I have woken up this morning, on the eve of what could be the greatest weekend of my beloved team`s "life" since winning promotion at Sheffield Wednesday in 2004, an absolute wreck! So I thought I would put down on paper - well, the internet - the thoughts and feelings that were coursing through me at this momentous watershed in QPR`s history.
I was recently asked if I had enjoyed this season and I answered, without hesitation, that I had! And I stand by that answer - despite the nervous texts to Superhoop50 at all times of day and night over the last few months; the hair-pulling, nail-biting, bottle-crunching moments during games, refusing to even look at the pitch! To me, these are part and parcel of supporting a successful team on the verge of a truly great achievement. Supporting your team does not mean you simply sail through a season without any emotional response - and nerves are a natural emotional response to the success we have witnessed thus far.
Since being relegated from the Premiership (as it was then called!) in 1996, there has been a lot of promise but little delivery. I remember telling my then 6-year old daughter, Amy, that she needn`t worry because being in the "First Division" would mean we would see QPR win at home - something she didn`t get to experience very much in that relegation year - and we would soon be back in the Prem, no problem! How wrong was I? And within a few years, we had been relegated again, spiralled into Administration and continued to struggle - remember those bucket collections and fans "buying" players for the Club? Who can forget?
Then there was that Play-off final in 2003 - in Cardiff against Cardiff - which once more promised much but delivered absolutely nothing. And even in 2004, whilst we led the division for much of the season, we still contrived to lose the lead to Plymouth and need a win at Sheffield Wednesday on the last game of the season, to guarantee second spot and automatic promotion - as opposed to another lottery of the play-offs! But we pulled off the victory and headed back to the (newly-named) Championship … and struggled.
Just about every season since 2004 we have all suffered from nerves - the nerves of "are we going to get relegated again this year?" We all knew the bottom end of the league table by heart - every point, goal difference, games left to play. Briatore and co showed up with their millions - gave us relatively little - and nothing changed. No! Something did change - the heart of the "family" was stripped away as easily as the silver paint and globulous chandeliers were added as managers came and went in the infamous "revolving door" of Briatore`s reign.
And then - a miracle! Briatore was pushed to one side, sold most of his share-holding to Mittal and, later, Ecclestone; and the Mittals were able to persuade Neil Warnock to leave Crystal Palace for pastures new. And our now longest-serving manager since Ian Holloway (no mean feat!) is on the brink of a glorious return to the Premier League - something Warnock cherishes above all else and has transmitted to everyone at the Club in such an infectious manner that it is a joy to behold.
And, as we head off to Cardiff, for those of us going, or to pubs or simply to armchairs in our living rooms, to watch what could be Rangers` biggest game since the Sheffield Wednesday game on 8th May 2004, you may well ask - WHY is Sandydl so nervous? The bookies have us as dead certs for automatic promotion (let alone champions). I read a tweet yesterday from a Sky Sports presenter who has vowed to present the sports news in his birthday suit should QPR not get promoted. We are 6 points clear of 2nd place, with a game in hand and a far superior goal difference; 8 points clear of 3rd - the very team we are facing tomorrow. We are in the driving seat - we lead and others follow - as we have all season.
So why am I so nervous? We "only" need one more win to guarantee promotion as at today (because, lads & lasses, we would then be 11 points clear of 3rd place - if we got it tomorrow - with only 9 points left to play for, just so that we are clear!) Sounds simple, right? Wrong! Why? Because - this is QPR! Our last three performances have been poor in comparison with those of the rest of the season. Nerves have hit home amongst the players - just at the wrong time! We need to be at our very best at Cardiff - fans and players alike - and take the game to the Bluebirds. Can we? Can we overcome this mini-blip that hit at Scunthorpe like a most unwelcome tornado?
Those questions will be answered - tomorrow lunchtime - and I will let you all know how I feel afterwards! But, for now, I will tell you this - whatever happens tomorrow - if we drag this on to Monday and Hull at home - whatever! I have so loved every single moment of this season - and I will love every single moment of the rest of this season - because THIS is what football is all about: the nervousness coupled with the swelling of pride, the hope, the dreams, the reality. I love it all!
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