My First Football Memory: James Lawrence Allcott - TOFFS
Here at TOFFS, we believe that football is more than just a game: it’s an experience, a neverending story of hope, glory and despair that’s best shared with friends, family and fellow fans around the country and throughout the world.
Our ongoing My First Football Memory blog series is dedicated to celebrating what makes the sport so special, speaking to top football personalities and influencers about their earliest footballing recollections to find out what made them fall in love with the game, and how those memories have shaped their lives ever since.
This time, we were lucky enough to speak to James Allcott, star of the James Lawrence Allcott YouTube channel, and one of online football media’s most passionate and knowledgeable voices. James has been working in sports media for many years, starting out as a producer within the world of television before shifting online in 2015 to work with the likes of Ball Street, XO and the Great Touch For A Big Lad podcast.
Since then, James has gone from strength to strength, presenting online content for the Premier League and appearing as a regular guest on the hugely popular YouTube show The Kick Off. He also captained the XO team in the 2018 EE Wembley Cup, an event that featured ex-pro legends such as Cafu, Robert Pires, Patrick Kluivert and Robbie Fowler.
We were really excited to sit down with James for a wide-ranging chat about the most important football memories of his life, and his love of Queen’s Park Rangers - in his own words…
James’ first game: a star is born?
My first memories of football are kind of twofold; one was the first ever game I attended, which we will get back to a bit later on, but for me it was always about playing football. Sports has been my whole life!
So the first memory that really triggered for me was my first ever five-a-side tournament. I think I was five or six years old, and the first game we played was for Fetcham Park United, against Abbey Rangers. I’ll never forget the game... I remember a guy who became a good friend of mine, me and him went straight from kick-off all the way down the pitch, basically just one-twoing the ball through the opposition’s feet.
I can’t even remember if we scored or not, but we got very close to scoring if we didn’t; we weren’t really thinking, obviously, because we were six years old, but we ended up calling the move an “Abbey”, and it was already being used as a code by the time we played the second game of that tournament!
We were clearly the two best players in the team, and for the rest of that tournament, every time there was a kick-off, we were attempting an “Abbey”. I think that kind of highlights my love of playing the game itself and what can come from it… it was just one of those little moments where you realise: “oh, hang on, this feels good!” Like, something happened there!
Becoming a QPR fan: a family legacy
Without doubt, the biggest influence in introducing me to football was my dad. My dad was similar to me: football has been in his blood all his life. He captained Cambridge University, played for a long, long time; my mum would get creeped out watching me play because she had seen my dad play, and we played exactly the same, in the same position! We both had no pace, we both barked orders at everyone else who would listen, and we were both very, very similar in a sense.
Without ever really having to push too hard, my dad has always been a massive, massive influence in terms of my love of the game. Me and him have been sitting next to each other for the last 20 years at QPR with season tickets, and before that, he managed both my first and last football team as a kid as well. He has always been there, absolutely integral, without forcing it on me.
That said, there was no other option for me in terms of being a QPR fan - my dad supported them, my dad’s dad supported them, my uncle supported them. There was literally no choice!
I think that’s something that I will look to do with my own children - get the brainwashing in as early as possible. I’ve thought about this recently: when I tried to get myself into NFL a little bit, I wanted a team to support. But I didn’t understand what kind of process there could be to picking a team - what am I supposed to base it on? The fact that a team is purple, or a team is red, or whatever it is? It stopped the authenticity of it for me!
Honestly, there have been times where I think that in my career, I would have made a lot more money if I wasn’t a QPR fan. I would have had an Arsenal channel, or a Liverpool or a Man United channel, and there’d be hundreds of millions of people subscribing to my channel regardless of how good it is, because of their loyalty to those different brands. Being a QPR fan, you are both irrelevant and your opinion matters a little bit less!
If I could have chosen another team, it would have been more useful from a career point of view - but from who I am as a person it suits me down to the ground. There was never a choice!
James’ matchday journey begins… in Brechin?
The first match I actually attended was when I was five years old: Brechin City vs Hearts at Glebe Park, in the third round of the Scottish League Cup, on August 19th 1992. My dad took me; I imagine that was slightly annoying for him, because I think he would have wanted my first game to have been a QPR game, but my mum is Scottish and we ended up in Brechin that summer, so it wasn’t to be!
