Happy anniversary QPR, I don’t know how we’ve lasted this long either - Column
Thursday, 25th Mar 2021 15:59 by Alex Perry
Ten years ago, Alex Perry went from anti-football emo teen to besotted with his dad’s football club as Queens Park Rangers stormed the Championship.
Ten years on from our promotion season, I want to remember why I love you.
April 25, 2011, Loftus Road. A sea of blue and white floods the pitch, some of the most half-arsed ‘has anyone got a sharpie?’ tea towel signs are proudly held aloft. A man whose name I will never know, but whose face I will always remember, slaps his hand against the manky metal of the grubbiest little football ground in London to the vague tune of a chant; my dad embraces me with sheer adulation etched across his face and I think I get it, I think I support QPR now.
I’m happy to say that I am a glory supporter. Given my attachment to a team who feel so safe inhabiting sixteenth in the Championship that I’m sure they try to finish there every season deliberately, I am a bad glory supporter. But I can’t pretend that I didn’t ride on the coattails of our 2010/11 season and that the fact we were on our way to promotion informed my decision to get invested in that team.
My dad had tried to get me into football my whole life. He would take me to games as a kid, and my enduring memory of that was treating them with the same contempt I did a weeknight Ikea trip. As I blossomed into my teens my interests were firmly focused on growing my hair as long as possible, listening to the golden era of emo music, and actively informing people that sports were bad. It’s fair to say invitations to Loftus Road from my dad waned somewhat during this period.
That phase lasted a few years, but after cutting my hair and starting to wear clothing that wasn’t entirely centred around skulls, something happened. I remember it vividly, driving back from Nottingham one weekend I fell asleep in my Dad’s car and was awoken by a shriek of joy that in my half-conscious state was as alarming as it was uplifting. Jamie Mackie had just scored the second of two QPR injury-time goals, salvaging a draw against Derby County and sending my dad into a state I would deem as unfit to drive in.
Perhaps it was the enclosed space of the car we found ourselves in for the next 50 minutes, or that I was still working out what year it was after waking up, but after seeing that visceral reaction, I wanted in. I enquired about how the team was getting on, and as it transpired, we were the Championship’s pacesetters. As a 1996 baby, QPR were currently the best they had been in my lifetime and I was in for a treat of a season.
This was it; I had crossed the threshold. I started watching all the games that were on TV, looking at the league table weekly, checking forthcoming fixtures, and relentlessly refreshing the BBC Sport matchday page at 15.00 on a Saturday. These were some of my happiest memories of football. A complete lack of knowledge of burgeoning transfer fees, clueless about the shady practices of governing bodies, and no idea that European super clubs wanted to eat the sport. But most importantly for me, a childlike naiveté in my head created the illusion that QPR were the best team on the planet and I never expected them to lose. When you can approach football with an optimism that isn’t tainted by the corruption and vitriol surrounding the sport, you see it for what it really could be, an unfettered event that brings joy and anguish in equal measure to millions of people.
And the team, my word, the actual team. It took me some time to familiarise myself with the names, but I soon became enamoured with this rag-tag collective of footballing drifters. At a time when the world’s most famous footballer was Cristiano Ronaldo, a continental lab-produced underwear model, who is the very embodiment of human efficiency. There was something very romantic about watching a man called Paddy Kenny hurl himself around in goal, pulling out reflex saves that simply didn’t correlate with his physique.
Then there were people like Shaun Derry, who had the striking resemblance of a PE teacher the kids could buy fags off. Jamie Mackie, who was essentially a giant set of sentient lungs with the temperament of a Labrador. Alejandro Faurlin had cheekbones you could cut yourself on but would reduce anyone brave enough to wander into our midfield, the epitome of an angel with a dirty face. And who better to lead these boys, these brave, blue and white hoops-wearing boys, than Neil Warnock.
