great time in my life, 1990, the World Cup in Italy a lot of people talk about falling in love with the game during that period. I love watching it back. It’s just so disappointing we lost that replay.

No placement with that one, foot through it.

Absolutely, and on my left foot as well. Goalscorers will often say they looked up and picked a spot… listen I wanted to hit the target. I put my head down, I hit the target, it went in the top corner. There were plenty of others that didn’t go in the top corner.

Yeh we’re going to talk about the penalty against Middlesbrough a bit later… Am I right in thinking you weren’t far off an England call up at this point with the Italia 90 World Cup on the horizon?

Don Howe was the assistant manager to Bobby Robson and the full time manager at QPR, and he did pull me aside in training and say ‘listen Simon, you are going to be named in the next England squad at the weekend’. Obviously nothing definite until it’s named but to be coming from Don I was really pleased and looking forward to it. We had a midweek game, a Wednesday I think, at Man City. It was a tackle from Paul Lake, who’s had his own problems with having to retire early from a knee issue. I’ve spoken to Paul about it and he was completely oblivious to it and mortified, he’s a lovely lad. I broke my leg. They lifted me off the pitch, there was no song and dance about it, I went to the hospital that night, they x-rayed me and I’d broken my leg. I missed out on that opportunity of being named in the England squad, and didn’t really get back to that level of playing until two or three years afterwards. That was my time, if I was going to break in and get the first cap that would have been the time. It didn’t happen. Listen, it’s a small thing in my career, my career was great, I achieved most of the things I wanted to do with my life, I was very lucky in my career. It’s one to tell the grandkids, but it’s nothing in the scheme of people who get injured and don’t get a full career, I had a full career and played until I was 35. I was very lucky, and very blessed.

I always feel as though 91/92 was your best season at QPR. Gerry had taken over from Don, you obviously got on great with Don so how was that transition?

I was obviously very disappointed that Don left because I liked Don, he liked me, and I was a regular in the team. Gerry came and had different ways, different views. He was very methodical, and everybody who was there will remember the Tuesdays. We used to do box-to-box running, even if you were injured you were dragged out to do it. He had a certain way of playing, he drilled us and drilled us in that way, and was very successful. He was successful in a different way to Don. I took lots of things from lots of different managers, I had ten managers in ten years at QPR including three caretakers and I picked up and learned from every one of them, different ways and different methods in training and man management. The one thing you could see in training, Gerry had finished with a knee injury but what a player, he must have been some player in his day. You could tell when he got involved in training what a great player he was, and he’d been finished for five years. Back in the day he must have been an incredible player, in that 1970s QPR team we were all brought up on with Phil Parkes, Stan Bowles and Gerry. It was what we were brought on and I’d like to think that early 90s team, while not as good, was something similar because we played a lot of good football. That was what QPR was brought up on and about, good football, in a tight stadium. You get more than 12,000 people in Loftus Road and what an atmosphere it was, get it full to the rafters and wow. I particularly remember the Arsenal cup game in that cup run, Kenny Sansom scored, and Andy Sinton, and the atmosphere that night… wow… just unbelievable… it dragged us through. We played good football, and they were great times. Great times.

You score two crucial goals early that season. One at Luton, which no offence I think I might have saved myself, which got Gerry his first win at the eighth or ninth attempt. Then a screamer against Everton to finally get a first home win after blowing a number of two goal leads. Looking back now what are your memories of those goals?

I remember the games, and the goals, but I didn’t realise or remember we hadn’t won for eight games. It’s interesting how the memory works, I don’t remember it that way. Did Paul Walsh play at Luton?

He did.

Yeh I remember that night. Paul was a good lad, good ability, and was very good for us in that short time he came in. I do remember the goal, I like to think I pushed it underneath the keeper, and I’ve not seen you as a goalkeeper…

…I’m alright, I’m alright…

…A good goal is one that goes in. I do remember the two goals against Everton, the first one I played a one two and put it under Neville Southall who was a great goalkeeper. I remember the second one in particular, it’s another that gets shown on social media on the QPR fan sites. It was relief. I celebrated it with Dennis Bailey I think, he was up front at that time.

