Things to do on lengthy diverted trains trips to and from Cardiff: me and my mate Jonny passed an hour by running through goalkeepers we’d seen play for the Hoops. We got to 24 before finding ourselves stuck. Starting with Phil Parkes and his rarely-sighted understudies, Richard Teale and Derek Richardson, we worked our way randomly through the rest - the good, the bad and Ademole Bankole. His comic turn as a second-half substitute, laying out Danny Maddix with his first punch - I don’t remember who he replaced off-hand - was of a calibre only glimpsed once in a very blue moon. Mind you, ‘striker’ Dominic Iorfa’s cameo appearance, where he displayed his fragile grasp of the offside rule, is another special appearance that springs to mind.
Gordon Macey’s Queens Park Rangers: A Complete Record (1993, Breedon Books Sport) also informs me that Alan Spratley stood in for Phil Parkes in the 2-0 home win over champions Burnley during the 1972/73 promotion season - but I can’t say I remember that game. Our defence didn’t have a lot to do that year. Alan Spratley, incidentally, joined Swindon for £10,000 the following summer. Cor! Imagine getting that sort of money for one of our players these days.
I had to pick up the book and dust it down, you see, to figure out which ‘keepers we’d forgotten. Terrible things, statistic books. You pick them up and, before you know it, you’re looking up all manner of useless facts. One curious thing about Gordon Macey’s book is it conveniently finishes with Rangers at the end of the inaugural season of the Premier League (before it became a ‘Premier-ship’ and sailed off into the sunset with all the Football League’s share of the spoils). You can look at it and see Gerry Francis ‘(1991-)’ at the back of the managers’ section, dark mullet, tie loosened, carefree, beaming happily, directly at the camera. No, really.
You can pretend nothing untoward ever happened, and gaze wistfully at the final table at the back of the book’s league section, with Rangers in fifth as 1992/93 ended, behind United, Villa, Norwich and Blackburn; and four points clear of Liverpool in sixth. We see Arsenal nestling alongside Chelsea in mid-table. What a lovely couple they make. Palace, Middlesbrough and Forest occupy the bottom three positions.
Rather eerily, next to that season’s table, is a posed photo of then ever-present centre-back Darren Peacock, looking quite shifty with his beautiful hair tucked behind a generous pair of lugholes and hanging all over his shirt. How symbolic, I thought, as it was soon after the publication of the book, that the transfer deadline day sale of Peacock - then in the form of his career - to Keegan’s Newcastle, seemed to signify to many that there was nothing Richard Thompson wouldn’t do to shaft our club. Newcastle, of course, got into Europe at our expense, and thereafter things really began to unravel. Darren got my Player of the Year vote that season, and maybe he got yours too, but I guess they went in the Thompson’s furnace.
Maybe Gordon - or a person of a similar persuasion - will update the book sometime. I do hope they wait until there’s something nice to put at the back of it, though, because I love happy endings. That’s the thing about non-fiction. Whatever the subject matter, as the editor of this magazine knows, the moment it goes to the printers, it’s dated. Maybe that’s why there hasn’t been a QPR book since - though there’s one to be written, alright. How Not to Run a Football Club, maybe. At least Rangers could make one of numerous case studies for such a tome.
Look, I thought I could handle the summer, right? But you forget, between those World Cup and Euro years, there’s a whole expanse of football-free summertime. Not that I can’t live without football - and the constant speculation in the papers (albeit none of it QPR-related) keeps you entertained anyway. It’s just… well, those Saturdays really.
I had to go on holiday just to take my mind off it for a while. A Saturday without football is like… an evening without dinner. A week without beer. A fortnight without… well, you get my drift. I thought I’d kill some time in a football-related way the other day by having a bet on our promotion next season. Last year my each-way bet was ever so close to bringing a handsome return (sob!) - but even now, when I checked, my plans were thwarted. We were joint-favourites! Today I went into the Brighton ticket shop, just to ask when the QPR tickets were on sale. I knew they wouldn’t be yet - at the time of writing, it’s only June 27. “Near the end of July, three weeks before the game, mate. Postal applications only.”
Well, if it comes to it, I’ll go in the Withdean ‘Singing Enclosure’ (‘Mothers with Tea Flasks Enclosure’ doesn’t have the same ring, somehow), just like last time. But it wasn’t about finding out when the tickets went on sale, you understand. It was just going in and asking about a football match. It was about being a little bit naughty, a double agent, pretending to be one of them. Doesn’t really put me in league with Cardiff or Millwall’s finest, does it?
Hmmm… other ways to ‘keep your hand in’. Try ringing the Rangers club shop every day!
“Are the new home shirts in yet?”
“No, not yet.”
Next day… “Are the new home shirts in yet?”
“No, not yet.”
Okay. Next day… “Are the new home shirts in yet?”
“No, not yet. Oi, didn’t you ring up yesterday?”
Next day… “Are the new home shirts in yet?”
Next day… “Are there any stylish new mugs, enamel badges or baby bibs in yet?”
