Our latest Rangers legends interview is with 80's midfield man Martin Allen. Martin talks about his famous family, the league cup final, Trevor Francis and much more.
QPRnet.com: Does coming from a successful family of footballers add any pressure to you as a player? Especially as Clive and Les had been very successful for the same club?
MA: It certainly did. Obviously Clive was very successful at a young age and my cousin Paul at West Ham became the youngest player to play in the FA cup final at seventeen. I have to admit that when I was around that age I wasn’t even a regular in George Graham’s QPR youth team. The Allen name was always on my shoulders and people expected me to come along and take it by storm but I certainly wasn’t ready. It took a couple of years of hard work to take me up to that level.
When I was sixteen I wasn’t as far advanced as other boys my age. There were a number of players at QPR who were in the England youth team, I wasn’t one of them and some of them were also getting involved in the reserves and again I wasn’t so I was quite a way behind. It got to the stage where players younger than me were further ahead in the pecking order. My Dad used to watch all my youth team games and he continued to push and encourage me and made sure I wasn’t distracted by any outside influences. He told me I would be rewarded. At the time I found it hard, I had to go to Reading Athletic Club for an hour every Tuesday and Thursday nights and after I’d go to Reading boxing club for another hour and a half. This was all to improve my speed, fitness and body strength. It was only through my Dads guidance and him pushing me to improve that I managed to move upwards. I ended up leaving behind some of the players who were ahead of me and made my full debut before them and it’s thanks to those years of hard work.
QPRnet.com: Is this something you were doing off your own back or was it something the club had recommended?
MA: No it was nothing to with the club, they had twelve youth team players and they were all treated the same. My Dad knew I had to build up physically so he’d drive me to the athletic club and the boxing club himself and he had me on a strict diet too. I lived like monk and worked very, very hard.
QPRnet.com: It must’ve been brilliant to have that kind of support from your Father?
MA: At the time it wasn’t! For three consecutive school summer holidays, when everyone else had two months off to go on holiday and do what they liked, my Dad had me working on a building site! I was bringing the wheel barrows in and out, making up cement and carrying bricks, all to build up my strength. I used to leave home at half past seven and get home every night at half past five. Then I was off to the athletic and boxing clubs again!
At the time I thought it was a bit unfair but he made me and I did it. Looking back it had to be done, I was struggling. I had to physically develop and he was there for me, he pushed me all the way and drove me towards my goals.
QPRnet.com: You made your debut as a in the UEFA cup game against Vikingur in 1984 coming on for Warren Neil. What was going through your mind?
MA: I had a good twenty minutes but it must be said the game was already won. It was a bit of a token gesture by Alan Mullery as I had been doing quite well in the reserves. The main games I remember from the early days at QPR were coming on as a sub against Luton in my first league game and, of course, my full debut at home against Arsenal where I was man marking Graham Rix. Rix at the time was an England international and I was hungry for success, it was a man to man job and I’ll never forget it.
QPRnet.com: Alan Mullery was the manager at the time of your debut; we spoke to Peter Hucker who was less than complimentary about him. How did you find him as a boss?
MA: Well he gave me my chance, there’s no knocking that. He wasn’t at Rangers for a very long time and he had a difficult job following in the footsteps of Terry Venables. Terry had been very successful and the players were used to his style of management and coaching so it must have been very difficult to follow in the footsteps of a top manager who has done an excellent job. Mullery’s style was far different from Venables and the players rebelled against him, certain senior players made his life very difficult and he found it hard to get on with it. Personally though he gave me an opportunity to be involved with the first team and I’ll always be thankful for that.
QPRnet.com: Your first goal came against Oxford in a 3-1 win in 85/86 season, what do you remember about it?
MA: I hadn’t had a good time up until then, my passing was erratic, and I was far too hyped up to play well. It was OK winning the ball but once I took possession I would release it too quick and give it away. It took a bit of time to get the confidence to not only win the ball but play with a bit of quality. That goal actually did me the world of good. I remember coming for the long throw, someone got a touch on and I hit it on the half volley from the edge of the six yard box at the school end. It was a big boost for me at the time because I must admit I was starting to struggle.
QPRnet.com: Jim Smith was the manager by then, how did you enjoy playing for him?
