The Frank Sibley Interview

Frank Sibley's unique Rangers career started in the 60's and went all the way through to the 90's. He has been a player, coach, assistant manager, as well as manager and caretaker boss on countless occasions. He talks to us about his time at QPR. You were just 15 when you made your debut, what do you remember from the day?

FS: It came out of the blue really, Alec Stock told me and then it became a bit of media event. I was the youngest footballer to play at the time so I had the press round my house interviewing me and my Mum didn’t know what hit her! So it was a bit daunting in that respect.

I actually made my debut for the first team as an outside right but I’d come to the club as a centre forward. In my first season I’d got plenty of goals in the south east counties league but the next season I didn’t so well. Jimmy Andrews was the coach at the time and he suggested that I had a look at going in a different direction and playing facing the ball rather than with my back to it so he was instrumental in turning me into a defensive player. So as a young lad how did you take to being asked to change your game?

FS: Well if you’re not doing well at something and someone shows you another way of playing then you should listen. I took to it quite well, I enjoyed it and it worked out well for me in the end. As someone who’s still in the game you must see massive differences between the 15 year old apprentices today and from your time?

FS: When we were apprentices it was a three year commitment, my first wage was about five pounds a week, in the second year it went up to seven and then nine in the third. Then the club had the option of signing you as a pro.

You worked all morning around the ground doing odd jobs like painting the stands and so forth then the coaches would take you for training in the afternoon. By the time you got the kit packed away and got the bus home it was six o’clock and you’d done a full days work.

Kids these days don’t have to do any work as such but I wasn’t adverse to it, it gave all the lads a great sense of camaraderie. We all played together in the south east counties league in the morning and sometimes you had to turn out for the reserves in the afternoon as well and I think that benefited the club when we progressed onto the first team. Do you think making kids work like that gives them more of a respect for the club as a whole?

FS: I think it sorted out the ones who wanted to be players and those who didn’t because you had to do the work to get to the football. Today with the young academy scholars they almost make them into pro’s before they’ve achieved anything.

We had a great trainer called Alec Farmer, Derek Healey was running the youth set up and then there was Jimmy Andrews coaching and of course Alec Stock. They didn’t give you an inch but they taught you the right way to go about things. Alec always used to say to us if you’re going to a game and you have to be there at eight o’clock make sure you get there for seven and I still do that today. Alec must have been an incredible man to grow up around?

FS: Yes he was. He was quite strict but in a positive way, he used to moan at us for buying things like cheese rolls from the shops down the road from the ground. He’d say things like “get a steak inside you”, of course we couldn’t afford steak on our wages! So the diet and nutrition advice was a bit different back then?!

FS: Oh yes, that’s changed massively. Every Friday on pay day we’d treat ourselves and go to a Greek restaurant on the Goldhawk Road and have a big brunch. Our pre match meals would be fillet steak, rice pudding and as much toast as you can eat! Players are so much fitter these days and get much better advice than we did in our day. Going into the 1966-67 season, did we have high hopes of promotion?

FS: As young players we didn’t really think about it, our main concern was getting in the team and playing football. It’s only when you start winning games and going up the leagues that it becomes apparent you can do something.

Jim Gregory coming to the club was very significant and the signings of players like Rodney, Mark Lazarus and Les Allen were very astute. He knew he had a good group of young kids but he needed some experience to go with it. Reaching the League Cup final with such an emphatic victory over Birmingham must have been a great occasion for the players?

FS: I think that was the game that gave us the confidence to go on and win the final. Nobody really gave us a chance against them and we played really, really well. I remember getting an injury, a big cut down my thigh and the physio at the time told Alec I was losing too much blood and would have to come off. Alec turned round to me and said “you’re all right son aren’t you” and I agreed because there was no way I was going to come off.  Of course we didn’t just beat them once we had to do twice as well. Going into the final what message did Alec send you out with?

FS: He was very simplistic in many ways, Bill Dodgin’s did most of the tactical stuff. Alec was very strong on certain things, he knew if someone had pulled out of a challenge and he knew if you should have got a shot in. He would have just sent us out to enjoy ourselves because he was very good at taking the pressure off of us.

Obviously we came in two nil down at half time but there was no shouting or aggravation, we just knew we could play better. Alec made the point of saying that our families were here and it sent a message out to everyone to give that little bit more. The feeling at the final whistle must have been amazing?

