Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. Wouldn’t you just love a name like that? “Ladies and gentlemen, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov.” What an entrance that would be. He’s a cyclist, for those who don’t know him. Obviously I don’t actually know him either, I just know of him. If you see what I mean. And, yes, I did check the spelling. But I digress.
Paul Niddler (Issue 89) is absolutely right. Boundless, nay mindless optimism about our chances for the forthcoming season always seems to engulf us about now. In early August last year, I strode confidently into a Bolton bookmakers and asked (loudly) for odds on Queens Park Rangers to win the First Division title. Far from being impressed by the very generous 9-1 on offer, I felt affronted that these so-called experts quoted what was obviously the finest team in the division at such ridiculously long odds. Who the hell did they think they were? Joint fourth-favourites indeed, the cheek of it! But sod them, I thought, if they’re that stupid, I’ll take their money.
It occurred to me, shortly after parting with my tenner, that I was perhaps being the merest tad over-optimistic about our chances for the season. I had, after all, only two months previously described the newly relegated Rangers side to a friend as, “The worst team to wear the hoops in the last 20 years - and that includes Reading and Greenock Morton.” It then occurred to me that I have been the same merest tad over-optimistic about our chances every year for the last 20 - and that a vast body of historical evidence gathered over those two decades weighed very heavily against this optimism.
An example of this out-of-place bravado: every summer, a letter drops through our letterboxes inviting us to shell out 12 quid on membership for the season. I don’t go to every home game - and even when I do go, I don’t always sit in the members areas. Half the time I forget to take the sodding membership thing with me anyway. It helps with away tickets, of course, although last season even that wasn’t as much of an issue.
The point is that, whilst there are still undoubted financial benefits in taking out membership, that’s not the main reason for parting with the 12 pounds. I have to say - and maybe I’m not alone in this - that my main reason for renewing my membership each year is priority on Cup Final tickets. There, I’ve said it. I know it’s stupid, but it’s true. The deciding factor, every year, is preparation for a Wembley trip. It’s so ludicrous, it makes me feel sick even writing it.
After placing my bet last August, I ventured to the pub where I eagerly showed off my ‘guaranteed a winner’ betting slip to a mate. He just raised one eyebrow slightly and said, “Bookmakers drive Porsches, you get the bus…” A fair point, I was forced to concede. And so it came to pass that, by the end of September, I had eaten my betting slip in a fit of pique and my assertion that the 1995/96 Rangers were the worst to wear the hoops was already out of date.
We were uncommonly unlucky, though. I mean, how were we to know that Kevin Gallen’s knee was made of jelly and held together by bits of old string? And even allowing for last season’s misgivings, who would have thought that our very own ganja-man, Ray Wilkins, would overdose so spectacularly and pass out?
Still the arrival of Stewart Houston, fresh from his starring role as Skeletor in Masters of the Universe, injected some much needed apathy into angry Rangers supporters. Stability and continuity were needed and, sure enough, we continued to lose games with a consistency only dreamed of by Gerry Francis. How many of us had asked Arsenal-supporting acquaintances about Stewart Houston, I wonder? And did anyone else get anything better than, “To be fair, he did okay at a tricky time for us, but I’m not too bothered about him leaving.” Garlands all the way.
Then came the turning point of the season. The point when an average side playing badly transformed into an okay side playing averagely. The signings of John Spencer and Gavin Peacock brought instant reward - we only lost 2-1 at Reading, when surely we would have lost 2-0 without them. One thing troubles me about the Spencer signing, though. When you buy fruit, vegetables, meat, etc in the supermarket, you pay by the size and weight. On this basis, whilst £2.5m probably isn’t that much for a player these days in purely cash terms, Spencer must rate alongside Juninho as one of the most expensive players per pound in the English leagues. Surely Houston could have negotiated a couple of boxes of potatoes as well to bring the weight up a bit? Have these people no financial acumen?
I think I’ll fast forward to the end of the season now, through apathy as much as anything. The intervening months were so eventful that they warrant their own separate article - maybe even a whole book. I can see it now: November 1996 to May 1997: The Glory Months; or 1996/97 - The Battle For Nationwide Division One Play-off Places; or Where the Play-Offs Were Lost: A Guide to the Home Defeats That Cost QPR a Lucrative Play-off Against Someone Like Sheffield United. Hmmm. Maybe it wasn’t quite 1975/76…
Actually, a couple of weeks before the end of the season, I calculated the series of 20-odd results that would have to go in our favour for us to finish ahead of Port Vale, Crystal Palace et al. According to the match-fixing trial, the going rate for throwing a Premier League game is about £30,000. If we assume a Nationwide game to be worth half this, we would have needed about £300,000 to guarantee a play-off place. Surely this is not out of Chris Wright’s range? He probably could have negotiated a bulk order discount and got the whole lot for £250,000 or so anyway. Come on, Mr Wright - doesn’t your love of QPR stretch to law breaking? Bah! Fairweather supporters!
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