When I resurrected my blog earlier this year I decided that I wanted to make it a bit more wide ranging than just my Open University studies. In the heading to the blog I actually mention that I will include posts about construction education and about the frustrations and joys of supporting QPR. I've managed to include several posts about the former, but so far not one single post about the latter. The reason for that is simple: I didn't want to tempt fate! The season which has just ended has been the best season in a generation for QPR fans but I thought if I wrote anything in my blog about this it would simply tempt fate. However, now the season is over I thought it was only right that I finally included something about QPR being champions and promoted to the Premier League.
People who don't follow football find it difficult to appreciate the highs and lows which fans go through. I took my son to his first QPR game when he was five years old in 2002. At the time we were in the third tier (what is now League One) and the club was struggling. For years he has had to put up with the jibes and taunts from his friends who support Chelsea or Arsenal or Manchester United. Throughout that time I used to tell him to simply ask those so-called fans how many times they had actually been to see their team play. In most cases this was once or twice a season whilst, as season ticket holders, we have hardly missed a home game at QPR in that time. He has stuck with the team through thick and thin, and let's be honest – it has mostly been thin! It has been difficult at times over the years to maintain the enthusiasm for QPR as performances on the pitch have often been mediocre at best, and the club became a laughing stock off the pitch due to bizarre boardroom activities and the rate at which managers were hired and fired.
All that changed last year. In the second half of the 2009/10 season the board finally appointed a proven manager – Neil Warnock – and allowed him to get on with running the team. I have to confess we were less than enthusiastic at the appointment, having seen the style of football adopted by Warnock at previous clubs, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United. Well – our doubts were unfounded because Neil Warnock had an immediate impact last season, stabilising the club and avoiding relegation. In the close-season he made several signings, most of which were greeted with scepticism to say the least. And yet on the opening day of the 2010/11 season we beat Barnsley 4-0 at home and went top of the league on goal difference. Amazingly (and I still have to pinch myself when I say this) we stayed top for virtually the whole season apart from a couple of weeks.
But QPR don't do things the easy way. In March the FA announced that QPR had been charged with seven offences relating to third-party ownership of players. There was immediate speculation that, if proven, the charges could result in a significant points deduction. So, the best season ever was about to be ruined by matters which had nothing to do with performances on the pitch. This cloud remained hanging over us for the remainder of the season. It clearly affected the players who struggled to maintain their form. However, the important thing was that they didn't lose too many matches. They drew quite a few but they managed to keep accumulating enough points to keep them top. The FA's hearing took place during the week before the final day of the season. A decision was due on Friday 7th May but no decision was forthcoming.
On Saturday 8th May QPR played their final match of the season at home to Leeds United. Regardless of the result QPR would still be top of the league, but no one knew whether the FA would deduct points and strip us of the title. My son and I followed our usual matchday ritual of driving out to South Ruislip station to get on the Central Line to White City. There were loads of Rs fans on the train and at each station more and more got on. Everyone was excited but also really anxious. Then, somewhere between Perivale and Hanger Lane, I received a text message. It was an official announcement from the club:
"Official QPR: WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! The FA have announced there will be no points deduction. WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE!"I couldn't believe what I was reading. I had to read it again but once I realised it was genuine I just shouted it out. It seems I was the first one on the train to get the message because it went up and down the train like wildfire. Suddenly everyone's phones were going and people were cheering and shouting. We got off the train at White City to walk to the ground and there was unbridled jubilation everywhere. Grown men were in tears. It really was memorable. We just stood outside the stadium for a while to soak it all in.
As I said, people who don't follow football find this difficult to understand, but when you have invested so much time and emotion (and money!) in following a team, when something like this happens it really is special. We lost to Leeds on the day, but it didn't actually matter. QPR were presented with the Championship trophy on the pitch at Loftus Road after the match and the celebrations continued well into the night.
It was a fantastic day which I think I will remember for ever. It was great for my son too, who finally gets to see his team compete at the top level after years of putting up with so much stick.