Our latest interview is with one of Rangers greatest ever full backs, David Bardsley. Now working for Ajax and based in America he talked us through his times at Rangers good and bad, his thoughts on the future and the chances of seeing another Bardsley in Hoops.
QPRnet.com: You joined Rangers from Oxford in 1989, how did the move come about?
DB: The late Chris Gieler got in touch with me one evening and made me aware there was an interest from QPR. I’d picked up an injury from Oxford so that delayed things a little bit but it came off for me in the end which was great for me. I played most of my football in the first division and Oxford had been relegated so I was going straight back to where I’d come from, everyone wants to play at the top level so that was a big attraction of course.
QPRnet.com: You were seen as a winger when you first arrived, how easy did you find the conversion to full back?
DB: Well I started my career as a defender, I played full back as an England Youth International but Graham Taylor played me on the wing a couple of times, including the FA Cup Quarter Finals we had against Arsenal and it kind of went from there. When I moved to Oxford I dropped back again so I’m never really sure where the winger thing came from, I played there a bit of course but full back was always my favourite position.
The first few games at QPR were a bit iffy for me playing wide and I didn’t really want to play there. When Don Howe took over it worked out well for me, he put me back where I belonged and I went on to great things from my point of view.
QPRnet.com: It’s fair to say the fans didn’t immediately take to you, how aware of you of the stick you were getting?
DB: Yeah I struggled because I didn’t want to be playing on the wing, I came to the club as a full back and I did not want to be a wide player and that may have shown in my performances to start with. I think the first time Don played me at full back was against Millwall in an FA Cup game at Loftus Road, we won the game 1-0, the team went on a good run and I settled into right back from there.
Don was a great man to work for, there was no one better to learn from than him but at the end of that season he got moved out and Gerry came in and things got even better. I was fortunate to work with two good managers in a row and play with some great players at the same time like Peter Reid and Ray Wilkins.
QPRnet.com: That season we went on a good run in the FA Cup and we had three games against your home town side Blackpool, they must have been enjoyable for you?
DB: They were good games for me although we didn’t play well as a team. We went backwards and forwards a couple of times then finished them off at home. It was good because Blackpool is a special club for me having started and finished my career there and it’s always nice to go back to your old club like that.
I didn’t really get the chance to go back to Watford much with QPR, I think we played them once in a pre-season friendly and that was a special day for me because I loved my time at Watford. I never wanted to leave Watford but unfortunately Dave Bassett came in and broke up, what I classified as, a really good team. We were finishing high up in the first division year in year out and he just broke it up for no reason whatsoever, but there you go, all things come to an end.
QPRnet.com: That FA Cup run saw us play five replays in the four rounds we were in, how much does that take out of a player and can you see the reasoning for scrapping replays, having been involved in so many?
DB: From a fitness point of view you just don’t need them with league games coming up every Saturday but as a player, if you’re on a roll then you’d be happy to play every day. For me it was always about the playing rather than the training. When a team is winning you want to play again and again.
QPRnet.com: In the league Rangers were producing consistent mid table finishes, did you always feel the club had more potential than that though?
DB: It was always a money thing at QPR, when we finished fifth in that famous season Gerry had spent virtually no money. We had a group of lads who had all come from the lower leagues and we just had a no frills bunch of players and it helped make us successful. For me we were always going to do well in the division but we never spent or replaced players when they left and that showed me where the club stood financially.
Even with Mr. Thomson in charge, and he did great things for us players, it was disappointing that we couldn’t have gone that one step further. The first five or six years we did cut it year in year out, the fans had some great times and I’ll never forget it. I can remember every minute of every game really, I just loved that club, and I never envisaged I’d leave QPR. I’m gutted I’m not there now in all honesty but people make bad decisions and you just have to change and move on.
QPRnet.com: That was the last great side Rangers had and it’ll probably be a long time before we have that good again, it must have been a fantastic team to play in?
DB: We were hard to beat you know, we had some great full backs in myself and Willo, who was the best uncapped left back in England at the time. Big Macca was fantastic for the club of course and then Darren came in and did well. Then we had Ray in midfield, Olly came along and did a really fantastic job and all credit to him for what he achieved, he came in from Bristol Rovers and cut it in the Premier League and that’s a great thing.
We had good players in all positions and there were no big time Charlie’s, plus we had a good manager in Gerry, every respect to him for what he achieved with us, of course we had to follow it through on the field as well and when we were flying we felt we were never going to get beat.
