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A Small Minority of Idiots

QPR and Me: Growing Up with One of English Football's Strangest Clubs

I have a love-hate relationship with my club. But with QPR looking to do some soul-searching, it's high time I did, too.

The author as a tiny child, before QPR crushed his soul like a tin can beneath a large foot

I am, for my sins, a Queens Park Rangers fan. Like most long-term relationships, mine is one of long and constant deterioration: from wide-eyed early infatuation through to frustration, anger and watching Clint Hill sweat and pant for five entire years. But with the powers that be in W12 doing some soul-searching after another boom-and-bust relegation season, I thought it high-time I did some of my own. So forget what you heard about wage bills and Borussia Dortmund: instead, let me try to humanise one of the most derided clubs going.


Cast your mind back ten years or so, to what future historians will surely come to term the "pre-Sport Bible era". It may seem a long time ago, but QPR were once a likeable team made up of local lads and cult heroes like Martin Rowlands, Danny Shittu and Paul Furlong. Hammersmith's own Lee Cook, a lifelong QPR fan and the subject of my first heart-breaking transfer, donated his £250,000 signing-on fee to cash-strapped Rangers after his move to Fulham. Injured in a friendly against his old club, Cook never made a Premier League appearance at Craven Cottage, and went on to tumble back down the English football pyramid. At just 32, after a career that promised so much, he's been released by Barnet. He could probably do with a quarter of a million quid now but maintains that he wouldn't change a thing. Despite what pundits, journalists and fans of other clubs will tell you, that – not Flavio Briatore's nine managers in three years, or Harry Redknapp throwing a quit-the-next-day tantrum because he couldn't offer a 32-year-old striker a £100,000-a-week deal – is the real spirit of QPR.

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This was my club. By the time I switched across town from my primary school to secondary, QPR made up a huge part of my identity. Growing up in Shepherds Bush but now in a jungle of old money Chelsea fans, the scarf and beanie I wore to classes were badges of honour, a physical representation of my I'm-not-one-of-you dissent. The untimely passing of Kiyan Prince and Ray Jones – two of our most promising young players – hit me hard and felt like deaths in the family. The team was kicking around the lower reaches of the Championship playing in front of 12,000 people, but there was a real sense of community and togetherness. QPR's pain was my pain.


In the years that followed, supporting a team as shit as The Rs proved fantastic for wallowing in my own pubescent gloom. Mikele Leigertwood, playing out of position at right back, was just as uncomfortable in his own skin as I was, and after he inevitably fucked up and we lost at home again it provided a perfect excuse to stay in my room for hours wondering when I'd grow into my face. As someone who was always about 18 months behind everyone else in terms of doing normal teenage things, my obsession with football saved me on more than one occasion when asked about my weekend plans. "No, I didn't get with anyone at Sarah's house party," I'd say, "but I did go to Coventry away with my dad. We lost 1-0 but I had a bottle of Coke and a leaf through FourFourTwo on the way back."

If these were the golden years, then the trifecta of "better social skills", "realising life didn't have to revolve around 3PM on a Saturday" and "alcohol" saw me become less dependent on QPR. I still had my season ticket though, and as I started to become more confident so did Rangers: in the year that I finally found a pub that would serve me regularly we started to take the piss on the pitch. A beautiful, if unlikely, cross-cultural understanding developed between Neil Warnock and Adel Taarabt and we were promoted to the Premier League after 15 years away, something I never quite believed would happen. Turning up and seeing us win 4-0 every week, going for a pint and BBMing girls afterwards – my wildest dreams had come true. I thought life would be like that forever.


There's something slightly irritating about football supporters bemoaning the fact that their side "never do it the easy way", as if theirs was the first team in history to have ever blown a two-goal lead. But QPR's nouveau-riche swagger really was underpinned by a sense of "typical Rangers" folly – thanks to third-party involvement in the deal that brought Alejandro Faurlin to west London, we couldn't even enjoy winning the league properly as the threat of a points deduction hung over the club until the last day of the season. By this point, following football had taught me a valuable lesson about life: enjoy the good times, because it can be pretty shit. I was to be reminded of this for the duration of three of the next four seasons spent in the top flight.

It gets harder to equate football fanaticism with leading a well-rounded life as you get older: you stop thinking that people who go to 20 away games a season are legends and start wondering what might be wrong with them. Couple this with the well-documented horrific mismanagement of QPR – see Joey Barton, Chris Samba, Jose Bosingwa, Harry Redknapp and too many others to mention – and it's not hard to see why I started losing my religion. As university and living abroad took me physically further away from Loftus Road than I'd ever been, I felt equally as far removed from the core principles of the club I'd started supporting.


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So what's really left? In a nutshell, the stadium. Our impossibly unglamorous ground, a five-minute walk from where I grew up, that sits uncomfortably alongside Westfield and is utterly unfit for Premier League football yet screams "home" to every single QPR supporter. If Tony Fernandes gets his way, Loftus Road could be next in line to be torn down in the name of progress and luxury flats after Shepherds Bush Market, and if that happens my heart will break. Staying at our current home flies in the face of all logic, but the thought of my club being integral in a plan driven by housing developers and backed by Boris Johnson to turn Old Oak into a "thriving new quarter for London" doesn't sit well with me. Plus: we're a Championship side now. We need our shitty stadium.

Of course the great thing about football is there's always hope, and whenever I've found myself at my most apathetic, something always seems to come along to remind me why I fell in love with the game in the first place. On the morning of the 2014 Championship play-off final I didn't automatically wake up at 7AM as I'd done in my excitable youth – something wasn't right, I didn't really care as much as I felt I should have. Maybe I felt we were doomed, something exacerbated as soon as we went down to ten men. This was it: I'd add this entire season to the long, long list of times QPR had let me down when I needed them most. Then Bobby Zamora scored – in the last minute, and with our only shot on goal – and I absolutely lost it. This was the Platonic philosophy of ideal forms made real: the essence of football and glory.


That was when I realised it's the chaos that keeps me coming back for more. It's wildly inconsistent Wycombe youth product Matt Phillips going full CR7 on Crystal Palace from 43 yards. It's Steven Caulker putting the ball into his own net for our second own goal of the afternoon and the fourth goal in the last eight minutes of a 3-2 home defeat to Liverpool. It's Shaun Wright-Phillips scoring the winner for the team 20th in the league at Stamford Bridge, his only goal in 66 appearances for the club.

But what does the future hold? The club have released a lot of high-earning "bad eggs", started signing players from the lower leagues again and will roll out a new badge for the 2016/17 season: a conscious rebranding and reimagining of what the club could be is underway. With Chris Ramsey cutting his teeth in the Championship next season it's likely to be another tough chapter in my relationship with the club but as we all know any good one is borne of compromise.

As Tony Fernandes once said, "I'm selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best." Despite my better judgement, I'll persevere with QPR: they were there for me during my identity crisis and I'll be there for them during theirs.


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