Monday, December 10, 2018

The Don Masson Interview

Another in our series of ex player interviews and this time we had an opportunity to talk to 70's legend Don Masson about football today, QPR's championship challenge and much much more What made you make the move to QPR from Notts County?

 Well there was a few clubs interested in me at that time. Leeds and Southampton were in as well as QPR. In those days the players didn’t really have any say in the matter, it was the clubs decision and although I didn’t know it at the time it turns out that the then chairman of Notts County was the brother in law of Mr. Gregory at QPR! I didn’t find out till later!

I found out about it one day after training, I used to live a few doors down from my manager and I wasn’t on the phone in those days, so I got home and Kathy (the managers wife) came down and said he was on the phone for me. He called me down to the ground and said we were going to QPR as they’d agreed terms for me. I went down and met Dave Sexton and decided to sign there and then. I did the medical and signed the contract and it wasn’t until we were on the way back that my manager said to me “you pillock, I could have got you to Leeds, what did you want to sign for them for?” but I knew after speaking to Dave Sexton and Jim Gregory that this was the right club for me.
 Did you see a lot of potential at QPR then?

 Oh yes, there was unbelievable talent there, Dave Thomas on the wing, Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis, Ian Gillard. I couldn’t wait to get started. Also I was thinking about Scotland. Notts County had done well and gone up from the fourth to the third to the second division, but they didn’t have the money to get much further. In those days it was unheard of for players in the second division to play at international level and I wanted to play for Scotland, so I knew that I would get more chance of that if I could do well at QPR.
 Shortly after your debut we drew your old club Notts County in the FA Cup, how did that feel to line up against them so soon after leaving?

 Football throws up games like that! I can remember that distinctly. We absolutely tore them to pieces, that was when I realised we had a real good team. We beat them three nil and it could have been seven or eight easily. Afterwards even the County players were saying what a lesson we gave them!
 Going into the 1975-76 season we had been a mid table Division One team for two years, were we expecting to be title challengers?

 We knew we were getting it together, at the end of the season before we had started playing well and we knew that we had a good side. The camaraderie was fantastic among the players. We all stuck together and almost everyone become an international over those few years. I think it was only Dave Webb that didn’t get capped. It was unbelievable times.

The football we played that year was amazing, people still talk about it now. When QPR play Notts County now I get loads of QPR fans coming to see me and talking about old times, its very sad to see them back where it all started in the sixties. Tell us about Dave Sexton, what was he like as a manager?

DM: He was an unbelievable coach, unbelievable. We used to do things then, thirty years ago that people are saying now is the right thing to do. Our training techniques were so ahead of their time. We used to have Ron Jones, the old Olympic sprinter come down and take us through our paces, all that sort of fitness training that they do these days was unheard of then, but we were doing it. We used to have dieticians and everything, we were having scrambled eggs and fish before meals while everyone else was having steaks.

Dave used to go to Holland on Sundays to watch the Dutch league, he used to pay for it out of his own pocket just to learn and advance himself. To go from Notts County where it was practise matches every day to that was fantastic for me, I loved it. You were 29 when you signed for QPR and within a year you were challenging for the title, did you get to a stage in your career where you thought  that chance would never come?

 No, I always thought it was just a matter of time, it came late on yes but I never gave up hope. Of course in those days once you got over thirty you were practically finished, nowadays of course they play on till they’re well into their thirties, but you didn’t back then. So I always kept myself fit and ready for when I got my chance.
 Liverpool completed their fixtures a week after us, that wouldn’t happen these days, did you see that as unfair at the time?

 You’re right it wouldn’t happen now, but at the time I suppose it was just one of those things. I always remember our last game against Leeds, we beat them two-nil then afterwards we went straight to Israel for a holiday. I remember Dave putting a little message on the Wailing Wall, it obviously didn’t work!

When we came back the lads went off to play in Mick Channon’s testimonial and I was off up to join the Scotland squad. We were all at Hampden Park watching Rangers against Dundee United I got a message through that Wolves were beating Liverpool one nil and it looked as though we were going to be champions. Then they went and scored three in the last fifteen minutes, I’ll never forgive Keegan for that, the little rat!

To be honest that week I didn’t have time to think about it, I went straight into my Scotland debut in a match against Ireland so it was almost an anti-climax after that. I think all the neutrals wanted QPR to win and with the fantastic football we played I think we were the outstanding team and it’s a tragedy that we didn’t get our just rewards.
 How much of an effect did missing out on that championship have on the squad the next season?

 We started the season poorly, we got hammered by Everton four nil on the first day of the season and then lost away at West Ham and as the season went on we started to concentrate on the UEFA cup so our league form suffered for sure.

We had a good League Cup run though, I think we got to the quarter finals and we played Aston Villa three times, two replays. We’d drawn the first two nil-nil and two-all I believe. Then they eventually beat us three nil in a game played at Highbury. It was only a few days after that we were playing in the UEFA cup again.
 Do you think we had the squad to cope with playing in four competitions?

 No, not at all. Don Shanks was the covering full back, Mick Leach could cover in midfield and Ron Abbot was in there for centre half and that was about it, so we didn’t have the cover at all. When you look at it logically we only had a squad of about fifteen. Had we won the championship Dave would have been able to strengthen it.
 After you left Rangers we struggled for a couple of seasons before getting relegated. Why do you think we never managed to follow up on such a good couple of seasons?

 Well after that things started to fall apart. Dave Sexton went off to Man United, Frank McLintock retired and things started to go wrong from there. It was a shame really, had we won the league we could have bought in new players and who knows what could have happened after that. To be honest though you have to look at what an achievement it was for QPR to be doing so well, to be up there and beating the Arsenals and Tottenham's of this world was unbelievable really.