QPRnet.com: When you were at your peak England were short of quality right backs and despite a man of the match performance against Poland you never played for England again, did Graham Taylor ever explain his thinking to you?
DB: I’ve got a lot of respect for Graham Taylor and I still speak to him on and off but he lost the plot a bit when he was in charge of England. He just had this thing in his head that if you played for Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool then you had to play for England and he made errors in judgment. The game after Poland we traveled to Norway, he changed the team and we got leathered 3-0 and were practically out of the World Cup. Maybe if he’d just stuck to the squad he had in the Poland game then we might not have done too badly.
Lee Dixon was the person I was trying to knock out of the England team and for me he was a reasonable full back playing with good players at his club but when he was on a big stage with England he struggled a bit, that said I still have respect for him and his achievements in the game but the bottom line is Graham chose the way he wanted to go but I felt I should have had a lot more caps than I did. It was incredibly disheartening to play that well and then get dropped.
I remember the European Championships the year before, I’d been playing well but got left out and they played Keith Curle instead. Now Keith was a centre half and whilst he had pace he couldn’t pass water and I felt my passing game was one of my strengths. People see different things though and maybe Graham saw QPR as a lesser club. I’m gutted I never got more opportunities but for me the club always came first and there was nothing that was going to come in the way of me playing for Rangers every weekend whether I played for England or not.
QPRnet.com: After the 5th place finish the squad started to fall apart as people moved on to bigger clubs for big fees, I remember you being linked with a move to Arsenal, were you always happy at Rangers or did the big move just never come off for you?
DB: I was never really interested in going, there were a couple of times deals were made to the extent where I’d even spoken to the opposing club. There was one time I was meant to go to Everton, everything was agreed then at the last minute Gerry asked for another million pounds on top of the transfer fee so it fell through. They ended up buying Matt Jackson from Luton I think. There was another move where I was meant to go to Newcastle and the same thing happened and Warren Barton went there instead.
Although the moves screwed up each time I never really wanted to leave anyway. To be honest I was always pleased when the moves didn’t happen, I just loved it where I was and I still adore the club now. I try to get over to watch games as much as I can and my eldest son Christian is a massive QPR fan as well. He was in the academy when he was seven years old and he still has a massive attachment to the place.
Christian is supposed to be coming over to QPR in November for a trial to see how he’s progressing, he plays for the under 18’s here at Ajax. He’s got half an opportunity of doing something if he keeps his mind in order. He’s a good, Glenn Hoddle type midfielder, not a big tackler but he can play. Olly has said that if Christian wants to come across then he’ll bring him into training each day but that’s something Christian needs to decide if he wants to do or not.
QPRnet.com: Gerry Francis left and was replaced by Ray Wilkins and things seemed OK for a while until we lost Les Ferdinand and Clive Wilson and the rot started to set in, could you see the club was on a downward spiral or did relegation catch everyone by surprise?
DB: QPR offered Clive a good deal but Gerry made him a better offer basically, there was a period where I was going to be sold to Tottenham as well. At the time I had some personal problems, we had a bad couple of years as a family and I disappeared from a few games so at that time I thought maybe I should get a fresh start somewhere else but Ray wanted me to stay and it never happened so I was happy to get on with it.
We lost Les, Clive and had already seen Sinton and Peacock go and we struggled under Ray quite simply because we couldn’t replace the players we had sold, so we basically started again with a young team and struggled badly. Add to that a lot of our experienced players were carrying injuries, I had a bad injury for most of that season, I was terrible really compared to years gone by but I wanted to keep playing to help out but in the end my achilles was severely damaged. I had one small operation which should have repaired it but it ended up snapping and it basically cost me my career.
It was disappointing because if we’d had a decent unit in the first division I think we could have done good things. When Ray Harford came in the club had lost the plot by then. People like Vinnie Jones and Neil Ruddock made out they were the saviours of us not going down, and it’s the biggest load of crap ever. The bottom line is people like Simon Barker were still there helping out, I’d just got back to fitness and played the last 15-16 games of that season but the club totally lost the plot with people who’d been loyal to Rangers for years and years. Upstairs was bad and if you ask me they lost the plot as well. I spoke to the new Chairman at Preston last year (Bill Power) and he seemed like a nice guy so I just hope in time they can rebuild, I don’t think Rangers will ever get back to where they were before in terms of a top five side but I just hope Olly finds the players to get them in the Premier League at least.
