Last issue, I wrote an article about where QPR might be playing their football in the future. Unfortunately, in the final paragraph I may not have made clear what I was trying to say. I was trying to suggest that a commitment from QPR to match or better the council’s target of 50 per cent of new homes to be genuinely affordable in any redevelopment of the Loftus Road site - not stadium - might make the council more amenable to the idea of QPR moving to the Linford Christie stadium.
Out of curiosity, on the Friday before the Portsmouth FA Cup replay, I decided I would go and have a look at the Linford Christie stadium for myself. After buying my ticket for the replay at the QPR box office, and never having been to the Linford Christie stadium before, I put its name into Google Maps (other navigation apps may be available - I have no idea) and set about trying to find it. I walked north along Wood Lane, a road which has probably not been anywhere near a wood for a century or more. You certainly can’t see the wood for the cars, vans, buses and tall buildings under the charming Westway. Was there perhaps a stile here at one time allowing the rural rambler to pass from one cow-populated field to the next? Although, I suppose, in these parts it would have been sheep not cows casting disinterested looks at passing walkers in those long forgotten days before the motor car and QPR.
Another 50 yards brought me to the junction with Du Cane Road - now where does that name come from? Du Cane Road is an interesting road. At the Wood Lane end are the playing fields of Latymer Upper School, which stands on King Street in Hammersmith, and is therefore, I would suggest, in Fulham territory. Do the pupils have divided loyalties: Fulham fans on every day except Wednesday (always games day at every school, everywhere, since time began), when, enjoying or suffering their weekly dose of physical exercise, they become QPR fans for the day? Or do they not think of such matters at all? I tried to get into Latymer Upper once, back in the 70s - not to steal chalk (Does anyone steal chalk? Is there a market for the stuff?) but to get an education. It would be more accurate to say my parents tried to get me in. I didn’t have a clue what was going on. All I knew was that I had to turn up on a Saturday - FA Cup Final day, if I remember correctly - to undergo a number of tests. I remember drawing something, I can’t remember what, and that it didn’t impress anyone there enough for them to say: “Ah! This boy is obviously made of just the stuff we’re looking for - sign him up!”
I must have got home in time for the cup final - I know I never missed one during the 70s - and this, for me, would have been the important thing. I suspect Latymer is a rugger school, anyway - although one of its famous former pupils, Hugh Grant, is a Fulham fan (I know how he got in to Latymer: charm and a seemingly careless toss of his floppy forelock). Anyway, I digress. Further along Du Cane Road is one of the entrances to Ark Academy Burlington Danes, the school where I took my A Levels in the late 70s. I didn’t enjoy my time there: I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have the social skills to make friends easily and quickly, which I needed to do if I was going to fit in. I do remember the Monday morning after the Saturday afternoon on which Rangers thrashed Burnley 7-0. I think I might have written the score up on the blackboard but none of the other pupils in my history class that morning attached any significance to the event whatsoever.
Back in the present, Google Maps was directing me further along Du Cane Road, to Hammersmith Hospital where, incidentally, I was born, far back in the mists of time, before Jim Gregory started the revolution that would produce so many fond memories for fans of QPR over the decades to come. The main hospital building facing Du Cane Road is an elegant red brick edifice. I searched its facade for a plaque commemorating the event that was at least of some significance to me - my birth - but to no avail. I consoled myself with the thought that they don’t put those things up until you’re dead but then I also had to admit that they only do so if you have achieved something of greater significance than simply supporting QPR, which I haven’t. Yet!
I was being directed into the grounds of the hospital, along the small road that comes off Du Cane Road, just to the east of the main building. It looked like a road to nowhere but I hoped that it might lead to a lane or footpath that would take me to my destination. So I trudged onwards between tall, nondescript buildings into a car park. And there it was: a big wire fence. Behind the fence was a playing field and in the distance a line of skeletal trees pointing at the sky. I surmised that the stadium would be beyond the line of trees but there was no way through. Disappointed, I turned around to retrace my steps back to Wood Lane. Had I continued further along Du Cane Road, I would have come to another building of interest: Wormwood Scrubs prison. I’m not aware of any connection between that place, where so many have enjoyed sojourns at Her Majesty’s pleasure, and our beloved Hoops - but it is a landmark of a kind. It’s probably appeared in loads of films but the one I remember it for is The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, the scene where Richard Burton - playing the main character, Leamas - leaves the prison with his few possessions in a paper bag under his arm. Nothing to do with QPR but a great film from an equally fine book.
Again, I digress. Back on Wood Lane, I head north again, past the other entrance to Burlington Danes, and keep walking until I pass a small road on my left and then, by a zebra crossing, come to a sign that indicates a ‘Quiet Way to East Acton - 8 minutes’. As the path it is pointing to leads in the right general direction, I decide to take it. After a minute or so it ends at a bend of a road - probably the one I had passed a few minutes earlier - which then carries on in a westerly direction. I walk along this road until the expanse of Wormwood Scrubs opens up on my right and, on my left, I pass a small children’s playground behind which are a number of five-a-side football pitches - and finally come to the place I’ve been trying to find. Not that it’s obvious this is the Linford Christie stadium. There’s no sign on the road identifying it. On the other side of the road the Scrubs are dotted with white football goalposts and, nearer at hand, a tree - a dead one, cut up into logs: a remnant of the wood that the lane of that name once led to? - lies on the grass.
