Monday, December 10, 2018

The Gordon Jago Interview

Our latest interview is with former QPR manager Gordon Jago. The man who signed Stan Bowles, Dave Thomas and Don Givens talks us through his time at Loftus Road as Rangers rose from the second division to become a force in the top flight.

QPRnet: You started working at QPR under Les Allen as his assistant, how did that opportunity come about? 

GJ: I returned from a two year spell with the Baltimore Bays in the USA in March of 1970.  Derek Healy, the chief scout at QPR, told Les and Jim Gregory that I was back in England and they approached me for an interview. I sat down with all three together, they offered me the position and I joined at the beginning of May 1970 just as the season ended. 

QPRnet: You were promoted to manager in 1971 after Les’ departure, was it a difficult decision to replace your old boss? 

GJ: Yes it was. The early start to the 1970/71 season was not successful and in late December 1970 I had received an offer to go back to America and become the Head Coach of the St Louis NASL Club, a short time later we lost to Swindon in the third round of the FA Cup and I decided to leave. On the Monday morning after the game I went in to see Les but he was in the Chairman’s office so I told our club secretary Ron Phillips that I was going to resign and would he prepare my final pay cheque.  

Les returned from his meeting and I told him that I would be leaving, he then told me that following his talks with the Chairman he was actually leaving and that Mr Gregory wanted to see me immediately. I went to his office and he informed me that he wanted me to take charge of the team for the next two weeks so I accepted and became the caretaker manager. I told St Louis what had happened and they agreed that they would keep their position open for me so I was in a good position as if the QPR job did not work out then I had an opportunity waiting back in America. 

QPRnet: How did you find the step up to manager, did the players make it easy for you?

GJ: It was easy in one way because I had nothing to lose. I told the players that I was just there for a short period and that I was only interested in the immediate results. I suggest that if any of them had problems to save them perhaps for a new boss and the players accepted this. I selected all senior players for the next games and our immediate results improved with a draw and two wins. Shortly after that Jim Gregory asked me to take over full time which I happily accepted.  

QPRnet: Jim Gregory had been trying to sell the club during this period was that unsettling at all for you ? 

GJ: No as I was only the caretaker manager and it was only after the two weeks ended that he asked me to take over as the permanent manager until the end of the season. Eventually he announced that he would not sell the club so I knew them that my future at the club would depend on my performance and that Jim would be the one to decide.

QPRnet: You saw out the remainder of the 1970/71 season and led the club to mid-table, did you feel there was a lot of work to do if the club were to progress? 

GJ: Yes, it had been a difficult season and I knew that there needed to be some changes with our playing personnel. I strongly felt that we had a number of really good up and coming young players like Gerry Francis and Martyn Busby and I decided that we could release some senior players to make way for them.

QPRnet: The club had its first open day in the summer of 1971, this was your idea as you wanted the fans to feel more involved, is that right?

GJ: Absolutely, it was a regular occurrence at baseball clubs in the USA and I thought it was something that we should have at QPR. Your fans are so important and therefore you should do all that you can to make them feel a part of the club and valued by it.

QPRnet: We had a good season in your first full campaign in charge but towards the end of it you lost Rodney Marsh to Manchester City, how did that come about and was it something you were in favour of?

GJ: Rodney wanted to leave QPR, he thought that, even though he’d earned his first England cap whilst playing for us, that to get carry on earning call ups he had to be with a first division club. I tried to convince him that we were heading for the first division but unfortunately Manchester City had made it no secret that they wanted him and consequently he wanted to leave. The Chairman negotiated a terrific deal for us and we received £200,000 pounds clear, which was a great deal for us at the time.

QPRnet: You made some key signings in the summer of 1972 including picking up Stan Bowles, he had something of a maverick career did people ever question your judgment over that one?

GJ: There were some people in the game that felt it was a big risk but no one at Queens Park Rangers felt that way and the Chairman was one hundred percent in favour of it.

QPRnet: Stan’s tales are legendary, how did you find him to work with?

GJ: There were plenty of tales of his problems at Manchester City but he was great, a good sense of humour, always trained hard and always wanted to win no matter if it was a five-a-side or a race on the running track. I really liked him he was a superb player for the club and for me personally he was so supportive. I still think the world of Stan.

I remember our last game of the 1972/73 season was at Sunderland, we had won promotion and Sunderland had just won the FA Cup. They decided to have the cup on show on the sidelines during the game. For some unknown reason it was a really niggly game with plenty of fouls. The large crowd were getting onto us and Tony Hazell hit a clearance that hit the cup knocking it flying. This was the last thing needed at that time and there was a move by their fans to come onto the field as they thought that Tony had deliberately aimed at the cup. As I remember we had to leave the field for a short time but eventually we continued and won 3-0.

