Cole Porter it wasn’t, but one song in particular encapsulated the 38 weeks and a day of mixed emotions that was the 1994/95 season in the life, times and glorious underachievement of Queens Park Rangers Football Club.
It was entirely fitting it should come on our second visit of the season to Old Trafford, as it was the first that had spelt the end of our Championship ambitions for yet another season - seven minutes into the opening game, to be precise, when Clive Wilson’s sending-off was the inevitable cue for Rangers to settle on keeping the score down from thereon, and in the process destroy any wishful hopes that our beloved team had metamorphosised into potential world beaters over the summer.
Sung to the ubiquitous Pet Shop Boys’ Go West - wasn’t just about every song at every game? - its underlying message of defiance and contempt proved the old adage that you either hate Man United or you are a Man United fan.
Paul Ince, so the 7,000 QPR fans informed their 36,000 counterparts, was in fact, if they didn’t know already or were somewhat unsure or perhaps had recently forgotten, a wanker.
And whilst the East Stand roof rose a full six inches higher as chorus after chorus headed skywards out of Old Trafford, millions of non-Man United supporting fans watching on television around the country and fed up to the back teeth with the whinging, moaning, petty, spiteful, begrudging, ‘everyone hates us because we’re so successful’, siege mentality that is the Manchester United of the 90s, punched the air in delight.
Rangers fans weren’t just singing for Queens Park Rangers, they were singing for the whole country. And like the man from Del Monte, the country they said ‘Yes!’
They should care. QPR were just another hurdle (a small, easily flattened one, it has to be admitted) on the way, or so they all thought at the time, to a second successive double. What fan would give a toss if their team’s star midfield man did have a predilection for self-abuse when his side was leading 2-0 in an FA Cup quarter-final and also top of the Premier League, or a near as makes no difference to it? Our 4-1 win at Old Trafford three years earlier, which had earned hat-trick hero Dennis Bailey, enjoying his proverbial 15 minutes of fame, the ultimate accolade of being voted Manchester City’s ‘Player of the Season’, was but a distant memory as, for the third time in a few short months, it was brought home to us that those who laugh last really do laugh loudest. Those who have a sense of humour, that is.
Important ingredient that, laughing. And QPR fans did more than most throughout the season. Let’s face it, if your hopes and dreams (of success) are far removed from your expectations, then it’s as much the crack as anything that keeps you turning up week after week. Rangers fans are nothing if not realists and if the humour is often cynical to reflect this, then a clue can be found in the club’s early history. Before changing to the present name, QPR were know as St Judes Institute. And what was St. Jude the patron saint of? Why, lost causes, of course!
The season started badly for QPR and went rapidly downhill from there on. Having flirted with the bottom four for much of the time, by November relegation was beginning to look more than just a distinct possibility. There was even an element of farce about much of Rangers’ play, epitomised by our losing 2-1 at home to a nine-man Manchester City, who had been gifted their first with a goalkeeping blunder that was not only repeated twice over on Match of the Day that night, but also turned up on the ‘What happened next?’ round in A Question of Sport a few short weeks later, it was that spectacular.
Unrest surrounding manager Gerry Francis was beginning to grow. Loftus Road had grown accustomed to unrest over the previous two years. Up until now, though, it had been solely directed at QPR owner Richard Thompson, whose idea of running a football club was systematically to sell off its prize assets for the sort of sum that at first glance might be mistaken for a telephone number to a remote village in Nepal, and in return splash out on a couple of coats of paint in the gents toilets.
But for the first time, Rangers fans began to focus on Francis’s role in things. If Thompson perpetuated a small-club mentality by his actions, in turn Francis talked us down every time he went in front of a camera and gave an interview to his shoes. The difference was Thompson could fuck off for all anyone cared, whereas Francis was a Rangers man through and through; which is why when, without any prior warning, Rodney Marsh was appointed as Chief Executive to do whatever it is that Chief Executives do, private grievances were put to one side whilst Rangers fans rallied in support of Gerry Francis.
Rodney Marsh, one-time darling of Loftus Road, proved that even idols sometimes have feet of clay by not only being a willing pawn in the whole affair but compounding the felony by not realising what all the fuss was about. It was all too much for Francis, who had many times declared that he could walk away from football any time he chose to. Having stuck two fingers up to Richard Thompson and Rodney Marsh, Gerry did indeed walk away from football… by becoming manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Not too many laughs there, admittedly, but our knight in shining armour was about to change things for the better.
Enter Ray Wilkins. The only choice for the manager’s job. Optimism didn’t just return, it arrived with a 12-trumpet fanfare and a large sign saying ‘good times ahead’. It wasn’t misplaced. Wilkins’ first game in charge brought with it a 3-2 home win over Leeds, and by the time Sheffield Wednesday had gifted us three points as an early Christmas present, Rangers had risen to the dizzy heights of 13th. He might well have no hair but, as the song said, we really didn’t care, Super Super Ray.
The advert had got it wrong: the future was bright, but it wasn’t orange; it wasn’t Tango either. The future was Ray Wilkins, international footballer, respected elder statesman of his profession and voice-over man extraordinaire.
The crack grew ever more fun. No other club in the Premier League takes as high a percentage of its average home support to away games than QPR. (Except for a cold January night in Leeds, when even a Crewe fan who had helped swell the number shivering in the visitors section to all of 200 was visibly embarrassed at the number of empty rows). Arsenal was a giggle (“We were there when Jensen scored… and Gallen scored… and Allen scored… and Impey scored”), Liverpool a scream (“You’re not famous any more”) and Coventry (“Big Ron takes it up the, etc)… well, Coventry was the same as it is every year for QPR.
Cup games apart, Southampton provided the best party atmosphere and, consequently the biggest laugh - although, as with all memorable moments that require you to have been there to appreciate fully, Rangers’ targeting of a Saints-supporting blonde bimbo and her Neanderthal side-kick loses everything in translation, so there’s little pointing in attempting to do so. But as cracks go, it was a classic.
By the time Rangers had finished the season with a win over Spurs and a first-ever defeat of Manchester City at Maine Road, where both Rangers and City fans danced together in the street after the game on hearing the news that United had blown the title, QPR had climbed to eighth - a remarkable turnaround in fortune for a side who had spent two-thirds of the season staring at relegation.
Despite that grim prospect, Rangers fans never lost their sense of humour or failed to appreciate other teams’ football. Witness the difference between Rangers fans’ applause for Alan Shearer’s Goal of the Season’ at Ewood Park and Manchester United fans’ total lack of acknowledgement towards Les Ferdinand’s equally stunning strike at Loftus Road. It’s why songs are sung about Paul Ince being a wanker and rival fans dance in the street at United’s misfortunes.
No humility and no sense of humour, United fans, especially the ones who’ve appeared out of the woodwork in recent times. The fact that their side ended up with the same amount of silverware as QPR is an irony probably lost on them. But like us, it looks as if United fans might just have to get used to it from here on. Welcome to the world of lost causes, boys and girls.
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