Life’s funny, isn’t it? The way you’re up one minute, down the next. Take last May Bank Holiday Monday. I’d sat down early afternoon to watch my hero, Jimmy White, in the World Snooker Final. But by 9.00pm, Jimmy was on his way to a fourth World Snooker Final defeat and I was feeling pretty depressed too. It was then that the phone rang and a familiar voice said: “Steve? It’s about the game tomorrow…”
There was only one “game tomorrow” - the challenge match between AKUTR’s and the Whinging Donkey, played to raise funds for the Mick Leach Testimonial Fund. I’d submitted a bid more in hope than expectation - and not having heard anything so far could only assume my bid had not been successful. But here was a call - perhaps I was lucky after all? Before the voice on the other end had got past six words, I’d blurted out anxiously, “Alright, Dave? Am I playing tomorrow?” The reply was dreadfully disappointing: “No sorry,” said Dave, “you were 10p short on your bid.” “Oh no!” I groaned. Then, after a moment’s agonising silence, he said: “It’s OK, I was joking. See you tomorrow; 5.00pm; outside Loftus Road.
On replacing the receiver, I went into a daze. I sat in an armchair, trying to concentrate on the snooker - but all I could think was that, the following day, I would be treading the hallowed turf where so many great, great players had gone before. I felt sorry for Jimmy White - beaten yet again but still the King in my eyes - but my own depression had been lifted by the thought of playing at Loftus Road. Ups and downs, see?
I couldn’t sleep that night and was glad to get to work the following morning. Surprisingly, the day didn’t drag by, as I’d feared, but passed quickly. As I left, my Tottenham and Arsenal supporting colleagues were all ridiculing me. “See you on Match of the Day,” they jeered. But I’m sure deep down they were really jealous. Anxious not to miss a moment of the experience, I arrived at Loftus Road a full 45 minutes before we were due to meet. I was determined to savour as much as I could. I was told I’d been drawn to guest for the AKUTR’s team, which was pleasing. However, this meant having to change in the away dressing-room and wear the away strip, as the Donkeys had won the toss to wear the blue and white hooped shirts and had got the home dressing-room by definition.
As we changed, names were running through my head: George Best, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle - all had changed in this very same dressing-room. I tried to imagine Brian Clough, voice raised, lambasting his Forest side on the spot I was now standing. I closed my eyes and could feel the history. Eventually the rotund figure of Dave Thomas emerged from the dressing-room, and we were all ready to walk out the tunnel. Both teams emerged side by side, voices singing the Match of the Day theme. A hint of nervousness could be detected, and little wonder. And what was the first thing I did when we took the field? I touched the grass. I just bent down and simply touched the grass. Silly? Maybe, but I bet you understand why.
As for the match itself, it was a fairly close-fought contest. Perhaps not the greatest game of football ever played at Loftus Road, but there have been fewer games played with such unbridled enjoyment by the players. The final score of 5-3 to the Donkeys after extra-time was incidental to the whole occasion. For my own part, I made two appearances: the first, after 25 minutes of the game; the second, during extra-time. I suppose I didn’t play too badly and, indeed, might even have scored had a team-mate not beaten me to the ball to score at the Loft End. I can, though, claim to have scored at Loftus Road, as all the players took a penalty each at the end of the game.
Back in the dressing-room, as we showered and changed, tired but happy, I reflected on an ambition, now fulfilled. What I’d thought would be the impossible dream had come true. I’d never forget the experience, nor the words of Dave Thomas as we prepared for a well-earned pint in the upstairs bar. “Just remember,” he said “there is no other club in the First Division who would do this for their supporters. That’s what makes QPR special.” I looked around me and shuddered. He was right. My club had made the impossible possible. And it was awesome.
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