Friday 7th May 2003
One day before Sheffield Wednesday v QPR
Because we are QPR and all the emotional highs and lows that goes with that, and because (deep breath) the last time anyone can remember us winning an important fixture outside of London with more than a 3,000 away following was way back in 1968 and the game at Villa Park, which the club needed to win to gain promotion to the First Division, come 3.00pm tomorrow not one of the 8,000-strong tribal gathering inside Hillsborough, despite threatening to lift the roof off with the sheer volume of our singing, will be so confident of what the next 105 minutes will bring that they will be able to truly relax and enjoy it. Hope will still hold sway over expectation. Nerves will be stretched to the limit. And the tension will be nigh on unbearable. It’s going to be emotional, folks.
So why on this sunny afternoon am I sitting here feeling an inner calm? I have no need to suppress nagging thoughts of all the things that can go wrong - because unusually, both on the surface and deep down, I don’t believe things will go wrong. If I did have any doubts about my team achieving what they know they must, then I would only need repeat the mantra, “Teams who need to win on the last day of the season almost always do.” It’s why the bookies have us at 4-6 to win tomorrow.
Ian Holloway’s team talk is going to be a whole lot easier than Chris Turner’s. As a team, and an under-performing one at that, Sheffield Wednesday won’t even come close to matching Rangers’ desire to win. They are a dispirited side, who have not played as a team all season. Wednesday are safe from relegation and are only playing for pride - a commodity not much in evidence this season so far - and, with the threat of a major clear-out in the summer, highly unlikely to be conjured up out of the blue tomorrow.
Whatever our own team’s shortcomings might be, an appetite to succeed and being prepared to work their socks off, individually and for each other, isn’t one of them. That work ethic breeds self-belief. Results and performances may well have been indifferent of late - but there’s no questioning the effort and commitment of the entire side. I know which team I would want to trust to go out and get a win for me.
With the right attitude and approach - and I have no doubts our team will take the field with both - we are more than capable of beating Sheffield Wednesday anyway. If we take the game to them from the off, put them under pressure and show them we really mean business, are they going to respond by raising their own game? Or will they, as a team who have been nervy, edgy and under-achieving at home all season, find their brittle confidence crumbling again? Who is going to want it more? Us or them?
Then there’s us. I hope, just as we did at Wolves and Nottingham Forest, when turning up in vast numbers, we can earn the respect of the Sheffield Wednesday fans. And if for whatever reason... well, you know... I hope we can remain defiantly optimistic there and then that a second bite of the cherry will do for us as it did for Cardiff last year.
If we do leave Hillsborough with shattered faces, then there can be no more poignant place than Leppings Lane to get a sense of perspective - hard as it will be. But if we do come out singing and dancing and celebrating, then that too will be entirely appropriate to the memory of darker days at that very same spot one grim afternoon a long, long time ago.
Another reason why I am calmer today than I really should be is that for the first time in a very long time I am optimistic about the direction our club is going off the field as well as on it. Our own contribution to the collective spirit that is Our QPR has been to approach the Board with a Transformation Plan, which we believe provides a working and proven model for a more efficiently-run and cost-conscious football club, one able to meet its financial commitments. It is not a quick fix but a fundamental long-term business plan. It isn’t negated by the injection of recent capital investment - indeed the opposite applies, in that it’s needed more than ever.
Over the past few weeks, we have been working with the Board to establish an understanding of the Transformation Plan and now that concurrence has been established, setting out how it will be implemented to best effect. It is not an all-or-nothing model. In fact, we have found our Plan neatly overlays the club’s own business plan and will be fashioned into one that best and uniquely suits Queens Park Rangers Football Club.
Our approach has been about drawing a line in the sand and not about re-visiting (for now) how we got into such a financial mess in the first place. To shift metaphors, it’s about saving a drowning man - not going off in search of who pushed him in in the first place. What we have witnessed is a growing but tangible determination collectively to make it succeed.
Not all the directors have embraced it, true. But the important thing is those who have are the ones who will be driving it forward anyway - and those who have shown no interest or desire to see it for what it is can instead concentrate on shaking hands with visiting directors and continue to bemoan the prevailing financial climate of which QPR have been unfortunate victims of circumstance. Witnessing this new determination to make the club succeed has been highly encouraging. It has replaced the air of defeatism that, despite everything, appeared to us to prevail in those initial meetings.
Whatever tomorrow brings, I am lot more convinced that our football club is still very much alive and kicking. How could it ever not be with the passionate support that will be behind the team? Our club will continue to exist for as long as each and everyone of us cares enough to ensure it does. It will do so for as long as its triumphs and failures still reduce grown men to tears. It will do so for as long as young kids paint their faces in blue and white hoops, for as long as its dramas causes us to punch our fists in the air or fall to our knees in despair... for as long as there is a spirit and common bond amongst us. Football goes in cycles - ask any Charlton fan - and our curve is on the way back up. One small but significant circle is about to be closed. And if not tomorrow, then soon.