There was a time later on that season where Gerry was playing me out wide and Ray and Ian Holloway were playing in the middle. I believed I should be playing in the middle, and this is again about being young and thinking about yourself, I went to Gerry and said ‘I want to play in the middle, if I can’t play in the middle I don’t want to play’. I think back now and think ‘what the hell were you doing, what are you saying things like that for?’ This is being too full of yourself. Gerry took me out of the side, played me sub, and a young Andy Impey came in and what a great player Andy Impey was as we all now know as QPR fans. He went on, had a great career, was different class, was certainly a far better right sided player than I was – he had pace, I never had pace… I used to drop into pockets and when they talk now about playing between the lines you’d think things have been reinvented now but we were doing that back in the 1990s. They talk now about tika taka, I talk to players who played in the 1960s and that was just called push and run – you pass to somebody, and move, and keep the ball in short runs.

Anyway, Andy was really quickly, worked hard, did well, was different class really, and was a great player. But I got him the chance, by being too full of myself and saying I didn’t want to play if I wasn’t in the centre.

I keep mentioning this in interviews but Clive Wilson David Bardsley, God knows how much money they’d be worth now with the wing backs so important to modern teams.

Again, when I see goals played back now, so many from David Bardsley crosses, he used to do that for fun. You would play it in behind the full back and Dave would run onto that and deliver his cross and it was always spot on. Get somebody like Les Ferdinand coming in on the end of that… good players playing good stuff. Clive Wilson’s ability was unbelievable, good crossing but also his football to get out of any tight situation, absolutely different class. Clive went on and played well for Spurs, David stayed with QPR a long time. Him and Alan McDonald were the deadly duo off the pitch.

Anything you’d care to share?

No. No. They were a duo who would plague everybody, good and bad. You’re like schoolboys back in those days. Alan, God rest him, is no longer with us. Dave when I do speak to him from time to time we have a good laugh about back in the day. I went to Alan’s funeral and we were laughing in the church, we were saying ‘come on we shouldn’t be laughing it’s a funeral’ but we were all just telling stories. Alan would have wanted that and his wife said absolutely I want you to be telling stories about back in the day.

I’m obviously going to ask about the 4-1 at Man Utd, tell me about it.

I remember going into it and knowing we were in good form, we were a good side, and if we played well we could beat anybody. We stayed overnight in Manchester on New Year’s Eve, surrounded by drinks and parties, we were all tucked up in bed. I think there were some excuses about parties at one of the United players’ houses, I’m not sure that was true I think it was just about coming up with a reason why what happened happened. It was one of those days. We were 2-0 up very early on, Dennis Bailey had one of those games. Dennis was like that, he’d have days where he was just unbelievable, and that day he took probably the best centre half partnership of the era – Pallister and Bruce – apart. He reminded me of Les Ferdinand that day, pace, ability, beat them in the air, scored three great goals. We had Roy Wegerle up front, Andy Sinton on one side was a great player for QPR and I know he works back at the club now, just a brilliant signing from Brentford back in the day. It could have been 5-1, Roy Wegerle missed a great chance.

What was said at half time? Shit just got real.

Keep it going. We didn’t want it to end. Sometimes you start like that, reach a certain level, pause at half time and can’t get going to that level again second half with the same tempo and ability. That was the key to it. I remember them getting one back, Brian McClair I think, and United at that time could come back against you. But we went into it in real form, played really well, and deserved to win. And I remember straight after that, we played at Southampton and were absolutely rubbish. There was a buzz about the place, we had a lot of fans go down there with us, and we were rubbish.

Yes my first game as a QPR fan, all enthused by the Man Utd result, and then bored and cold at The Dell. That’s so QPR, and like you say we had a side that should have been aspiring to win the cup, can you put your finger on why that happened?

