Back in 1967, I was two years old and my Dad and my brother and my sister and my cousin and my uncle went to Wembley to watch the League Cup Final, while I stayed at home with Mum. In the years that followed, all I heard about was how the house was decked out in blue and white, about the walk to Wembley (we only lived in Harrow, mind), and the genius of Rodney Marsh. Now I’m the only surviving family member that watches QPR - maybe, subconsciously, part of my lifelong obsession was down to possessing my own memories. Well, I’ve got plenty of those from days and nights at the Bush, and some famous away trips - and for Rodney read ‘Stanley Bowles’, but nothing in the memory bank recalls QPR and Wembley for me.
In 1982, like many 17-year-olds of that era, I spent a lot of time in smelly rehearsal studios and sweaty dives, making music no-one wanted to hear. And like many, I threw the baby out with the bathwater, taking me away from Loftus Road for 18 months, in which Terry Venables’s team not only reached Wembley but won promotion. Yeah, great timing. I watched both Spurs games at home on TV with a strange rush of emotions. Feeling W12’s irresistible pull, I was back in my rightful place two and a half seasons before the ’86 Milk Cup Final. I was at Wembley that day, but like most people I remember nothing!
Of course there was Cardiff, 11 years ago, for that previous dalliance with the play-offs. There was a real sense of occasion, with the shirts and flags pouring onto the train at Paddington. The game itself was a little flat in comparison to the weeks that had preceded it, and the final score somewhat disappointing, but certainly not, as it proved, terminal. But that was very much an away game, with the obligatory frisson of nastiness that comes with a trip to South Wales to watch the footy.
So 28 years on from the Oxford debacle, the national stadium, in all its brand spanking newness (at least to Rangers), is calling again. It may be different to how we remember it, but it’s still the place any English football fan should want to be - and a place that a sizeable percentage of the Hoops support will never have seen our team before.
Our semi-final against Wigan was a special night - the likes of which we’ve seen little in recent years. Sure we’ve had some memorable league games, but this was the uniqueness of knockout football in full effect, and all the more exceptional because, as we all know, QPR don’t really do knockout football. Only Chelsea’s first visit to the Bush in many years had had a similar level of intensity about it since, ooh… Oldham in the previous play-off semi- at HQ.
Win or lose at Wembley, and as Harry will predictably tell you, Derby are a good side and it’s gonna be hard and Steve has done a fantastic job and Nigel before him and they’re a massive club… (or words to that effect), it’s something we should all be more vocal about, that thrill of cup football. Not only that elusive and cherished day out, but all the drama that leads up to it. And I don’t mean only when you’re watching. I mean make a noise about it - write to the chairman, take big silver cardboard cut-outs of cups to games, unfurl unfeasibly large banners, start a social media campaign, whatever it takes. Let them know you want it.
Don’t let your team meekly surrender to lower league opposition at the end of August and again in January. DEMAND that the effort and commitment is there. MAKE SURE that the manager, whoever he is, is aware that we’re all fed up with the attitude displayed year-in, year-out in knockout football by successive QPR teams. See that your team is completely professional when taking on those minnows, and that there is no lack of belief when faced with a very tough draw against strong opposition.
Didn’t that team we just knocked out at Loftus Road beat in the FA Cup just a few weeks back, on their own patch, the team that have just won the Premier League?
Let’s play cups, not dismiss them! Alright, we didn’t start out with the aim of being in the Play-off final last August, but with all that’s happened, it’s very gratefully received. Win - and we’ll celebrate into the night; and then we’ll deal with whatever follows. Lose and we go again, maybe better equipped, next season. But either way, let’s treat every cup-tie like Wigan at Loftus Road. Fight to win every ball, attack with purpose, defend like our lives depend upon it.
And whatever happens, please please, please let’s not wait another 28 years for a trip to Wembley. Many of us don’t want to think that far ahead.
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