Following on from our other recent interviews with former Rangers greats, we greatly appreciated Dennis Bailey taking time out of his long trip from Birmingham to Weymouth to talk to us about Old Trafford, religion and much more.
QPRnet.com: So, what are you doing now?
DB: Well I’ve just signed for Stafford this week, they’re in the Dr Martins Premier League. I played for Tamworth, Forest Green Rovers and Halesowen last year. I got promoted with Halesowen into the Premier League, which is one below the conference.
QPRnet.com: Did you score many?
DB: I didn’t no! I didn’t actually play many games I joined them from Tamworth just after January and I think I played fifteen games and scored about three. To be fair they walked the league, I played in the first seven or eight games after I got there but when it was clear they were going up they started playing the youngsters.
QPRnet.com: How are you finding non-league football?
DB: OK, I think the level has picked up since I’ve been playing in it and with a lot of players dropping out of the league you get them filtering down into the non-league scene. This is my fourth season at this sort of level and each season I’ve seen the quality of play improve.
QPRnet.com: Growing up which players did you try and emulate and what was your team?
DB: This could be a long list of names! The obvious one was Pele but at school it was players like Glenn Hoddle and John Barnes. Funnily enough in the seventies my best friends were QPR supporters so I was always aware of great players like Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles. I didn’t get to watch them much because I was a Chelsea fan, but I remember the great side they had when they were runners up in 1976.
QPRnet.com: Before you joined Rangers you had played for 7 clubs in 6 years, what was it that made you settle at Rangers for such a long time?
DB: It was just a great club, it was ideal for me having started my career at Crystal Palace and gone to Birmingham to come back to London. QPR were always known for their good football and had quality players plus it was a really nice family club.
QPRnet.com: Would you say that was your favourite time in football?
DB: It would have to be, it was my dream move. I remember I went on loan to Bristol Rovers from Birmingham and Gerry Francis was the manager. At the time he said to me that he was going to move to a bigger club, I think he had a choice of about seven actually, he chose QPR and rung me and said he wanted to sign me so it was a dream come true.
QPRnet.com: What do you remember about your debut?
DB: It was against Arsenal and they were the champions from the previous season so it was a full house with the trophy being paraded at the beginning of the match. QPR fans actually filled the clock end and this before it was all-seater so it was a great atmosphere and I scored as well!
QPRnet.com: Was it a big step up for you from the old third division with Birmingham?
DB: Yes it was, but the lads at QPR made me feel really comfortable though, people like Ray Wilkins and the experienced players helped a lot. Being a Chelsea supporter I could remember Ray making his debut when he was seventeen so to be playing with players like that, people you looked up to was a big thrill for myself. As I said they helped me settle in and it was the nature of the club at the time, every player was treated equally.
QPRnet.com: Your hatrick at Old Trafford must surely be considered the highlight of your career however, was it also in a way a curse?
DB: It was a highlight without a doubt, to be fair I didn’t feel the pressure within the club, everybody was really good to me before and after that game. The thing was I got injured about five or six games after and I was out for almost the rest of the season so that took me out of the spotlight and bought me back down to earth at the same time. I didn’t get back into the team until the last game of the season.
QPRnet.com: Were you ready for the media spotlight that fell on you after that game?
DB: No, I tried to take it in my stride but how do you? It was something totally new to me and something I never expected. I thought it might be in the papers one day and that would be it but it was like a circus for a couple of weeks! As I said though at the time there were no big time players at QPR, good players but everyone was treated the same so it kept my feet on the ground.
QPRnet.com: What did Gerry Francis say to you before the game? Did you go into the match believing you could get a result?
DB: He was confident of going there and getting a result and he installed that confidence in us. We’d had a good unbeaten run of about four or five games so we always thought we could win. The good thing was they were unbeaten at home and everybody was expecting them to turn us over.
QPRnet.com: What was it like to be part of such a good Rangers squad?
DB: We had a really good side, it was a pity key players did go but QPR were always a good footballing side and because we were doing well in the league we were attracting good players as well. We were recognised as one of the best teams in London at the time. It was great to be a part of that but it’s a shame we didn’t win a cup or something because I think the team deserved it.
