Words: Sid Lambert
Images: Twitter / Offside Sports Photgraphy
Sid runs that Proper Football account on Twitter. Follow him at @sid_lambert for an onslaught of football nostalgia.
October 20, 1990
There’s not been a lot for QPR fans to be happy about lately. But mention the name Roy Wegerle and, in an instant, their faces light up in joy. Slick-haired and with feet to match, the United States international scored one of the greatest goals in R’s history on a remarkable day at Elland Road.
At the time Leeds were rebuilding purposefully under Howard Wilkinson. It was a regime of no-nonsense football. Aerial, direct, and with outstanding energy efficiency. They’d taken the First Division by storm.
They’d found the blend of bastardry and brilliance to emerge victorious from the Saturday afternoon battlefields of pre-Premiership English football. Chris Fairclough and Chris Whyte marshalled the back line, protected by the enthusiastic psychosis of David Batty. Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister brought some flair to the fight, while upfront Leeds had the most effective target man of the era, Big Lee Chapman, who’d been terrorising defences across the land as Sergeant Wilko’s men gained ground on the league leaders.
And, Roy Wegerle was everything that Chapman wasn’t. He was a man out of his time. While top-flight managers wanted totem poles upfront, the Rangers’ striker was a free spirit, tiptoeing around the violence to showcase his virtuoso talents.
He divided opinion. In the stands, men lost their hearts to his swivelling hips and fancy feet. In the dressing room managers lost their patience—too much artistry, not enough arsehole. You didn’t win points by poncing about, for fuck’s sake, they’d tell him.
That’s how he ended up at Loftus Road rather than one of the leading lights. QPR had a history of indulging mercurial talents. And while Wegerle’s reputation may not match the likes of Bowles and Marsh, his performance on this day in Leeds secured his legacy.
It had all started so inauspiciously. The hosts blitzed Rangers from the off. Czechoslovakian goalkeeper Jan Stejskal, whose name would test local radio commentators for months, had a stinker on his Rangers’ debut. Leeds were two up after twenty minutes, and Fleet Street’s finest were sharpening up their “Czech mate” headlines.
Then things started to go off script. A sweet strike from Ray Wilkins gave the visitors a foothold, before Wegerle took centre stage, stepping into the spotlight like a matinee idol among the mud and torn-up grass.
Receiving the ball on the right flank, he left Glynn Snodin on his backside. Batty sought retribution for his fallen comrade, only for Wegerle to lollipop the ball through his legs. A stepover sent McAllister in the direction of the Pennines and quick feet accounted for a sprawling John Pearson. Finally, after jinking past Fairclough, Wegerle drove the ball past John Lukic.
Ten seconds, six players, and one timeless memory.
The reaction from the Leeds faithful was remarkable. Moments earlier Elland Road had been about as welcoming to visitors as Broadmoor. Now there was stunned silence, followed by an outburst of spontaneous applause. Fuck it, they said. Sometimes in life there’s nothing you can do.
QPR eventually won 3–2 after Wegerle scored a tidy winner that absolutely nobody remembers. His equaliser would eventually be crowned ITV’s ‘Goal of the Season’, much to the delight of Jimmy Greaves, and would remain the highlight of his time in west London.
For their part, Leeds’ journey under Wilkinson would end in the First Division title a season later. By that time, Wegerle was being booted out of QPR by new boss Gerry Francis who wanted to instil his team with a bit more grit. Plus ça change, and all that.
The striker’s nomadic career continued at Blackburn, Coventry, and before a spell back stateside. At each of the outposts, he left a familiar impression. There were moments of magic, unfortunate injuries, and a wry smile that greets the mention of his name to this very day. He is the epitome of a champagne player of that era. Everybody loved a sip, savouring it on special occasions, but if you were planning a proper session you were better off sticking to pints of Carling.
After football he became a professional golfer, showing the same effortless ability with a club as he did with his feet. Notoriously shy, the striker now resides in Florida and rarely speaks publicly. If—and when—he does, talk will almost inevitably go back to that day in Yorkshire. And can you blame him?
What a goal it was, Roy Wegerle. What a goal.
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