Our latest interview is with former R's star John Hollins. He was part of that great Rangers side that came so close to the league title in the 70's and a member of our coaching staff through the late 90's. John talks us through his time at Loftus Road and beyond.
QPRnet.com: You moved across from Chelsea in 1975, what made you switch sides?
JH: I was told by the manager at Chelsea that he was going for younger players and I was too old. I got offered about seventy quid a week to go down to QPR and I took the chance. Dave Sexton being there was a massive plus for me, once I knew he wanted me that was it, decision made.
QPRnet.com: You were approaching 30 at the time and a lot of the players we were bringing in were around that age, do you think having such an experienced side helped us?
JH: Absolutely, you had quality players in every position. You can list them all, people like Parkes, Gillard, Clement, McLintok, Francis, Masson, Thomas, Bowles it was fantastic times at QPR.
QPRnet.com: Many fans, not just Rangers fans, remember that side as being such a great footballing one, how enjoyable was it for you to play in?
JH: As you said we were so experienced so we weren’t fazed or concerned by anything. The only thing that could have hurt us was the amount of games we played in those days and usually on such appalling pitches. But you adapted to it through your experience and we never made excuses. In some ways that cost us but we had ability throughout the side, we had a good mix of players with energy, strength and pace plus nobody dared mess about with us.
QPRnet.com: Stan is the man who stands out from the time but of course the side was packed with quality throughout wasn’t it?
JH: Stan was actually very underestimated due to all the things he did, and all the rumours you hear about him, off the pitch. He was a top, top footballer, he was clever, not the tallest but he was so strong. He got kicked around and his ankles were always in a terrible state, but he never felt sorry for himself and he always got up and got on with it. He wasn’t a diver but he took some terrible whacks. He was no more than five nine but he was so strong, with such ability and he had this uncanny ability of making people fall for the same trick every time!
I had a lot of time for Stan he was a good guy who loved his football. Everyone in the team did really, we all wanted to play and just loved playing football.
QPRnet.com: You mentioned Dave Sexton there, everyone who played for him says how ahead of his time he was and how revolutionary his coaching was?
JH: Absolutely, he is a quiet man but his knowledge was out of this world. If he was in his prime now he would be a top manager in the Premier League. In the early days when we were at Chelsea back in the 60’s he’d be going over to Italy to watch their football, seeing how they play, how they adapt, how they break defences down and he’d bring that back with him.
QPRnet.com: Did you learn a lot from him and take into your coaching career?
JH: Oh yes, I would say that I learned more from him than any other manager I worked with. People say we were already a good team when he got there but you need someone to guide you through and he did that better than anyone. He took us into Europe and but for a penalty shoot out we might have got a lot further.
QPRnet.com: The season you signed was the season we finished runners up to Liverpool. When you joined did you see that kind of potential in the squad?
JH: I don’t think it took us by surprise, we all had an immediate bond with each other. I hadn’t played with any of these guys but we all knew each through various times and places and all of a sudden we were put together in a team. We all got on extremely well and there were no big egos to deal with, we all thought we were good players and we just got on with it and did the job.
We beat Liverpool in the first game of the season, I pulled a hamstring in the first half and I took a little bit of time to get back into the team after that. I had to fight to get back in the team, nowadays people would be asking for a move. Our squad had about seventeen men in it and Dave astutely placed players in the positions he needed and made us all want it so much.
QPRnet.com: Obviously our fate was sealed when Liverpool played a week after our season had finished and won the league. What did you do with yourself during that game?
JH: I listened to the Liverpool game at home I remember Keegan scoring, as he always did, but that’s the way it goes if you leave it to other people. We took it to the last game, we couldn’t do much more than that.
If I have to say we lost it then I would say we lost it at Norwich, I can remember one of their players, they used to call him Diesel, he used to run through brick walls that fella! He never scored all that many for them and he hit a shot which Parkes had covered but it came off Dave Clement’s back and flipped over him into the net. When they made it 3-1 it was miles offside too. Gerry pulled it back to 3-2 then we hit the bar. That one point would have got us through.
We had Jim Gregory as chairman of course and I think he was quite ahead of his time really, he developed the stadium, he knew his product, he got good managers in and good players and I think he actually made money most of the time rather than lose it. He was one of the first Chairman to run a club as a business and make it pay its own way.
QPRnet.com: The following season we had the run in Europe, what went wrong on the night against Athens.
JH: We had a good advantage going over there but there were lots of little things that you could complain about, a bad pitch, the referee being a bit “different” as always. They made a change that won it though, in the last couple of minutes they subbed their keeper and bought on one who was good at saving penalties and I think he saved two or three and that was it.