I don’t know. Whether it’s because of all the furore, the high that we were on, we got a lot of press attention. I don’t remember doing anything differently to previous, it’s not like we were out on the town the night before. *Sigh* It just didn’t happen. *Sigh* These things happen in professional sport. Sometimes there just isn’t a reason why.

Decline

The criticism at the time, and looking back, is that team was perhaps just a goalkeeper, Kasey Keller, and maybe one other player away from being able to really challenge for the league and the cups, should have invested and paid for that lack of ambition. From the player’s point of view, where do you land?

At the time we would talk about how we’d have to sell a player every couple of years. We sold Paul Parker, Andy Sinton, Darren Peacock, and then Les went. We had to balance the books, that’s how QPR was at the time. I remember saying at the time, like the fans did, that we only needed two more players to be right there – by the way, as a player you want to make sure those two players aren’t playing your position, because you don’t want to go out of the side. So I was very much ‘yeh we need another striker, another defender, a goalkeeper’…

It’s not an exact science. That’s why recruitment and selection is so important. Yeh, possibly, yeh, maybe the investment QPR had a few years back might have been good for us at that time, but also maybe if we’d bought a load of better players who didn’t have the same work ethic or fit into the team spirit we had at the time it might not have worked. We’ll never know now.

The biggest thing was obviously Les leaving. He was always going to leave because he was so good. Losing that 20+ goals every season was always going to be difficult to replace. When we went down in 1996 I think I got the usual five or six goals that I would get, Alan McDonald chipped in with a couple, we had Danny Dichio and Kevin Gallen who scored round about a dozen goals, and the difference was Les scored 22 the year before so that ten goal difference was the difference between going down and staying up.

Ray brought Mark Hateley. He was injured. Mark was a really good lad, I know he got a lot of stick from the supporters but I liked Mark. He was very good with the other players, he could just never get himself fit. He’d say that himself now, he just couldn’t get fit. When he did get fit he wasn’t quite the player he had been when he was younger playing for Rangers and AC Milan and Portsmouth when he’d been a gladiator, attacking things in the air. He never quite got the fitness to be able to give us what Ray bought him for. It was a real shame. It wasn’t through lack of trying. He was a good pro, he wouldn’t have got to the level he’d got to without being a good pro and that’s what I saw of him. He was a good person. It just didn’t happen for him, and that ten goals was the difference and why we went down.

It was such a shame, it’s my biggest disappointment in football. It was really depressing and upsetting and it took a long time for the club to get back.

There are theories about Ray still being too keen on playing, do any of them hold water or is it as simple as we had the best striker in the country and then he left?

The previous year we’d nearly finished fifth or sixth again, Les went, and we went down. It’s happened to other managers. For me Ray was a great person, he didn’t change that much as a manager. I don’t remember him being very different. Ultimately as a manager, even now, you’re only as good as your players, and more to the point you’re only as good as your goalscorers. You can be doing a lot of good things off the park, training, playing, but it’s results.

We had a lot of youngsters playing that year. Matthew Brazier, God rest him, another who’s no longer with us; Michael Meaker; Danny Dichio; Kevin Gallen; Nigel Quashie coming through; Paul Murray. Good players, but a lot of youngsters.

It’s difficult to put your finger on, the biggest thing for me was the goals we lost.

Do you know you’re in trouble? I remember going 2-0 up against Spurs, David Ellery giving a nonsense penalty against us, and losing 3-2. When stuff like that is happening does the dressing room fear the worst?

