Recently I was talking about the Hillsborough Disaster on the 19th anniversary and the old adage, ‘I know where I was that day’ came up. We’ve all done it haven’t we ? There are loads of them…30th July 1966…22nd November 1966…4th March 1967…21st July 1969…11th September 2001 and the 8th May 2004…to name a select few. Well, I’d like to add to that list. It won’t be in any significant history book as it’s only relevant to me personally. The date was 28th April 1973 and it was a day that changed my life forever. Thirty five years ago that day, I attended my first ever QPR game. That Saturday is indelibly marked in my memory. I remember the build up to it with 100% accuracy, even though it’s half a lifetime ago. Over the years memories fade and stories become vague with time. Well, not this story.
I remember sitting down to a Sunday roast on 22nd April 1973 with my two older brothers and sister. The TV was on and Brian Moore was presenting ‘The Big Match’. The featured game was from the Second Division, ‘Millwall versus newly promoted QPR’. I had to get used to all this football terminology. Anyway, during the game the conversation got onto the match the following Saturday, QPR versus Fulham. I asked my Dad if I could go and the answer was affirmative. What ? That was easy. I didn’t even have to promise to eat my cabbage. As was usual, following Sunday lunch time, all the kids in our street met on the patch of grass opposite our house to re-enact scenes we’d just watched on TV. For the past two years when this ritual was played out, my mates would ‘assume’ the names of players they had just seen on the Box. Not me, I didn’t know hardly any names, well not names I wanted to be associated with. This Sunday was different.
When I was defending, I was Dave Clement. When I was scoring or just up the other end, I was Don Givens. Givens had scored the winner at Cold Blow Lane the day before. I remember telling all my mates I was ‘going down the Rangers’ with my Dad although I didn’t tell my school mates as going with your Dad wasn’t ‘cool’. I remember a couple of days before the game, going into my oldest brother’s bedroom. As he supported the same team as my Dad, I enquired if he was ‘going down the Bush’. He said yes, so I then asked if I could go with him as Dad would be with his business partner and he was a Loftus Road regular in the terracing by the dugouts. I wasn’t up to speed with the Stands yet ! My brother said that he would take me so that was that. Now the wait began. I could now show off in the playground as I was now going to Loftus Road for the very first time.
The day arrived and I got up early, not for breakfast but to play football opposite my house. We played out a fantasy game of what was going to happen that afternoon in W12. Don Givens probably scored six that morning and Phil Parkes saved twelve penalties. Back home after to watch BBC’s ‘Grandstand’ and then ITV’s ‘On The Ball’. Then we were off for a walk to Latimer Road. Not the Tube Station but THE Latimer Road. We then crawled through a hole in the wire fence, walked up a grass embankment and crossed what was called ‘the rusty railway’ by the Latimer Arms pub. Under the Westway and we then emerged opposite White City Stadium. My brother had to pull me up from the wasteground onto Wood Lane. He knew that I was a voracious reader of anything on football so he handed me a magazine thing with loads of blue and white checks on the front. I instantly recognised it as my Grandad had loads of them in his cupboard. My Nan would let me read them whenever we visited. I used to love reading about playing the likes of Watford, Oxford, Carlisle, Aston Villa etc and a weird named team called ‘Les Allen Testimonial’ ???
Dad used to take us once a week to their place in Becklow Gardens, just by the ‘Princess Vic’ pub on the Uxbridge Road. It was always midweek. Sometimes Grandad wasn’t there as Nan would tell us that ‘he’s down the Rangers’. Grandad was always ill, well Monday to Friday he was. He used to have miraculous recoveries on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening depending if a game was on. At weekends he would spend Sundays in the ‘Princess Vic’ supping light ale, playing his spoons, moaning about the Rangers and then fall mysteriously ill in the evening. He became ‘really’ ill in 1974. I remember my Dad said it was the first time he was really ill. When he passed away, I inherited his programmes as no one else wanted them. I still cherish them to this day but I cherish that Fulham programme even more. That day changed my life.
Having negotiated the crowds walking down South Africa Road, we entered the Loft End turnstiles that I still do today and walked up the steps that emerged onto a vast terrace. My brother plonked me on the wall of the Boys enclosure and there I sat mesmerised for the next two hours. I remember looking at all the players boots in the warm up to decide which pair I wanted for my next birthday, oh yes, I had it all worked out. I settled on some Gola’s which were popular with about five of the players. The players came onto the pitch to a packed house of 22,187 fans. Some of them were laughing and pointing at one of the players. It turns out that he decided to wear a wig for a laugh ! When he took it off I remember thinking that he had the same haircut as my Grandad and that he must be really old. Rangers won 2-0 and the ground was full of fans celebrating promotion. The main thing I remember about the game apart from the goals was Peter Mellor diving at the No.10’s feet who then deliberately left his foot in and injured the keeper. For some warped reason I decided the No.10 was now my hero. I was going to pretend to be Stan Bowles when playing football.
Having had my first fix of QPR, like all addicts who succumb, I wanted more but I had to wait 3 months for my next ‘hit’…torture ! In those 3 months, I loved going round Grandad’s as he used to take the mickey out of Dad who supported a ‘lower league team’. Grandad told me about Wembley in 1967 and Villa Park in 1968. Dad would counter, ‘you’ll go straight back down like last time’. I didn’t have a clue what this meant so I went through Grandad’s programmes to find out. ‘Oh dear, it won’t happen again surely Grandad ?’ He said that Dad was jealous of ‘us’. Dad was also wrong. In the next season, only the second year in the 1st Division, not only did we not ‘go straight down like last time’ but we more than held out own. Loads of records were broken, or hoodoos shall we say. We beat loads of teams for the first time in our history, albeit, for most of our history we’d hardly played these teams before. League Cup holders Tottenham were knocked out at Loftus Road. In the next round we scored eight against Sheffield Wednesday, ok we only scored six as two Wednesday players added their names to our goals column. I thought this was too easy. Then we lost to a ‘lower league team’ called Plymouth Argyle in the next round, the first time I had seen Rangers lose and boy did it hurt. It hurt even more in the playground when class mates took the mickey.
But for most of my first season, we seemed to win more than we lost. Chelsea were beaten for the first time as well in a FA Cup replay. The 0-0 draw was my first away game, but was so easy as living by Latimer Road Station we just caught the 295 bus direct to Fulham Broadway. Another memorable day was the 1st January 1974. We beat Manchester United 3-0 in George Best’s last game for them although no one knew it at the time. It was memorable for other reasons though. I had made my first ever New Years Resolution which was to support QPR. Previously I hadn’t ever said who I supported. I just loved football, full stop. Peer pressure told me to go to QPR so I could talk to my mates in school about the games. I had toyed with the idea of Arsenal as a distant relative was engaged to Ray Kennedy in the late 60’s and early 70’s. He even came to Sunday dinner once with another Arsenal player at the time, a Welsh U21 player called Paul Davies. Ray asked me which team I supported and I said ‘no one’. He said ‘support Arsenal’. So in May 1971, the whole family sat down in front of our first ever colour TV to watch the FA Cup Final. We wanted Arsenal to win for personal reasons but it wasn’t the same for me, I wanted my own team.