Ex-QPR star recalls how Canaries crushed title dream

DAVE Thomas admits QPR’s costly defeat at Norwich almost 35 years ago still irks him as Rangers’ current crop prepare to test their own title credentials at Carrow Road.

Thomas was a key member of the Rs side that swept virtually all before them in the 1975-76 season and seemed set to become Football League champions with three games remaining.

But Rangers’ 3-2 defeat in Norfolk – in which the third Norwich goal, scored by Phil Boyer, should have been disallowed for offside – handed the advantage to Liverpool, who went on to deny them the title by a single point.

The Norwich match has become ingrained in QPR folklore as the one that cost Dave Sexton’s side the championship – although winger Thomas, now 60, reckons they could have won it in subsequent years if the team had stayed together.

“A year after we’d come so close, Dave went to Manchester United, I was the first to be sold after that and the team broke up,” Thomas recalled. “But we were a great team and we would have had a shot at the title again.

“Sadly, we’re always going to be the team that got pipped by Liverpool. We had an incredible run and the players all felt we were in with a good shout but, looking back, that Norwich game will always stick in my mind.

“I actually scored in that game, but there was some controversy and we should have got a draw out of it.

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“We still had to go out and perform in our last two games, but it was a weird time after we’d finished, because Liverpool had those 10 days’ rest before their last game at Wolves – which wouldn’t happen today – while we went off to Israel to play an end of season game and let our hair down a little bit.

“I did some radio commentary for the BBC on Liverpool’s last game and it was exciting when Wolves took the lead, but then Kevin Keegan and John Toshack destroyed them and in the end they won comfortably.”

Signed from Burnley in 1972 for what was then a hefty fee of �165,000, Thomas soon established himself on the left flank as Gordon Jago guided Rangers to promotion a year later.

The winger went on to win eight England caps and enjoyed a successful spell at Everton before eventually winding down his career at Portsmouth and becoming a PE teacher in nearby Chichester.

“I’d never had any intention of coming south but I was having a bit of a dispute at Burnley and I liked Gordon Jago – he was so welcoming and made me feel very comfortable,” said Thomas.

“Everything about the set-up was good and we just got better and better. It was a massive step for me coming to London, but I took the risk and got five of the best years of my career.”

And Thomas has nothing but praise for Sexton, who succeeded Jago as manager at Loftus Road in 1974 and took Rangers closer than they have ever been to becoming champions of England.

“Two people made a real impact on my career – Harry Potts, who I started out with at Burnley, and Dave Sexton,” Thomas added. “Dave would have worked in football for no money and there aren’t many people you can say that about.

“He had such great knowledge of the game and he always wanted to make you a better player – he got you thinking more about football and had so much respect from all the lads.

“Stan Bowles did what he liked, basically – he’d be watching the racing on a Saturday and come down to the dressing room 10 minutes before the game, but Dave knew how to handle him and he knew that Stan would give his all on the pitch. If he’d told him to be there at 2.15, Stan would probably have just walked out.”

Carrow Road has rarely been a happy hunting ground for QPR – they have won only 11 times in 70 visits and Martin Rowlands’ winning goal in Norfolk two years ago ended a sequence of six straight defeats there.

Saturday’s trip to Norwich gets under way at 3pm and Rangers return to Loftus Road to face Bristol City on Monday (also 3pm).