I`m about to fly off to Montreal, Canada, to spend a week with my wonderful daughter, Amy. She`s been in Montreal since June, studying, and has yet to see a "live" Premier League game between QPR and, well, anybody. The hardest decision she had to make, when offered the opportunity to study abroad, was how she was going to bear missing QPR in the Premier League for the first time in 15 years!
Amy was 6 years old when we were relegated in 1996. She has come to just about every home game (and joined me on just about every away trip I`ve made) since our relegation. She has been watching our exploits so far this season on the internet - so that she would not miss a kick! Whilst at the same time, she and I are in constant BBM contact - so much so that I have had to buy a new battery for my phone recently, just so that I wouldn`t run out of battery in the middle of a game, as I did when we beat Everton earlier this season! (Thank you, Jezza, for lending me your phone to continue my chat!)
Amy is a true "Superhoop" - she bleeds blue and white! And yet, it was not until we went to see QPR play Chelsea in the FA Cup, on the 5th January 2008, that Amy felt in her bones that she was a true fan. And I have to be honest and say that when, during the game, she turned to me with her eyes gleaming and a huge grin on her face, having been singing her heart out for our lads (along with the rest of the travelling Rs fans, who were superb,) and said - "Mummy - NOW I am real QPR fan!" - I felt SO proud! I knew how she felt - why she had said that! She felt that she had "arrived" at last.
Until we, as QPR fans, have experienced the blood and guts of a QPR v Chelsea derby (home or away), we cannot consider ourselves "true" fans. There is something exceptional about this particular London derby - and I have seen a fair few in my (nearly) 40 years of following the Rs. There are so many games I can recall against Chelsea - the most obvious one being the 6-0 embarrassment of our rivals (March 31 1986 - a date etched into every QPR fan`s memory) - but my fondest memory must be watching Amy`s experience of that 2008 game.
We went by train with the Harrods, as we usually do, and enjoyed walking from the station to the ground along with other Rs fans for the first time in 12 years. As we approached Stamford Bridge, I remember coming over cold. I had to stop and take a breath - going in to Stamford Bridge needed nerves of steel. I didn`t take too kindly to being back at a place I didn`t particularly feel safe going to! I remember when we beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge along the way to the Milk Cup Final in 1986 courtesy of that stunning goal from the half-way line by Michael Robinson - which led to Rangers fans being pelted with coins and other missiles by Chelsea fans. Not fun!
Back to 2008! I overcame my intense dislike for the place, bought a programme, and we all went in to find our seats. From the start, the Rangers fans sang their hearts out - Amy learnt many a new song that afternoon (as did I!) We heard the rumour - later proved correct - that both Kevin Gallen and Lee Cook were amongst the crowd - as Rs fans themselves they didn`t want to miss a kick - and tried to see if we could spot them (we didn`t!) I won`t forget how, when the teams came out, and the loudspeaker started playing that awful Chelsea anthem - and Amy stood up to sing - I pulled her back into her seat and told her that no way was she going to be singing a Chelsea song! She looked mortified when she realised her error and sat huddled into her jacket until the noisy atrocity had finished.
The game kicked off - we didn`t do too badly for a "lowly" Championship team, as memory serves - although Chelsea did sneak the lead on the half-hour when Pizarro`s shot from outside the area, rebounded off the post, hit Lee Camp on the back and trickled in. Lucky Chelsea! But it was the only way they were going to score against us that day. I remember that the game marked our first peak at the likes of Akos Buzsaky, Hogan Ephraim and Patrick Agyemang. And that Chelsea "rested" their top players, like Drogba and Ballack and Joe Cole; all who were to feature as substitutes in the 2nd half because we were seriously causing enough trouble that an equaliser looked on the cards. Chelsea ran scared and that made us delirious with joy! Lowly QPR were giving Chelsea a serious run for their money and Chelsea had to send in the "big guns" just to hang on to that precious fluke of a lead!
I remember how we cheered our boys at the end of the match - Amy hysterical with pride (she lost her voice that afternoon for the first, but not the last, time!) We left the stadium satisfied that we had lost to a lucky goal - held our own - and shown courage, guts and pride for the badge. And walked back towards the station with the jeers of Chelsea fans ringing in our ears. We`ve never laughed so much as when some old guy started trying to taunt us with how we were "worse than Fulham!" We didn`t "bite" so he went on that we were "worse than Tottenham!" Again, we didn`t rise to the bait so he ended with "you`re worse than Derby!" (it was the season Derby were relegated from the Prem having won the princely total of 11 points all year!) We looked at each and guffawed as we pointed out to him that, of course we were worse than Derby, because they at least were in the Premier League!
Isn`t it funny how, of all the games we`ve played against Chelsea, it is the 2008 FA Cup game that springs to mind the clearest ahead of this Sunday. I was never more proud that day - of my team but, more importantly, my daughter who I watched "come of age" as a true QPR fan. This was what she had always dreamt of - seeing Rangers play Chelsea. And this Sunday, although she and I will not be at Loftus Road with you all in body - we will be in spirit as Amy and I sit together in my Hotel room, watching the game live on the internet. We will both be wearing our blue & white hoops (the new "Malaysia Air" ones, of course); we will be singing so loudly you may just hear us all the way from Montreal to Loftus Road - and Superhoop50 and Jezza99 will no doubt be inundated with texts and BBMs from me as I try to join in our first league game with our neighbours since 1996.
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