It was two weekends before the Hillsborough celebrations that I had visited the Isle of Man to see Graham Taylor speak at an after-dinner function. Something of a cult figure amongst my mates at university since Cutting Edge’s ‘Impossible Job’ documentary, in which he ridiculed himself with his own ineloquent figures of speech, he did not disappoint.
A normal person may have said, “Sport brings people together” - but, whilst delivered in his own inimitable syntax, the sentiment of Graham’s statement was correct. (Incidentally, my plane home on Saturday morning was delayed by five hours, meaning I missed the Plymouth beamback, as did my two mates in London whose tickets I had with me...)
Two weeks later, at Burley Park station in Leeds, I met up with a group of fellow Rangers fans, none of whom I knew before the day. We made up the hastily-formed ‘Leeds Uni R’s’. We had come across each other on the way home from various away matches over the last few years but the group was now quasi-official (much thanks to the qpr.org messageboard for providing the means for this to happen). Our group of about five, including two Scooby Doos, grew steadily, with more Rangers fans joining us as we made our way to Sheffield by train.
As it probably was for every other Rangers fan, the trip was filled with predictions, nostalgia, the ‘if onlys’ from the season - and most of all, anxiety. Having been more relaxed on the morning than I had been for the week before, I started to develop a silent unshakeable belief that we would somehow miss out. Throughout my life as a QPR fan, we had never tasted real success and I was convinced this was not about to change now. Shaking so much by the time I took my place in the stadium, I didn’t even have a sufficiently steady hand to apply the face paint I had brought with me.
I was shocked when the first goal went in. As my two Bristol City supporting mates at Ashton Gate pointed out to me by text, it came at a time when Sheffield Wednesday were starting to get to grips with us. I have no idea how they knew this.
As we went in at half-time, all I could repeat was, “The second goal is crucial, the second goal is crucial.” How many times last season had we seen Rangers try to defend a one-goal lead and crumble in the process? Once we got the second, I remembered Brian Clough’s famous rule: ‘It only takes a second to score a goal.’ Does it not only take two seconds to score two then?
Our third goal celebration, I felt, was more muted than the first two, from me at least. Even when we were two-up, it had been my inner-most conviction that we would screw things up, and when the Wednesday goal went in, I could picture the headlines of how close we were to Division One, only to throw it away in a few minutes. I could actually see those headlines in the next day’s News of the World.
But when the third goal went in, it became real. We had weathered our difficult spell after Wednesday got their goal, and gone and scored another. I knew then that we would be promoted - and that was when I entered a period of disbelief that would continue for the next 24 hours.
The final whistle was equally surreal. We had all tentatively predicted how we would react were we to go up - tears of joy, etc. But I felt elation, with a bit more relief and an even bigger sense of disbelief. For the first time in my adult living memory, we had actually won something. I was speechless at the players’ celebrations. It meant so much to see that it meant so much to them. I have no idea whether or not it is true, but it really does feel like each one of them loves the club in a way that just isn’t the same at Arsenal or Real Madrid.
Just as ownership of the club has returned to the fans with our three-year exile, literally in some cases, so it has returned to the players. I can’t remember our Premiership or Division One side publicly stating how strongly they felt about the club. With that kind of commitment being expressed, you sense we could go on to achieve something special in the next few years.
And so, after the match, it was back to Leeds to continue celebrating with the Leeds Uni R’s in our now unofficial home, the Royal Park in Leeds. (Queens Park, Royal Park, it’s the closest we’re going to get!). I now had the steady hand I needed to apply my face paint, and so the celebrations began. I cannot remember leaving that pub, but I do remember greeting my flatmates with various Rangers songs when I got in. Work at 7.45am the next morning (us poor students need to get our money from somewhere) was less painful than usual - the 15-minute downhill bike ride made all the more interesting by the fact that not only I was humming more Rangers songs to myself all the way, but I was also clearly still battered.
As a part-time sports data analyst (not as impressive as it sounds) at Prozone, which collects ridiculously detailed statistics and them sells them back to extremely rich Premiership and Division One clubs to help with their coaching, watching football on a computer for eight hours was more enjoyable than usual, especially as I was tracking players from the Leeds v Charlton match. Perfect.
Having returned from work, and starting to feel slightly rough after the high emotion and alcohol content of the day before, I was called up by the Leeds Uni R’s to celebrate one more time. Another visit to the pub and quite a few more drinks later, we left. It had finally sunk in.
The most encouraging fact of our promotion for me is how experienced our current squad - if we can keep it together - already is. Of the starting line-up at Hillsborough, only three players have not already played and achieved some degree of success in either Division One or the Premiership. Of those three, Martin Rowlands and Gino Padula are surely talented enough to cope with Division One. Shame Lee Camp (who almost certainly is good enough, too) is back at Derby. Plymouth fans could not say the same about their team.
As for the future, I don’t know if I could take another season like the last two this time around. A couple of derby wins, a double over Cardiff, and a respectable mid-table finish would suit me just fine. The Leeds Uni R’s are continuing next year in graduate form (the Leeds Uni Graduate R’s?), with at least some of us returning to live in the spiritual home next year after four years away. Rangers are back and mighty good it feels too.
While top-flight football is suspended for the foreseeable future, you are cordially invited to visit this page in order to get a small fix of QPR. Each day, we will post a random article from our archives - and with over 15 million words making it in to print over the years, we can sit out this one for as long as it takes! Underneath each new daily article, we’ll provide a link to previous postings, so you won’t miss out. Of course, if you like what you read and decide to subscribe or to take advantage of our special 2019/20 season bundle offer, that’s what will really keep us going through this! So settle down and enjoy your free daily fix of QPR... on us.
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