We did well again and finished two points off fourth place – but it was so tight we came down in eighth on goal difference.
We played Newcastle on the final day, and they had to win to have any chance of winning the title. Sol, who had been marking Les Ferdinand all day, had to come off injured when we were 1-0 up. Then Les equalised from a corner in the last few minutes. Those two points we dropped would have got us into Europe.
Again, it was a season of fine margins.
Ferdinand was a player I’d always admired and had a lot of history with. I tried to sign him for Spurs on a number of occasions before I eventually got him in 1997. I’d also tried to get him back in 1988, when I was at Bristol Rovers.
“When QPR came calling, I couldn’t say no. They’d been my love for 20 years”
Before Bristol Rovers, my only managerial experience had been with Exeter City as a player-manager, at a time when I’d just finished playing. I’d never played at that level before, and I tried to coach them in the same way I’d been coached my whole career. I was probably a bit too overconfident in my ability as a coach. The team was in all sorts of trouble in the Third Division, had no money, and I thought: “I can get this team out of this league, no problem.”
I did – we got relegated in my first year!
It was the only time I ever got sacked, but I learned so much there. I went back to playing, and it took a few years before I got back into management, with Bristol Rovers.
I had a great time there, learning my trade over four years, making – and losing – the playoff final, and then the next season winning the league and getting manager of the year with a team that only cost £20,000. Half of that was my own money, spent to buy Ian Holloway! I wouldn’t advise people to do that, but it was worth it in the end.