Sunday 9th May 2003
One day after Sheffield Wednesday v QPR
For once, I can barely find the necessary words to describe how I feel today. I should be celebrating but I can’t even begin. Nor have I.
I was prevented from going into the ground yesterday. Not once, but twice. Before the game I had been selling the fanzine close to the away entrance without any problems. I had two tickets on me - my own and one for a mate. Close to kick-off time, I got a call from him saying he was held up on a tram and it looked like he was going to be late. He eventually turned up at 3.10pm and after giving him his ticket, I hurried over to the entrance. I had a rucksack on, which was half-full of fanzines.
As I went to go through the turnstile, I heard a voice shout, “Has anyone checked his bag?” I stopped, went back, opened it, offered it up for inspection, and as I have done 20 times or more away from home this season, said: “There’s no cans or bottles, mate - just fanzines.”
“You can’t take those in there.”
“Don’t worry, they’ll stay in there. I won’t try selling them inside.”
“Doesn’t matter, you’re not going in with them”
“So what am I supposed to do with them then?”
“Don’t care. You’ll have to dump them.”
“Listen mate, this is my livelihood in here. And you’re saying ‘dump them’?”
Then the steward on the next turnstile shouted across, “You’ll not allowed to take fanzines in.”
“Why not? What’s the problem?”
“It’s the club. They say no fanzines allowed in.”
By this time, I am frustrated and annoyed. “They are tossers then. Bloody tossers the lot of them.” I was forced to go off and find somewhere to leave my bag. Where? That was the problem. I walked down one of the side streets and came across a bloke working in his front garden. “Excuse me, mate. This might sound a bit daft but they won’t let me in the ground with my bag. It’s got fanzines in it and I have been told to dump them. I can’t do that. I know this is a bit strange but could you look after it for me?”
He would - and he did. And very grateful I was too. I hurried back to the away entrance. By now it was close to 3.30pm. As I walked toward the turnstile, the search steward grinned at me. I told myself not to argue or say anything.
“See your ticket, mate,” the steward asked. I handed it to him - and then, like a mother taking something from a naughty child, shoved it forcefully in his pocket. He puffed out his chest, thrust his face right into me and with all the menace that people like him get off on said: “You’re not coming in - now fuck off.”
At this point my world caved in. The realisation hit me that I was absolutely helpless to do anything about it. He had all the power and would have all the back-up he needed - because right there, right then he had the absolute power to do as he pleased. And I have never felt so emotionally battered as I did at that moment. I demanded he gave me the ticket back - and he announced it was now the property of Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. I asked him for his name. “I don’t have to give you my name,” he replied. “Just ‘search steward’ is all you need to know.”
I went over to the police and explained to them what had happened and asked them to intervene. They explained they couldn’t as the stewards had the authority at the turnstiles and there was nothing they could do. I walked back past the away entrance and around to the main reception. As I did so, I looked over at the steward. He was smirking at me. As I got around the corner, a huge roar went up. Rangers had taken the lead.
Surprisingly, I was able to walk straight into the Sheffield Wednesday reception. I was very calm, very polite but very firm in asking to see someone in authority. But no-one was available. “You’d best ring up on Monday morning.” There was no point venting my anger at any of the ladies at reception. They weren’t responsible and were genuinely sympathetic anyway.
Behind the desk was a room, with the door open and a man operating and surveying the outside of the ground on CCTV. The away end entrance was clearly visible on screen and therefore I now know that the events as described above had been captured on video. They can’t collaborate my version of what was said, but they will certainly show the manner and actions of the steward.
Eventually two operation officials came into the reception area. By this time another QPR fan had turned up to lodge a complaint. He had been ejected from the home areas and was unhappy at the way he had been manhandled and thrown out of the ground. He had bought his ticket from Sheffield Wednesday. I explained to the two officials my version of events - and, to their credit, they listened and responded in a very professional manner.
The senior of the two asked me why I had been refused entry with my rucksack. “Because it contained fanzines,” I said. He looked puzzled at this - and, shaking his head, said: “And what?” It was a query, as if he was expecting me to add information that would explain things more.
I suspect by the time I take this up with the Sheffield Wednesday secretary, there will conveniently have been a long-standing club rule in place that no fanzines are allowed inside the ground. If that is so, then it was certainly news to these two gentlemen. And how visiting fanzine editors are suppose to know is anyone’s guess. They also asked if I had got the name of the steward. “He wouldn’t give it,” I replied. “He just said ‘search steward is all you need to know’.”
