Saturday, 28 January 2012

To sing or not to sing...

...felt like the question today for most of us fans that weren't busy booing Chelsea players John Terry and Daniel Sturridge. I 'ummd' and 'aahd' about whether to write about all the events surrounding the game which were happening off the pitch. I wondered whether it was right to talk about things other than the match itself. But to be fair the reason why I write this blog and am so obsessed with the game is much more complex than just to say I love to watch a game of football.

It's not just the game, it's the personalities, the politics, the money, drama and the gossip and rumours (which I fully admit I am partial to), that all add to the theatre that is the world of football. And this has been the case for me being a Queens Park Rangers supporter throughout the past twenty-odd years. Maybe it's because, as fans of this club, we have seriously been through it: from boardroom hold-ups, to collections outside Loftus a billionaire buyout. It's been such an incredible few years that one would be naive in my opinion to try to ignore all of it. 

So I come to today's FA Cup fixture, and all the controversy surrounding the game. I am sure I speak for most of us QPR fans in condemning racism and all the terrible behaviour in the run up to today. I mean, a bullet in the post?? Why? It's just incomprehensible. Without wanting to disrespect the gravity of the situation and the charges that have been brought to John Terry it seems that what happened as a result of all the 'off the pitch' tension, impacted more on the fans than it did the players today.

We were all asked to arrive at Loftus Road early today, due to heightened security and the fact that we were all being searched. Statements were released by chairmen of both clubs. Twitter was awash with all sorts of questions about whether Anton Ferdinand would shake John Terry's hand or not.

On the other hand, Joey Barton's tweets on Friday afternoon spoke of a seemingly upbeat team, sitting around having coffee together. Sounded like they were simply looking forward to a game of football where there was really no pressure to win. Let's face it, this cup tie was always going to be tough, but also much more important for Chelsea, than for us.

And so as I arrived at Loftus Road at 10.30am this morning, in hindsight, it was no surprise that there was a somewhat muted atmosphere around the ground. With the increased police presence, it almost felt as if we were the ones being persecuted...the act of so few ruining it for everyone else. And whilst we were quite vociferous for the first five minutes of the game, for the rest of the match we barely made a noise. The atmosphere was nowhere near as electric as it was the last time we played Chelsea at home in October. And I was saddened that many of us spent our time booing the opposition as opposed to cheering our own team. I remember last October I was one of those booing John Terry, but at least at that match, it was balanced out by the amount of singing we were doing to cheer on the Rs.

I actually thought the lads played really well today. Given the circumstances: the injuries we have, and the missing players, we played with confidence and Chelsea quite frankly did not look threatening up front. Let's remember that they didn't score that goal from open play. I think we can be proud of that.

So given that the lads really gave today a good go, and didn't let us down in terms of effort...why didn't we sing? I think it must have been our own nerves. We were so wrapped up in everything else around the game, we didn't stop to enjoy what was some great end to end football right in front of our eyes. And while the team came out making no fuss about 'that handshake' by not following the ceremony at all, we couldn't help but chant about Terry's mother!

I am not here to criticise ourselves. I am guilty of all of this. But it did make me wonder about human psychology. I was reading the programme on the way home and both Hughes and Barton praised the fans for the great support shown last week at the Wigan game, even at the point at which Wigan had scored. I am not a footballer. I don't know what it's like to be out there, playing in front of thousands of people every week. But I have to believe them when they say that when we sing for them, when we get behind them through positive cheering, it really makes a difference to how they play. And I can't help but think maybe if we'd been a bit more positive today as fans, we might have had a better result...As I sat on the Central line from White City, I sort of imagined the lads telling some of the new players that it was a great atmosphere last time, and then feeling a bit disappointed when it wasn't quite how everyone had imagined.

Well, today's post seems much more serious than my last few...but I am told a writer of blogs shouldn't try too hard to be one thing or another. And though there is a lot of fun, laughter and joy in being a football fan, there are also those moments when I am truly confused about how events do finally unfold, and how atmospheres can change at the drop of a hat.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Making friends

Today is the day us QPR fans have been waiting for. A big win, some great goals with one from open play. And some real confidence at the back. Though I realise that Wigan aren't exactly the greatest team in the world, we really needed the win to help us build on some self belief. Next week brings what will no doubt be an extremely exciting and potentially controversial game. Bring it on. It's never boring supporting this team.

The feeling at the game today was a far cry from the one I had on Tuesday night playing MK Dons for the second time. But sitting there on that cold week night, watching an FA Club replay against a team 32 places below us, together with a paltry 10,000+ fans, memories of past years in mid-table Championship mediocrity and League One blues came flooding back. No doubt the press would be writing about the somewhat muted atmosphere the next day, and I almost felt sorry for Mark Hughes as he looked out to all the empty seats and heard some boos from many fans who only turned up for the £10 tickets.

