Will QPR ever again have a player we can take to our hearts?
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
QPR blogger Jordan Foster asks whether fans are becoming disconnected with the club they support
Growing up, I always fluttered between Marc Bircham and Kevin Gallen as my favourite QPR players. I would insist on getting a long-sleeved Rangers top like Bircham would wear and I even used to style - a term I use loosely - my hair into a Mohawk and dye it for the big matches. So when he left his role as Under-21 boss to join Ian Holloway’s coaching staff at Millwall, I was a little deflated.
Bircham, like myself, was a regular at Loftus Road when he was young. He too was let down by his side and he quite rightly said: “You don’t support QPR for the good times, you support QPR because it’s QPR, not for the trophies”.
His idol growing up was John Byrne, the forward who famously scored a hat-trick against Chelsea. I’m sure many other fans of his age would have Byrne down as one of their favourites too. He was mine because of his volley against Brentford and likewise, I know a fair few Rangers fans my age who worshipped him for that goal in the final minutes at Griffin Park.
My 10-year-old self had never seen scenes like that fateful day in Hounslow. The fans on the pitch, Bircham having his Guiness classic shit on underneath, the fact he actually had blue and white hair to top it all off and the players and fans celebrating as one. I could not believe my eyes. Much like the play-off semi-final against Oldham, it goes down as one of those games you just won’t ever forget.
Imagine being a QPR fan and scoring goals for fun, knowing you’re vitally important to the club you religiously followed as a young boy. Now imagine opening the scoring at Hillsborough, in front of 7000 loyal supporters and leading them to promotion. It’s what dreams are made of - and Kevin Gallen got to do it.
I was determined to grow up and play for QPR and be the next Bircham or Gallen. And I would have done so too, had my promising football career not been tragically cut short through a serious lack of talent. Because to be honest, I was never that great at football. I was okay, but never in a million years was I going to make it as a pro, let alone play in the beloved hoops.
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So I had to make do with watching the likes of Cook, Bircham and Gallen on a weekly basis, but you knew that in those dying minutes of games that they would give everything because, like you sitting in the stand, they really cared.
During the backs to the wall jobs, when Danny Shittu or Clarke Carlisle were launching it upfield trying to relieve some of the pressure, you knew the players on the pitch would go that extra mile for the cause, run that little bit harder and throw their bodies in front of everything. All for little old QPR.
We’ve come full circle from those days and the times when fans, the same ones Gareth Ainsworth once described as “infectious” would have bucket collections outside the ground. Or when lifelong fan Harold Winton and his family would be funding player transfers. There was a strong connection between the players and the fans, together we were all trying to get back to the old Division One.
And while I’m sure we are all extremely grateful to the investment and debt the consortium fronted by Tony Fernandes has brought to Rangers, I would love nothing more than to have just one player that fans can relate to like we could 10 years ago. It doesn’t help them having ridiculously high wages nowadays.
I’m sure there are not too many fans who feel they can relate to Joey Barton, his huge pay cheque or his Nietzsche quotes. Granted, Clint Hill has found his way into the supporters’ hearts, but with respect Hill has been in and out of the team over previous years and at one point expected he would sign for Leeds. I would put him alongside Marcus Bignot on the barometer of care. Jamie Mackie, on the other hand, came close to the elite category, but he was quickly shown the door following relegation and has been replaced by Will Keane and Modibo Maiga.
I don’t know when or how it could happen, perhaps Frankie Sutherland could come back from injury and make giant leaps in his development making himself a first-team regular in the process, but it seems unlikely. Tom Hitchcock was never really developed by us and Mike Petrasso was brought over with Dylan Cairrero from Toronto FC, maybe Max Ehmer could do it.
But what I do know is, if the team of this year could start to adopt the attitudes that were harboured by the class of 03/04 in the final run-in, then we have a fighting chance. What better time to do it than at Middlesbrough this weekend?