On this day six years ago the ultimate smash-and-grab victory took place at Wembley. Against all the odds ten-man Queens Park Rangers overcame Derby County in the most dramatic of circumstances to seal an immediate return to the Premier League.
Bobby Zamora came off the bench to notch an injury-time winner for the Rs, who had to contend with wave after wave of attack from Steve McClaren’s men following Gary O’Neil’s dismissal.
The evergreen striker was delirious, and rightly so, sharing a poignant embrace with the club’s Under-21 boss Steve Gallen on the hallowed turf – a moment the latter ranks as the most humbling experience of his coaching career. And there was good reason for that.
Zamora’s QPR career looked all but over just a matter of months prior to that historic day. The injured-plagued forward had been struggling for form and was out of the first-team picture, with manager Harry Redknapp making him available for the reserves.
With his star striker Charlie Austin suffering a potential season-ending shoulder injury early into the new year, Redknapp was forced to delve into the transfer market in January – with the pressure building on the veteran boss to deliver promotion.
Incredibly, four strikers were brought into the club on deadline day – Kevin Doyle, Modibo Maiga, Will Keane and Guilherme Dellatorre. It was the latter’s arrival in W12 that raised the most eyebrows, with the Brazilian very much an unknown prospect.
Tony Fernandes – the club’s chairman at that time – felt the young striker was someone who could potentially be fast tracked into the first team. Gallen thought otherwise.
Dellatorre never made a first-team appearance for Rangers – and probably had Gallen to thank for that – such was the glowing endorsement he gave for his counterpart Zamora after an Under-21 fixture against Charlton.
“As I always did after the game I made a phone call to the gaffer [Harry Redknapp] to tell him who had done well and I mentioned that Bobby Zamora was excellent,” Gallen told talkSPORT.
“He was a little bit surprised. But then I remember the chairman [Tony Fernandes] ringing me out of the blue, he never called me, asking me about the Brazilian lad [Guilherme Dellatorre].
“Sometimes as a human being, let alone a coach or a scout, you get influenced. He desperately wanted me to say this geezer is brilliant, but the bottom line is that he wasn’t.
“He was alright, it was an average performance – six out of 10. But Bobby was excellent. He was a bit taken aback by that, and you could tell he didn’t really want to hear that.
“So you know you’re putting your neck on the line saying that. It would have been so easy for me to tow the party line and say Bobby wasn’t all that, but that’s not what I’m about.”
Discussing Zamora’s contribution to his team during that period, Gallen said: “He caused no problems for me whatsoever. He was very good with the younger players – who loved him – and was incredibly professional throughout.
“This is a lad who had played for England and now he’s playing in an Under-21 game at Charlton away.
“I’ve seen it loads of times over the years players going down to the reserves who feel as though they are being punished and throw the towel in. I’ve seen that both as a player and a coach, but he didn’t sulk.
“I think he thought to himself you know what ‘this is f***ing quite good’. The step back helped him to take a step forward. He came back and was brilliant.”
Recalling the moment the pair shared after the whistle at Wembley, Gallen added: “I went on the pitch and I was hugging Bobby – we were both buzzing – and he said to me: ‘Steve, thank you for helping me’.
“I was thinking ‘f***ing hell Bob, you’ve just scored the goal to send us into the Premier League and you’ve come straight over to me and said that. So that was a really, really nice touch I’ve got to say.”
Zamora’s £120million strike was crucial in keeping the Rs afloat, who were in serious financial difficulties at that time.
His influence in the play-off semi-final was also pivotal, teeing up Charlie Austin to score his and QPR’s second goal in a 2-1 aggregate win against Wigan.
Austin believes Redknapp played a masterstroke sending Zamora to train with the Under-21s, as the ‘Bobby Zamora of old’ duly returned – and just in the nick of time.
“When Harry did something like that it was to get the best out of a player,” he told talkSPORT.
“At that particular time Bobby wasn’t really playing and wasn’t performing on the pitch. The fans were also on Bob’s back. He had a strange relationship with them and that was already the case before I arrived at the club.
“Harry wanted Bobby to light his fuse again so he went to play with Steve in the reserves, as such, for a few weeks and he was like the Bobby Zamora I’ve known for years.
“It’s testament to Bob’s character [the way he came back]. Would it have dented his pride? It probably gave him that spark more than anything to come back and go I’m not f***ing finished. I’m here to do a job and do what I’m paid for.”
Austin believes Zamora never got the true recognition he deserved for the career he had.
“He didn’t get enough respect for the technique and quality he actually had,” the West Brom striker maintained.
“It was easy to say Bob was 6ft, a strong lad and held the ball up. But he was deadly with both feet.
“You don’t have a career like Bobby had by chance. When I played with Bob it was all about learning. He was at the back end of his career at QPR and it was really interesting to see how he adapted his game.
“The nuts and bolts of Bobby’s game were faultless. He was a big character and I don’t think people from the outside realised that – he spoke a lot of sense.
“He was somebody I needed at that stage of my playing career, and if it wasn’t for Bob I might never have played in the Premier League.”
It was a big call from Redknapp to take Zamora out of the firing line. And one Steve Black, a motivational speaker and sports psychologist who played an integral role behind the scenes at QPR during that period, fully agreed with.
“Harry made the call and it was a big one. But it was a great call, Bobby came back so much better for it,” he told talkSPORT.
“Footballers have got to play, so if you’re just practising on the training field it’s not necessarily the best preparation if you are needed.
“Even if you’re not playing but you see the team has got momentum it’s very contagious, so whether you’re playing or not it lifts your spirit as well even if you’re feeling a bit down.
“Bobby, being the way he is anyway, was keeping everyone else up. He was always chatting to the people in the canteen and was a big character in the dressing room. He was there ready to go when he was needed.
“Bobby was a well liked and much respected professional, so for Harry to have a person of his calibre on the bench at Wembley, especially considering his play-off record (West Ham winner vs Preston in 2005), was a huge plus.
“You don’t play in teams that are successful if you don’t have a great presence in the dressing room. There was a reason why Bobby had been around the top level for as long as he had been and scored 150 goals.”
And speaking to talkSPORT, Redknapp expressed his belief that Zamora could always come back and be the difference for the Rs – which he ultimately was.
“I was always a Bobby Zamora fan. When I was at Tottenham, he’d gave me nightmares when we used to play Fulham,” the former QPR boss admitted.
“He was the one player who could give Ledley King and Michael Dawson terrible problems in defence – they just couldn’t handle him.
“There was no-one better in the country than Bobby in terms of holding the ball up and bringing people into play. I always thought he was a top player.
“When I got him fit enough to play at QPR, I always felt confident that we had a big chance of winning – he was that important to me.
“There’s certain players like that at a football club, who are that important to you. Ledley King was like that for me at Tottenham – I always thought we’d win when he played.
“And I felt the exact same when Bobby was fit and available for me at QPR, but unfortunately he was injured a lot of the time.
“Bobby’s goal at Wembley is something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It was an amazing strike and an amazing day.”
BBC London’s Phil Parry ‘un-be-liev-able’ commentary as Zamora notched yet another ‘Bobby Dazzler’ on the biggest stage was a fitting end to an exhausting season for everyone connected with QPR.
During the dressing room celebrations that followed, Zamora shouted ‘two more years, two more years’ referring to his contract status at the time. He got another year in the end – it was the least he deserved for his Wembley heroics.