After winning the Championship last season – and with it the glory of promotion – we have finally finished what has been a long, long season. A season that began with great hope, but was, if I’m honest, filled with more downs than ups; has ended at last ! And what an ending it turned out to be at Manchester City on Sunday 13th May 2012 ! But a review can’t go backwards ! So let’s start at the beginning – 13th August 2011 and our first fixture in the Premier League since 1996 – a home game against Bolton Wanderers.
I deliberately delayed my return from visiting our daughter, Amy, who was in Canada for half of last year (which meant, sadly for her, an avid QPR fan like me, half of our season !) That way, we could watch our opening fixture together. I remember us settling down on the bed of my hotel room and munching on bagels and freshly brewed coffee for our breakfast (Montreal is five hours behind London so it was 10.00am for us !) We watched together, first in hope, and then in despair as Cahill scored on half-time.
There followed a nightmare second-half, with new signing Danny Gabbidon putting through his own net on 67 minutes; and, within a further ten minutes, we were 0-4 down, courtesy of goals from Ivan Klasnic and Fabrice Muamba. It was very clear that the team, consisting predominantly of Championship-winning players, but also including summer signings of Gabbidon, DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd, were going to find life in the Premier League rather daunting. Most QPR fans consoled themselves that this would be an opening lesson from which we could learn much. I just feared it was the first game of what was going to be a very long season !
I left a disconsolate Amy in Montreal and headed home in time for a trip north to Everton – my first away game in the Premier League in over fifteen years ! My first thoughts were of excitement at going to see the updated and upgraded Goodison Park Stadium. But it quickly became apparent that any money spent on the stadium did not include the away section – with old-fashioned wooden seats a quaint, but uncomfortable feature. I spent a lot of the game texting Amy in Canada – she had set herself up on her computer and watched online. She said that all she could hear for 90 minutes solid was the QPR fans singing – not a peep out of the Everton faithful.
We were under the cosh for large parts of the game; but the hysteria when Tommy Smith scored our first Premier League goal in fifteen years was extraordinary ! It was a very good move to and a clinical finish. After the goal, on 31 minutes, we basically hung on until the 90th. Everton missed a host of chances to bury us and our players competed heroically to earn us our first win of the season. Shaun Derry’s personal heroics were instrumental in us keeping a clean sheet and garnering those first, precious 3 points. I remember reading a tweet from Derry that evening asking if anyone had seen a pair of legs because he had left his on the Goodison Park pitch !
A League Cup game against Rochdale, on the following Tuesday evening, which we lost 0-2 in typical “QPR-can’t-stay-in-a-Cup” fashion, was very forgettable ! Forgettable that is, except for it proving to be the end of the Rowlands-Cook era as both players looked well past their sell-by date and obvious candidates for the front door. Rowlands hobbled off midway through the game; and although Cook tried, it was disappointing to see how he just couldn’t cut it any longer. It was also clear that Warnock did not hold the Cup in any regard, as he fielded a very-much second – and even third-string team – and that annoyed me ! I had to pay to sit through 90 minutes of that farce – the Club should have paid me to turn up !
I couldn’t make the next match, away at Wigan, as I was on a mini-break in Leicester with my younger daughter (a Gooner – more of that later !) Instead, I sat on the train back to London being updated by text by a friend who had taken himself off to the DW Stadium and by Amy who was once more watching online in Canada. Despite British Rail’s best efforts to have no internet service on the train, I was still able to discover that we had not learned enough lessons yet from our pummelling by Bolton as Franco di Santo put two past Paddy Kenny to help Wigan to a 2-0 win (ok, so the second took a wicked deflection, but it still counted !)
The Wigan game was more notable for the fact that it came shortly after Tony Fernandes had successfully acquired QPR from Tango and Cash – sorry, I mean Briatore and Ecclestone ! A renowned West Ham fan, who had failed in his attempt to buy West Ham, Malaysian business tycoon Fernandes had turned his sights on QPR. His bid, so we were led to believe, was not much more than existing shareholder Lakshmi Mittal had offered his co-Directors in the summer; but for some inexplicable reason, Briatore and Ecclestone had turned Mittal down. This had led to a very uncertain summer where even Neil Warnock did not know if he would be managing the team for the first day of the season.
It was every QPR fans’ dream-come-true when the buy-out was announced in August and there followed an incredible ten days when, like a kid in Hamleys the week before Christmas, Neil Warnock went looking for players of a superior quality, and with Premier League experience, to those he had brought in during the close season on a shoe-string. And sitting in the Stands at the DW on Saturday 27th, was Joey Barton, who had just signed for us from Newcastle, but not in time to make his debut at Wigan. Football’s “Mr Bad Boy” was now a QPR player – who would have believed it !
So August 20100 ended with QPR having amassed 3 points out of a possible 9, sitting 11th in the table; and with new owner sitting around the Directors’ table in the Boardroom ! A whole host of new players: Luke Young from Aston Villa, Anton Ferdinand from Sunderland, Armand Traore (fresh from Arsenal’s 8-2 drubbing up at Old Trafford !) and the diminutive Shaun Wright-Phillips from Manchester City no less, had signed for QPR by the end of a very exciting and tiring deadline day (along with Jason Puncheon on loan from Southampton). And I am sure that all QPR fans were thinking that September was going to be the month where our season really “started” ! But it didn’t quite turn out that way !
Sandy Lerman aka @sandyhoops (also known, on VitalQPR, as sandydl)