At 15.45 last Sunday it was all pretty much over. Despite a valiant park-the-bus effort, my beloved Queens Park Rangers were a goal down at Manchester City. And, horror of horrors, Bolton had come from a goal behind to lead at Stoke. At Stoke! But no-one ever comes from behind at the Britannia. The superhoops were as good as down. It felt horrible, like a thump in the soul. That ghastly chant the Chelsea fans had sung at Stamford Bridge a few weeks earlier – “We’re going to Germany, you’re going to Barnsley” rung true in my head.
Make no mistake; at half-time on Survival Sunday, we were staring down the barrel of the gun of relegation waiting for some trotter (probably Kevin Davies) to pull the trigger. The conversation amongst my Loftus Road comrades and I turned to dark issues we’d tried not to raise in the preceding weeks. So, Adel Taarabt’s gone, who else do you reckon will jump ship in the summer? Do we have what it takes to bounce straight back up from the Championship? I think someone even said perhaps a season in the Championship could do us good, help us re-build etc etc.
To be frank, I wasn’t really listening. I was mulling the prospect of another Tuesday night trip to Oakwell, another 15 years outside the Big Time, another 15 years of having to stay up beyond Match of the Day for 30 seconds of lousy highlights. Concurrently, I was also wondering if my decision to wear full QPR kit (complete with shin pads) had been more ridiculous than, err, lucky. Was my childish get-up (I’m 34 for heaven’s sake) actually part of the problem? Perhaps if I had worn something ‘luckier’ (ie my trusty green jacket) Bolton wouldn’t have scored from an over-hit cross? Oh, the agony of superstitious football fan.
And then the second half begun and something miraculous happened. First, QPR outrageously dared to venture out of their own half. Second, Joleon Lescott misplaced a defensive header. Third, it fell to the feet of Djibril Cisse, the Gallic hot-head who either gets sent off or scores. With no-one about to grab the throat of, he did the latter; he smashed the ball past Joe Hart. Clinical when not mental. We were 1-1 at the Etihad, a result that would keep us up regardless of goings-on elsewhere.
And then Joey Barton happened. Captain twitter quaked under the pressure. At the most vital of moments, he lost his rag in quite spectacular fashion. He received a red card for elbowing Carlos Tevez but he wasn’t about to go quietly down the tunnel. He kicked Sergio Aguero from behind, attempted to head-butt Vincent Kompany, and then, just to make it crystal clear he’d completely lost the plot, tried to kick off with the mild-mannered Mario Balotelli. The meltdown instantly melted Barton’s pain-staking attempt to re-brand himself via social media as a new (and better) man (Joseph) who has seen the error of his youthful ways. The old Barton, the violent wildman from Huyton who’d been submerged below the philosophical twittering, erupted in a volcanic eruption of red mist. Thug 1 culture vulture 0. Besides the colossal damage to his reputation, Barton had single-handedly thrust his club back to the brink of relegation. Nice one, skip.
A few years ago, Jamie Mackie was plying his trade for Exeter in the Conference. Ex-QPR manager Neil Warnock took a punt on the Stakhanovite front man and it paid off. In QPR’s 2010/11 promotion season, Mackie started the season very brightly before a broken leg saw him sidelined. No one really figured Mackie had a part to play this season. It was thought that for all his Dickov-esque workrate he just didn’t possess the necessary guile or technique. But Mackie has proved the doubters wrong. He’s scored crucial goals at crucial times. And, boy, did he do it again at the Etihad. When Armand Traore made a rare foray forward and crossed invitingly, Mackie was there to thunder a header into the ground and past Hart. QPR were 2-1 up at City and looking to become only the second team of the season (after Sunderland) to get anything from the Etihad. Ominously, Bolton was still winning. Champagne still firmly on ice.
In the run-up to Survival Sunday, all the hopeful talk on the overheated QPR messageboards had been of how ‘special agent’ (and QPR old boy) Peter Crouch would score for Stoke. Crouchy didn’t score but he sure did his bit; deep into the second half, he dangled one of those impossibly long legs to win a questionable penalty. Immediate QPR cult hero Jon Walters slotted to make it 2-2. Crouch’s divine intervention meant that, going into injury time, QPR were virtually safe. To go down it’d need three goals – two from City and a late winner from Bolton. Surely that wouldn’t happen, right? Well, it so so nearly did. Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a moor for a week, you’ll know by now that City scored twice in (Barton-inspired) injury time to win 3-2 and wrestle the title from Sir Alex Ferguson’s clutches. Meanwhile at Stoke, Thomas Sorenson made a smart save to deny Tim Reem a headed goal, which would have saved Wanderers and relegated Rangers.
The relief of beating the drop on the final day was enormous. As anyone whose team has been embroiled in a relegation dogfight will know, they are a draining, unpleasant experience. While every home game becomes a gut-wrenching cup final in which your team is almost always the underdog, you also find yourself endlessly agonising over fellow cellar dweller’s results. During the run-in, there’d sure been some blows. That Wigan win at Arsenal and Bolton’s equally infuriating win at Aston Villa spring straight to mind. Nervous nights in glued to the online commentary of other teams’ games is not living. And bad for any marriage!
The reason I got particularly agitated about beating the drop is because I believe it’s a genuine watershed moment for the club, a survival which will see QPR right for a generation or even two. Why? Because under the energetic ownership of Tony Fernandes and steady stewardship of Mark Hughes, the club has the potential to really go places. Unlike other teams (like Wigan) that finished this season towards the bottom, QPR will again spend significantly on infrastructure and players. More genuine Premier League performers of the quality of Cisse, Bobby Zamora, Anton Ferdinand, Taye Taiwo, Nedum Onuohu, and Shaun Wright-Phillips will be introduced into the mix. Even without my rose-tinted glasses on, I can see the Rs finishing significantly higher than 17th next season and then becoming an established solid mid-table side for many years to come.
Whatever happens this summer, for now I’m just utterly relieved and delighted that me and my long-suffering fellow QPR fans will get to again watch the likes of Moroccan magician Adel Taarabt, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and (probably) Robin van Persie play at Loftus Road for another season. With absolutely no disrespect meant to lower league football, it sure beats watching Steve Palmer lump it up to Brett Angell, drawing with Rushden and Diamonds (in the league!) or, shudder, losing to Vauxhall Motors on penalties at home.
Guest post by Archie Thomas.
You can read Archie’s blog here.
You can follow him on Twitter here.