AMID the fairly seismic changes Brighton & Hove Albion went through in the summer of 1981, the arrival of full back Don Shanks was quite low key.
Manager Alan Mullery had quit in a fit of pique over chairman Mike Bamber selling Mark Lawrenson to Liverpool (when he’d already done a deal to sell him to Manchester United).
Brian Horton, the skipper throughout Albion’s rise from Third Division to First, left the club to join Luton Town with Tony Grealish coming in the opposite direction.
John Gregory, whose end of season switch from right back to midfield had played a big part in Albion’s narrow escape from relegation, moved to Second Division Queens Park Rangers.
In Gregory’s place, 28-year-old Hammersmith-born Shanks arrived at the Goldstone from Loftus Road.
He had been a part of that very successful QPR squad of the mid 1970s but had more of a reputation for activities off the field, getting into scrapes with his best mate Stan Bowles and dating former Miss World, Mary Stavin.
Shanks told Shoot magazine how he had been about to sign for Third Division Millwall despite having been on trial at Brighton, and playing on a pre-season tour, but Mike Bailey’s no. 2, John Collins, who’d been at Luton at the same time as Shanks recommended him to the boss and he agreed a one-year deal to play at the top level.
Bailey clearly favoured experience over youth. The inexperienced Chris Ramsey had come in at right back and impressed at the end of the 1980-81 season but didn’t get a look-in under Bailey, who also added top level nous on the left side with the free transfer capture of former Arsenal left back Sammy Nelson who he favoured over the long-serving Gary Williams.
With a midfield strengthened by the arrival of former European Cup winner Jimmy Case, who had moved from Anfield as part of the Lawrenson deal, there was a solid but not flamboyant look to the new line-up.
However unpopular Bailey’s defence-minded approach appeared, the fact remains he steered Brighton to their highest ever finish (13th) in the football pyramid – a feat which stands to this day.
Shanks certainly played his part in that achievement and spoke about his time at the club on the popular Albion Roar podcast in October 2018. Shanks finished that historic season having completed 41 league and cup games, plus one as sub and was non-playing sub in two.
All the while Bailey was at the helm, Shanks was a regular and he began the 1982-83 season in the number 2 shirt again.
However, the talented and versatile Gary Stevens was always able to slot in comfortably as a right back or centre back and before long Shanks was not first choice. He made his last – 54th – appearance in a 2-0 defeat away to Coventry on 4 December 1982, after which Bailey was sacked.
The new management team of George Aitken and Jimmy Melia instantly reinstated Ramsey at right back and Shanks never played for the Seagulls again.
On his release he linked up with Wimbledon and played a game for them before moving into non-league football with Wealdstone.
Born on 2 October 1952, Shanks began his football career as a junior at Fulham during the Johnny Haynes era, but moved on to Luton Town without appearing in Fulham’s first team.
He played 90 games for the Hatters under manager Harry Haslam and was in their 1973-74 promotion side along with Barry Butlin and Ken Goodeve, who both later had spells at Brighton, and former Man Utd European Cup winner John Aston, former United player and coach Jimmy Ryan and ex-Everton striker Jimmy Husband.
QPR signed him for £35,000 and he made his debut for the Hoops on 7 December 1974.
Shanks was generally regarded as back-up to first choice right back Dave Clement but nonetheless was part of QPR’s Championship runners-up squad in 1975-76. Manager Dave Sexton’s team was captained by Gerry Francis and included Phil Parkes in goal, Frank McLintock and David Webb in defence and Shanks’ great mate Stan Bowles up front with Don Givens.
In one interview, Bowles said: “Sexton signed Don Shanks from Luton to keep me happy. He was my best mate – and a bigger gambler than me!”
In another, he told sabotagetimes.com: “Everyone talks about George Best and Rodney Marsh. They were characters, all right. But they weren’t the only ones. Back in the 70s, there’d be a few characters in every team. At QPR we had Don Shanks, a very decent full-back who’d do just about anything for a laugh.”
And former QPR midfield player and subsequent England manager, Terry Venables, told journalist Joe Lovejoy: “Stan was game for a wind-up and formed a double act with Don Shanks which was different class. They never had any money and they always used to be borrowing or wanting an advance from the club secretary, Ron Phillips.”
Speaking exclusively to The Inside’R’ magazine, Shanks – who played 206 games and scored 11 goals for QPR between 1974 and 1981 – admitted: “I had a few situations with Stanley when it came to greyhounds. We bought a couple of them together, which was basically disastrous. Why? Well, they just weren’t very good.”
The pair also shared a flat for a short time. “We had this flat just off the Uxbridge Road in Ealing,” Shanks said. “We were there for four or five months until we ran out of money to pay the rent. I remember when the landlord came for the rent. I‘d paid it a couple of times, and I said to Stan, ‘It’s your turn to pay.’
“He said, ‘Let him knock, I’ll answer it.’
“So this big fella knocks on our door, and fair play to Stan, he got up to answer it. He said to him, ‘What do you want?’
“And the fella says, ‘I’m looking for my rent’.
“So Stan says, ‘You better come in and we can all look for it!’
“That was our last weekend there, and there was no more flat-sharing after that. It was an interesting four or five months because Stan knew a lot of interesting people, in the pop business and on the TV, all that sort of carry-on.
“It was fun. You’d go everywhere, and everyone knew Stan. I was just seen as Stan’s mate – I liked it that way!”
Many of the old QPR squad were reunited in December 2014 for a gathering largely organised by Shanks to raise money for his old pal who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s, and in 2015 Shanks returned to Loftus Road as a matchday guest for a half-time Q&A session.
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- Pictures show a portrait of Don Shanks shortly after signing for the Albion; in action against Nottingham Forest’s Garry Birtles, and a still from a video on wn.com shot in October 2016.