It was quite a unique game to have as your first match; I don’t have too many memories of it! I think we were standing on the day, and I vaguely have a picture of it being behind the goal, high up on the stand. It went to extra time and Hearts won the game 2-1.
With my dad being English and my mum being Scottish, Scotland plays into a few other key memories for me - particularly years later at Euro ‘96, Scotland vs England at Wembley. My dad had got the tickets, but then had injured his Achilles tendon, so my mum had to take me; I think if I had been with my dad, I might have concentrated on the game itself a little bit more!
All I remember is when an attack happened, there would be this Mexican wave of the fans standing up in excitement when the ball went down one end; I can vaguely remember the first goal and just about remember the second goal, and actually feeling a bit of guilt because my mum’s Scottish! I was like: “oh, this is game over now!”
Becoming QPR’s “good luck charm”
My first QPR game was against Oldham Athletic in October 1992. That game in Brechin in August had obviously piqued my interest, so we got ourselves down to Loftus Road - my dad had thought I was going to be ready for it.
I think we won that game; I would say 3-1 or 3-2. I don’t remember the game itself very clearly, but I remember that 1992-93 season; supposedly, I was the good luck charm, because every time I went, we won! I went to about five games that season, and we won every single game.
It wasn’t until the next season that the streak was broken, when I had my whole football team come with me to a home game against Swindon Town. Swindon had that one season in the Premier League and were pretty woeful - but of course, they did the double over QPR that evening. And on my birthday, in our home game against a Swindon team who were already pretty much relegated, basically a guaranteed victory… we lost 1-0.
I remember the good luck charm died there and then. I remember being heartbroken, because I was like: “when I go, we win! That’s how it works!” That was massively, massively devastating, and as time went on, I learnt that I was certainly not a good luck charm!
Still, my dad got lucky in a sense, because in that first season as a QPR fan, QPR finished fifth in the Premier League. So I was used to my team winning for the first season and a half, even though it rapidly went downhill after that! But it was too late, I was in; I was ingrained as a QPR fan.
I think it’s a lot harder to get your child to support a so-called “lesser team”, especially these days; when kids inevitably play a game like FIFA, they’re not going to pick QPR, they’re going to play Barcelona, Real Madrid, those big teams. So creating that excitement about the likes of QPR can be a little bit harder, but in my case, when I came along QPR had one of our greatest ever teams: Les Ferdinand, Andy Sinton, Ray Wilkins, you know, some great, great players.
QPR heroes, inspirational captains and a Ray Wilkins puppet
When I think about my first football hero, the very first one - and this is going to make me sound like I am like, 90 years old - is Ray Wilkins. He was 36 in my first season as a QPR fan, but I’ve always loved a centre midfielder with zero pace, who likes a through ball!
Part of it is because I always saw him and thought: “oh, I would like to play like that.” For me, playing a perfect pass is just one of the most beautiful arts of football; being the type of player, like Scholes or Pirlo, who can slow down the game, be relaxed on the ball and see what is happening before it has happened, without really needing to move too much.
But beyond that, one of the first football videos I owned was the 1993 season review, and Ray Wilkins just always came across as incredibly charming, a proper leader and a proper captain. There are so many stories about him as a captain at QPR in particular, how he helped so many players, how much drive and desire he had... but in that video, he sort of leads it all, and you can tell that it was almost like he was your dad, a little bit.
I always liked those leaders, those captains; Stuart Pearce comes to mind massively as well at Euro ‘96. That moment when he screamed after scoring the penalty against Spain, knowing what he had been through to miss the one he took at the World Cup in 1990, to have that kind of redemption… it makes me tear up a little bit, I love that raw emotion! Tony Adams as well; another iconic moment in 1998, when he scored that goal against Everton and just sort of... closes his eyes. He just lets it sink in.
But yeah, bizarrely my very first hero was an ageing Ray Wilkins. At school when I was about six, we were making puppets, and I cut out these two brown circles and put them on either side of the head of this puppet, because I was trying to make Ray Wilkins. My dad didn’t realise this for about 15 years. I thought he would have just seen it! I was like: “well, obviously it’s Ray Wilkins!”
What’s changed about being a football fan?
Since I’ve grown up, one of the things I’ve missed is that feeling that every bit of data would stay in my head about my team and my players. You are such a sponge to the world of football at that age, and I guess you have got these innocent eyes; my dad could tell you anything about football in the 1960s in ridiculous amounts of detail, and I had the same thing with QPR in the 1990s!
