Friends, sometimes we determine who they will be. Sometimes they kind of find us. Perhaps it’s common ideals; or maybe its people you work with; or neighbours. Or perhaps it’s a common interest that throws you together initially, and your friendship develops from there. Well, in the case of Paul Farley and myself, it was the latter, although common passion would be more apt, for our beloved Queen’s Park Rangers.
We first met many years ago, time has eroded my memory as to which away game it was, where we were heading or even how long ago, but it must be circa 20 years. I still had hair, a subject that would form many of the friendly ‘slates’ and banter that would become our trademark over the ensuing years, while Paul was always a ‘big lad’, the counter ‘slate’ I always had as my retort. Thus ‘Slaphead’ and ‘Fatto’ (a parody on Statto due to his immense knowledge for the game) were just two of our normal salutations.
I keep using the name Paul, but most knew him as ‘Queenie’ or ‘Queen’, a name he evidently was awarded when he was verbally attacking a mate who responded with, ‘You can shut it Queenie’, as Paul was wearing a Queen t-shirt that fateful day. Over the years I expanded on this, and to this day my phone displays the letters ‘HRH’. Indeed, as with many nicknames, they get expanded over time, my late mother donning him ‘The Loyal Royal’, such was his fanaticism for the R’s and the reference to his not so regal connections.
Over time, Queenie and I would meet at various grounds across the country, and began to forge a friendship, our passion for all things blue and white evident. I would often stay at his mum Shirley’s house when I was down on business in Romford, to save the trip back to Norwich, and to allow easy access to a home match the next day. The favour was reciprocated at my mum and dad’s, when he came up for the annual pilgrimage for our match against my nemesis Norwich City, and they also got to know this larger than life Hoop fanatic. When I moved down to Hertfordshire for a few years, I had a season ticket next to Paul in the Upper Loft, closer to the adjoining South Africa Road Stand, and we would name people around us (rather unkindly it has to be said !) with pet names, such as ‘poodle’, a lady with an exceedingly tight perm.
A few seasons on and we moved to where he remained long after I was forced to stop attending, still in Loftus Road Upper, but not in Block NU, row H. Those around us weren’t spared nicknames either. We now had ‘Rasp’, a fellow who loved nothing better than to blow raspberries at the team when they weren’t playing that well (which was often), ‘Villa de Poulet’, a chap who had a cap with those very words emblazoned on it can you believe and who with our pigeon French was advertising the ‘House of Chicken’. His son we therefore aptly named ‘Drumstick’, and the ‘Bubbles’, a family who we believed to be of Greek persuasion.
Queenie’s enthusiasm continued after I was exiled back to Norwich, with regular phone contact before and after most games, where I would seek updates as to how we had played, formations, anything and everything concerned with the match. We would joke that the only thing he didn’t know was the colour of the refs’ underpants, although he would usually hazard a guess !
We had many ‘lads away trips’, an annual pilgrimage where a People Carrier was hired for the day/weekend and the Offy raided, where we and a few mates, namely Big Ali Moppett and sometimes his brother Jamie Moppett (a Hammer), plus a friend of mine Dale and the occasional ‘guest’ lad for company. We would head off to some God forsaken Northern backwater, inexplicably beginning with the letter ‘B’, so Barnsley, Blackpool, Burnley and Bolton I recall were some we attended. Queenie loved the banter and he was often the butt of the jokes, but that was all part and parcel of a ‘lads’ trip. It was on the way to one such place that he uttered a classic line. He looked over at Ali who was nominated driver and himself a svelte 25 stone or so, and uttered the now immortal words, ‘Lads, I don’t want to worry you, but I think the driver has swallowed the airbag !’
Then there was the short walk from the car to the ground through the cobbled streets in Burnley, with Paul humming the tune to the Hovis advert, while we were in the stronghold of the home supporters ! And the trip to the Reebok where we sat down at a table positioned in a pub’s conservatory, our coats up to our necks so as not to show our colours, and everyone but Paul having finished their meals. So boiling hot was our seat as the conservatory had become like a greenhouse, we had escaped outside, with Paul still manfully wading through a fish and chip lunch that we had aptly named ‘Moby Dick and Chips’ !
Our love of music, particularly the 80’s, manifested itself into our quiz, ‘Who had a hit in the 80’s with…?’ He knew I was the master and even tried to cheat by looking up obscure bands on Google and trying to catch me out !
We attended some of the most important games together in the Club’s last ten year history, from the elation of that play-off semi-final second leg against Oldham in 2003, followed by the disappointment of the Cardiff final, to Hillsborough delight in 2004. He became THE person I spoke to after every game as my mum had passed away earlier that year, something I had always done with her until that point. He was the person that truly got what all the fuss was about.
He attended the last three Sponsors Nights with myself and my son Joe, as my ‘special guest’. He still came up for the Norwich game and found a new friend in my six-year-old daughter who seemed to treat him like a bouncy castle ! And how apt that I saw him only a few weeks ago at Birchanger Services on the M11, as he had been kind enough to collect a signed framed shirt I had purchased from the Club. He was in fine form as usual, with plenty of banter packed into about an hour.
It was only recently that I received a text from Jim, a mutual friend, who informed me that Paul was in hospital. Neither of us knew the severity of his illness, and that in only eight short days from being admitted to hospital with Pancreatitis, that he would be so cruelly taken from us, aged just 44. Typical of Paul, he even texted Jim to ask that he sort his season ticket out for him, as he foresaw a lengthy stay in hospital.
Queen’s Park Rangers have lost a truly dedicated and passionate fan, one whose knowledge for everything Rangers often put me to shame, and I’m no slouch when it comes to stats about our great Club. His mother Shirley and sister Tina have lost a dear and devoted son and brother. His friends, and those that knew him, have lost a friendly likeable chap who was always engaging and humorous.
And what about me ? This bit I find the hardest to write, as mere words can’t really express the loss I am feeling. I touched on friendship at the start of this eulogy, but HRH was more than a friend in many ways. He epitomised all the good times I can recall at Rangers over many years, many of the fondest memories involve him in some way. He was the BBC World Service when I couldn’t get to matches. He was my ‘go to’ man for anything I needed to know about the Club, my programme buyer, my signature collector, my expert summariser, my cab driver, to and from the station before and after matches. I will miss his opening salutation when I called him, of; “How can I delight you ?” for his after match synopsis, interjected by a sudden outpouring of effing and blinding and questioning of the parentage of someone who had just changed lanes suddenly and had the audacity to cut him up.
But above all that, he was my friend. I hope that your seat in Heaven Block next to my mum and dad affords you the view of Premiership football you deserve, and I am so pleased that you saw the R’s go up in style for what proved to be your last hurrah. But hey, what a way to go ! You may be gone in body, but you’re undying spirit and love for the R’s will never be forgotten. Somehow I just know that my following of the R’s will never truly be the same again. May you rest in peace HRH.