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The Lockdown Diaries #9

QPR fan Sam Taylor blogs about the matchday experience - and what he will be missing as we venture towards games being played behind closed doors.

After a long void of nothing to report on, there is finally some movement on the football front to discuss as QPR and the football world return to training.

As the players get back on the field, the day in which the season can resume as normal draws closer. However, this swift return to the game in today’s world comes at a cost and that cost is of course that the games will be held behind closed doors.

This means QPR will likely have to play in front of an empty crowd for their remaining fixtures this season. This is a massive shame for the R’s faithful, and football fans all across the world as they are starved of the thrill of live football.

For me, personally, not being able to be at the ground on matchday is a massive loss. Saturday, at 3pm was always the highlight of my weeks no matter the opponent and as part of a family that has been Rangers fans for almost the entirety of QPR’s existence, the traditions we’ve established around matchdays will no longer be lived out, as we watch the R’s from our lounge instead.

I thought I’d use this week’s blog to enlighten you about the things that I will miss most from not being allowed into W12 for matchday from the pre-game ‘sweet shop’, to the post game sprint to the car.

Starting with the pre-game rituals, I reflect on the things, apart from the football, that fans will be missing out on.

PRE-GAME

To the surprise of non-football-goers, the Saturday experience starts hours before the 3pm kick off.

For my family, who have been R’s fans for almost 100 years, we have developed a sort of ritual for Saturdays in preparation for the day’s fixture. I have been collecting R’s shirts all my life so have quite a stock to choose from each week. I wouldn’t call it superstition but I am almost certain that there is a direct correlation between the shirt I wear that day and the consequential result on the pitch.

Let’s just say my Away kit from the 2016/17 season which I wore to our home fixture against Newcastle has scarcely been brought out the drawer since.

So after about six or seven hours deciding which shirt to wear, I will normally settle on just wearing my current Home kit of whatever season it is considering that’s the one the boys will be wearing and therefore, superstition wise, factually it is more likely to make us win. I know it’s rubbish but it’s a habit I can’t kick.
Other notable recurring shirt choices are the Les Ferdinand COMPAQ kit, the 83/84 Guinnness Shirt of course and the 2013/14 Charlie Austin shirt; these three make up my regular rotation for matchday.

After the unnecessarily long morning choosing a shirt it eventually comes to 1:30pm when it’s time to hit the road in pursuit of the holy land that is Shepherds Bush.

Sometimes we stop for a quick meal deal at a Tesco’s, usually something light in order to not upset our stomachs more than they will be upset following the 90 minutes of painstaking football we are about to witness.

Anyway, 2:00pm comes and the line-ups are announced. I read it out to my Dad who has forgotten who half the players are and this takes about 15 minutes as I explain everything each player in the XI has ever done for us to jog his memory.

When the lineups are out the excitement has truly begun. We park in our secret hiding space near the ground that has direct access to the main road for a quick escape after the game to beat the traffic and we make our way to Suzy’s newsagent on Bloemfontain road.

The biggest disappointment for our QPR family in recent years was the removal of pear drops from the shelves of the newsagent which has been my Dad’s go to snack for about 50 years. Disgraceful behaviour. Anyway, we get to the ground, I get my programme, which I’ve also been collecting my whole life, squeeze through the turnstiles, squeeze through our row in the South Africa Road stand, and stand by our seats eagerly awaiting the game to commence.

I always like watching the warm-ups and make a rash decision based on their performance in the shooting drill as to whether or not each player is going to have a good game. The music then starts, the video plays, the players come out and the tension grows. London Calling blares through the speakers as the R’s faithful roar in response. The captains shake hands, and hopefully they don’t switch sides because that, after the pear drops, is the biggest upset to the matchday experience possible. Shirt on, car hidden, pear drops missed, programme bought, music on, players out - game on.

THE GAME

Throughout the actual game itself I can wholeheartedly speak on behalf of the R’s fans in saying we experience a variation of emotions over the 90 - to say the least. Usually, we would’ve conceded pretty early on which is just kinda accepted as normal now, but I actually have found it more comforting going one behind as it means our tendency for the dramatic comeback, especially this season, can be ignited.