The one thing about these cup games though, is that there's always a chance you'll sit next to someone different due to the release of season ticket seats. And that night it was my opportunity to meet someone new. Next to me was a chap who must be in his 70s, possible even older. Throughout the match he gave me nuggets of wisdom which made me laugh and smile and think - maybe this situation isn't so bad...

Basically, we didn't play well on Tuesday did we? Or so I thought. Some of us 'booed' the changes that were being made, 'booed' the team, groaned in anger. I was one of them. And the man next to me said 'come on look, these guys are really playing so well'. And I watched carefully and thought...he's right. MK Dons nearly scored several times, they were extremely physical. They had nothing to lose, and it felt like we had everything to lose. I sat there, biting my nails (at the football it's the only time I do!) and he squeezed my arm and said 'Don't worry, I really think we're going to win this one'. For some reason I felt a glimmer of hope from his words. And when he even prophesied that we'd score from a 'set piece',  my hopes were affirmed.

Those of you who are a little younger won't remember this movie, but there was a film called Oh God that came out in 1977. That was actually the year I was born but I grew up watching it and its sequels. The film was about God who appears to an assistant grocery manager as a 'good natured old man'. I am by no means giving a religious message but there was always something about the movie and the way that God was portrayed as an old man that was quite funny, touching and tickling. I almost felt as if perhaps the chap who was sat next to me having moved down from row L was God coming down to sort QPR out and give me a bit of hope!

The truth is that really, he was just a fan who had been going to games for probably twice as long as I have. And through all the experience he had probably seen so many scenarios that he could almost predict what was going to happen. At the end of the match, we introduced ourselves (by name), and he was so kind and said 'Emily, you are a lovely girl, it was so nice to meet you, I'll be back at my own seat for the next match'.

About 3 seasons ago my Dad & I lost the seats we'd had for over 15 years, as we were late in renewing them, so I moved up 3 rows and have been sat next to the same people for every home game as you would be. And after all this time, the guy to my right  (where God was sat last Tuesday), turned round and asked me 'Hmm, where are you from?'. I guess it must have sounded strange hearing this slightly mixed up American/English accent shouting 'come on lads' or 'come on rangers'. So I explained my mixed background. And then I asked him why he wasn't at the MK Dons game. He told me that during the week he works in Holland so coming to games during the week is pretty tough. We found out more about each other in 5 minutes than we had in the 3 seasons we'd been sat next to each other. Such is the nature of the way we supporters are - week in and week out.

As I write this on the train up to see some family in Doncaster I chuckle at the thought of 'God' sitting next to me and smile at the sincere human interaction that takes place at the football. Of course, this is made much easier by the fact that the boys won 3-1. They played well and I am proud today.

Come on your Superhoops! Bring on Chelsea!!!

George Benson in 'Oh God'

Monday, 16 January 2012

The 'Coach'

Before you get all excited and think I write this post about our new manager Mark Hughes, be warned, today I'll be leaving all that type of critique to the 'experts' and other bloggers. This is actually about another type of coach. My first experience as a fan travelling on the QPR supporters bus.

Last week, I pondered over a couple of days as to whether to make the journey up to St James'  Park for the first time to support my beloved team. I suppose the quick announcement of Mark Hughes helped me to firm up my decision and buy myself a ticket to the game. I saw on the QPR ticket site that coach trips were still available, and thought after all these years, I've never been on the coach. I've been to plenty of away games. Back at University in Leeds I managed quite a few trips to all sort of grounds to support QPR away - Huddersfield, Barnsley, Bramall Lane etc etc- and for some reason I distinctly remember the very indistinct Tranmere. I was unaware that such a miserable place existed, but I have to say I had one of my best sausage rolls there. Anyway, I digress slightly, but the point is there never was a supporters' bus really from where I was, and it was quite easy to take the short train ride from Leeds.  I remember my father telling me a number of times as we saw the away supporters' coach pullout of South Africa Road 'you could be one of those, why don't you get on it?'. It's a wonder though, after moving back to London over 12 years ago, I never went to as many away games and never considered the coach.

I guess that also time has moved things along. I had no idea how easy it was to get on the coach and the internet and new ticketing systems allow me to be able to see what opportunities I have as a fan, and I am grateful for that. Especially because taking a train so far costs a small fortune, and the coach at only £34 per adult, is a bargain in comparison.

