Queens Park Rangers vs. Chelsea : 28 January 2012.
I need to be brutally frank about this; I wasn’t really relishing our F.A. Cup appointment at Loftus Road. There can be few games over the past ten years that have so filled me with dread. The game at Old Trafford just after Mourinho departed immediately springs to mind, but there have been few others. There was a brief, fleeting chance of me giving it a miss. I just didn’t fancy all of the aggravation from the police and the stewards, the vindictiveness of the media, the tedious school playground name-calling from both sets of fans, the risk of a small section of our support letting the club down. The spectre of our name being dragged through the mud loomed heavily in my mind. And then came the date of when away season ticket holders were able to get their seats – 7am on Thursday 19th. January.
By 7.35am, I had bought my ticket.
At 10.10am on Friday 20th. January, the day of the CPO AGM, in an internet café opposite The Goose, I was with Parky when he bought his.
But that is not to say that my view had changed significantly. Ever since the John Terry / Anton Ferdinand game in October, the hate-filled world of racism has been again linked to the comings and goings of Chelsea Football Club. As the game drew nearer, I was still feeling depressed about what might unfold on the day of the game. Then we had to endure the story about the alleged bullet being sent to QPR by post on the day before the game. This sent me lower, deeper into a brooding mood of malcontent.
There are times when I simply adore football. From a purely aesthetic perspective, what in the world of sport is better than a Gianfranco Zola shimmy, a Didier Drogba turn and blast, a Peter Cech finger-tip save, a Pat Nevin feint, a Kerry Dixon volley, a David Luiz dummy? What makes my heart bump and my blood pump more than a last-minute winner? What makes me feel more at home and at ease with myself than being sat around a table in a pub, chatting and laughing with the very best of friends? What is more emotional than 40,000 like-minded souls singing in unison, in praise of our heroes in royal blue?
Football as a shared experience. A bonding mechanism for friends near and far. The sense of community and brotherhood. I owe it so much.
And then there is the other side. There is my growing irritation with fans who bellow abuse at players from both teams, not just the opposition. The attitude of agents. The arrogance of some players. The crass commercialism. The silliness of some fans, unable to view anything unless from a purely partisan position. The hate.
Sometimes in truly leaves me in a spin.
I had set the alarm for 6.30am and I awoke of my own accord at 6.29am. Maybe my subconscious was telling me something. I collected Parky at 8am and we were soon on our way; a little capsule of merriment and mirth, heading east once more, fuelled by coffees and a common love of The Boys in Blue from Division Two.
The plan was to park up at the same place as for that infamous game in October, barely half a mile from Loftus Road. We didn’t really expect to find a pub that would be willing to allow away fans in. Alan, Rob and Daryl had arranged to meet at a pub in Holborn as early as 9am for a fry-up and pre-match pints, but there was no point in us heading into town. However, as I edged through Acton, Parky spotted a pub which was open and he spotted a Chelsea shirt inside. I doubled-back on myself and parked-up. We spent an enjoyable thirty minutes in The Red Lion and Pineapple on the Uxbridge Road. It was a pub on the angle of two streets, with a lovely circular bar with pumps glistening and bar staff cheery. For 10.30am, the boozer was pretty busy. There were around eight Chelsea fans at two tables and a couple of Rangers fans too. There was a punter at a table, wearing a flat cap, sipping a pint, studying the racing form. Parky and I briefly spoke about QPR. In all of my life, I have only ever met three or four QPR fans. Certainly none at school and none at college. A couple through work. They are a rare breed. We spoke about the fact that they had failed to sell their 15,000 allotted tickets for this game to season tickets and members. The shame of it all; the tickets had gone on general sale. Still more shame; they hadn’t even sold all of their tickets, even for this big grudge match against “their” bitter rivals.
Now, no club should be ashamed of who they are. No club’s fans should have to constantly measure up against others. Just be who you are. But it has certainly felt like QPR seem to want to constantly prove themselves against us. To be blunt – and I really don’t want to be arrogant – QPR have always been something of an irrelevance to us. We seem to have engineered a strange relationship with Fulham over the years. They hate us, but we have a little soft spot for them, which winds them up even more. That’s a lovely position to be in, eh? That’s a winner. Several have likened Fulham to a little brother, with us forever ruffling the brother’s hair. No real threat. What of QPR then? Maybe they’re the unloved step-brother, forever wanting to be part of the London football scene, but never quite managing it. The step-father has lavished prizes and monies on the step-brother, but trophies and contentment are still no nearer. So, Chelsea, Fulham and QPR; the three brothers of the Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. Two out of three ain’t bad.
The pub was around two miles from the QPR ground; too far to walk. We hopped in my car and quickly drove east. At 11.15am, we were scuttling along the last five hundred yards of the Uxbridge Road, our jackets tightly zipped and buttoned. There was a chill to the air. A few home pubs looked busy, but there just wasn’t the buzz of excitement that seems to envelope the area around the Fulham Broadway on big games.
Parky wondered if Michael Essien would be on the bench.