Neil Warnock is the uncle who can make or break a wedding depending on what mood he’s in; will it be charming table commanding Yorkshire banter today, or problematic jokes that were ok in the 70’s Neil? You’ve just got to wait three pints until you find out. I knew very little about his promotion track record at the time, but his Us Against Them attitude – I really shouldn’t have been shocked by his Brexit opinions – and ridiculous post-match ramblings were infectious. Here was Uncle Neil making my dad’s dreams come true and I adored him.
But if I’m being totally honest, I think the real thing that made me fall in love with football that season was Adel Taarabt. Amongst the gritty players whose most important characteristics were graft and oft-lauded ‘PASHUN’, here was this live-action streets won’t forget YouTube compilation of a footballer humiliating the opposition every week. QPR 4 – 0 Swansea City, I’m looking at you. This was a man so good that I basically got catfished by football. I fell in love with this game under the false pretences that QPR had unearthed the best player in the world and this Yorkshire/Morocco axis of Neil and Adel would propel us to the dizzy heights of premier league titles.
Then came April 25, 2011, the day I became a QPR fan. Roughly five years after my last trip to Loftus Road, I walked from White City Station with excitement bubbling through my body and nerves in my stomach from a niggling feeling of imposter syndrome. Really, I had only cared about this team for eight months, incomparable to the lifetime of money, emotions and commitment by some of the dedicated fans surrounding me. As I bounded towards the ground, instead of skulking my way up to the concourse and wishing the minutes away, I made for the club shop where I would buy my first QPR shirt. A red and black half and half strip, a subconscious compromise between my recently deposed emo status and newfound footballing fandom it would seem.
Then there was the match, a pretty drab 1-1 with Hull City. After a run of one win in five games, a lead surrendered and a 96th-minute goal for Norwich elsewhere meaning we weren’t mathematically promoted, this should have been quite a deflating afternoon. But you try telling the fans that. A pitch invasion was probably a bit overzealous given the circumstances, but knowing we only needed one point from our last two games, and a 14-goal swing with Cardiff to go against us, we were (basically) up. That was cause for celebration.
I still didn’t really understand goal difference, so honestly, a lot of the variables surrounding our promotion were lost on me. But this meant I could enjoy the premature-promotion party as it was intended, a cathartic experience for a mass of people who weren’t used to their football club being successful. And it was whilst watching all of these people relishing in each other’s joy, not least seeing my dad finally experiencing the father-son scenario he must have always hoped for during those fruitless years of getting me to attend games against my will, that I got it. I got why people enjoy this sport now, any sense of imposter syndrome vanished as no one who celebrated with me demanded to see my QPR tattoo, or to show them a trinket I would have received from every Junior Hoops Membership circa 1996 – 2011, they were just happy I was happy.
It can feel strange to think about that day now. My enthusiasm for football has waned slightly since, perhaps it is just part of growing up and having your eyes opened to the failings of the game. The constant stream of abuse directed daily at players and referees, a stark lack of diversity in coaching roles, the tedious analysis of analysis, the constant hyperbole surrounding VAR, and the transparency of super clubs’ priorities. There is a myriad of factors as to why anyone might fall out of love with football nowadays.
As I look back now, ten years on, that match inextricably linked me and QPR. For the most part, since that glorious season, my dad persuading me to support them has felt more like a hereditary disease, rather than a prized family heirloom. But there have been moments still, great moments shared with friends and family that I wouldn’t swap for anything. And whilst I might not love QPR as I did during that honeymoon period, I’ll still check the score every matchday, I’ll still feel a nagging sense of disappointment when we lose, I’ll still get a hit of dopamine when we win. I don’t know, maybe me and QPR are staying together for the parent now, as they provide one guaranteed text a week to my dad.
Whichever way I look at it, me and QPR will always have that day in the April sun. Looking around at the different shades of blue from decades apart paintjobs that adorn the beautiful tinpot that is our home ground, listening to some mind-bending drum and bass/jazz fusion club anthem as people scream the word ‘hoops’ from the top of their lungs, and thinking, god, I am so lucky to have met you.
The Twitter @plexaerry, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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