It’s a long time ago but it’s not my recollection. We knew we were in trouble, as the end of the season starts looming, you’re looking for results you need. Eventually we ended up beating West Ham 3-0 and all the other results went against us. I remember walking around the pitch, relegated, having beaten West Ham 3-0, and you just think ‘how, why have we been relegated?’ Over the course of the season we weren’t good enough. I remember losing 3-0 at Forest on the last day, already relegated, watching Steve Stone curl a great goal in the far corner. It was bitterly disappointing. Then you hope you bounce straight back the following year, we had a change of ownership at the club, Ray was sacked early on…

Before we go down, the Sheff Wed chip…

Thinking back now, did I spot him off his line? No. It was just one of those, I don’t remember ever doing that before. You ask any professional sportsman, you train every day, and you do things sometimes naturally, and on that day I was running through and I just thought I’ll chip him. I don’t know why I did it, but I did it, other times it goes over the bar, but that one was perfect. I remember I got the first goal that day with a header, if you see the photograph back Danny Maddix was two foot above me thinking what on earth is Barker doing there in front of me, he had a great leap. It was a one off, natural thing I did at the time. We won that game, Gregory Goodridge scored one off a corner one for the bloopers reel, we won there and hoped we could go on from there and it didn’t quite happen unfortunately.

Having this chat the other day, how did that team not come straight back up, particularly once John Spencer and Gavin Peacock had been added? Sinclair, Impey, Brevett, Dichio, Murray, Quashie, yourself, Macca, David Bardsley. It didn’t even make the play-offs.

It’s much harder, and even harder now, to get out of the Championship. Looking back, maybe there was a disappointment syndrome. Every relegated club, and the fans, believe they should be going back up, whether there was more pressure… John Spencer was a great finisher and a great lad, Gavin Peacock scored goals and worked hard… but I wasn’t the player I had been previously, I know I wasn’t in my last two years. Alan McDonald wasn’t. David Bardsley wasn’t the same player. We were still good players, but sometimes it’s about the right balance and for whatever reason it didn’t happen for us.

There were good players and a lot of money being spent to try and get us back and it didn’t happen. I remember later Ray Harford came in and tried to change it, he believed it had gone stale. I don’t necessarily think it had and I had a conversation with Ray in later years saying you should have spoken to us about this, I was out of the side but I was a senior player I said you should have come to me and spoken to me about the situation and what my view was of it. He said ‘yeh I probably should have’. God bless him, another one not here with us. He brought in Vinnie Jones towards the end of that year to try and build team spirit, I’m not so sure that particularly worked.

It started to go downhill. We played differently, we went a lot longer than we had played. It ended up going down to the third tier, into administration. Some things just don’t work for different reasons. I’d have been a manager if I could give you a better answer on what went wrong and how to change things and I never went into management. It was, it was disappointing.

Vinnie Jones not for you no? (Sorry, Simon, in retrospect this was a hospital pass)

*Sigh*. *Pause* Listen. *Sigh* I would never say anything bad about anybody because people are different in different ways. Vinnie had a great career, and he’s liked by a lot of people. I was at the end of my career at QPR, I’m 56 now and a lot older, greyer… I wasn’t playing at the time… As an individual you believe you should be playing, you believe you’ve got the right attributes to change things, change the dressing room, change things on the pitch, but I wasn’t given that chance and I knew my time was up at QPR.

When I left I was really disappointed, I felt really down about it. I remember going to the end of season do at QPR in 1998, I’d been there ten years, and at the do they did a special presentation, and said ‘we’ve had this special trophy made for this person who has been so instrumental at QPR this season’, and they gave it to Neil Ruddock. Now, by the way, Neil Ruddock was unbelievable at the end of that season, he was the reason we stayed up that year, he was different class, and a good lad as well, and played really well. They gave him a special award, absolutely deserved, brilliant. But I’d been there ten years, played 350+ games, and I just felt…

I had this conversation with Nick Blackburn the chairman many years later and he just said ‘I never knew Simon’. I just expressed how deflated and disappointed I felt at that time. Other people may say ‘listen Simon you were there ten years, you go paid, get on with it, live with it’. Absolutely, if you say that to me I’ll agree with you, I can only tell you what it felt like at the time. I felt disappointed, and undervalued. It’s only afterwards where you see where you fit into the history of a club and what you did, I think about the good times but also the bad times and it’s part of how your character comes out and how things develop. Later on somebody sent me an article in A Kick Up The R’s, by Dave Thomas I think, talking about me and how he appreciated what I’d done for the club. I felt much better after reading that.

