Carlsberg don’t do Saturdays, but If they did I hope they’d allow us to win !
QPR celebrated promotion to the Premier League on a day of high drama and sparked off parties all over Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith and Notting Hill, during and after the game. In years to come, QPR fans will be able to recollect exactly where they were when ‘the news’ came through that we had been waiting for these past seven weeks or so. Personally, I was possibly the happiest QPR fan in the world when I woke up on Saturday morning as I was going to see Adel Taarabt lift the ‘Old Lady’ Football League Trophy that was so cruelly snatched from our grasp 35 years ago.
Nothing else was on my mind as I got the Central Line train accompanied by my ice cold cans of Strongbow and a copy of the Independent, in which our Manager, Neil Warnock, writes a regular column. Reading his words, it was as if he had read my postings on Indy R’s the day before as the headline said, ‘I want the fans and players to forget about the FA hearing and just enjoy the day. He must of missed the bit where I said, ‘I’m going to get wankered’ though, more of which later.
As I exited White City station in glorious sunshine, there seemed to be something special in the air. Every lung of oxygen appeared to taste sweeter than normal and the trees looked more beautiful than usual, why even the traffic fumes didn’t bother me. I saw the bloke selling scarves, the one who had suddenly appeared back in January and has been there for every home game since. I think he’s got to know me over the months as he looked me in the eye and said, ‘sorry we haven’t got Champions scarves yet’, without me even asking as I’ve asked every time I’ve seen him. I walked down South Africa Road like I’ve done so many times over these past 39 years and got a huge tingle down the spine when I saw the ground come into view some 500 yards away.
Walking along I met so many faces that I’ve got to know in some capacity over the years and greeted everyone with the biggest smile and the greeting, ‘I’m feeling Champion’ when asked ‘how are you ?’ and sometimes even before I was asked. On getting to the Box Office, I was greeted with an almost eerie silence as Rangers fans one and all, had a collective face of a condemned man on Death Row. That bloke Clem off the Football League Show was doing his bit for TV and trying to get a positive response, but all I could hear were doom and gloom comments. Even Joe Hylton, usually the most optimistic fan you’ll ever meet, was sounding down when he spoke on camera. And my mates were as miserable as sin. I hung around for about 30 minutes, then seeing as my liquid refreshments were depleted, I went off to the Pavilion pub as I had an 11am rendezvous with some Leeds mates.
On arrival outside the pub, I spotted ex-LSA travel organiser John Proudlock at the front as expected. The doors opened on time and we all shuffled in and found some seats. As we finished our second pint of the morning, I went to the bar to get a round in and felt a vibration in my pocket, so I took out my phone and seeing my brother’s name on the screen I answered it and just heard him screaming, ‘CONGRATULATIONS YOU’RE PREMIER LEAGUE NOW, JUST ANNOUNCED ON TV THAT NO POINTS WILL BE DEDUCTED !!!’ My brother’s not bad for a Chelsea fan. I just stood there and froze on the spot and for the first time in my life I couldn’t speak. As the official news appeared on the TV screens, the pub erupted with what seemed like an army of QPR fans. I walked up to John Proudlock, perched on his regular stool at the bar as ever, and planted the biggest, wettest and slobbiest kiss ever on his cheek. I then got our drinks and walked back to my Leeds mates who were even celebrating !!!
I then walked outside to get some fresh air and just heard car horn after car horn tooting us at the traffic lights. The next 10 minutes were a bit of a blur as I sat and reflected on all the years of misery that we’ve endured over these past 15 years, since we last played in the top tier of English football. My nephew Ryan and his mates appeared at one point, but it was those fans that we’ve lost over the years that were in the forefront of my mind. I instantly thought of Neil Roberts being at the Coventry home game in January, his very last match in fact. I thought of fellow ex-LSA Committee member Steve Edwards who went from us too early in life. There’s Mrs QPR herself, Daphne Biggs. If you’ve never heard of her then you’re not a QPR fan. Cliff Barton, who was at the heart of the LSA from the beginning in 1987 until he passed away.
Then there’s Rob Whittingham, father of Clive who runs the excellent ‘Loft For Words’ website. Many moons ago I nicknamed Rob, ‘the moaning northerner’ as no matter whoever we had played that day there was Rob, sat behind the goal with his two scrawny kids shouting, ‘ Sinclair, you’re rubbish !’ But he’d be back two weeks later whether it was Villa Park or St James’ Park to follow the team because as Clive succinctly put it last year, ‘it’s what we do on a Saturday’. Then there was Harold Winton who left us just over a year ago. Where would the club be today if it wasn’t for his contribution to our history. I wish all those that we’ve lost were there on Saturday, but I’m sure they’re all smiling wherever they may be.
I also thought back to our last game in the Premier League at Nottingham Forest where my then 12- year-old nephew Ryan cried his eyes out for the whole 90 minutes. A lot more tears have been shed in the name of QPR since 1996 as we are all aware, but I vowed that day that my nephew would one day see us back in the top flight. Watching any football team is full of highs and lows, but nothing can beat the feeling that went through my whole body when the news came through on Saturday morning. In my lifetime I’ve seen us promoted four times, but this certainly tops the lot. Take Hillsborough 2004 and magnify it a million times and you may be getting near.