As the years go on, I think your brain just doesn’t have the space; you find girls and alcohol, and you have to work and all other things that get in the way of that pure adoration for a sport, or your team. I do miss the fact that I can’t soak it up the way that I used to!
Also, the culture around the game has changed a bit, especially with social media making life quite difficult for certain football fans. In particular, for football fans of teams higher up, social media creates a dynamic where instead of enjoying a moment for what it is, it is about lording it over someone else; the focus can sometimes be on it going badly for the opposition, or looking for opportunities to banter someone.
I find that really boring, so I’m really fortunate to be a QPR fan in that respect; you say you are a QPR fan to people and then you get these eyes where they are like: “uhhhhh…. what am I supposed to say here? I don’t know anything about this football team!” For me, the ability for me to just go to QPR and enjoy the game with my dad has never changed, but I’m not sure if the latest generation has been able to enjoy it the same way and focus on just supporting their own club.
The importance of staying connected to your football heritage
When I look at the TOFFS range of QPR shirts, the one that leaps out to me is the 1960s-70s retro shirt. When you’re a QPR fan and your dad is a QPR fan, you will learn about the 1960s and 1970s teams, and you’ll know that our history is defined in large part by our number 10s - we have that element of wanting an entertainer.
We’ve had Adel Taarabt, John Byrne in the 80s, Roy Wegerle in the 90s… we’ve just lost Eberechi Eze as our number 10, but I am excited about the next number 10 that will hopefully come through the door. And that all goes back to the start in the 60s, when you had Rodney Marsh, and later Stan Bowles. Rodney Marsh in the 60s was a player who took QPR to a different level; they were a Third Division South team, but then with him as that number 10, we won the League Cup in 1967 and grew to become a team that could finish in the top five of the English football pyramid.
So I think that’s a really nice shirt to have; to not just go straight to, say, the 1976 shirt which is just absolutely iconic with Stan Bowles, but to go back even further to when QPR really became QPR!
What’s also interesting about that shirt is the badge - QPR have had a few badges, and for me the most iconic badges have had those interlocked Q, P and R letters that we’ve recently gone back to, but that badge from the 1960s and 70s will be alien to most QPR fans. I would say 70% of QPR fans wouldn’t know that was a QPR badge if they saw it… but some do, and those are the ones that care about the history of the club. For me, it’s a badge I remember seeing through the memorabilia that my dad collected.
That’s the symbolic thing about the badges - it is almost perfectly placed on your heart. It says how close a club is to your heart, that you can go back to a shirt like this from the 60s and 70s when it wasn’t your club yet because you didn’t exist, but you still can get this feeling towards a badge that wasn’t yours, because you care about the history of that club.
The neverending sense of hope...
At the end of the day, this has always been about the power and the beauty of sport for me, the idea that anything can happen. It takes six seconds to score a goal, really, and that sense of possibility is what you always have to kind of cling onto.
With all the money that is in the game now, it’s difficult to truly believe that as a QPR fan, you can win an FA Cup or something else huge. There is a pessimism that does creep into the sport sometimes, and it’s down to you to kind of steer clear of that as much as possible. Because if you do lean into it, then you’re going to miss out on the payoff that comes when the script gets rewritten. Every single season, it gets rewritten, and long may that continue!
My biggest fear comes when you see the likes of Stoke City, who get to ninth in the Premier League three seasons on the trot and then start to get a little bit bored because ultimately they want to do a bit more than that, and then they throw a bit of money at it to bridge the gap, get it wrong, and now they’re back to struggling in the Championship. There is such a ceiling there between some of those kinds of teams and the established top six - I think that’s a real shame.
I remember watching a documentary about the 1970s and I think there was a different title winner in every year of that decade - Derby, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and so on. It would be so nice to have a football pyramid where a team that gets promoted could legitimately win the title; it’s getting harder and harder every year to keep dreaming like that, but I am always clinging on to it!
A million thanks to James for taking the time to share his stories and memories with us! If you’ve enjoyed this, you can find more of his football insights over on the James Lawrence Allcott YouTube channel, or give him a follow on Twitter at @jamesallcott.
Keep checking back with TOFFS for further instalments in the My First Football Memory series! If you’re feeling nostalgic after reading this, check out our catalogue of retro football shirts from throughout the ages, including our wide selection of retro QPR shirts from various classic eras!