It was a good run though I can remember beating teams heavily on the way because we could always score a lot of goals with that side. The game against Cologne sticks out though, we thought we’d lost when the whistle went but it turned out we’d won on away goals! We all went trudging off and someone had to tell us we’d actually gone through.
QPRnet.com: Unfortunately we started to slide down the league over the next couple of years and ended up getting relegated, what went wrong there?
JH: Well the players we had were ageing, Gerry had lots of back injuries, he’d play half a game then miss six, we lost Parkes to West Ham of course so we tried to bring through some young players but it was always a struggle.
QPRnet.com: What was more disappointing losing the title in ’76 or being relegated in ’79?
JH: I don’t think you can separate the two really, one is an unbelievable high that we missed out on and the other is a massive low that we didn’t. You look back and try and find moments or games where we lost it but you can’t really. It’s all about where the club was at the time. There was plenty of optimism at the start of the season but it soon wears off when the results don’t go your way. Frank Sibley was in charge and he was a young manager, we’d finished a few off the bottom the previous season, which was an achievement in itself for him, but it all caught up with us the next year.
QPRnet.com: After your time at Rangers you moved onto Arsenal how did that come about?
JH: Tommy Doherty had come in by then and he told me he wanted to bring some kids through, I said I was a bit old to play for the youth team and he said ‘you’ve got in one John’, so I was on my way out. I was bought by Rangers for £80,000 and sold to Arsenal for the same money.
QPRnet.com: You played on until long into your 30’s which wasn’t that common back then, did you have a different approach to your career that helped you prolong it?
JH: I just kept fit really, I finished playing at Chelsea at 39, I went back there and played a season in the second division. We won the championship that year and I played 30 odd games, then I became their manager at the age of 40.
QPRnet.com: You returned to Rangers as part of the coaching staff in the 90’s, it must have been nice to be back?
JH: Oh it was, we had a good set up with myself, Ray Wilkins, Billy Bonds, Frank Sibley etc. I was running the reserves of course but I loved every moment of that.
QPRnet.com: You took charge after Stuart Houston left on a caretaker basis, you wanted the job, how disappointed were you not to get it?
JH: I thought I had the experience to do a good job but obviously others didn’t agree, Ray Harford got position and we never really moved forward. That’s life though.
QPRnet.com: The one thing I remember from your first home game in charge was you dropped all of our ex Arsenal players, the crowd loved it, everyone was signing “We’re not Arsenal anymore” was that a purely tactical decision or were you trying to stamp your authority on things?
JH: I picked players I felt would play for me. I’d won the reserves league with Tony Roberts in goal and I thought he was the better option there, same with the others really. I wanted to get the job full time so I picked players that I trusted to give me everything they had to help me achieve that.
QPRnet.com: You were promoted to assistant manager for a season under Harford, then he let you go and replaced you with Vinnie Jones…
JH: Well to be precise Vinnie came, and I left, I wasn’t going to be at the same club as him.
QPRnet.com: If you could roll back time and either be manager of QPR or playing for QPR, which would you choose?
JH: I wouldn’t change a thing in my career to be honest, I’ve managed at all different levels, from the top down. I’ve gone north, east, south and west in this country. I’ve managed in China and Saudi Arabia, I won a championship with Swansea, their first one in 34 years. I feel pretty good about my career, what I’ve done and what I’ve learned from the people I worked with.
I’m indebted to Dave Sexton because he got me interested in coaching at a very early age, his style is my style, or I would like to think it was. He’s a good man, a very straightforward honest man who gives you everything he’s got and you cant ask for more than that.
QPRnet.com: You’ve had some pretty unique experiences as a manager then, how was working in China?
JH: It was northern China, miles from anywhere you don’t see a European for weeks at a time and the language was impossible. It was tough, but at the end of the day the balls are the same, the pitches are the same, players are the same, I enjoyed it greatly and I learned a lot too.
QPRnet.com: Was your favourite memory of QPR?
JH: Simply walking into the dressing room for the first time at Rangers, I just knew we’d all get along. It always was a friendly club and still is, as soon as you go through the door someone will recognise you and start talking about the old days, that’s something that’s very, very important and QPR have always been good at that.
I enjoyed my time at Rangers, I was made to feel extremely welcome at QPR by everybody, it’s important to feel wanted and everyone from the manager and the directors to the supporters were all brilliant. You get into it, I put the hoops on and I was a Rangers man. I was part of a wonderful team and we wanted to win something, we should have done and I’m more than a little bit sorry that we didn’t.