The trials & tribulations of supporting…

… what is, quite possibly if not most definitely, the most annoying, aggravating, nonsensical football team in the whole wide world. No, let me rephrase that: quite possibly within our known galaxy if not the entire bloody universe, that’s if they play football these days somewhere on Beetlegeuse?
It’s that feeling I get, rumbling from somewhere deep inside my nervous, overworked bowels whenever they dare to appear on telly in various weekend highlight shows, and they haven’t even kicked off yet but I’m already throwing insults and thick puffy cushions at the TV screen at just the mere thought of them being useless and incompetent in their eye dazzling blue and white hoops. I’m already screaming and shouting rather nasty swear words in the general direction of our brand new number 10, who we paid a whole 15 shillings for after he was discovered face down in some nightclub’s urinal, but who has two, quite possibly three left feet and an obvious aversion to any physical exertion.
Welcome then to my obsession with Queens Park Rangers. What’s it all about?
Now don’t get me wrong, but there was a time when we were actually quite good… But, unfortunately, I blinked and missed it. In the eighties we had the likes of Stainrod and Allen, Currie and Gregory, Roeder, Fenwick and the blonde bombshell that was Stevie Wicks who had an entire family named after him in a once popular television soap.
In the sixties, before my father got his finger out and got round to conceiving even the mere idea of me, the poor sod, we even won a cup… A cup that meant something in those days… And at Wembley no less, between the old twin towers, at the time when football was a man’s game – the striker smoking Capstans between the time spent goal hanging and nutting an unsuspecting centre-half, and when the pitches were little more than muddy fields being occasionally ploughed by a team of ferocious shire horses. But, for a short while, for one entire season, Q.P.R. were really good, and I mean really, really good; the archetypal “Best Team To Never Win Anything”. We were really effing good!
For ten whole minutes, when football was unpopular and jumpers really were an alternative for goalposts, my little team from somewhere in west London, W12 to be precise, were the team to watch come Saturdays at 3 o-clock – see, I told you it was a long, long time ago: youngsters up and down the land now looking to their dads and gasping in incredulity, “3 o-clock?” Did football teams really play at 3 o-clock? What, on a Saturday?
We played with something they once called panache and exuded flair, while having guile and bags full of skill: actual bloody skill, not that fake ‘skill’ you fall for on You Tube. We dazzled equally in blue and white hoops or red and white halves, and with a ball of purest white but weighing more than a breeze block at their feet. We had the moustachioed Phil Parkes “between the sticks”, whatever the hell that meant but he was in goal. We had Dave Clement, David Webb and Frank Mclintock in defence with Ian Gillard somewhere out on the left. We had Masson and Hollins as the lynchpins in midfield with Gerry Francis, beneath his early efforts at an already burgeoning mullet, and Davie Thomas with his socks rolled down, buzzing around them and tearing up the wings, supplying the ammunition to Ireland’s Don Given’s up front. It gives me goosebumps, even now. But, there was someone else, normally up front when not at a bookies, down the pub or frequenting some local dog track, and it was his name that rang out the loudest, above any other for ninety minutes, plus injury time.
“Stan-ley! Stan-ley!”.
His name was Stanley Bowles, and he wore the fabled number 10 proudly in red upon his back, or black if we were adorned in those halves. He was cocky and arrogant but he played with a smile of carefree abandonment, of one completely at ease with his God-given talent… And he was, without a shadow of a doubt, if for just that one brief season, 1975-76, the best player I ever had the pleasure of watching; of whom it was once said, “If only he could pass a betting shop the way he can pass a football”. He was simply majestical, fluidity in complete hypnotic motion, and his almost telepathic relationship with Gerry Francis, our Captain, England’s Captain, was most definitely and wonderfully magical. He was a flawed genius, and aren’t they all, but Stan Bowles was our flawed genius. And, and here’s the thing that will shock and confuse, for this was the day before large squads, squad rotations and of highly paid players needing a hard-earned rest from playing football twice a week, this team, this wonderful, brilliant team, never seemed to change. 1, right through to number 11, it was almost always exactly the same, given the odd injury or suspension. The game was played, week in and week out, over and across muddy pitches the mere sight of which today would put the fear of some god into a Rooney or have the precious “legend” that is Danny Sturridge reaching for another note from his already overworked doctor; to be gratefully signed off for another 9 months, but still fit enough to collect those multi-millions in wages.
For one brief and beautiful moment in time we were going to win the league. We were actually going to win the bloody league!? And everyone, Scousers and Brentford FC fans aside, willed us on to win the bloody league, they loved to watch us. We had one hand firmly on the First Division trophy. We were on our way, dreaming of European glory… Before Wolverhampton bloody Wanderers capitulated that fateful night and a Keegan-inspired Liverpool, with the aid of their obligatory penalty, wrenched it from us with brutal if somewhat boring efficiency. And the dream, for however brief, lay dead, scattered to the four winds that raged their disgust down South Africa Road before turning left into the Springbok pub. But it had been fun, to my young eyes at least. Young eyes that watched The Big Match, or Match of the Day, with eager wonder, whilst sitting cradled somewhere between two grandads and a proud father frantically waving blue and white woollen scarves, and the odd wooden rattle, proudly above their heads, gleefully knocking back pints of Watney’s Party Seven and singing rude songs berating “bloody Chelsea!”
Oh, we’ve been fleeting in our wonder since and flattered to deceive on rare occasions; the days of Terry Venables in the eighties; under Gerry Francis as manager in the nineties, London’s top club no less; the fight and grit and togetherness that we felt under Ian Holloway, especially at Hillsborough that most glorious of Saturday’s, and they were exciting, don’t get me wrong. But that team, for just those precious 9 months? When we dared to dream that we could actually reach out and touch those bloody stars.
Stanley is now suffering from the cruel ravages of Dementia and Rangers are quite rightly holding a benefit match against Bournemouth on the 29th of this month, (or July if you’re reading the repeats on Dave), for arguably the greatest player to ever wear those beautiful Hoops – my dad swears blind it was Rodney Marsh, but… If you aren’t able to attend the match then can I ask you to just root around in your pockets for any loose change and the next time you are passing a tin that is seeking donations for the Alzheimer’s Society, then can I ask you to just drop it in, whatever you can afford? All contributions, I am sure, will be gratefully welcomed.
Annoying? Yes.
Aggravating? Oh like you would not believe. And nonsensical, without a bloody doubt! But still…
Come on you Rs! Come on you Super Hoops. And thank you to Stan Bowles for enabling us to believe then, and remember and relive now.