Sunday, 2 December 2018

1984/85: QPR 5 Newcastle 5

It goes without saying that a 5-5 draw is a rare but spectacular beast. The recent thriller at the Villa saw two past European champions share ten goals, a reminder of many a game contested on the playground in my distant past. I’m sure Forest were glad that the “next goal’s the winner” rule was not invoked.

Talking to my son, I was trying to recall other 5-5 draws, until a bell chimed in the dusty vault of my memory banks. A match played on the skin-shredding plastic pitch at Loftus Road on September 22, 1984. QPR 5 Newcastle United 5.

Both clubs had experienced managerial changes in the summer of 1984. Arthur Cox had overseen Newcastle’s promotion to the top flight in 1983/84, but departed for Derby, unhappy at the lack of support from his Board. Under Terry Venables, QPR had finished 5th in Division One, but when Barcelona come knocking it is hard to turn them down.

The task of replacing two successful managers fell to former England internationals Jack Charlton and Alan Mullery. Neither would be in charge for a lengthy period of time; Mullery’s ill-fated spell lasted just six months, with Charlton resigning before the start of the next season. But during their reigns, they did manage to squeeze in this crazy fixture.

A week after QPR’s crushing 5-0 loss at Tottenham, Mullery would have been looking for a response from his players. What he got was more of the same. With Chris Waddle demonstrating the fine form that would lead to an England call-up, the first half was a joy to behold for the travelling Toon Army.

The fun started after just three minutes, with Neil McDonald heading in after great work by Waddle down the left, the Newcastle winger running the show throughout the first half. Two Waddle goals in five minutes stretched Newcastle’s lead, and when he completed his hat-trick with a stunning long range effort, it appeared to be game over.

As an Arsenal fan still not willing to talk about that match in 2011, we all know a 4-0 lead at half-time provides no guarantee of three points. Gary Bannister started the unlikely comeback in the 49th minute, and soon blind panic would envelope the visitors.

Admittedly, QPR’s second goal just before the hour was a freak, one that was destined to end up on many a compilation of amusing own goals. But the sheer calamity of it would neatly sum up Newcastle’s second half display. Peter Haddock’s attempted clearance smashed into Kenny Wharton’s head and ended up in the Newcastle net, giving keeper Kevin Carr no chance.

Not to be outdone, QPR almost scored a stunning own goal themselves, before turning their attentions to the other end of the pitch. A Simon Stainrod goal was ruled out – QPR’s second disallowed goal of the afternoon – yet a John Gregory strike after 73 minutes started to make the impossible look possible.

The match looked dead and buried, though, when Waddle once again got hold of the ball. His run and cross with just six minutes remaining gave Wharton a simple tap-in, calming nerves in the dugout and on the packed terraces behind the goal that QPR were attacking.

However, those fans were about to be put through even more agony in the closing few minutes. An instant reply from Steve Wicks cranked up the pressure, and with a minute left on the clock, Gary Micklewhite surged through Newcastle’s defence to fire in a barely believable equaliser.

As QPR’s supporters around the ground became a mass of limbs, some fans invaded the pitch – at least they wouldn’t have got their shoes muddy – the celebrations understandable given the nature of the fightback. When the final whistle sounded, everyone could try and get their breath back.

Charlton was livid, possibly speaking for the stunned Geordies that now had to make the trek home after witnessing the collapse. “They’re driving me mad,” he admitted. “I have never seen anything as disgusting as that in the 32 years I have been in the game.”

He wasn’t finished there. “It’s every manager’s nightmare. You think they might get back in the game, but don’t really believe it when you’re 4-0 up. We just stopped playing. We did exactly the same at Arsenal, at Old Trafford and got hammered five, and again last week against Everton.”

The manager certainly wasn’t holding back when it came to discussing his team. “The players showed no common sense. There’s so much learning to do at this club it’s untrue. I don’t know who’s been educating them but it certainly wasn’t me.”

Mullery was naturally delighted with the comeback, stating that it was great for the fans, but likely to give the managers a heart attack. “I’ll watch the second half with anybody, but the first half I’ll view privately because I might kick the dog and the television.”

For Newcastle’s star, the afternoon turned sour with every QPR goal. “The thrill of what should have been the most memorable day of my career was ruined,” Waddle said. “I can’t believe what’s happened,” with a little over 14,000 others no doubt nodding in agreement.

QPR followers may have been cock-a-hoop that evening, but football has a habit of biting you on the backside. Come November, the boot was well and truly on the other foot, QPR on the receiving end of another remarkable turnaround. Football, bloody hell!

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