Recently I read an article by Stan Bowles stating that he had decided to knock the cup off the table during the game and had made a bet that he would do this. In the article he describes how he got the ball on the other side of the field, dribbled across the pitch and then aimed at the cup and sent it flying. He claimed that he won good money from the bet, not bad considering that it was Tony who did the deed!

QPRnet: You also signed Dave Thomas and Don Givens that summer, so going into the 1972-73 season did you believe we had the squad to achieve promotion?

GJ: After the sale of Rodney we finished the season in fourth place, we were so near to promotion that I was concerned that without him we would struggle to do even better. We needed to strengthen our attack and with £200,000 in the bank and a Chairman who wanted success we had the opportunity to buy new players.

The key was to sign the right players. When I asked the Chairman to buy Don Givens he was not that keen but he allowed me to spend £40,000 on him as our first summer buy. The Chairman was keen on Stan Bowles as he had played so well against us just before the end of the 70/71 season so we were able to beat Crystal Palace for his signature from Carlisle for a fee of £110,000. So we spent a total of £150,000 and signed two excellent goal scoring forwards.

We were playing well and had won six, drawn six and only lost once when Martyn Busby broke his leg at Fulham. We had a very young Reserve team and there was no really experienced player to bring in. The meeting the next day following Martyn's injury was incredible; Jim Gregory called the meeting to discuss what action we should take to continue our aim for promotion. Derek Healy our Chief Scout and myself were suggesting a number of players in the £40,000 to £50,000 range when the Chairman suddenly suggested Dave Thomas, I had seen Dave a number of times and knew that he was a good player.

Leeds were making talk of a £200,000 bid for Dave and I thought he was way  out of our range having already spent £150,000. Regardless I called Jimmy Adamson at Burnley and told him of our interest and we put the two Chairmen together on the phone and they eventually agreed a price of £165,000. I then got back on with Jimmy and had him contact Dave and get him on a train to arrive in London that night telling him to make certain that he brought his boots!

Derek met Dave at Euston Station and drove him to my house in Kingston to meet myself and Club Secretary Ron Phillips. Twenty minutes later Dave had signed subject to a medical on Friday morning. We had secured a third top class forward and he played the next day against Sunderland.

QPRnet: We were in the top positions most of that season, was it easy to keep the motivation going?

GJ: There was a great atmosphere around the squad and there was a confidence that we were a good team. As well as that they had a huge desire to play first division football. They were a great group of players all with one objective to succeed.

QPRnet: We secured promotion at Cardiff with five games to spare what do you remember about the day?

GJ: It was an unbelievable day, we had finally made it and the atmosphere in the dressing room was electric. Our coach Bobby Campell was a great motivator and his enthusiasm was incredible, he led the cheers that day and rightly so for he had played a major part in helping me to bring about the success that we all wanted.

QPRnet: We just missed out on the second division title by one point, was that a disappointment or was promotion more important to you? 

GJ: Promotion was the aim for sure but we were disappointed that we did not finish as champions but all credit to Burnley for they were also a very good side.

QPRnet: The summer of 1973 sees you preparing for life in the top flight but you only made one signing in Frank McLintock, you must have felt confident that we had a very good squad already?

GJ: We were a very good team and all eleven first team players were internationals by now. When I heard that Frank was being let go by Arsenal I felt he was the one player we should sign to give us all of his knowledge of the first division as nearly all of us had not had the experience yet. Frank was superb and gave so much help to all of us in our first season back in the top flight.

QPRnet: The squad had a great mix of youth and experience with the likes of Venables and McLintock complimenting young talent like Gerry Francis – was that a good blend for you?

GJ: Yes it was exactly what we wanted in our squad, hungry young players out to prove their abilities and experienced heads such as Frank and Terry leading them through it.

QPRnet: We finished that season eighth in the first division, our best ever finish. At that point you must have been pretty satisfied with things?

GJ: Very much so, not only had we finished in such a good position but we had played superb football all season. I was very proud of what we had all achieved together.

QPRnet: We also had an excellent FA Cup run and reached the Quarter Finals where we were beaten by Leicester, how disappointed were you to miss out on the semi finals?

GJ: Both our cup defeats were probably the biggest disappointment of the season as we lost to Leicester in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and also to Plymouth in the quarter final of the League Cup.  I would have loved to have had the honour of leading out the team at Wembley but it wasn’t to be.