“Yeah, he’s just the person to bring on when we are down to seven men.”
On the walk up Bloomfontein Avenue, the Chelsea lads from the pub overtook us just as some noise bellowed out.
“Was that a roar from the home fans?” one of them asked.
“No, the sales are on at the Westfield Mall” I answered.
Outside the away entrance, we spotted the yellow jackets of the stewards checking the Chelsea fans for catapults, knives, machetes, guns, rifles, rocket launchers and celery. To be honest, it was no more severe than in the league game. The mood was quiet. There was a hush.
I was again up in the cramped confines of the upper tier of the School End. By goodness, the seats are crammed in. It’s a bloody good job we stood the entire game. I reached my seat at 11.45am and two lads – a father and son – from Bristol were next to me. They are regulars in The Goose. The Chelsea players were finishing off their pre-game routines and I took a few snaps. It didn’t take long for me to realise that the ignominy of QPR’s support was there in front of me…hundreds of empty seats in The Loft, the main stand and the Ellerslie Road stand.
And yet, the spiteful step-brothers were delusional –
“West London is ours, West London is ours – fcuk off Chelsea, West London is ours.”
I almost felt sorry for them. Nobody can help the team they support and I am sure there must be some decent Rangers fans out there somewhere. But please don’t large it with nothing to back it up. They couldn’t even sell 15,000 tickets for the visit of big brother.
Pathetic. Truly pathetic.
Chelsea soon gave it to them –
“Your ground – is too big for you.”
The teams entered the pitch and we roared our support of our heroes. It seemed that John Terry touched the ball twice as many times as anyone else on the pitch in the first five minutes. Maybe this was intentional; get the home fans all “booed out” as soon as possible. Apart from an early slip (oh how the step brother enjoyed that), our captain’s performance was impeccable.
But, really, what a poor game of football.
An early break from Juan Mata allowed our Spaniard a shot on Paddy Kenny’s goal, but other chances were rare. QPR still booed JT’s every touch, but thankfully – thank heavens – there was no silliness from my fellow Chelsea fans. Unlike Stamford Bridge, festooned with flags from all points of the compass, Loftus Road sported only five measly flags. While Chelsea has a global reach, maybe QPR’s global reach just about makes it to their training ground at Harlington. I noted that Torres was toiling hard, but venturing out of his comfort zone. After half-an-hour, he had hardly been played in at all in that central area. Why we don’t look to hit him early mystifies me.
QPR of course, were happy to defend deep and soak it all up. It was a surprisingly clean game.
Almost the highlight of the first-half was a delightful turn by former Blue, SWP. He then fell over and normality was resumed.
By 31 minutes, Chelsea had got bored with QPR and sung a derisory song about Tottenham, our natural rivals, and it was if we were making a statement.
QPR – quite pitiful, really.
Our play was again slow. We had masses of possession. QPR were much poorer than in October. Our efforts were rare; a looper from Meireles, a wide shot from Malouda.
I said to Bristol “this is Norwich all over again.”
The Chelsea fans then remembered who we were playing –
“We don’t hate you ‘cus you’re 5hit.”
At the break, there was bemusement amidst the ranks that the game had been so poor. Neither of the two goalkeepers had been really tested.
Soon into the second period, Torres made a nice run and dribble into the penalty box but his excellent pull back was blasted high by Daniel Sturridge. At the other end, a rare QPR attack resulted in Petr Cech saving from SWP.
The penalty? Well, it looked like there was hardly contact. I am not sure why, but I hardly celebrated it. I steadied myself, as did Juan Mata, and took a few photographs as he slammed the ball in. Now it was time to celebrate.
The rest of the game reverted to type. Chelsea passed across the pitch so much that I wondered if the two teams had decided on a new set of rules at the break. The highlight for me was another delightful dollop of a Luiz lofted chip right into the path of Studge. I could watch those all day. Dan Marino eat your heart out. There were moans from a few fans about Torres, but I thought he did OK really. His control was neat and he never stopped running. I just wish we could use him properly.
As the game continued, we just couldn’t resist –
“Anton, what’s the score? Anton, Anton – what’s the score?”
While Ramires was receiving attention for his worrying injury, a lone QPR fan jumped over the balcony wall in The Loft and stood in a small, un-manned, TV gantry. He gestured towards us. The Chelsea fans had a response –
“Jump in a minute, he’s gonna jump in a minute.”
“Suicide. Suicide. Suicide.”
John Terry continued to impress, Florent Malouda continued to infuriate. One low shot from Luke Young was well parried by Cech and – after a full seven minutes of extra time – the final whistle blew.
It was a shocking game, but we were cheered by the win if not the performance. To be honest, I was so relieved that there had been no unsavoury chanting from the 3,000 away fans and for that reason alone, I was so grateful.
Well done us.
On the way home, we rued not only the trip to Swansea on Tuesday, but the visit from United next Sunday. With 2012 starting with four wins, one draw and for clean sheets, things could be worse. But, as we know, they could be so much better.
As for Loftus Road; I hope I never have to go there again.