By the time all this had taken place, it was now 3-1 and I made my way back to the away entrance, then over to the house to retrieve my bag. I was numb and totally detached from what was going on inside the ground. As the roar went up to signal the end of the game, there were lots of Wednesday fans hanging around looking for trouble. It was a nasty experience and I was wary of my safety. Leaving altogether wasn’t an option as I was meeting my mate afterwards. And in any case, numb and upset as I was, in the relative safety of the QPR fans streaming out, I still had to sell those remaining fanzines, hard as it was to stand there and do so knowing what had happened. But it did at least give me a tiny sense of normality.
By the time the Rangers fans had largely dispersed and I had finished telling the umpteenth person a potted version of what had happened, my mate and I trudged back to the car in silence, me too distraught to say anything or to ask about the game, and he not knowing what he could say to ease the emotional pain I was clearly going through. And, in truth, there was nothing he could say. We were in Macclesfield before I could even bring myself to speak.
“Sorry about not going for a beer afterwards,” I said, “You understand though, don’t you?”
“It’s okay, I understand,” he replied.
I cannot even begin to explain how I still feel - ‘emotionally assaulted’ is about the best I can do. I feel like a kid who has run down stairs on Christmas Day and found all his presents stolen. It’s still Christmas - it’s just hard to feel part of it afterwards. I haven’t felt a single surge of elation that we are up. I have a burning sense of injustice and an underlying anger which I am struggling to contain. I have no idea what sort of game it was because I can’t bring myself to talk about it. I can’t even read any of the hundreds of messages because it wounds just seeing them.
Perhaps some reading this will think I brought it all on myself, or that I shouldn’t have retorted as I did and only have myself to blame. Personally, I believe that my ‘punishment’ far exceeds my crime - if indeed I did anything wrong in the first place.
The issue here really is about power - and how an individual can abuse that. If the steward in question believed that an exchange of words - and not abusive ones at that - justifies denying me seeing the game, the importance of which he must be all too aware of, then I believe he shouldn’t be entrusted with that kind of power in the first place.
I strongly believe that he was always going to deny me entry into the ground and the whole thing was played out to justify that. I know it is the same outside security firm who also steward at Sheffield United. Three years ago, I was ejected from Bramall Lane, without warning, for selling the fanzine at half-time. Most clubs don’t even bat an eyelid on our travels - and on the odd occasion a steward has told me to stop, I stop. At Bramall Lane, though, I was grabbed, manhandled forcibly out of the ground, assaulted outside and ended up in hospital having X-ray treatment on my arm after I lost all feeling in it - and it was in a sling for a week with nerve damage.
The following season, and determined not to give in to thuggery, I squared it first that it was okay to take them in. Amazingly the stewards even gave me a place at half-time to stand and sell them! I can’t be sure but I am fairly certain that the steward yesterday was also involved in the incident at Sheffield United. Either way, here he was determined again to show me who was boss.
Not selling fanzines inside the ground is one thing. Preventing me from taking them in, in my rucksack is something else entirely. What damned business is it of anyone what I carry in my bag. In fact I had other things in there too. If it had been back issues of TV Quick, or whatever, would that have been okay? And if such a rule exists, is it unreasonable not to have provision for depositing such items? I would have happily done so. But instead I get a shrug of the shoulders and advice that I should dump the contents of my bag. Why the hell should I? What sort of response is that?
The thing is, no-one cares or gives a toss about one football fan not getting into a game. Sheffield Wednesday, of this I am certain, will back their man. Whether they will do so with a clear conscience only they will know.
What has humbled me from all this, though, is the support and sympathy I have had from so many different people. I can’t begin to explain how important that has been. I wrote a piece on Friday in which I said that if things were to go wrong the following day, there could be no more poignant setting to provide a sense of perspective than there in Leppings Lane. I accept the above is very self-indulgent. I don’t believe I have any more or any less right that the next QPR fan to enter with a valid ticket and see my team. The distress I feel even now is obviously greater because of the importance of the game. And I do - really I do - have a sense of perspective on it in the greater scheme of things.
I am so pleased for everyone - players, management and especially the magnificent fans - that we have gained promotion and that long-awaited bit of success - our first in the 17-year history of the fanzine! I don’t want to diminish one iota of the joy of celebration that everyone feels - although I know I unintentionally have. And I regret that.
But I will never be able to write about it with any kind of understanding of having been there and witnessed it for myself. I will never be able to bring to mind the memory of a packed stand celebrating the goals. I will never know what it felt like when each of those goals went in. I have just committed nine months of emotional highs and lows to my beloved QPR - and at the end I was denied our crowning moment. In short, I will never be able to share the memory of this day because I have none - or none that are joyous, anyway. I don’t think I deserve that.
Right now, I just want to crawl into a dark corner and hide - and I don’t think I deserve that either.
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.
Previous Daily Fixes