There came a point earlier this season when, metaphorically anyway, I didn’t speak to QPR for some weeks. Immediately after the Port Vale game at home, I managed to vent my spleen so horribly successfully in a pub that some of those present haven’t spoken to me since. The thought of a trip to Grimsby was too much to bear and, not having missed a game all year, I didn’t travel.
Obviously, venting my spleen that night wasn’t a good idea, as a spell of illness and trip to hospital ensued for an operation which left an eight-inch scar and intricate stitching across my stomach. I left my ward after a week (on the day of the Charlton home game) with dire warnings about the inadvisability of getting up for 10 days, let alone walking or getting dressed. I was told work was a month away at the least.
Days dragged by and the soothing balm of time slowly dissipated my fury at some of the straw-stuffed men that had been turning out for Rangers. Furtively, I started casting sideward glances at the fixture calendar. Reading away. No can do. Too early. Run the risk of large hole opening up in my stomach. Could set me back weeks. Be sensible.
Mild yearning became burning desire with the news that Rangers had signed John Spencer and got Gavin Peacock on loan. But the elation (yes, elation!) at this news was suddenly tempered by the realisation that I was bedridden and going to miss their first game, at Reading.
Saturday morning found me gingerly testing the brake and accelerator on my car as a nervous and thoroughly disapproving partner looked on from an upstairs window. Yes, I could walk, just. Yes, I could move, albeit slowly. Yes, I would be fine to do an emergency stop. No, getting a seat at the game was not going to be a problem. And, yes, I was going to go, although I did openly wonder what Football League Rules say about ground admission for spectators wearing pyjamas and wrapped in a duvet.
Reading: 2.00pm on a Saturday afternoon. Locals stood around pointing in wonderment at over-flying planes and shovelling dead hedgehogs off the high street. No-one knew where the ground was. No-one knew Reading possessed a football team. Somewhere in the distance a banjo twanged.
Eventually I found the interminable queue towards the ground and parked my car at 3.00pm exactly. It was then that I came by my new definition of frustration - being 400 yards from a football ground, with the game just having kicked off and unable to move faster than the average glacier. I was in trouble. I was wearing lead boots. With every step I took, the ground got further away. Beads of perspiration became torrents of sweat. This was hard going. Eventually I managed to slipstream a snail.
The away end was a heaving mass of Rangers. Gulp. What if we score? A goal-celebrating elbow to a fresh, large wound would not have been a good idea at all and, as all the Rangers seats were sold, I was beginning to think I had made a very serious error of judgment. However, a trip to the main office and an Oscar-winning speech about the troubles I had taken to get to the game, earned me an ‘emergency’ seat next to the directors box.
And it was worth it. It was worth every faltering step, every wincing movement, because the Reading game and the appearance of Spencer and Peacock were this year’s turning point. Because it was quite frightening to see just how much better their weight of pass, their awareness and general level of skill was. Because it was great to see their appetite for the game. Because it was brilliant to see their attitude.
Let’s get one thing straight: there are some Rangers fans who regularly endure nightmare journeys, overcome physical disabilities and make efforts to get to games which go well above and beyond the normal call of duty, and beat my own tale of effort, but the reason I had been so hacked off with Rangers was the fact that it is these kinds of effort which made some squad members’ performances this year look embarrassing. This is why I had got to the stage of refusing to support the team (for the first time ever). Earlier this year we were carrying so many non-triers that, had Rangers been a horse race, the stewards’ inquiry would still be going on.
But not now. Because now we have two players who really, really, really try and give their all. Note Spencer’s reaction when he missed in the last few minutes against Sheffield United. When was the last time we saw this wholesale commitment from every single player in our team? Maybe I’m being over-sensitive, but when I see players in hoops laughing at the size of the crowd (me, us) as Player X appeared to do against Swindon in the Coke Cup, it makes my stomach turn. And without wishing to put too fine a point on it, Player X, there are some grounds where, if noticed, you wouldn’t have made it off at half-time.
This has always been our problem, hasn’t it? Culturally, we’ve always been prepared to put up with the kind of footballer whose brilliance and unpredictability make him unmissable viewing at the expense of... oh, you know, tackling, heading, work-rate and other fanciful notions of the modern game. Like it or not, we have always been perceived as a club that, whilst capable of playing beautifully, is equally culpable when it comes to fighting spirit (hello, Rufus). Am I alone in enjoying this image? Last year I was introduced to a group of Luton fans who laughingly asked, “Read any good poetry lately?”
Millwall fans revel in their heritage of not being overly concerned with the skill level of their team, on the assumption that player never, ever bottles out and gives his absolute all, all the time. This is probably why their all-time hero is Harry Cripps (dreadnought, chopped down trees with tackles) and ours is Stanley Bowles (fallen angel, financial incompetent and footballing genius).
Down the years, though, our disco kids have been exceptions to the rule. I never begrudged Roy Wegerle his place in the team because of the odd occasions when he would do something absolutely extraordinary. But he was in a team. For every Bowles, you need two or three Webbs (not if you get to sudden death penalties in Europe, though).
God knows where John Spencer fits into our handed-down traditions - and, quite frankly, I don’t care anyway, because with him it would appear that we have the best words - skill and desire. So, yes, I want to see football and, yes, I want to see skilful players - but I’ll be buggered if I’m going to watch some of the effete dilettantes who masqueraded as QPR players earlier this year. What makes things so especially pleasing at the moment is that I don’t think John Spencer would 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