Going back a few years to the year QPR won the Third Division I can remember going to Loftus Road with Middlesbrough and they destroyed us, they had a fantastic team, got promotion and won the League Cup. A team as good as that comes along once in a lifetime and QPR had two in ten years. 
The next season we had a good UEFA cup run, what was that experience like for you?

 That was a good adventure that, we had some unbelievable results. We got to the quarterfinals of that too, and we should have beaten AEK Athens too. Phil Parkes played in the away leg even though he was injured. We had a problem there because our reserve goalie, big Derek Richardson only had one eye and Dave said there was no way he risking that when he could play Parksey, half fit or not! We won the first leg three-nil, they won the second leg three-nil then they beat us on penalties at their place. It was quite scary really, quite an intimidating place to be, all the firecrackers going off and everything.
 Who was the best player you played with at QPR?

 Definitely Stanley, just for the natural ability he had. Gerry Francis was a good player too, mind you they were all good players! The things Bowles used to do though were unbelievable. I remember him scoring a goal against Sunderland on the television. He picked up the ball on the right wing, beat about three or four players and chipped the goalkeeper. Nowadays they would be in the crowd, ripping their shirts off – he just shrugged his shoulders as if to say “I could do that anytime”. And he could that was the thing! That left foot was fantastic. He was better than Dailglish in my opinion.
 What was the best goal you scored?

 In terms of personal meaning I scored against Middlesbrough up at their place. We flew up to the game and all my family were still living up there and they all came to the game. So that was special to me personally, scoring in front of all my family and against the club I started my career at.

Certainly the most important I scored as far as the club was concerned though was away at Cologne in the UEFA cup. We had beaten them three-nil at home and I scored our only goal in the away leg, which they won four-one, so it was my goal that put us through on the away goals rule.
 Who was the hardest player to play against?

 You probably wouldn’t have heard of him but a player from Bristol City called Gerry Gow. Everytime I played against him he would kick me all the time, he would ignore the ball and go for man marking. I knew before every game what to expect from him and of all the tough players I’ve come up against he was the one. I couldn’t get away from him, if I went to centre half he’d follow me, if I went out to the wing he’d be there, he was a nightmare! Bristol City beat us twice in the 75/76 season and both games were almost ten a side because he’d just mark me out of the game. How did your time at QPR come to an end?

DM: Well Dave Sexton had gone to Man United and Frank Sibley had taken over and all the experienced players were leaving, then Derby came in for me. At the time it was a good move for me, they told me they were going to sign Bruce Rioch and they did, so it was a good club and it gave me a chance to move back to Nottingham and the same village I’d left for QPR. It was nice to be able to settle back down. It was a straight exchange for Leighton James which was a good move for both clubs really. You finished your career at Notts County, what did you do with yourself once you after that?

DM: I went to America, South Africa and Hong Kong playing wise. Then I started a building firm, and then I run the sports centre over Notts County till about fifteen years ago when I bought the Gallery Hotel in Nottingham and I’ve been here ever since.

When I went to America I played for the Minnesota Kicks, a team that belonged to Jack Dunnett, who also owned Notts County. The idea was I’d play there for two years then come back and become coach and then manager at Notts County. As it happened the team in America went bust so Jack got me the managers job at non league Kettering so I could learn the ropes, then Notts County changed their owner so my chance went. I only ever wanted to manage Notts County and I didn’t want to move my family around again so I just walked away from football and I’ve never regretted it.

I run the hotel as a family concern and it’s great. I’ve got the bar decked out with all my old QPR memorabilia, we’re just down from the cricket ground too so we get a few famous people in. Dickie Bird used to stay with us regularly, Alan Ball has been in, Kenneth Wostenholme and I get loads of football fans in talking about old times so it’s good fun. I play tennis in my spare time to keep fit, I love that. I’m number one in the over fifty fives division! When you look back at your career now is there anything you would change?

DM: Two things. The penalty miss for Scotland. I always get reminded about that one. I know that they say that through adversity you come out the other side, but I would change that definitely. Obviously the second thing would be winning the championship with QPR that would have been even better than the World Cup as far as I’m concerned and I thought it was no more than we deserved. When you look at football now do you wish you were still playing?

DM: I would give everything I have up to kick a stupid ball around again! When I was a kid in Aberdeen all I ever wanted to do was play football, I was so lucky to not only do that but at a good level too. I hear players complain now about being tired after two games in a week, we used to play sixty games a season and you never heard anyone complain! And you weren’t getting fifty grand a week either!

DM: No we weren’t! Hey good luck to them, if they can make that money then fair play, we never had the chance but I don’t begrudge them a penny. It’s still a short career, you’re soon forgotten about so they more they can make the better. Look at people like Stan they were superstars then and you get to the end of your career and you’re on the scrap heap, Gazza will be the same now too.

I watch a lot of the matches on the TV, Arsenal are an amazing side to watch, they play great football, it actually reminds me of that QPR side from ’76, the way they play, so fluid and full of movement. Do you think football is a better game now than it was then?

DM: I don’t think so, I think the Bowles, Bests and Marsh’s of this world, they’d still easily hold their own in today’s game. They’d have to up their fitness level but in terms of skill they could still compete, there’s no substitute for skill. Do you keep up to date with QPR these days?

 Oh yes, I look at their results all the time, I saw they beat Bristol City at the weekend and they’re a good side too. I was pleased for Ian Holloway because I know he’s never won there as a manager I bet he was delighted.

I think QPR are doing very well considering they have very little money, hopefully they can get up this year but you have to be realistic and look at levels. If QPR get to the First Division to be honest I think that’s their level at the moment, same with Brentford they’ve been doing well but the Second Division is about their level. There’s such a gulf between the big clubs now that it would be an amazing achievement for QPR to get back where they were when I was playing

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