Which London club finished highest in the inaugural season of Murdoch’s Premier Leagueship? Go on take a stab at it. Here’s a clue, their manager made his name on the sloping fields of Twerton Park as Bristol Rovers’ most successful boss, the Pirates’ Arsene Wenger if you will. We’ll draw a veil over the fact that he went on to manage the Spuds. Still not sure? OK how about this. One of their past managers was poached by Barcelona before going on to be a filthy Spud and eventually England boss, and two of their managers were coaches at The Arsenal.
Ok sit up straight and I’ll tell you. The answer is (he announced to a depressingly unastonished audience) today’s hoopy opponents, Queens Park Rangers.
Until my mate Dave Goode became a season ticket holder, QPR were just one of those odd up down relegation promotion teams who only really came to my attention when they installed a plastic playing surface at Loftus Road. It was 1981, the charts were dominated by Shakin Stevens, Adam And The Ants and the mighty Joe Dolce, and QPR were for possibly the only time in their blue and white hooped history, trend setters.Claiming that they were in the vanguard of an historic change in football they were the first of, ahem, four sides to dig up the grass and replace it with astroturf. Let’s face it even back in the days of the SDP, Bucks Fizz and IRA hunger strikes, astroturf sounded about as futuristic as a nineteen fifties sci fi comic. The ball bounced to the kind of altitude occupied only by Fred Dibner and Per Mertesacker’s barber and physios ran out of plasters to treat the grazed knees and elbows of sobbing players.
A glance at QPR’s recent history leaves one reaching for the anti bacterial handwash and drinking it to be on the safe side. Grubby financial dealings, court cases, ownership wars, near bankrupcy, take overs and a managerial merry go round that makes your head spin. They were, at one time, bought by a phenomenally wealthy man who invested bugger all in the playing staff, the team benefiting not a jot. A cautionary tale for certain sections of our own support. This season’s arrival of Wheeler Dealer, club destroyer and media darling ‘appy ‘arry Redknap was just the perfect icing on the cake as the club slid inexorably into the jaws of yet another relegation.
It’s a shame in a way because I had something of a soft spot for them. Not a love affair, or even a romance you understand. I do know how these things work. Nick Hornby had his Cambridge Untied and my dalliance with Bristol Rovers is acceptable but if I were to try to slip a love of any other London team past you all it’d be a date with the hot tar and duck down. No, my interest in QPR was simply that Dave moved to London and although a committed Wolves fan he bought a season ticket to QPR. Gave him something to do every other weekend and suited his penchant for isolation and quirkiness. So his letters were full of tales of The Hoops. Add to that the Bristol connection (Francis, Holloway, Penrice, Yates, the inimitable Devon White who I saw kick more balls clean out of a football stadium than any other player in history) it was as if Rangers were almost using my local side as a feeder club, and so I can surely be forgiven for not loathing them as much as perhaps I ought.
A shame, as I say that the current owners saw fit to appoint one of the most laughable men in the modern game but a move which has added spice to today’s encounter. Not that the third game from the end with so much riding on it is a dish particularly in need of seasoning. Add to the fact that it’s a five thirty kick off and things are just that little more tense that perhaps they should be. It was said by in the comments yesterday that matches at that particular time seem more fraught with danger than a good old three pm fixtures. I must confess this is a nonsense to which I also subscribe. There is no logical reason I can think of. Does anyone know the stats? Do we lose more ‘winnable’ games early evening on a Saturday? I don’t know, perhaps it’s just the buttock clenching closeness of the fight for third and fourth (surely more exciting that the title race has been this year) which gets the old ticker beating that little bit more quickly today.
There is in general more nervous, superstitious, fretting concern over this fixture than one might expect. Had it been played in December folks would doubtless be more relaxed. You’ll never guess what, I have a theory about this. Lie back, and allow me to expound upon it. I believe it is probably related to the same synaptical silliness which makes an opponent’s free kick on the edge of our area seem like the simplest position in the world from which to score. Our defenders suddenly appear inadequate in number, too slight of build to impact upon the situation. The posts grow ever farther apart with each passing second and our goal keeper cuts a disappearingly tiny figure lost within the enormous width and height of our goal frame. Conversely the same brain attack happens in reverse if we are awarded a similarly placed free kick at the other end of the pitch. Their defensive wall appears to be made up of huge bloated impassable men, about thirty in number whilst their keeper fills the tiny goalmouth with one enormous gloved hand and it is so obvious that we have no hope of scoring.
It’s a common problem and one with which the doom ridden are unable to cope. We are all responsible adults here though, can easily tell the difference between Stork and butter and as such should not be afflicted by this irrational hyper emotional garbage. The simple facts are that we are the superior team, with most to play for and are enjoying the better run of form. This isn’t hubris, nor a prediction of an easy victory. This is just a statement of unarguable facts. Sport can of course be a lottery and I acknowledge that banana skins are there to be slipped on as much as avoided, but come on, lets put all silly hocuspocus and fears behind us and just enjoy the entertainment. If Arsene hadn’t piloted this largely new team through the choppy waters of a tough campaign we would never be enjoying the tension and excitement of this end of term battle of attrition. We have the right man at the helm and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we have the right men on the pitch, so go forward with a spring in your step folks, we know we can win and there is nothing to be gained from dwelling on what might go wrong.
You don’t drive to the seaside worrying that the wheel nuts might come loose do you? No of course you don’t, you wind down the window, turn up the stereo and enjoy the view.