Monday, December 10, 2018

The Frank McLintock Interview

The latest face from the past to give us some of their time is former defender Frank McLintock. Arriving at Loftus Road in the seventies from Arsenal at the age of 34 Frank went on to become a key part of a side that very nearly clinched a famous league title.

QPRnet: Frank let’s look back to when you signed for us. It’s 1973 and you decide to switch from Arsenal to QPR. How did that come about?

FM: To be honest I was bitterly disappointed to leave Arsenal but at the time I just couldn’t handle the manager dropping me. I’d been captain for a number of years and it hurt but I think Bertie Mee thought I was getting too old whereas I knew I had a lot of energy left and plenty still to give.

QPRnet: How different was it for you to be involved in a smaller club like QPR?

FM: It’s so different I can’t tell you, I wasn’t expecting a great deal to be honest, I had kids who were all in school so I really didn’t want to leave London and because of that I signed on for QPR who had just been promoted. That suited me because I knew I had three or four more years in me, I’d never played lower division football in my life and didn’t want to start now either. I gave up my testimonial to leave Arsenal because I wanted to play so badly, I probably could have made a small fortune out of that but I joined Rangers instead just to play regular football. Gordon Jago was the manager at the time and Bobby Campbell the coach there but I didn’t know what to expect. I have to say though I honestly couldn’t believe the standard I found at Loftus Road.

There were so many good players at the club but the really special ones were Phil Parkes, Gerry Francis, Stan Bowles and Dave Thomas. Those boys were way beyond what I thought they would be. After a while we got Don Masson in from Notts County, he had played third division for nine or ten years and I couldn’t believe how good he was, Don was a bit like Johnny Giles he could pass a ball with either foot, he was cocky, he could take the ball under difficult circumstances and, a bit like Fabregas, he had eyes in the back of his head you know? The combination of him and the players that were already there was superb and I think we finished up with ten internationals in the side.

After Gordon Jago and Bobby Campbell left Dave Sexton came in and took over which was a great reunion for me because he was my coach back at Arsenal in the early days. I knew how good Dave was, he went to work on us and made us from a good team into a great team.

QPRnet: How did Dave Sexton styles compare with Bertie Mee?

FM: Totally different, Bertie was never a real football man at least not when it came to coaching and tactics. That’s not to demean him at all it’s just he was a physio at the club and before that an ordinary player at Derby County. He never reached any great heights as a player but he was an excellent physio and a very disciplined man

When you got injured at Arsenal it was horrible, he would have you in at 9am through rush hour traffic, give you one hour for your lunch and send you back home at five o’clock. You never got a cup of tea off him, you couldn’t read a paper, it was just treatment and work all the time. So no one ever wanted to be injured at Arsenal.

When he took over the manager’s job we were astonished, we thought we would get Alf Ramsey or Don Revie but we finished up with Bertie. But he was very clever he allowed people like Dave Sexton and then Don Howe to completely take over the coaching. He never interfered in that, he just ran the club. It was all very professional and he had strict discipline about dress code and how to properly represent Arsenal football club.

Dave Sexton was a quieter man, you could talk to him more he was more like a friend or an ally he was a lovely person but he was a fantastic coach too. He was full of ideas, always going abroad to pick up new things and he ended up getting us playing similar to how Barcelona do now. That’s just how we operated, as soon Phil Parkes got the ball Dave Clement and Ian Gillard would run up the halfway lane, Dave Webb and I would go left and right of the six yard box, I’d normally get the ball thrown to me as I was a former midfielder and perhaps a bit more comfortable on the ball and then I’d have so many options. If Dave Clement’s man came towards me I’d chip it over his head to Dave who’d now be free. Stan Bowles would drop in deep and that would cause so many problems for the opposition because they’d want to clatter him, it was constant rotation of players and it was mind boggling for the opposition because they couldn’t pick us up at all.

QPRnet: What was the dressing room like at the time because people always say there was a great atmosphere in the squad?

FM: Great fun, I found it so relaxing being at Queens Park Rangers after Arsenal where so much is expected of you. It was almost like an old establishment at Highbury. At QPR there was a real great bunch of guys there like Terry Venables and Terry Mancini, the banter and the fun was brilliant but they all loved their football. It wasn’t just guys who pissed about they were bloody dedicated to their game. Terry Venables especially was very keen on free kicks and corners, very keen on learning about coaching. It was a brilliant set up and it must have been one of the happiest times in Dave Sexton’s life.

QPRnet: The first couple of years were mid table finishes, did the 75/76 title challenge just grow as we went along?

FM: I think it’s something that grew and grew yeh, Dave had introduced his new style of play and it’s surprising how quickly we took to it. He brought us into it bit by bit in training, we had people who were so comfortable on the ball all over the pitch so eventually he was able to see his ideas put into practice and it all came together in that season.

Let’s not forget though that we had someone like Stan Bowles in that team who was a brilliant, brilliant player. If Stan had been at a bigger club he would perhaps have been more recognised as one of the all time greats. He was fabulous, the ball stuck to him like it does with Messi, he hardly lost it and he was a great decision maker. He knew when to take people on and did it so comfortably, just drifted past them like they weren’t there. He had a nice turn of pace too, he wasn’t as quick as Don Givens, but had decent acceleration over 15 yards. He had a terrific passing ability too and he would release a ball just at the right time for somebody else and he wasn’t greedy. He was a top, top player.

QPRnet: Missing out on the title that year still hurts fans and players from the time, how did it affect you?

