Despite the threat of relegation, I knew I'd get some guaranteed enjoyment from Sunday's visit to Man City when a few weeks ago, having already bought tickets, I had a call from QPR. Like many football supporters, I live in a semi-fantasy world when it comes to the realms of the possible. Despite being 43 years old, and despite never having played at a higher level than the second XI of my college while a postgraduate student (and that was a very poor standard), I can still imagine myself playing in QPR's defence as a sweeper behind Alan McDonald and Paul Parker. So when QPR phoned and asked if I was going to Man City, part of me wanted to say "I'm available for selection. Give me a squad number and I'll I bring my boots."
As it happened, they were more interested in my son. "Would he like to be our mascot?" Well, what 10 year old QPR supporter wouldn't? "You can come behind the scenes with him and meet the players". What 43 year old QPR supporter wouldn't? As it turned out, it was a marvellous experience, going behind the scenes, meeting players in the dressing room, and taking some great photographs. And I think the 43 year old was more excited than the 10 year old.
Yet the threat of relegation hung over everything. Relegation is one of the experiences which torments most football supporters from time to time. We hope it won't happen, but all bar a handful of the big clubs have been down one or more divisions in living memory. Sunderland have a fanzine called It's the Hope I Can't Stand. All fans know what they mean. QPR supporters of my generation (some of us are glory-hunters with bad judgement who started supporting the team in the great 1975-6 season but unlike most glory-hunters stuck with their team) have experienced it three times: 1979, 1996, and 2001, with a few close shaves along the way.
Much of it would come down to whether Stoke had any interest in putting up a fight against Bolton, when they had nothing to play for but pride. Anything short of a Bolton win and we were safe. But everyone remembered how Stoke caved in against Wigan on the last day of last season and if Bolton could win, then we needed a point at City. Most, perhaps all pundits, gave us no hope of getting that.
If the Stoke fan websites were to be believed, nothing this weekend would have given them greater delight than sending us down. I think they see us as a bigger threat than Bolton in the future, and it might also be a north-south thing. There was certainly plenty of evidence of hostility from Stoke fans on the drive up the M6 on Sunday morning. But I consoled myself with Tony Pulis's fighting talk, plus the fact that QPR legend Gerry Francis is part of the Stoke coaching set-up.
As it happened, it was something of a rollercoaster day, and the story will be familiar to millions by now. But the crucial facts for QPR (on a day which most will remember as Man City's) were this. At half-time, with Bolton winning and us losing, we were down. Then incredibly, we were down to 10 men but managed to go 2-1 up. City equalising was not a problem because a point for us was good enough to stay up, but in any case, by the time City made it 2-2, Bolton had blown their lead. And when City went 3-2 up, we already knew that we were safe because Bolton had only managed a draw. The players must have been aware of Stoke's equaliser because there were suddenly 3,000 QPR fans leaping about with joy, even though nothing to merit that had happened on the pitch at our game. The QPR coaching staff certainly knew the final score from Stoke because they all started leaping around with about two minutes of added time left.
So, on a bizarre day, City's two late goals, even in a crucial game for us, mattered not a jot, when at other times we'd have been bemoaning them. The goals also meant that there were two very happy sets of fans. We felt like staying around to watch the presentation of the Premier League Trophy, and there was no fear of a hostile reaction to us having deprived City of the title.
What this all made me realise is that winning (or should that be surviving?) a relegation battle, is a bit like winning promotion all over again. Last summer, I wrote in this blog about how last season, because of the farcical way in which the Football Association handled paperwork irregularities around the signing of Alejandro Faurlin, I felt that QPR fans were deprived of a proper celebration of winning the Championship.
I was at Watford when we supposedly clinched it, but we all knew that points might be deducted. And when the news came through that there would be no such deductions, most of us were making our way to the final game of the season. So we saw the trophy presented, and that was great, but there was no great moment when we were all together in a football ground and realise what had been achieved.
Yesterday, for 3,000 of us, there was that moment. As Stoke equalised (thank you Jonathan Walters - you deserve the freedom of Shepherds Bush) and we all went berserk, we had that moment. We had it again when we heard the final score from Stoke, and then wildly celebrated with the City fans at the end.
So, job done. Only three months to go to the new season. And we really can believe, again, that QPR are in the Premier League.Suggest a correction