So the tickets arrived in the post on Thursday. My ticket to the famous St James', and my ticket for the QPR Coach, departing from Loftus Road at 5am on Sunday (yes Sunday) to make it in time for a 1.30pm kick off. I have to say the timing actually got me so excited. Like a kid going on holiday, I had it all planned out. I would go to the gym on Friday, dinner out with friends on Saturday, ensure Saturday was for very light entertainment and chilling at home. I prepared my full kit, scarf, hat, thermals, gloves and tickets in bag, as well as extra phone charger (I knew they batteries would die during the 17 hour day I was about to have), sausage rolls, and water bottle, and settled in to bed at 8am for my 3.45 wake up. I had a cab pick me up at 4am, and I was on my way to White City in the hope that there would be a few other fans waiting there for the coach to arrive so I would feel safe.

And indeed, there was a handful there, and throughout the trip I met and conversed with some of the loveliest people I have ever met. As it is not fair to name names without their prior permission I won't being doing so. But I'm sure you will get my drift in terms of all the characters that I came across.

But, what an amazing little trip. Not only do I get transport (return), for my ticket, but I get a coffee/tea/hot chocolate on the way (served by the lovely 'lady die-hard supporter stewards') I get a movie (The InBetweeners, which really got us all in fits of laughter), and a chance to join a raffle based on 'time of first goal scored'. I couldn't believe my luck. However, best of all, was the wonderful banter at the back of the bus. In some ways it was just like being back at school, where you knew if you wanted to have some fun and be part of the action, you had to be on the back of the bus! And it wasn't long until I, 'the newbie' was adopted by the coach regulars and was feeling comfortable, with a group of people who were as insane - I lie...more insane than I am. The fact that I am at pretty much every home game, is quite a significant display of commitment. But one of the guys said to me when he asked if I was going to the midweek Villa away game...'Ah well, love, at the beginning of the season, when I get the fixture list, I  book all the away games off as holiday with work so I'm well prepared'. I thought, crikey, perhaps I'd do that for a QPR cup final (as if), or for an away game at a ground I've always wanted to go to (Old Trafford). But this guy is really for real. And I felt right at home!

The back of the bus had all the characters I can remember from school. The naughty lad who had plenty to say and provided a lot of entertainment, the voice of reason who knew plenty of QPR facts, the chap who's been supporting QPR for 37 years, and one of the older supporters who just soaks up the atmosphere and will provide us with one or two great one-liners. The banter was great fun, but I do think the lads toned it down a little for me given I was the 'newbie' lady for the day!

So, 6 1/2 hours after departing from Loftus Road, we arrived in St James'. And we played great attacking football for 20 minutes. At which point, the reason why we were playing better, became the reason why we lost and played worse when Derry felled Cabaye who was quickly stretchered off. Yet another turning point, not to our advantage (though it may not have been obvious at the time).

However, the loss, whilst disappointing, was to be expected quite frankly. Whilst as fans we always hope for the best...I don't think we are unrealistic in our expectations and I think we all expected us to lose deep inside. But QPR has to start getting better at managing change within the game. Perhaps that's about confidence as much as anything else.

So the 6 hour bus ride home, was a lot quieter. It was well over 12 hours since most of us left our homes, so many of us fell asleep. We were energised slightly for a pit stop for dinner, but we all just wanted to be at home, and in silence we watched our last movie 'Cheaper by the Dozen ' before being dropped off at White City.

Final words to each other? 'A win on Tues night vs. the MK Dons?, I think so!'. With only 48 hours to wait for another opportunity to watch our team improve I was filled once again with a bit of excitement.

It's not often that you can meet like-minded people who enjoy the same things as you. But more than that, I realised the bigger picture about it all. Just how dedicated people really are to their football teams. Having been so exposed to the home games which are pretty easy for me because it's so local, I never truly realised just how many thousands and thousands of people across the country not only spend so much money, but spend so much of their own personal time and effort to support their clubs for away games. I joke around about it being crazy, but really...when I finally got in the door at home at 10.30pm - nearly 17 hours after I'd left I thought...this is real dedication. I was absolutely shattered. It had to take me doing this trip to realise and understand the dedication people have. And it is really important that players continue to believe and understand that - glad to say QPR players always thank us for every game we watch and support them at.

Anyway, the upshot is simple. I'll see everyone again in a few weeks time for the coach trip to Blackburn. It was too much fun to not return!

Your Rsssss

 The utterly despicable view at St James' (also known as Sports Direct something whatever!)
 The QPR players getting off the coach (terrible b***dy picture I know!)

Monday, 9 January 2012

Goodbye to a QPR Legend

I write this just 24 hours after the announcement of Warnock's sacking, and look back at the irony of the title of my last blog post - 'Turning Point'.  I spent most of yesterday evening watching twitter feeds update me with the latest rumours and then finally, I saw the announcement on Sky Sports News. I have to say that events off the pitch seem to be dominating the headlines more than what's been happening on it. And I am not sure that this is particularly healthy for the club and the players at all.