Or… “I asked for a beany hat to be reserved.”
“Beany hat? When?”
“Erm… during the 1976/77 season. It should be set aside with a picture of Ron Abbott, which I put a 20 pence deposit down on.”
Or… “Is Jude there?” You get the picture. I’m in a hell of a state. In fact, I think this is why I’m writing right now.
These are extracts from a summer journal written in my head. These are the bits that I got down before my brain closed down at the end of the day in question. I’m looking at the ramblings above - respectively, post-Cardiff, and in the middle of the empty non-football period where the new season seemed so scarily far away - and they already seem a lifetime away. As I write now, the calendar is on a freshly-turned page that says ‘August’ - and all sorts of significant things are scribbled on the Saturdays. And not only that, but the club’s future is extremely worrying again.
When acknowledgement comes from inside the club about these things, then you know that the situation is perilous. Today I’ve read that the club want to resurrect their deal with David Thorne to inject some proper money; that Harold Winton wanted certain assurances from Thorne; that David Davies is considering his position; and most pertinently for the man whose bum occupies a seat in the ground every week, that Ian Holloway can’t have any more money. We have a reduced squad of 20 good players, some at or approaching their peak, one or two a tad past that point, many still needing to realise their potential, and a handful of new additions for whom hopes must be high.
That’s ‘must’ because we need them to come through. For Ainsworth, Sabin, Rowlands, do we read Karl Connolly (from a fitness point of view, rather than questioning his ability), Steve Slade, Keith Rowland? Or is that so way off the mark, and should we think Sinclair, Ferdinand, Wilkins? We have to hope all the squad players maintain a high standard throughout, and that they don’t suffer too many injuries, if this is to be the promotion season that last year should have been. Note to Ian Holloway: next time you’re in Sainsbury’s, buy up all the cotton wool they have in stock, so you can wrap up Matthew Rose in between games.
By the time you’re reading this, Olly and Kenny Jackett will hopefully have pulled off a couple of those impressive long-term loans that served us so well last term. What a shame we couldn’t have Cook or McLeod or Kelly back again. But as I write, things are uncertain to say the least. The Hoops Fund aims to help the club along, but I can’t help wondering how many people are prepared to put their hands in their pockets again. And putting absolutely no perspective on things at all, I’m reading on a daily basis that Chelsea are trying to sign every decent player who isn’t already at Real Madrid. What a completely unreal world football is these days. Bob Hope finally died, yet the 92 league clubs (or at least the vast majority who are skint) keep hanging on, some on a life support. Every time it looks like one is about to go, they’re pulled back from the brink. Not that I would wish that on anyone, knowing how close QPR have been to the abyss, and not really having a clue how close we might again be at the moment.
If the Thorne deal doesn’t happen, and assuming that Haleem Kherallah’s proposed cash injection is dead in the water, what is the answer going to be? Going back into administration? Surely that can’t be allowed to happen. In some sort of twisted fantasy world, this is what would happen: we pull together and race away with the league, playing breathtaking football to packed houses. We’re so far ahead at Christmas that we can afford - or can’t afford not to - accept a £12m joint bid for Richard Langley and Clarke Carlisle… from who? Chelsea? Sticks in the craw, doesn’t it? But if it pulls the club out of debt and makes us stronger in the long-term… oh, I dunno. I don’t even want to go there.
Another, even more unthinkable scenario, is that we under-perform and struggle to get back into the post-Christmas groove of last year. It’s not that unthinkable really. Then what happens? Well, I think we, the fans, have been amongst the most improved performers at the club during hard times. Despite a few home games where I sit listening to my pin drop (bloke in front gets pissed off with having to hand it back all the time), numbers are well up. Noise, on occasion too, is up. I’m sure many younger Rangers fans would never have experienced anything like the Oldham play-off game before, and the older ones would be lifting their beany hats and scratching their thinning pates trying to remember the last time. We have to maintain those levels of support, even if things don’t go to plan. There’s no point calling for anyone’s head, is there? We’re way past all that. And then, if we’re sitting in 13th place come January and someone comes waving a chequebook for Langley and Carlisle... well, we’re going to have to grit our teeth, to use a recent Olly phrase, and get on with it.
Having said all that, it is just a little early for pessimism to come knocking. The probable first XI is as good as any in the division, and more than anything else, really only lacks a 25 goals a season striker. But, hey, who isn’t looking for one of those? I’m certain we still are - as and when we can move for one - after being knocked back by Jamie Cureton. And, arguably, the deliveries from wide players could be better this season.
As I said in the previous edition, there isn’t too much to fear in the Second Division. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Rushden aside - and they’re an unknown quantity - there isn’t a lot of money being bandied about now that Wigan and Cardiff have gone up. And Rushden signed Marcus Bignot and Stuart Wardley, for Chrissakes! So forget everything I’ve said. Just keep repeating this mantra. “If we get things right on the pitch, then everything else will follow… If we get things right on the pitch, then everything else will follow…” I’ve got my fingers in my ears and I’m whistling Pigbag. I can’t hear you.
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