Time goes on, you move onto other things, I certainly don’t define my time at QPR by the bit at the end. I spoke to Nick Blackburn, Ray Harford, many years later about it and they understood, it just wasn’t in their thoughts at the time because they were concentrating on trying to turn the club and the team around.

You left and did a year at Port Vale, Macca did a year at Swindon, Bards went and finished at Blackpool, it just felt like the club forgetting itself a bit. Certainly Macca should have been allowed to finish with us.

When we all left we weren’t as good as we had been in our prime. Football is a business. You live and die by results, our results weren’t good. It would have been lovely to finish there, clap the fans, say that’s my career over, but for most people it doesn’t work like that. I didn’t earn enough money to be able to finish there I had to continue my career at Port Vale and I made many friends there. That’s why I have to work for a living now because we didn’t earn what the lads earn now. I look back on all my time, and it was a special time at QPR, I have so many fond memories there – bad moments, but loads of good moments. It’s great when I come back now, I live up in Manchester and don’t come to games as much as I once did, but with Forever R’s the ex-players association it’s lovely to go back there and see people.

Macca certainly got his own back, coming back and playing in goal for an hour, and keeping a clean sheet. You come back with Port Vale and bloody score. What was that like?

I remember afterwards it became a bit of a trend people not celebrating against their former club, this was way before that. I remember scoring the goal, and all the Port Vale lads rushing up to me because it made it 2-2 near the end of the game. It was the Loft End, it was almost exactly the same spot I’d scored that goal against Liverpool, and the one against Everton, and I started to wheel away, and it just hit me and I thought… shit. And I sort of gave it a hand, to say sorry. When we talked earlier about chipping Kevin Pressman and it just being a natural reaction, there was nothing to it. It was just an instant reaction.

I’m not that type really. Listen, I wanted to score, I’m competitive, I’m aggressive, I would have wanted to do that don’t worry about it. But it wasn’t in me to do a big celebration. I might have done it to some other people somewhere else maybe, but it’s not my style at all. It’s just how I am, it was a natural reaction.

I can’t let you go without mentioning the testimonial against Jamaica. Like nothing Loftus Road has ever seen before or since. How did you end up with that opposition?

The story is, it was my testimonial year, and looked like my last year at QPR. I had a testimonial committee and they were discussing functions. One of the lads said he’d been to York Hall one night, and there were thousands of people in there watching a beam-back of the Jamaican national team’s games. He said ‘it’s mad, it’s unbelievable, I reckon if we had a game down here against Jamaica you’d fill it out’. So we looked into it, we contacted the Jamaican FA about a game. It was just before the 98 World Cup finals, they’d reached it for the first time, and never played in England before. There was some negotiation with the FA, a lot of people were trying to get them first, but in the end they came to Loftus Road. We did a 50/50 split of the profits with them, and then just before the game we heard they were going on strike because the players never got their cut of the bonuses or money from the national team.

If you were there you must have been one of about five QPR fans. It was rammed, full of the Reggae Boys, all blowing horns, smoking ganja, there was a big cloud hanging over Loftus Road, we’d taken the seats out of the corners and they had steel drum bands in there. Everybody who played in it came in afterwards saying they’d never experienced anything like it. It never stopped, all the way through the game. It was the first testimonial where I don’t think anybody had a single clue who the guy was who the testimonial was for. We were in West London, we had the Reggae Boys in town, the whole Caribbean community had turned out, nobody had a clue who I was. I still have people come up to me and say thankyou for putting it on and getting the team over for the first time because they’d never been able to see them before.

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W7Ranger added 23:19 - Mar 31
What a lovely read.
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