Still unsure that I’ve found the right place, I walk through the open gates. A little way beyond the gates and to the left, a group of children are engaged in some sort of physical activity under the supervision of an adult. Ahead of me, I see a red cinder running track - and to my right the back of what I presume to be a viewing stand. And that’s about it. It’s a bit of a stretch to call this place a stadium and, in fact, the sign directly in front of me carries the words: Linford Christie Outdoor Sports Centre, which seems to me a more suitable description. It’s getting dark now and I decide it’s time to end my little expedition. I’ve been taking pictures as I’ve been going along and had attracted glances from a man in army fatigues going through some sort of workout on a set of exercise apparatus outside the gates. He, or at least the thought that I had aroused his suspicions, had made me feel self-conscious about taking pictures, although I can’t imagine what sort of nefarious activity he or anyone else could think I was up to.
I timed my walk back to White City station at twenty minutes. It’s not the most pleasant walk, especially the half-mile or so along Wood Lane. The site of the stadium and its adjoining facilities did not really look to me to be big enough to accommodate a football stadium and a separate running track, although it was difficult to be sure on such a fleeting visit. A few days later, the morning after Rangers’ triumphant progression into the fifth round of the FA Cup (where have the last 22 years gone?) I took the Central Line to East Acton to see how easy it is to approach the site from its nearest underground station. The first thing to say is that East Acton station is simply not big enough to cope with the hordes of home and away supporters that would descend on it on match days - alright, maybe not hordes, but certainly far more passengers than it is used to coping with. Unlike White City station, there is just one platform for trains going in each direction and only two turnstiles and one gate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a quaint little station but it’s not up to the demands that would be made on it if a major sporting venue suddenly appeared on its doorstep.
Once again, a little warier this time, I put the name of my destination into Google Maps (other navigation apps, etc, etc…). The app states that it is an 11-minute walk to the stadium - and it has to be said it’s a far nicer walk than the one from White City. You walk along a quiet suburban street for a minute or so before you reach Wormwood Scrubs. You turn right and walk the fifty yards or so to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where you take a sharp left onto a path that runs beneath the looming prison wall, an experience which is enough to give any potential troublemaker pause for thought. When you reach the end of the prison wall you see the back of Hammersmith Hospital ahead of you. Looking to your right you can see a road that clearly goes all the way through to Du Cane Road. So, contrary to my experience of a few days earlier, you can get to the stadium from Du Cane Road: going west, you just walk past the hospital and take the first road on the right.
At the end of the prison wall the path turns sharply left and then right, before running up to the south-west corner of the Linford Christie stadium. Here it turns north to run along the western end of the stadium before turning east to run along its front. I’d forgotten that it was a Wednesday (always games day at every school, etc, etc) - and I am confronted by the sight of a mass of school children in running gear, who have obviously just finished a run on the Scrubs. This only slightly deters me from going into the stadium to take a few more pictures. I then walk back along the road I had walked down a few days previously.
It’s earlier in the day and the light is better than on my previous visit, so I can get a better idea of the size of the site. This time I feel more optimistic that a football stadium and a separate running track might be fitted in. Just before Scrubs Lane, I look at an information board with a plan of the Scrubs and the surrounding area. If the new football stadium was to occupy the site of the existing stadium, then the running track would have to occupy the space currently given over to a children’s playground,the football pitches and some sort of equestrian centre that lie to the east of the stadium. These are all, no doubt, resources valued by the local community, so the council’s nervousness about any redevelopment plans are fully understandable. Against this the building of a state-of-the-art sports stadium on the site could also be of great value for the local community. It’s not the easiest place to get to, but there are a number of ways of doing so. The walk from White City station along Wood Lane is not pleasant but you can turn off down Du Cane Road, where the traffic is not quite so heavy, and approach it from that side along the road immediately to the west of the hospital. The shortest and nicest route is from East Acton station, but the station is too small to cope with a large number of passengers all wanting to use it at the same time. Changes would have to be made to the station - and this would be a shame.
I hope that discussions continue between QPR and the council about a possible move of the club to the site. Certainly, the proposed move should not be dismissed out of hand. That would not be fair to the local community or to QPR and its fans.
One thing I believe is true: QPR’s current stadium is not fit for purpose any longer. QPR has a history of pursuing bold initiatives – the building of the current stadium in the 1960s and 70s, and the laying of the artificial pitch in the 80s. I feel such boldness is needed now, on the part of QPR and other interested parties, to ensure that QPR remains a flourishing and relevant part of its local community.
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