QPRnet: We only used eighteen players across the whole season too, that wouldn’t happen these days. Was that because the game was so much different then or did you prefer to concentrate on a smaller squad?

GJ: I liked a small but talented squad. It helped you build good team work and provided you did not have injuries you could do it at that time. Today that may not be possible but I do think that some clubs have far too big a squad these days.

QPRnet: Again the following summer you only made one signing in Dave Webb, but things got off to a slower start do you think the squad should have been added to further?

GJ: No the squad was a good one and I was very happy with it. Unfortunately we lost our goal scoring touch in those early games and drew four, lost four and only won once, all the results against us were by the odd goal.

QPRnet: You resigned in October 1974 to move to Millwall, was there any pressure on you from above to step down or was it totally your decision and if so what was your reasoning at the time?

GJ: It was my decision alone and was the most disappointing day of my whole football career. For some unknown reason the Chairman had been criticising me on so many situations in the summer months. I had been invited by Sir Alf Ramsey to be the manager of the England under twenty three team for their three game summer tour. It would have been an incredible honour for me to do this but Jim Gregory refused to let me accept it as he believed that I should go with the QPR team on our tour to Jamaica, so I informed Sir Alf that I could not go. Then a week before we were due to leave on the trip Jim informed me that I was to stay behind in case there were any possible good player transfers to be considered at that time.

Just before the beginning of the new season he questioned why we were going to travel to our away game at Manchester City on a Friday stating that we could go on Saturday morning instead. Then he asked why we had ordered a third kit, which we had got to avoid colour clashes in the Cup games. There seemed to be lots of small things that he criticised which I could not understand and that to be honest were totally unnecessary

I decided that all of this added up to the fact that for some reason he wanted me to leave and so at a board meeting on the Thursday night before our game in Manchester when he again was very critical of various aspects of the club I decided that I no longer wished to accept all this and I walked out. The next morning I cleared my desk and departed.

It was interesting that when Ron Phillips informed Jim that I was leaving he wanted to talk with me to persuade me to stay!

QPRnet: Dave Sexton came in and is fondly remembered for nearly winning the league title, do you ever feel any bitterness about that bearing in mind you had built the majority of that team?

GJ: No, absolutely no bitterness just huge disappointment. I knew that the team was going to go on to more success and having been a part of building the squad I was very sad that I would no longer be a part of that. To have gone into European Cup football as a manager would have been great, but it wasn’t to be.

QPRnet: After Millwall you returned to America and you’ve been there pretty much ever since, you must have developed a real love for the USA and their soccer?

GJ: My family and I enjoy living in The USA and although the football has never been to the standard of the English league it has always been interesting and enjoyable. That is the key for me, to enjoy what you are doing is so important and to go to work each day and enjoy yourself is all that I wish for.

QPRnet: Tell us about the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup that you’re involved with now?

GJ: It’s the most prestigious youth tournament in the world. There are one hundred and eighty teams from ages thirteen to nineteen with a super group of the very best professional under nineteen’s teams from around the world.

We have the very best officials with FIFA World Cup, Football and Premier League referees all attending  It really is a great tournament and for me it’s also a bit of an old boys reunion with so many coaches and football officials that I have known over the years visiting Dallas. Our website will tell you more.

QPRnet: How do you think management differs today, would you like to be involved in English management in this day and age?

GJ: No way! The salaries of today’s players are in too many cases ridiculous. With sixty/seventy percent of a clubs income going out on paying salaries you are going to head into trouble plus the agents have destroyed any loyalty for a player to his club. It is purely all about money now.

QPRnet: Having managed both Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles, given a choice which would you pick first if you had them both at the same time?

GJ: I would put them both in any team for they were so skilful. To select one is difficult but I would pick Stan, he was more of a team player and was more consistent from game to game. Rodney would have great games one week and average the next but it must be said they were both excellent footballers.

QPRnet: The QPR you managed must have been a very different animal to the club of today, what was it like to be around in the seventies?

GJ: It really was a great time as we were building a fantastic team and a good club plus we were also developing a great rapport with the QPR fans who were superb. Every year that I spent with QPR was great and for me to have played a part in developing the club and the team to the level we achieved was very satisfying.   To be one of twenty two managers in the First Division at an early age was something that I will always be proud of and I’ll always be very grateful to all the staff and players who made it all possible.

QPRnet: Do you still stay in touch with events at QPR?

GJ: Yes I follow all their results and I am in contact with some of the staff on occasions. The five years I spent at QPR were simply the very best of all of my time in football and the saddest day of my life was when I walked away from Loftus Road for the last time.


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QPRnet Interviews