It was dark. I remember that much. The brilliant glare of the floodlights overawed this young eight-year-old attending his first match at Loftus Road. The game had already started when we eventually got in: heavy traffic, heavy fog and the inability to find a parking space for the Triumph Herald belonging to my brother’s girlfriend. At 19, he had his priorities right did my brother - a girlfriend with a car to chauffeur him around, especially to football.
It was 1972 and we were at Frank Sibley’s testimonial against Manchester City. Frank I knew from the team sheet on the programmes my brother brought home. But the player I was most interested in was on the City side - Rodney Marsh. He had just left QPR and, although I’d never seen him ‘live’ before, he was a god to me. The only time I ever saw him play and it’s against us! Still, some never even got that much.
I can’t say I remember much about the game apart from the score, 1-0 to City, and Mike Summerbee getting sent off. I recall not being able to understand why they didn’t bring the sub on. At eight years old, my tactical awareness was only up to Jim Smith standards. At half-time my brother bought us a hot-dog each from the stand just inside the South Africa Road terrace. The price shook him: “Seven pee, they were only a shilling last season,” he bemoaned. Twopence extra or not, the hot-dog was wonderful and I still cannot smell the frying of onions without thinking of Loftus Road.
The view from the terrace was good, and despite the mist, I could see the scoreboard attached to the pylon between Ellerslie Road and the School End. Ellerslie seemed strangely empty, something I tried later to correct by buying a season ticket there (yes, I’m the one!). Even at that young age the ground looked small to me, but it was extremely exciting to be there - particularly when I spotted a 50p coin on the step in front of me. “Ten bob, you lucky sod,” said my brother, and then as an afterthought, “we ought to split it.” Not likely! This was mine, and was to stand as proof that this was to be a lucky association with Rangers over the coming years.
And what memories come flooding back now: 1975 v Leeds - a record 35,000 crowd and I don’t see a thing from the Loft; 75/76 - my brother gets married and doesn’t take me to a single game during our most exciting season ever; 1977/78 - I decide to purchase my first season ticket after having to applaud a Chelsea goal because the Loft is full of skins; 1978/79 - my first full season ticket... we get relegated; 1982 - my lift fails to arrive for the Palace game... running down South Africa Road at kick-off time, I jump the wall by the flats and sprain my ankle so badly it still plays up now; 1986 - my fiancee breaks off our engagement... two days later Rangers fail to turn up for the Milk Cup Final; 1987 - I book a holiday in the Canaries... it clashes with the Man City game... no problem, it’s not an important game... the merger fiasco blows up whilst I’m away; 1989 - I drive to Manchester (twice), Forest and Everton in quick succession to see Rangers go out of three cups; 1990 I drive up to Villa, get lost, end up on the wrong side of the city at kick-off time, eventually getting in 30 minutes late... goal number four in a 2-2 draw goes in just as I pay at the turnstile.
Ah memories - it’s what supporting a club is all about. I’ve got millions, of course. Those were just a few. None, though, can compare with the everlasting memories of my first-ever visit to QPR. Even now I can close my eyes and vividly recall the excitement, the atmosphere, the brilliance of the floodlights, the sight of the pitch, the smell of the hot-dogs and the discovery of the 50p coin. And then I remember how my brother ‘borrowed’ it on the way home for reasons long forgotten. It wasn’t the last I ever saw of QPR by any means, but it was the last I ever saw of my 50p - which, at eight years old, came as quite a blow. It doesn’t matter now, of course. What I didn’t know then, but what I know now, is that I’d found something far more valuable.
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