Norman’s Nightmare At Being Left High And Dry
We have heard of players being sent home for disciplinary reasons – the unlucky Dave Wagstaffe from Ipswich, for example – and others, like Tim Steele on the day of a match at Aldershot, arriving late for departure.
But the case of the player being left behind as the return journey begins is altogether more rare, so step forward Norman Bell.
When he tunes in or logs on for an update of Saturday lunchtime’s important Blackburn v QPR Championship fixture, the striker’s mind is sure to go back to the time a meeting of the same two clubs in the capital left him marooned and a little miffed.
You would have thought a goal in a worthy draw away to a team who would win promotion to the top flight that season would have had Bell in the good books of Rovers manager Bobby Saxton. But it didn’t stop him being stranded on the pavement outside Loftus Road with the team coach winding its way along the streets of West London.
“I am pretty sure it was the game we played down there in 1982-83 because we drew and I scored,” he recalled.
“Things seemed to happen when I played against Terry Venables’ teams or at QPR. I broke my leg when we won at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup in 1978-79 and there was that time I scored two at Rangers for Wolves and the loudspeaker guy gave them both to Mel Eves because Sammy Chung had made a mistake when filling the team sheet in.
“The time I was left behind was soon after I moved to Blackburn. Terry Venables fuelled a mini riot by making a big thing of claiming the ball had gone out of play when Noel Brotherston crossed. I headed it in and think their fans would happily have lynched me.
“I went into their dressing room afterwards to have a chat with Bob Hazell, who had been sold by Wolves to QPR. I didn’t seem to be in there long but when I came out, someone asked me if I was travelling somewhere separately as the Rovers coach had just gone.
“It left early to avoid any more problems, ironically leaving the ‘trouble-maker’ (me) to face the music. I was also left behind in London in hospital following that Palace game, so I suppose I had form!”
Bell, who had a mild case of covid last month, added: “I couldn’t believe what happened at QPR and wondered how I was going to get myself home, probably by train.
“Fortunately, though, the Rovers directors usually went by car and our chairman at the time was William Fox, a wonderful straight-talking Lancashire guy who I remember as being very active with the Football League.
“I was able to have a lift home with him in his Jag. Apparently, my absence wasn’t noted until the lads were up near Coventry and they cracked up when Ian Miller, a Scot who had scored our other goal and who later went to coach at Wolves, said: ‘Can I have his sandwiches then, boss?’
“I suppose I had the last laugh in as much as we got back to Blackburn before the team coach did but I always made sure I didn’t get left behind at an away ground again.”
Manager Saxton had himself been at Wolves as a young trialist from Wath Wanderers country.