The anticipation from the pre-game turns into anxiety and stress at about the one minute mark of the match. We have had some pretty decent starts but in my lifetime I can say I feel we are more of a second half team.
Before the first 45 minutes are up there are a few things which are inherent to the matchday experience which most definitely will occur in that first half; One of my family would’ve spilt a drink down the seats in front of us, Ebere Eze would’ve ended the careers of half the opposition, Jordan Hugill would’ve screamed in about all of the opposition’s faces, the row behind us would’ve started their necessary insults toward the referee, and finally, our weekly check as to whether Mark is wearing his famous gilet and hoodie combination will be completed. This brings us to half time.

Whether we are losing, winning or drawing at the halfway point there are a few things for certain that I’m sure we can all agree on at this stage of the match.

Firstly, we still think we are going to lose, even if we are 5-0 up. That’s just natural. Secondly, we are making our guesses as to which Forever R will be inducted this week. We are fascinated by how many players actually have played for us and agreed to come back and are always wondering as to at which point in the season they will have to resort to inducting some of our finest ball boys and mascots.

Anyway, we love the Forever R’s thing and we love seeing the old players returning back here and being so pleased to be back too. Makes you proud to be an R. And of course, I’m sure we can all agree that the best part of half time is the Ashville Aggregates, kick a ball into the bin challenge. Contestant after contestant has failed time and time again, to get that ball into that all important green bin but that one kid who did a couple months ago should surely, undoubtedly be next in line for a Forever R’s induction.

The second half commences, the game kicks on and 45 minutes later the points are awarded. At this point we are either singing ‘hi-ho Queens Park Rangers’ or have our arms crossed, annoyed that we once again conceded in the 95th minute to lose.

When we do get those three points, which is actually more often than not this season, the feeling is incomparable. Genuinely my weekend and next seven days is made 1000 times better by a Saturday victory for the R’s. I love watching us win. It’s truly brilliant. After a great performance, exiting the stadium with my dad, brothers and cousins, in pure joy and high spirits make up some of my favourite Saturdays of my life.

POST GAME

After the 90 is up, the rush to the car is almost as, if not more, exciting than the football we have just watched.

Something essential for my dad’s matchday experience is making sure we can beat the traffic on the road home and he tends to cheer just as loudly for an empty A40 as he does for QPR getting three points. Thus, we do a sort of half skip, half run back to the car out of the ground, get to the car, pile our massive family into the seven-seater, wait in traffic for about three days, and listen to 5 Live Sport Report waiting for QPR’s result to be listed.
It seems that the scoreline is not truly confirmed until that blessed voice on the radio announces that we lost 6-0 at home to Newcastle and Notts County won 1-0 away to Carlisle in the Checkatrade Cup.

Eventually, we get home, and we are either ecstatic after a quality win, chanting Eze, Eze, Eze, all throughout the house and consistently for the following week or ignore everyone else in the house and slam the doors to our respected bedrooms, not appearing until next Saturday comes around and the process starts all over again.

A QPR household is not a good place to be after a poor QPR performance. The joy or disappointment settles, the sun goes down and the evening comes in. The matchday experience draws to an end and the emotion emanated from that week's fixture plays a massive part in injecting some much-needed emotion into what can regularly be a mundane working week.

There’s nothing quite like a matchday in W12.

It will be such a massive shame not being able to live out our matchday routine when the season recommences.

Saturday afternoons are such an important part of our weeks as they are for so many QPR fans across the country. Nothing beats that feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning, knowing that in a few hours you can be seated in a below averagely comfortable seat, watching a below average quality football team, put in a far above average performance - hopefully.

That matchday excitement will be sorely missed and I hope this week you’ve taken an insight and reflected on the little things about matchdays that you’ll be missing out on besides the actual football game.

It’s definitely more than a game for us fans. It’s undoubtedly a lifestyle and having that high of our week taken away will be a tough blow to take. But, public safety is obviously of the utmost importance and us fans will happily retire to the couch at home to watch the R’s if it means contributing in the global effort to stay safe during this virus.

The important thing is that we will get our fix of QPR drama back soon enough and hopefully we can pick up where we left off. I’ll leave the players to train in the meantime and you at home to choose which shirt to wear for each fixture, I will be going over to the computer now and adding Pear Drops and Champagne to the Tesco order to try and form a new 2020 style, home-made, matchday experience.