For whatever reason, QPR is never far away from controversy. And this turnaround in events means we have a really exciting but nervous wait over the next few days for the announcement of a new manager & news on what we are doing in the transfer market.

It's all over the news, so there's not a lot for me to say that would be 'new news'. But what I have been thinking a lot about is...if it were my industry (that is: advertising), how would we manage a situation like this where a team was under-performing vs target?

Everyone is banging on about how ruthless football is, and how it's a 'results-driven' business. Well, to be quite honest with you. It's no more ruthless than any other business. At the end of the day, in any business, when someone doesn't deliver, especially in this day and age when unemployment is high and there are thousands who would do your job for less, that person would be shown the door. So whilst market factors might differ ever so slightly, tough decisions still have to be made for the good of the company, and to protect the bottom line.

I guess it doesn't really exempt itself from the fact that people are people, feelings are feelings, and at the end of the day, we spend most of our waking hours working. So whilst there is a way to behave, a company line to tow, a living to be made just like everyone else...the people we remember the most are those that motivate us, make us feel good about ourselves, that shine a happy light on our days and keep us going. They aren't always the people that make the most money for the company. In fact, they almost always aren't.

So, from a fan's perspective, I have to say I felt a little like I was in mourning today. Warnock, for all his faults, was a motivator and a really positive personality that we really needed at Loftus Road. I shall really miss his honest views about the players and the games. It's rare in this extremely commercialised sport that Premier League managers speak quite so openly. However, I doubt very much that this is the last we'll see of him. He's still young and will have plenty to give the sport.

As we saw from the hug that Henry gave Wenger this evening after scoring his goal against Leeds, relationships are so important, and I'll be watching with some pride, the next one Warnock forms. I just think I'll probably also be a bit envious of the team that eventually takes him in. 

Thank you Warnock, for all you have done for QPR.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Turning Point?

I write this a few hours after the MK Dons first-round FA Cup tie. I listened to it on the radio, and felt this constant pang of disappointment as I listened to the commentary. Here was QPR, a premiership team struggling to hold itself together against a League One side.

As a fan that's always going to support the boys, I guess I have to say I am pleased with the draw. But I am nervous about the fact that Warnock is already calling the game a turning point. Surely, a turning point, in the context of a wider period of time such as a football season, can only really be recognised quite some time after the event? I completely understand why there is a flurry of tweets from fans who just 'can't believe we're happy with a draw'. But if I allow myself to think for a moment that perhaps this was a turning point...perhaps it there is hope:

Now we know that the replay takes place on the 19th January. This, quite frankly is a stroke of luck. Because it means that our captain doesn't miss one of the league games he was due to miss with the three match ban he's serving. And whilst we 'could have done without' a replay, to quote the Daily Mail I wonder whether this replay (win or lose), is just that, our luck taking a turn for the better?

With Ale Faurlin potentially out with a serious leg injury - I think we do need a bit of it.

Luck that is. And I think I'll be there on the 19th!

A new QPR dawn

22 years after my first visit to Loftus Road, it's about time I started a blog about the team that I love. I must say I am excited, yet apprehensive at the same time.

Finally, in this media age of blogs, twitter, facebook, everyone's got a potential outlet where they can live and breathe their obsessions in public.

But, on the other hand, I risk being criticised for my terrible grammar, spelling mistakes? Or even any  inaccurate information I might accidentally type about QPR's history or the games that I watch.

Who knows? All I know is that I've sat through thick & thin with this team since 1990. Some of that time I was still living in the Far East, but I had all the programmes sent in the post to me on a weekly basis. As I fan, my glory days were in the early 90s when we were one of the top London clubs. And in our tumble right down to the depths of League One I would wonder how did I get to be sitting here, on a Tuesday night, watching us play THAT team in the pouring rain and bitter cold?

In fact I actually felt almost the same at the Sunderland game just before Christmas 2011- we were so bad, so lacking in pace and urgency in the first half, that I had a similar feeling for just a moment. For a moment I thought 'Have I ever seen worse?'. I sit here, Saturday morning prior to the MK Dons game and think with hindsight, of course I have. Did I really think prior to our 'billionaire' buyout, that we would have quality players like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Faurlin and Barton in the team? Give over. This has been such an exciting period in my QPR life that I truly have been and have to enjoy this time.

I was out till 7am on the evening of the 30th. I also had a ticket to the game at the Emirates the next day. With 3 hours of sleep and the biggest hangover in the world, I still went because there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity of a life-time. Much as I have high hopes for our team this season and the future of QPR, I'm not holding my breath about QPR survival and it could have been the last opportunity I would get to see us play at that stadium.

Let's hope not though. Because I am loving it right now.

Onwards and upwards as they say.

You Rssss