MA: Again he was very different to Terry Venables. Jim’s skill was being able to buy players, move people on and generally wheel and deal in the transfer market. He had a very good coach in Peter Shreeves. Peter used take most of the training and Jim used to do most of the team talks. We used to call Jim “the M4” because he used to have a big blue vein that came up all the way over the top of his head! When he was losing his temper his head would turn beacon red and this big blue vein would pop out!
More often than not it would be me who faced the wrath of his tongue! I’ll never forget one day at the training ground, I’d often try to shot from thirty yards out and one day he’d obviously seen enough. He marched over to me from the dugout, put his finger about three inches from my nose and said “who the fucking hell do you think you are, Bobby Charlton?!” Everybody else fell about laughing, the M4 was glaring at me and I just had to nod and say sorry. That was how he was, he had a way of putting over his point of view but he was brilliant for me, he gave me a lot of confidence.
QPRnet.com: One game Rangers fans will never forget is the six nil mauling of Chelsea. Does a result like that mean as much to the players as it did to the fans?
MA: Oh of course, that Chelsea derby was always the one. I remember the day before that game I stayed behind after training and watched Chelsea train on the astro turf that afternoon. They turned up, their manager was having a kick around with them and they were laughing and having fun and to be honest it looked like organised chaos, they looked like a Sunday pub team. I remember driving home thinking if we get into these we’re going to be OK here. When the game happened every shot we hit went in, it was a fantastic game that will never be forgotten. I’ve actually got the video of that game at home and when I show my it to my children now they can’t believe that QPR beat Chelsea six nil!
QPRnet.com: You actually scored against Oxford in both league games in the 85/86 season and we put six past them in total. Going into the league cup final we must’ve been confident of winning? What went wrong?
MA: I think we were a bit complacent. Going up to Anfield for the semi final was a fantastic night, to beat a team full of internationals over two legs that went on to do the double was a tremendous achievement. It was live on television and no one expected us to get a result. The fact that it was two own goals is neither here nor there, that really was our cup final that night. My big memory is being clapped off by the Kop, they gave us an ovation as we left the pitch and that’s something I’ll always keep with me. I think it was my best ever performance in a QPR shirt. My family were watching from behind the goal too so it was very special night and probably the best of my career.
Going into the final we were expected to win, we had beaten Oxford a few weeks before very comfortably and totally dominated the game. It was very much “after the Lord Mayors show”. We didn’t play well, it was a very disappointing day, but at the same time I’ll never forget it. It was great to see all the Rangers fans there and hopefully now they can look back on the Liverpool games as being special and not be too disappointed about the actual final.
QPRnet.com: You were fortunate enough to be around the club when the great Jim Gregory was there. Did you have many dealings with him and what sort of atmosphere did he create around the place?
MA: I didn’t have too many dealings with him personally, my Dad used to sort my contracts out with him and he’d drive a hard bargain! From my point of view he backed Tommy Docherty and Chris Gieler when I was fourteen, there was quite a few other clubs that wanted me but with Mr Gregory’s persuasion I signed for QPR. It was his backing that allowed that to happen.
QPRnet.com: You scored 19 goals for Rangers, do you have a favourite?
MA: I like the one against Sheffield Wednesday away, that was a twenty five yarder. However I think the one that stands out was in a home game against Everton on the plastic. We won one nil and I scored the goal, it was a twenty five yard volley. For the first time ever I’ll admit that it was handball when I controlled it but I got away with it! Everton at that time were one of the top sides and the result took us top of the league.
QPRnet.com: How did you find the plastic? You didn’t mind a challenge or two?!
MA: Oh I loved it! I was bought up on it. George Graham used to take us training on it twice a week. At that time I had bundles of energy, I could run all day, and I was quite decent in the air. For someone who wanted to make tackles and put pressure on people it was perfect for me! Certainly if people were perhaps mentally weak and worried about playing on plastic then it was ideal for me to exploit them, more often than not with a tackle in the first ten minutes that would show them the way! I was not frightened of that one little bit. I used to go home, sitting in the car with a pair of shorts on, my knees would be burnt, I’d have grazes up my thighs and be happy as Larry having won a game and been cut to pieces!
