Former QPR stars’ praise for Dave Sexton, the man who nearly made them champions
Players from the best team in QPR’s history have paid tribute to Dave Sexton after their former manager passed away at the age of 82.
Sexton took Rangers closer to the League championship than any other manager in 1976, when they were pipped at the post by Liverpool with just 13 minutes of the season remaining.
He also guided the Rs to the last eight of the UEFA Cup and the League Cup semi-finals before ending his three-year spell at Loftus Road to take over at Manchester United.
Winger Dave Thomas, who became an England international while playing under Sexton, told london24.com: “As a person and a football man, he was the most genuine person I’ve met.
“Dave would have worked for nothing and there are very few people like that in the world of football – he wasn’t the sort of person who’d think ‘what’s in it for me?’
“He was an unassuming, modest guy, but people didn’t cross him. He was so knowledgeable – he always had the interest of the players at heart and wanted to improve you.
“If you had a conversation with him, it would always revert back to football. He was a coach really, rather than a manager. He didn’t like confrontation and he didn’t want anything to do with players’ contracts.
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“The nucleus was there when Gordon Jago was manager and he deserves a lot of credit, but Dave took it to another level. People will always remember him for that wonderful side we had.”
The son of a professional boxer, Sexton was born in Islington and began his playing career with Luton before moving on to West Ham, Leyton Orient, Brighton and Crystal Palace.
He joined the coaching staff at Chelsea and had brief spells as Orient boss and Arsenal’s first-team coach before returning to Stamford Bridge as manager in 1967.
Sexton led Chelsea to FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup victories in successive seasons, but was sacked in 1974 and QPR chairman Jim Gregory quickly snapped him up as Jago’s replacement.
The following season, Sexton’s side – including the likes of Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis and the free-scoring Don Givens – achieved an incredible run of 11 wins from 12 games to put themselves within sight of the title.
But a 3-2 defeat at Norwich on Easter Saturday ultimately cost Rangers the crown as Liverpool edged past them, overturning a 1-0 deficit to beat Wolves 3-1 and finish a point clear.
Sexton’s four years at Old Trafford were followed by a spell in charge of Coventry and he went on to become a successful England under-21 manager as well as serving as the FA’s technical director.
His devotion to football was illustrated by his habit of travelling to Europe to watch matches at his own expense, gleaning tactical ideas that he would bring back to the English game.
Thomas recalled: “We had a training camp in Germany and there was a second division side there as well, who were using these new dummies for free-kicks on the training ground.
“At that time we had nothing like that in England – players used to stand in the wall as they did in a match situation – so Dave bought all these dummies and took the home.
“We all had to pick them up off the conveyor belt at the airport and carry them through customs. Can you imagine any Premier League players doing that today?
“We used to have a player of the month award at QPR. After every game we had a vote on a Monday morning, we’d write our man of the match on a slip of paper and give it to Dave.
“At the end of the month the winner had the option of a carriage clock or a cigarette lighter and Dave used to buy it out of his own pocket and get it engraved as well. That showed the sort of man he was.”
Francis was appointed England captain while playing under Sexton and most other members of that QPR side also gained international honours, including long-serving left-back Ian Gillard.
“I personally think he would have been an ideal candidate for the England manager’s job,” Gillard told london24.com. “I played under some really good managers at QPR, but Dave was the number one.
“The man was different class – he was an excellent coach, very good technically, and he brought the best out of players, not just me but so many others.
“He was a quiet man, very diplomatic and he just got on with his job. He always had different ideas and different methods – he’d try them out on the players in training and it showed on a Saturday.
“What we achieved with the squad we had, no other QPR team have ever come anywhere near that. He spent a bit of cash on Don Masson, but we were mostly free transfers and he knitted it all together.
“Whoever was going to take over from Dave, it was always going to be hard for them and it wasn’t until Terry Venables came in that he got things anywhere near where they used to be.
“Dave was a gentleman, he helped me a hell of a lot and I had the utmost respect for him. He was like a second dad to me and it was a very sad moment when I heard that he’d passed away.”