I find it hard to pinpoint the exact moment when my support for Queen’s Park Rangers crossed over into full-blown fandom. I’ve lived in Shepherd’s Bush since 1991, and at one stage owned a house that overlooked their stadium. When dinner guests asked me whether I was bothered by the noise, I used to joke that it only got really loud when QPR scored — so, no, it was like living next door to the British Library.
I didn’t go to my first match until after my daughter Sasha was born in 2003 and back then Caroline was convinced I’d only developed an interest in the local club to escape her and the baby. Probably some truth in that, but as a strategy for avoiding childcare it backfired. All four of my children are now season ticket holders and Caroline has done a complete volte face. She’s now urging me to start supporting Brentford as well in the hope that their home games will alternate with QPR’s. That way, she’ll be able to play tennis every Saturday afternoon.
Given that Brentford have just been promoted from League One to the Championship, I’m considering it. I get an enormous amount of pleasure from watching QPR. Actually, that’s not quite true. I love the feeling you have eating lunch beforehand, knowing there’s a game to go to. I love walking to the ground with my children, the crowd of supporters getting thicker with every step. I love that moment when you walk through the little doorway at the top of the stadium and see the pitch for the first time. But watching the team play? Not so much.
As a general rule, the more avid a supporter I’ve become, the more pain and suffering the Super Hoops have caused me. I expect this is true of nearly all football fans. Caroline happened to walk in on Monday night just as Liverpool’s match against Crystal Palace finished in a 3-3 draw, effectively ending their title hopes, and she couldn’t believe the looks of devastation on the faces of the Liverpool fans. To her, the fact that they seemed so crestfallen about something so trivial was comic. But I knew exactly how they felt. I was there when Swansea beat QPR 5-0 in the opening game of last season.
Back then, Sasha was nine and my youngest child was four, but they’d already been bitten by the bug. I know this because every time a Swansea player took a corner in our section of the stadium they’d join in the chorus of ‘sheep shagger, sheep shagger, sheep shagger’.
Caroline’s not so keen on the chants. Our season tickets are in the ‘family stand’, but that’s a bit like having a family section in a cinema that just shows A Clockwork Orange. The only way to make the ‘family stand’ suitable for children would be to encase it in a soundproof glass cubicle. As it is, Charlie has taken to singing ‘The pride of West London’ in his bath: ‘We are the pride of West London, the blue and the white/ We hate Cardiff City and Chelsea are shite/We go on a piss-up at home and away/And if you love Rangers repeat what I say…’
A chant you don’t hear at Loftus Road very often these days is ‘Harry Redknapp’s blue army’. At the beginning of the season, having just been demoted to the Championship, we were the favourites to top the league. Last Saturday, after the final game, we found ourselves in fourth place, which means we’re up against Wigan in the play-offs. Two games, home and away, with the winners on aggregate playing either Derby or Brighton at Wembley. In theory, this should be a thrilling climax to the season, particularly if we make it to the final, but our form has been so erratic lately I’m not looking forward to it. Which QPR will turn up? The tenacious boot boys who battle for every ball, or the skittish show ponies who look as though they’d prefer to be back in thepaddock?
Watching my children’s expressions switch from hope to disappointment, I sometimes regret having steered them towards QPR. I tell myself that it’s character building, that they’ll learn to treat triumph and disaster just the same, that there could be no better Reality Bath than Loftus Road.
But wouldn’t it be more humane to spend every other Saturday at Stamford Bridge? Alas, it’s too late to switch now. Like me, they’re hooked. It’s Rangers till we die.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.