By Richard de Winter
As a football fan, one of the things you’ve got to be prepared for is disappointment. This may take the form of an underwhelming signing, a limp performance against hated rivals; it may take the form of an unfortunate defeat in the Champions’ League Semi-Final. At the end of the season, the overriding feeling for fans of most clubs will be one of disappointment, even if their club has had an unexpectedly good year. For example, Liverpool fans at the start of last season could not have dreamt their team would provide a sustained title challenge whilst playing some of the most exhilarating football the Premier League has seen, and yet come May there was, mingled with a sense of pride, a feeling of what might have been, a feeling of a missed opportunity.
If then the default setting for almost all supporters is one of disappointment, then why we do we continue to follow our clubs, often spending extortionate amounts of money and time to do so? It’s a good question, especially when you’ve just sat in the front couple of rows on a wet Tuesday night, facing into the wind, spending 2 hours getting absolutely soaked, while watching your pathetic excuse for a team struggle to put two passes together against a markedly inferior side, fail to put away any number of presentable chances and then concede a late goal thanks to a defensive error the under 10s B team would have been ashamed of (I’m looking at you QPR 0-1 Norwich, 3 March 2009).
Tribalism has something to do with it I’m sure – there is something within our instinct that makes us enjoy being part of one particular collective to the exclusion of another. There is also the matter of routine – I once contemplated giving up football for lent, but then the prospect of not obsessively checking the scores every Saturday between 3pm and 5pm made life appear barren. Most football fans would not know what to do with themselves, or even what to talk about, if they stopped following their team. Finally, there is the fact that the sheer unremitting miserableness of following a football team closely for a number of years makes the high points stand out even more starkly. It’s rather similar to a mediocre snooker player – and I am one of the most mediocre players ever to have bought a waistcoat just so I could keep chalk in its pocket. If snooker were played in the mind, then I would be an expert – every shot is imagined with the detail of a Willie Thorne – if I screw back from this red with just a smidgen of left hand side, then I should be able to get round that other red and drop nicely on the pink into the middle pocket. It’s just my chronic lack of talent that’s preventing me from turning pro. However, on occasions I do get it right, sometimes for several shots in a row, and the feeling of euphoria is far greater than the feeling of despondency when I muff a straight black into the corner.
The reason I’m writing all this is that at the moment I’m struggling to come up with a reason why I’m still fanatically following my team, QPR. Since 1993, when I started supporting them properly, I’ve lived through my fair share of disappointment – relegation, administration, embarrassing defeat to Vauxhall Motors in the FA Cup, the tragic death of the most promising player to come out of our youth system for a generation – but there have always been enough high points to mitigate against this. Off the top of my head, I can give you beating Liverpool 2-1 live on Sky in what turned out to be Gerry Francis’ last match in charge; Trevor Sinclair’s bicycle kick; Paul Furlong’s late winner in the play-off semi-final to spark a spine-tingling wall of noise inside Loftus Road; coming back from 2-0 down to beat Leicester City 3-2 with another late Furlong goal; Marc Nygaard of all people lashing in an astounding volley, also against Leicester, to ease our relegation fears; watching Adel Taarabt destroy everyone in 2010-11, in particular his performance during a 4-0 win over Swansea on Boxing Day; Jamie Mackie, the man you’d want your daughter to marry, coolly slotting home in injury time to complete an unlikely comeback from 2-0 down against Liverpool.
Just writing that last paragraph has reminded me of the joy that supporting a club can inspire. The problem for me is that for the last 3 seasons, following QPR has been a joyless experience. The misguided transfer business in the summer of 2012, following our miraculous escape from relegation precipitated a miserable season where even an away win at Chelsea, the holy grail for all QPR fans, was met with a mildly interested ‘meh.’ Last season’s promotion-winning campaign was founded on an excellent start, a solid defence, Charlie Austin, and the most outrageous 1-0 mugging for years, yet for all the temporary euphoria Bobby Zamora’s winner gave me, I was still distinctly underwhelmed. This season, despite once again some very astute signings on paper, has so far been dreadful, with a bunch of disinterested-looking players shambling about with no tactical plan beyond trying to get a free-kick on the edge of the area and hoping Niko Krancjar can curl it in. Unless there is a drastic change in attitude or, dare I say it, a change of manager, relegation this year looks an absolute certainty.
One of the issues is that since our promotion season in 2010-11 QPR haven’t signed anyone who the fans have taken to. Ryan Nelsen was reasonably popular, but got out from what he described as the most poisonous dressing-room atmosphere he had experienced as quickly as he could. Charlie Austin and Niko Krancjar may yet work their way into the affections of the supporters with relegation-saving performances, but beyond that no-one stands out. QPR used to be popular with football fans throughout the country, being many people’s second-favourite time. Now we are reviled, patronised and humiliated. Come on Rangers, make me love you again.