GOOD, BAD & UGLY
Former QPR midfielder, Aldershot and Wycombe boss Gary Waddock reflects
GARY Waddock is used to being written off. A dynamic midfielder for the great QPR side of the 80s, a serious knee injury saw his contract paid up amid rumours of retirement.
One operation, 13 years and 350 appearances later, he was still turning out for Luton at the grand old age of 36.
Then, as a manager, Waddock lasted just two months at Loftus Road before joining Aldershot, a club given no hope of promotion to the Football League. Less than a year later, the Shots had romped to the Conference title.
Since then, the 53-year-old has led Wycombe out of League Two, managed Oxford and had a caretaker spell at Portsmouth. Now out of the game, he is determined to bounce back once again. And with almost four decades of experience in the game, the former Millwall, Bristol Rovers and Luton man has plenty of tales to tell...
QPR. They spotted me playing for the district and I went in for a trial. I joined as a schoolboy and went right through – youth team, reserves and first team.
My debut was against Charlton, under Tommy Docherty at the time. I turned up at the ground and found out I was in the squad – I only had an hour to take it all in. I think Tommy handled that the right way because if he’d told me on the Friday I wouldn’t have been able to sleep. I’ll never forget it though, we won four-nil.
It was a brilliant time to play for QPR – we won promotion to the First Division, got to an FA Cup final and played in Europe.
Terry Venables. He came into QPR in 1980 when I was a young player and he put an incredible side together.
There was a lot to admire about Terry. In terms of coaching and tactics, he was years ahead of his time, as he showed by bringing success to Barcelona. His manmanagement skills were tremendous, too – he’d have a laugh and a joke at the right time, but he knew when to pull away and become the manager.
It was a shame Terry didn’t manage for longer but, when you really look at it, what was left to achieve? He’d managed in the First Division, he’d managed England, he’d managed a European giant. He’s probably sitting back and enjoying life now.
I can’t name just one. Gerry Francis was an England captain and a fantastic footballer. As a young pro coming through, he was the one I looked up to. Tony Currie was another who was a real role model.
Then there was Stan Bowles – dear me. He would rock up at about ten to three, get changed, miss the warm-up and still be the best player on the park. Outstanding natural ability.
Finally, I’d say Liam Brady for the Republic of Ireland. He was a supremely talented individual who, at that stage, was one of the best players in the world. He had everything, and developed into an even better player by going to the likes of Sampdoria and Juventus where he is still revered to this day.
Dexter Blackstock for QPR comes close, but I’d have to say Nikki Bull, my goalkeeper at Aldershot and Wycombe. That season we won promotion from the Conference, he was as important as any centreforward – he’d save you 20 goals a season. The amount of games and points he won us was amazing.
To the First Division – what is now the Premier League – with QPR in 1983. The year before we’d taken Tottenham to a replay in the FA Cup final and that gave everyone the belief we were good enough. In the end, we won it by a distance – we had a couple of games to spare. I was only 22, which probably gave me a false impression of how easy football was!
Steve Burke at QPR. He was ex-Nottingham Forest and a real character. His speciality was impersonations – he did a Brian Clough that was spot-on and incredibly funny. Alan McDonald, god bless him, was another largerthan-life character. Every dressing room needs people like them.
I was away with Ireland and we had a team meeting the day before the game. The manager, Eoin Hand, was giving us a passionate team-talk.
But behind him there was a blackboard, a great big thing you put tactics on. Well, as Eoin was talking, you could just see it start to fall.
He was oblivious but all the lads could see it heading for him and it eventually smashed him on the head.
It was a big old thing and, looking back, you think ‘Wow, that could have been serious’. But at the time, everybody was pretending to be concerned while secretly trying not to burst out laughing.
Which one do you want? Playing in the FA Cup final is an incredible experience, something not many players ever do. I was very proud of that.
As a manager, it was obviously the promotions with Wycombe and Aldershot. Neither club had a lot of money, but had a great group of players who wanted it more than anything.
At Aldershot, we were way out of the betting. Nobody expected anything. But we started well, went on a run and the players gained a lot of confidence from it. Every-
body was writing us off, saying ‘Once they hit the top they’ll fall apart’.
But they’d reckoned without a fantastic group of players who dealt with that pressure fantastically.
The injury that forced me to retire in this country – a ruptured medial ligament at QPR. I was only 23-24.
In today’s football, it’s not that serious. Back then, it was a bad one. And there were a number of other factors that meant my time in this country was done.
But I ended up going over to Belgium with Charleroi, did well, then came back to play for Millwall, Bristol Rovers and Luton. I finally retired at 36, which isn’t bad for someone with a dodgy knee.
TOUGHEST PLACE TO GO
Anfield in the 80s. Those were the Liverpool glory days and they were right on it, the team to beat. You’d like to think you went there full of confidence, but no matter who they played, they had 11 world-class individuals on the pitch. It was hard not to be intimidated.
They had Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Hansen. People who could beat you and kick you in equal measure. It was a great place to play, but always a very tough game.
Graeme Souness. He had everything. He could hit 40-yard passes, he could score goals. And as everybody knows, he could certainly tackle. I was on the end of one or two, and you don’t forget them.
Everything they said about him was true. He was a fearsome opponent. These days, he’d have had more red cards than you could count.
But, that said, I don’t think many players from those days would stay on the field of play long now. We were all hard, but fair.
Quite simple – to get back into coaching and management. When I’m an old man, I’ll be happy to look back at my success. Right now, I’ve still got more to achieve.
I’ve been very fortunate. As a player, I reached the highest level. As a manager, I’ve got experience at every level from League One to the Conference, and won two promotions.
I’m proud of my experience and I want to keep using it.
Best signing: Nikki Bull Best player: Gerry Francis Funny man: Alan McDonald Biggest achievement: Aldershot promotion
PASS MASTER: Gary Waddock in action for QPR against Southampton in the 1980s Toughest place to go: Anfield in the 80s Best manager: Terry Venables Toughest opponent: Graeme Souness