QPRnet.com: Do you feel you had more to offer QPR than you were allowed to demonstrate?
DB: Possibly, after the injury we talked about I came back into the side the following season and had a decent run but the third and fourth season I hardly got a look in. I was always on the fringe or on the bench and getting two or three games here and there. For me it was frustrating I just felt I needed an opportunity and that I wasn’t going to get it. Then Gerry left and Wilkins took over and I just felt I needed to kick start my career with a fresh move.
Don’t get me wrong I did love QPR and I would fight for my place but I didn’t think I would ever get a chance. I got to the end of my contract and they did offer me a new one but I just felt there was no point staying somewhere if you are not going to be playing so as hard as it was I just decided to make the break.
QPRnet.com: I suppose it didn’t help having someone like Les Ferdinand ahead of you in the pecking order?
DB: No it didn’t, to be fair to Les though I’d watched him develop into a great player at QPR and then he went on to do very well at Newcastle. There was always talk that he was going to go, that went on for a couple of seasons so I thought there might always be opportunities for me to grab that place if he did move on but it didn’t happen at the time.
QPRnet.com: Who was the best player you played with during your career?
DB: That’s difficult! I started my career at Palace so I can remember a young and raw player called Ian Wright and seeing the potential in him. I thought this guy is a natural goalscorer. One pre-season I remember we went away to Sweden and he must have scored about twelve goals and he was only playing half an hour in each match! He’d come on and get a hatrick so I knew at the time he had the lot. I played up front with him on my debut for Palace he missed a sitter and I scored in the last minute, he came up to me at the end of the match and said “Den, you saved my life!” He stands out as the best goalscorer I’ve played with. John Barnes was another, I was at Watford when I was seventeen. First time I saw him I thought, “yeh, I want to be like that guy!”
At QPR it would be Ray Wilkins, he was a great player and probably would have got a hundred caps for England if he hadn’t got sent off that time. Also players like David Bardsley and Clive Wilson, who should have been capped by England, they were fantastic players. Ray was a great person to have around though, I remember just before my debut he came up to me and said “Don’t feel overawed, you’re here because you are good enough to be here” it was the right words at the right time because I was standing there thinking “Is this really happening”.
QPRnet.com: Footballers in the dressing room can be a cruel bunch, did being so open about your religion mean you came in for a lot of stick?
DB: You always got the odd joke thrown about, I was lucky though with all my clubs most of the players were very respectful. At QPR we had David Bardsley and Alan McDonald and they were the two biggest jokers at the club and they would slaughter everyone so I got my fair share of stick off them but that was just friendly banter. I think I might have made it easier for myself by always being so open about my faith so at least they always knew where I stood as well.
QPRnet.com: Of course we all used to sing “Dennis Bailey, Hallelujah, Hallelujah”
DB: Yeh! I thought that was quite good! All the players started signing it at me in the end! To be honest that’s what I miss the most, the banter between the other players and with the supporters. To be a part of that is something you never forget.
QPRnet.com: Looking back on your career, is there anything you would change?
DB: I left my last league club Gillingham on a bosman, my contract ran out they had actually offered me another one but I turned it down so they sent me out on loan to Lincoln, I played reasonably well and the club actually got promoted but it was a bad move for me. Lincoln didn’t play any football at all, it was all long ball. I’d always been spoilt in my career playing for clubs that like to play football and I was stuck in midfield with the manager telling me not to take more than two touches, get it in the corner – I don’t know how people can watch that style of play! That’s probably my only regret.
QPRnet.com: You are 36 now, what does the future hold for Dennis Bailey?
DB: Well I’m doing my UEFA B badge and studying for an HND in sports science too so I want to get through them and hopefully there will be a few coaching opportunities up in Birmingham where I live now. I’ve signed for Stafford for the season so that will keep me going then I’ll look at maybe coaching non-league and see where that takes me. I think I could play for another two or three seasons though, I’m fairly fit, I’m about the same weight as I was when I started so I’ve looked after myself but I’ve got my family now and kids to support so you start to look more long term and that’s what I’m trying to do now.