FS: It was unbelievable, to think we were a third division team playing at Wembley in front of 100,000 people was incredible. It was the first time that final was played at Wembley and if it hadn’t have been such a success it may have been the last. The only sad thing about it all is we never got into Europe because of the league we were in.

I find it sad today that the league cup has been so devalued because it’s a way into Europe and way to Wembley, or Cardiff and whatever you say the fans want to be there. If some clubs aren’t interested in going to the final then I don’t think they should be accepted into the competition. You mentioned earlier about playing two games in a day, what do you think when hear modern day players complaining about playing two games a week?

FS: I think the game is so much quicker now, I’m not saying all the football is as good because in the 60’s and 70’s the football was still excellent and most Division One sides had international players but it was just the way we did things in our era. You were part of a great side with fantastic attacking players like the Morgans, Mark Lazarus and Rodney Marsh. Marsh became the Rangers icon; did the other players ever resent the attention he got?

FS: Not at all because we knew that if Rodney played well we had every chance of wining the game and getting a bonus! He’s a terrific guy as well, we had lots of fun together and us youngsters just looked forward to him getting a goal or winning a penalty.

Me and Ronnie Hunt as the two back players used to try to keep a clean sheet and hope Rodney got the goals, that’s the way we set about it. We knew at home Rodney would win it for us and that away from home the emphasis was more on us to help get something out of the game. Going into our first season in the old division two and we were promoted again, was that an ambition at the start of the season or we were expecting to just consolidate?

FS: That season passed me by a little bit, at the end of the 66-67 season Rodney was due to go away with the England under 23’s, he got an illness and couldn’t go and I was called up instead. When I got back from that I got a call saying I had to go and join the club tour of Spain, I think that was the first time we’d ever had a foreign tour!

Our car broke down and it took about 16 hours to get there but I made the game, played and got injured in the last minute. I was carried off and that’s where my injury troubles started from there. I was flown home and they couldn’t decide for two weeks what was wrong because there was so much swelling on the leg, eventually I had to have a cartilage operation so I didn’t play too many games in Division Two, as it was called then.

I came back into the side then I had to have another cartilage operation so I was on the sidelines again. Today those injuries wouldn’t be too much of a problem but in those days it was career threatening. Being injured as a footballer is frustrating anyway but to miss out on a season like that must have made it doubly worse?

FS: It is, when you’ve been a big part of the side sitting on the sidelines is never the same and you feel a bit of spare part in all the celebrations. Though it must have been great to rise so quickly through the divisions, as a young player was it hard to develop your game when the standard you were facing was constantly improving?

FS: I think it helped in the respect that it gave us confidence because we were winning games but that back fired when we got to the top division because we’d never really experience losing. We lost so many games by the odd goal because we lacked that extra experience to cope in that situation. So it was good while we were getting there but once we made it into the first division it caught up with us. You were forced to retire in 1971 aged 23 it must have knocked you for six but did you always intend to move into coaching once it happened?

FS: I’ve got to be honest and say no I didn’t. All you think about when you’re a young player having that sort of success is that it’s going go on for ever. When I was told by the specialist to pack it in it was a terrible shock, I’d just got married and taken on a mortgage and all I could think was “what am I going to do”. Academically, like many footballers today I wasn’t the greatest and once you take the football away you’re lost. The club was very good to me though, Gordon Jago and Jim Gregory set me up at the club and I took my badges, passed them and they let me start coaching. You were still a young man at the time, how did you find coaching players who were older than you?

FS: It wasn’t a problem because to start with I worked with the youth team players. That wasn’t too bad because they were looking up to me really as they could still remember me as a player. It developed from there and I took the reserve players then worked my up to coaching the senior players so I earned the respect along the way. You were appointed QPR manager in 1977, was following Dave Sexton an impossible job?

FS: It was very difficult. I was assistant manager to Dave and it was a wonderful team. He produced the second best footballing team I’ve seen at QPR, second only to our side in the sixties but when I took over one or two players were getting a bit older and Jim Gregory wanted to bring in some younger blood.

I was given a chance to take on the managers role and possibly I wasn’t ready for it, but you’re only given a few chances in life and unless you put your finger in the water you’ll never know if it’s too hot so I thought I had to have a go.

