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