QPR legend rues lack of goal poachers

THERE was once a time when that mythical figure, the 20-goals-plus striker, was an indispensable asset for any team with promotion ambitions.

But it seems that era is over. Newcastle and West Brom raced to promotion last season, but neither of them possessed a player who broke the 20-goal barrier – and QPR don’t appear likely to either.

Rangers are sitting comfortably at the top of the Championship but, although Jamie Mackie made a blistering start to the campaign, he has been stuck on eight goals since late September and is now behind Adel Taarabt.

Taarabt, of course, is the Rs’ regular penalty-taker – but it was a different story 38 years ago when Don Givens led the front line for Gordon Jago’s side and had netted 15 goals by Christmas, not including a single spot-kick.

The Republic of Ireland star went on to grab 26 goals in all competitions that season – a total that only one QPR player, Les Ferdinand, has matched since – to help Rangers back to the top flight as Division Two runners-up.

“You worked for the team but, if you were a centre-forward, you had to put something on the table to justify your selection and I’m not so sure it’s like that any more,” Givens told the Times.

“Lots of front players want to drop off and play nearer midfield – even with kids growing up, there doesn’t seem to be that hunger for goals any more.

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“Of course, it can tip too much the other way if someone’s shooting from stupid positions, but it certainly does no harm to have somebody who can put the ball in the net. You certainly can’t just pray and hope the goals are going to come along.

“Top teams prefer rotation now, of course, and I certainly wouldn’t have been happy with that. If you’ve trained all week, you want to play.

“There were years at QPR when I wasn’t injured at all, so I played in every game. Also, for us playing could mean 40 per cent of your salary – now you have people getting �40,000 a week and not even sitting on the bench.”

Jago forked out �110,000 to sign Givens from Luton in the summer of 1972 and, within three months, had also brought in Stan Bowles (Carlisle) and Dave Thomas (Burnley), also for six-figure fees.

The trio all became mainstays of the front line as Rangers clinched promotion that season and, three years later, came within a whisker of claiming the League title.

“At the time I joined, QPR bought Stan Bowles, Dave Thomas and myself for a total of about �400,000,” added Givens.

“Nowadays that seems like nothing but, at the time, it showed real intent and ambition for a Second Division club.

“There were already some big players there, like Gerry Francis and Terry Venables – we had a great spirit in the team and went from strength to strength. I quickly gained a lot of confidence due to Venables, who talked to me a lot.

“He was very influential at the club and already, in his mind, he was starting to coach. As a forward, that QPR side was a great team to play in – the front three bedded in quickly and we were very attack-minded.

“The work you did off the ball was most rewarding and you were always in touch with the midfield. With players like Francis, Venables and Micky Leach coming through the middle we created plenty of chances.

“People say the game’s faster now, but I’m not so sure that QPR team wouldn’t be able to hold their own today. Every game in League One and Two is played on a billiard table now, compared to pitches we had!”

QPR’s memorable challenge for the title in 1976 did earn them the consolation prize of a UEFA Cup place for the first time and their run to the quarter-finals the following season stands out as one of the highlights of the Irishman’s six years at Loftus Road.

“We did have some good nights in Europe, especially those two games against Slovan Bratislava,” Givens recalled. “They had five or six of the Czechoslovakia side that were European champions at the time.

“Those were terrific games and I scored three against them at home, so that sticks in my mind. But not too many teams would have gone there and played three up front away from home.”

Givens, who went on to play for Birmingham and Sheffield United, is now 61 and recently stood down from a 10-year stint in charge of the Ireland under-21 side.

But he continues to work as the FAI’s chief scout at all levels in the UK, a role which recently brought him back to Loftus Road to see Rangers’ 0-0 draw with Norwich.

“Although it wasn’t one of QPR’s best performances, I saw some good things there,” said Givens. “Once you get to this stage of the season the table doesn’t lie. I think they will do it and I hope so.”