In retrospect I went about one or two things the wrong way, I was only 29 and I had no experience of managing, being an assistant is no comparison, you can do it all your life and it is not comparable in any way. I found it quite difficult to be truthful and I was very hard on myself, I thought everything I was doing was wrong. It was a tough time for me. You left as manager in 1978 and rejoined the Rangers coaching staff in the late 80’s, what prompted your return?

FS: Terry Venables was in charge and he was looking for someone to take the reserves side. I was working at Hounslow at the time but I jumped at the chance. Then at the end of that season Terry left and went to Barcelona which was a shame because I thought there was a lot of things I could learn from him but he went off to Spain and then Alan arrived. You were often in caretaker charge after the departure of many mangers at Loftus Road did you never fancy another crack at the job full time?

FS: I think I would have been better at it, I’ve worked with a lot of talented managers and you pick up bits and pieces from each but it wasn’t to be. I’m just grateful for the time I spent at QPR, it’s always been my club and my family all still support them. You were assistant manager to Gerry Francis when we had the great side in the 90’s. Having been involved with each of great sides over time how do you think they all compare?

FS: I think they all had different elements really. The team I played in during the 60’s had a lot of young players sprinkled with experienced pro’s that gelled together perfectly and came up the leagues.

Dave Sexton’s team in the 70’s was mostly made up of experienced players like Don Masson, Dave Webb, Frank McLintock and Johnny Hollins but also lads like Gerry Francis, Don Givens and Stan Bowles. They played some incredibly exciting football, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in England for a long time. Dave nurtured the players really well and that was probably the best team out of the three.

Gerry’s team in the 90’s was a good side as well though. He had his own way with players, he was a great coach and he got the best out of players that were looked upon elsewhere as not being brilliant. I also think he made a very brave decision when he let Roy Wegerle go because in doing that he gave Les his opportunity to come to the front. I think that was a significant move at the time because Les turned out to be a terrific player for us. Obviously Gerry went and Ray came in, you mentioned how valuable Les was and losing Ferdinand was a massive blow that ultimately sent us down.

FS: People often blame Ray Wilkins for us going down but I don’t see it that way. Les wanted to leave and that was the big factor, if you look back over the previous seasons his goals kept QPR in the Premiership. He had an opportunity to move on and make a lot of money for himself somewhere else and QPR couldn’t match it so we had to let him go. We thought that Kevin Gallen and Danny Dichio would then step up. Players from the time were pretty stunned that Ray left so early into first division campaign, especially as we started so well in the few games he was in charge for.

FS: Yes I think that was disappointing. I’d rather not get into what went on but it was shame because I think we’d have come close to going back up again. I was offered the chance to stay but I made it clear at the time that I wasn’t going to because I felt what was done to Ray was wrong. Having been part of a promotion winning side, what advice would you give Rangers players of today as they start life in a higher division?

FS: I think the most important thing is to keep a good spirit around the club. If you can keep that camaraderie there and keep everyone playing for each other then you’ll do well. You might get a few bad results or have a bad run but you’ll win more than you’ll lose. Spirit pulls you together and steers you through adversity, that’s all I’d say to them. When you look back on your long association with Rangers it must make you immensely proud to have been involved in so many successes as a player and a coach but if you had to pick one moment to re-live over again what would it be?

FS: I’ll tell you one moment I wouldn’t want to relive again and that’s the League Cup final, the other one in 1986. That was the worst day of my life, I felt so low after that game.

It was only a couple of weeks earlier we’d taken Oxford to the cleaners in the league game and if anything I think we thought we only had to turn up to win it. Everyone’s got their own ideas about what happened but for whatever reason we didn’t perform and it was the most demoralising day for the players and staff but most of all for the fans because we went out with a whimper, we didn’t even lose gracefully.

I strongly believe if we hadn’t got the amount of points we already had in the league that we would have got relegated that season because it took a hell of a long time to get back on track, it just hit everyone so hard.

That was the worst though but the best would have to be the other League Cup final in 1967. The first third division side ever to get there, in the first Wembley final, playing a first division side who’d won it before and coming back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. It was storybook stuff! Since leaving Rangers you’ve stayed in football, you’re now the chief scout at Watford, how are you enjoying things there?

FS: I’m enjoying it greatly; this is my second season now. They’re a nice club, similar to QPR in many ways. They’ve come out of the Premiership, had a phase of losing money and now they’re fighting they’re way back, hopefully before I die both clubs will be in the Premiership again.

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