The day when QPR had six appeal
QPR fans are basking in the feel-good factor right now – but it can’t come close to the euphoric mood that engulfed Loftus Road almost exactly 25 years ago.
As they savour the prospect of facing Chelsea on equal terms again next season, Rangers fans of a certain age will fondly recall probably their most memorable derby day triumph of all time, on Easter Monday - March 31, 1986.
There could be little doubt as to who ruled the roost in west London at that time after Rangers – who had won at Stamford Bridge two months earlier to knock Chelsea out of the League Cup – subjected their neighbours to a 6-0 thrashing.
Gary Bannister wrote his name into QPR folklore with a hat-trick – a feat he would repeat against Chelsea 18 months later – while strike partner John Byrne scored twice and Chelsea’s David Speedie was sent off before substitute Leroy Rosenior banged in number six.
And Rangers centre-back Steve Wicks, who had previously played for Chelsea and would later return to the Blues for a second spell, realised exactly what the scale of victory meant to the home crowd.
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Wicks, who now helps out on matchdays at Loftus Road in a corporate hospitality role, told the Times: “I think we were always perceived as the smaller club, and that day felt like we’d taught big brother a lesson.
“I used to mix with some of the Chelsea players when I was at QPR and some of them were full of themselves, they thought they were better than they were.
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“But QPR always used to beat them and, when we had our best side of that period under Terry Venables, with players like Simon Stainrod, Clive Allen and John Gregory, they weren’t even in our division.
“We were the established First Division side and Chelsea were the new kids on the block, but they still felt they were the bigger club. That day, though, we just played brilliantly from the first whistle.
“Everything we tried came off and I felt that, the way we were playing, it could be a real rout. I remember looking at the clock when the fifth goal went in and realising we’d still got well over 20 minutes to go.
“It was a great day for all QPR fans. In all the years I played for QPR, that game and the 5-5 draw with Newcastle are the two I’ll always remember.
“Chelsea were actually going quite well at that time – David Speedie and Kerry Dixon were scoring regularly, but our team was based on a strong defensive unit and we felt if we kept them quiet we could take the game by the scruff of the neck.
“Teams would come to Loftus Road, panic a bit and hit long balls and, when you’ve got two guys who are six foot plus at the back – myself and Alan McDonald – that was just playing into our hands.”
At the time, few teams enjoyed visiting Loftus Road – not only because of the goal threat posed by Bannister and Byrne, but also the artificial surface, with its unpredictable bounce, that had been installed in 1981.
Chelsea chairman Ken Bates was an outspoken critic of the Omniturf pitch but, as Wicks reveals, it became something of a psychological mountain for Blues players after their humbling in 1986.
“We’d absolutely dominated the game when we played Chelsea in the cup quarter-final that year, but they got a late equaliser, so we had to go to Stamford Bridge for a replay,” Wicks recalled.
“You wondered if we might have missed our chance. Also, Ken Bates had written that article in the programme, saying ‘now we’ve got them on grass, we’ll show them how to play’.
“When Michael Robinson scored to put us through, it was the most wonderful feeling. What made it special for me was that I was captain for the replay, because Terry Fenwick was called away on England duty.
“But the 6-0 became almost a mental thing for Chelsea. When I was playing for them a year or two later at Loftus Road, there were still a lot of players who’d been involved in that game and they went onto the plastic pitch with trepidation.
“Pat Nevin, for instance, was one of the most skilful players I played with and it should have been a dream surface for him, but it didn’t work out that way and Gary Bannister scored another hat-trick.
“Gary was a very good finisher on that plastic pitch – he knew just how the ball would run, he anticipated the bounce so well and made Chelsea pay again.”
While Rangers fans can at least await the prospect of regaining a genuine derby fixture for the first time since their Division Two tussles with Brentford, Wicks acknowledges that the club have some distance to go before they can dream of lording it over Chelsea once more.
“It’s important that the people in charge of the club understand that, if you’re going into the Premier League, there’s got to be substantial investment,” added the 54-year-old.
“Don’t get me wrong, the lads in the squad have done a brilliant job this season – people like Paddy Kenny and Shaun Derry have been outstanding – and they should keep a lot of them, but they will need more Premier League quality.
“Playing Chelsea again will be fantastic. I love hearing the crowd singing ‘come on you Rs’ when the ground’s full – it’s a special atmosphere and very different to what Chelsea will be used to.
“I hope West Ham stay up because games against them were always good occasions too. With Arsenal, Spurs and Fulham as well, there are so many things for QPR fans to look forward to.”