QPRnet.com: We interviewed Macca and Simon Barker and they were totally shell shocked when Rangers released them, I assume it was a similar situation with yourself?
DB: Me and Macca were best mates and had a great relationship together and we were like the heart and soul of the team at times and what they did to him was just very poor. There was a badness in the club, the Houston/Rioch situation was a disgrace, they took away the heart of the club, they ruined everything, everything some of us had worked at for nine years and the people upstairs just couldn’t see it.
It’s down to the people upstairs at the time why Olly has had to pick up the pieces over the last couple of years. They should have just given the job to John Hollins when he was up for it and been done with it. Why try and break something that doesn’t need repairing, they totally screwed the club up and they just wouldn’t hear of it.
The bottom line is I had a one year extension on my contract, I was earning decent money but I would have been prepared to take a fifty percent cut to stay at QPR but they chose to release me on a free transfer instead. The next year would have been my testimonial and I wanted to stay there and coach at the club, I’ve gone onto some fantastic things here at Ajax which you could argue are just as good but you know, QPR is in my blood, it always will be. I speak to Olly now and again, I see who he’s got working for him, fine if that’s the way he wants to go that’s none of my business, I respect him a lot, he knows that and I’ve told him that.
One day if there’s an opportunity to do something at Loftus Road maybe I’ll come back, I don’t have any intention at this moment, I’m working for Ajax, one of the biggest clubs in the world but QPR is just amazing and it’s probably one of the only things that would ever tempt me back to England.
QPRnet.com: Despite the few not so great years, you had plenty of brilliant times at Rangers.
DB: Great times, fantastic times that were ruined by upstairs politics. Everybody was very close at QPR. The Vinnie Jones signing was the end of the club, it was bad, you look at the money going in and out of the club on mickey mouse players but what can you do, people made bad decisions.
QPRnet.com: Do you have a favourite moment from your time at QPR, a moment that you’ll always remember?
DB: There’s so many it’s amazing, finishing fifth in the first Premier League season was fantastic, even going top of it just for that one week was great. We had some amazing moments, regularly beating Arsenal, beating United 4-1 at Old Trafford but there was no moment better than just wearing the jersey and just running out every Saturday; that was special in itself. Representing that club was a great thing, it really was.
QPRnet.com: So what happened towards the end of your playing days?
DB: After Rangers I went back to Blackpool for a bit but then I actually came back to QPR, Gerry was going to take me back on but unfortunately I’d picked up a groin injury and I had to go away and rest it and as the months went by we decided to leave it, looking back that was probably the best thing to do. Again at the time there were politics going on with Dowie, Gerry seemed to have changed as a person as well and it seemed there were other people running the show even though he was manager.
After that I ran my own soccer schools for a couple of years then I got the opportunity to come here and work here at Ajax America.
QPRnet.com: What exactly does Ajax America do then?
DB: We’re the only full time, professional football academy in Florida. We’re sponsored by ATP Travel, who are Ajax Amsterdam’s backers and we have teams from the ages of thirteen all the way up to our PDL level (Player Development Leagues) which is a full time professional team. We have some amazing talents, we’re in the process of bringing MLS here, hopefully that’ll come off in the next few years and hopefully we’ll go forward from there. We have the academy here in Florida and soccer camps running all over the USA so it’s quite an amazing adventure.
I knew the President and he offered me a part time post here originally and it’s grown from there. After it went full time I became Director of the academy as well as coaching my two teams but I found that role got in the way of my first love which is coaching, so now I’m classified as Director of Youth Development which means I can get out on the field a lot more. There’s a lot of work to do, it’s a totally different perspective over here, the kids pay an awful lot of money to be in this programme and we have some amazing players.
My teams are meant to be coming across to England next March, whether that comes off or not I’m not sure but hopefully we can arrange a game against QPR if it does. They’ll be an under 17’s side and I don’t doubt they’ll cut it against the pro’s.
QPRnet.com: You’re regularly placed neck and neck with Dave Clement as Rangers best ever right back, it must be immensely satisfying to have left such a positive impression on us fans?
DB: Oh definitely, I had the best playing moments of my life at QPR, it’s an amazing club. I bumped into some fans at Wigan and I sat with the fans at Bolton and Blackpool and it was like I knew everyone, people don’t forget you and that’s what it’s all about. I’m quite an emotional guy really and I might not have been the biggest talker at the time but no one should underestimate how much I love that place.