And not only were we promoted to the top tier, we had done it as champions to boot. A friend had remarked at Doncaster the other week that this season wasn’t as good as the 82/83 season, but I beg to differ. The game has changed immeasurably since Terry Venable’s side romped to the 2nd Division title. For one thing, that last home game versus Wolves, I walked from the pub to the West Paddock and paid cash at the turnstiles !!! Sky TV hadn’t been invented, or the internet in fact. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our fan base as I saw people who I’ve known for over 30 years celebrating as I arrived at the ground for the second time of the day. And those fans that were all doom and gloom earlier in the day were suddenly transformed into the life and soul of the party as South Africa Road was a riot of blue and white hoops.
I met up with Slough Billy and his daughter Grace as I had their tickets and we stood outside and took in the atmosphere which by now was absolutely electric. I then had the last minute job of getting rid of a ticket as my cousin was a ‘no show’. I asked AKUTR’s’ Dave Thomas if he knew of anyone wanting to buy and as the answer was a negative one, a bloke said that he’d buy it, even offered over the odds, but I insisted on giving him his ¬£5 change. As my brother had spoken to him earlier I assumed that he was a mate, but then my brother said, ‘you do know that he’s a tout don’t you ?’ It was then that Dave Thomas re-appeared and asked if I still had a spare. I have never felt so gutted, so sorry Dave.
I then entered my usual turnstile, first one on the left as you enter the Lower Loft, for the umpteenth time (not that I’m superstitious of course). What greeted me as I took my seat was absolutely beautiful as a sea of blue and white flags were flying from every part of the ground and looked absolutely spectacular. The fact that I was one of the volunteers who had spent the two previous days laying out 17,000 QPR flags, also gave me a small sense of satisfaction. Not even the fact that the pack of a dozen flags that I had hidden near my seat had been nicked could dampen my enthusiasm for what was going to be a historic day in the long history of Queen’s Park Rangers Football Club.
Leeds players formed a Guard of Honour for the League Champions as the home fans belted out, ‘Faurlin, There’s Only One Faurlin’ among a myriad of songs of celebration. The game kicked off and we took the lead after 27 seconds as we all know. It was at this point that I said to a mate. ‘I don’t care if we lose 8-1 I’m seeing my club lift the Football League trophy for the first time ever.’ And so it came to be that Leeds became the only Championship side to do the double over us, but it wasn’t about the result was it ? The game itself was just the warm-up act, the headline act being the presentation of the medals and the Championship Trophy to the League’s best player and our talisman and captain, Adel Taarabt.
At the end of the game, I ran around to the Paddocks/Lower Loft to get a better camera angle as my seat is underneath the roof of the Lower Loft. As I sat on the fence separating the Paddock from the Lower Loft, I looked at the Upper Loft and I could see so many mates with huge grins on their faces. And as the presentation unfolded, I sat and thought, ‘this is why I’ve trudged up and down this green and pleasant land for the past 30 years, just for days like this.’ And the scoreboards at either end of the ground have never looked so stunning with the words, ‘QPR Champions 2010-11’ on them. They looked so stunning infact that I took about a dozen photos of them !!!
Then it was off to the Coningham for the party to end all parties, except by the time we arrived it was nigh on impossible to even get near the doors as was the case with the Adelaide and the British Queen. Lucky for everyone there were two off-licences next door then ! It was just like being at the Notting Hill Carnival, but instead of seeing red, gold and green everywhere it was just blue and white hoops. I was now in the company of some of the best Rangers fans it’s been my pleasure to know with Steve Russell, JJ, Zico, Adam and his wife Carol, their daughter Yaz and her sidekick Connor, Slough Billy and Grace, and Dean and Paul putting in an appearance. There was even some Irish bloke who was actually smiling for once !!!
The night became a bit of a blur as you’d expect. I remember going for a Ruby just by the junction of Bloemfontein/Uxbridge Road and I even got the waiter to put my bag of alcohol in the fridge to keep cool !!! I got talking to four Finnish QPR fans on the next table as well. On leaving the Curry House, I then waddled off towards O’Donoghues and met up with my Leeds mates again and some more QPR mates. I have to admit that I only lasted until 8.30pm, but my liver simply couldn’t take anymore.
As I headed for Shepherds Bush station, my wife then phoned to say, ‘sorry to interrupt your party, but I’m in agony, can you please rush home ?’ ‘Of course love’ I slurred, which should win me some brownie points in the future. Luckily when I got home, the wife’s condition had improved somewhat so that with no nursing duties to fulfil I got out a bottle of Zinfandel and proceeded to watch the recording of the game again. And even though I knew the happy ending, my eyes welled up for the second time of the day as Adel Taarabt lifted the ‘Old Lady’, who it must be said looked absolutely beautiful when draped in blue and white ribbons. I then fell asleep as the opening titles started for the Football League Show and later woke up as it was ending ! It was lucky I Sky-plussed that as well and watched it when I eventually arose from my slumber on Sunday morning. In fact I’ve watched both recordings for three days running already and I’m not bored one bit.
Team: Cerny 10, Orr 10, Hill 10 (Ramage 10), Gorkss 10, Connolly 10, Routledge 10, Derry 10, Buzsaky 10 (Taarabt 10), Faurlin 10, Smith 10, Helguson 10 (Shittu 10)
MOTM: Wayne Routledge
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 4. I’m being generous as well, as he spent the afternoon with blinkers on it seemed. Anyone who has recorded the game, look at 62 minutes when Helguson is elbowed in the face by Richard Naylor for what should have been a straight red card. But not to this idiot who gave the foul AGAINST Helguson !
Attendance: 18,235 (including 1,792 Leeds fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)