FM: Very, very disappointing because I was 37 I wanted to finish on a high and to win another championship and that would have been fantastic for me personally. I remember the game against Norwich very well, Dave Clement who was normally so reliable headed it back to Phil Parkes but he didn’t get enough connection on it, it dropped in-between them and one of the Norwich players nipped in and headed it past Phil and we got beat.

Even then we were top of the league, well we finished our fixtures top of the league of course but Liverpool played their last game ten days after ours which was ridiculous really. They played Wolves and as you will all know Wolves were one up with 15 minutes to go.

I had a pub at the time and it was absolutely heaving with TV cameras and radio people, they were all there ready to interview me if we won the league. Then in the last fifteen minutes, typical Liverpool they scored three goals and the pub was empty within five minutes. They never stayed to buy a drink either just all fucked off and left me! It was so lonely and I was so pissed off, it would have been wonderful to win the Championship with Queens Park Rangers and I think we deserved it too.

QPRnet: The following season we had a UEFA Cup campaign which was something new for QPR but not for you. I imagine it was helpful having someone around who’d been through it before?

FM: Well there’s a big difference between playing against continental teams, back then they would pop it about for ages and you would feel extremely comfortable playing them, you start think this is ok actually. Then after 15 or 20 minutes you settle down and they are probing here and there but being patient and you’re thinking this is a bit of a doddle really. There was no big centre forward like back home and they would just carry on with intelligent probing  then all of a sudden bang, a goal, they are in front and you think ‘lucky bastards where did that come from’. Then before you know it you are two nothing down. You don’t feel under pressure but you suddenly lose a couple of goals.

We had some classics with QPR on that run, I remember going through against Cologne and then the Athens game which went to penalties and we ultimately lost which was a real shame. What surprised me that day was I remember Don Givens wouldn’t take one of the penalties, I grabbed the ball and took it myself and thankfully scored it because I didn’t take that many. I was a wee bit disappointed in Don that night for refusing one because you’d expect your forwards of all people to take them.

So we got beat on penalties but we were the better team over the ties and  I think a lot of the decisions went against us though. To be honest I found that happened a lot in those days when playing in Europe for both QPR and Arsenal. I think the referees were got at and I’m not saying that loosely I really do feel it’s true.

QPRnet: That season we struggled in the league, was that the new demands of a fourth competition taking their toll?

FM: I think so, we had a small squad you know. I played in most of the games that year and I was 37 at the time. We had a set of around sixteen players then so the travelling and a wee bit of weariness maybe took its toll on us. It would have been nice if QPR could have afforded a couple of smashing buys just to bolster the team up but that didn’t happen.

QPRnet: You finished up at Rangers aged 37, not many players play to that age even now, what kept you going?

FM: I always had a great drive in me, I throw myself into things really I still do these days. Back then though I just loved playing and I think I could have played longer if I’d trained less. I trained too much, I remember Bobby Charlton told me he would train hard just once a week but I’d thrash myself every day and looking back I don’t think I needed it and I don’t think it helped.

There were no substitutes in those days, a big heavy ball, heavy boots and the pitches were terrible in comparison to today but under all those circumstances I played for some great teams with some great individuals and all of the guys I played with back then loved their football much more than modern day footballers I believe.

QPRnet: I was going through a cupboard the other day and found an old QPR official supporters club magazine from 1977, front page there’s a picture of you, ‘star interview Frank McLintock’. There’s one bit in this I love. They asked you “have you got any criticism of the Rangers supporters” and you say you “find they get impatient when you call for the ball from Phil Parkes and try and play it around because they want it banged up the pitch”.  The thing I find funny is everyone these days would say stop lumping it, pass the ball, it was so much better in the seventies, back then you’re getting stick for it!

FM: Bloody hell really! It did take a bit of bottle to keep wanting it and keep passing it because people weren’t really used to that style of play and all credit to Dave Sexton for seeing it through and picking players that could handle it as well.

There is a balance though, you see Barcelona and even Arsenal these days and sometimes there’s forty passes before they reach the halfway line and I think that’s over doing it. I like the balance between passing it on the deck, having good control but when you get into the last third have a final product - whip a quick ball in between the back four and the goalkeeper, have someone there with a diving header. I love the passing game but I like to see an end product and I makes me laugh when you see people saying we had seventy odd percent of possession but they never went anywhere! That pisses me off that.

QPRnet: When you look back on your QPR is there anything that sticks out for you, that always come to mind as a great moment for you.

FM: I remember we were playing Slovan Bratislava and I think we beat them 5-2. Their coach afterwards came out and said we were more continental than a continental team which I thought was a tremendous tribute to us and a deserved tribute to Dave Sexton who was a fantastic, innovative coach and an incredible man.

That and to be honest just generally playing for QPR was a such a pleasure, I loved Arsenal of course and we achieved so much there but my time at Rangers was really special.

When you consider all the things that were wrong at the place, I mean we went to a piss hole of a training ground every day. We used to have socks in the morning that were stinking and smelling, full of holes and covered in yesterdays dried mud. You’d have to rip them apart to open them up just to get your foot in them. The grass was a foot deep in mud but somehow it didn’t bother us. We just laughed, enjoyed our days but still worked bloody hard in training.

It was a marvellous time, I was so lucky really to have eight great years at Leicester City, ten years at Arsenal which were a joy and then, just when I’m thinking my career was more or less finished, I had four superb years at QPR and I can’t tell you how fantastic it was. 

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