It was an unfair advantage for us though, we were used to it and we were mentally and physically prepared for it. We knew all the bounces; you couldn’t dribble on it because the ball ran too far away from you. It was a case of if you weren’t prepared to tackle and go on your backside and compete then don’t turn up and most clubs never fancied it.
QPRnet.com: I can’t get through this without mentioning the Trevor Francis incident. How do you look back on that situation now?
MA: I still get people ringing me up now from all sorts of organisations and I say to them it’s each to their own. If you want to be at the birth of your child then as a human being you deserve that choice. Equally if you don’t want to be there, and some people don’t like hospitals or the blood or seeing your partner in pain, then don’t go. That’s OK. It was my choice to go and I stand by it, if it happened all over again I’d still go. Since I’ve been on the coaching side it’s happened to certain players and without a shadow of a doubt I’ve said “go and see the birth, let us know what happens and good luck”. That’s happened twice to me now already.
I have no regrets over the situation now. I was honest with Trevor Francis on the Thursday, and I told Peter Shreeves on the Friday night what I was doing. My wife went into labour at half past two on the Saturday morning, she was still in labour at half past six when I rang again and I have no regrets about getting on that aeroplane.
One thing that I never really went into at the time is my boy George, who is approaching fourteen now, also had the umbilical cord around his neck and for just over one minute they lost his heart beat on the monitor. So when you are stood in the hospital with one midwife and all of a sudden she makes that emergency call and there are three midwifes in there and the paediatrician and a couple of doctors ushering you out of the room, without a shadow of a doubt there is only one place to be and that was there on that day.
QPRnet.com: That seems to be something that still haunts Trevor today and I’ve seen interviews where he admits to handling it badly.
MA: When I was playing for West Ham against Trevor’s Sheffield Wednesday I ended up in hospital with a punctured lung and broken ribs. I had an operation on the Saturday evening and about eleven o’clock that night the sister came in and told me that Trevor had phoned the hospital asking how I was and wishing me the very best. I must admit when she told me I wondered if I was still under the aesthetic! But it was the truth, he did ring and since that day whenever we’ve met each other we’ve always had a smile, shook hands and wished each other well and so you should.
QPRnet.com: Ultimately you ended up leaving Rangers over it, was that a sad time for you or were you happy to get out of there?
MA: It was wrench for me, we were a good side in the first division but the situation with Trevor was very uncomfortable. We played away at Everton and he took me off when I thought I wasn’t doing too badly. I remember the Rangers fans giving me an ovation on the way off. From that day I could tell I had no future there. He kept playing me but never spoke to me so it was a totally unhealthy position to be in. One of the things that disappointed me was they turned down a good offer from Arsenal for me and I still wonder if that move had come off whether I would have gone up to another level as a player. That made me a bit bitter towards the manager from there on.
One of the things that frustrated me at Rangers was one year when Jim Smith was there. We had a good season and then we sold Terry Fenwick to Tottenham and Gary Bannister to Coventry. I went to see Jim and asked him why we had sold those two players when we should have gone out and got two players to push up towards the top three. He looked across the table and said “you’re far too young to coming in here and talking to me about this. However I respect you for it” He told me that he didn’t want to sell anyone and would like to bring people in but we couldn’t afford it. At that point I was on the top of my game and the club was buzzing, I wanted to kick on and go up to the next level but QPR didn’t have the finances to do it. That’s not being disrespectful, it’s just a fact. They had a base following of twelve thousand very loyal passionate fans but it needed to be about twenty thousands to help the club move on and compete with Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United who were just above us.
QPRnet.com: You're now first team coach at Barnet, how are you enjoying things there?
MA: I’ve been there for about a year now its going OK; it’s been a good experience. I had a couple of good years as first team coach at Reading under Alan Pardew. I helped dig them out of a relegation position, and then the following season we reached the play off final but lost to Walsall. It was my home town team so it was great to work there, unfortunately Alan decided he wanted to replace me as coach so I thanked him for the time and moved on. Here I am now at Barnet under my former coach at QPR - Peter Shreeves. We’re working on a very tight budget and lots of players are having to leave due to the financial situation with the club. Its gone quite well so far, could be better but we’re doing OK.
I love the coaching side, Peter is very good to me too he trusts me day to day and lets me get on with most of the coaching. That’s’ what I’ve always wanted to do so long may it continue.