I’m sitting in the corner of The Loft, early in the second half of a match that QPR are losing 1-0 at home to Portsmouth when I notice a commotion beginning at the opposite end of the ground. A couple of dozen Portsmouth fans are clambering up the walls of the away end and trying to get into the adjacent Ellerslie Road stand, mainly populated by parents with children. It takes them about ten minutes to scale the walls, after which they set about anyone in a QPR shirt.
The police – who have a minimal presence at Loftus Road these days largely as a reflection of the fact that there hasn’t been any trouble for a while – are nowhere to be seen. The private security firm who have largely taken over the police responsibilities break up the fighting. Some home fans spill onto the pitch to escape the marauders as the tannoy announcer reminds us that, “This is not type of behaviour we expect at QPR.” The referee takes the players off while stewards lead out the interlopers. Seven are subsequently charged and face being banned from Portsmouth for life.
The match resumes, and there’s no further trouble despite QPR getting an equaliser and then a late winner, and a Portsmouth player being sent off. At the end of the match police on horseback ride across the pitch. Riot police turn up, too – but station themselves outside the home end and prevent anyone in a QPR shirt from taking their usual route home, walking up South Africa Road and past the away end.
Portsmouth manager Terry Fenwick later speaks of “pathetic” incidents but no one from Portsmouth bothers to publicly apologise for their fans’ behaviour. Perhaps they think it’s our fault. The FA certainly seem to have come to this conclusion, and announce that they may be fining the club for insufficient security measures. In anticipation of official censure, QPR decide to make all their remaining away matches for this season all-ticket.
In that one match we’ve seen more trouble than there has been at Loftus Road for years, yet there is more to come at our next home match, against Wolves. A goal area scuffle between Rangers defender Danny Maddix and Wolves keeper Mike Stowell turns into a 17-man brawl. A member of the travelling support leaps onto the pitch to get involved. After the match the FA announces that it may take action against QPR for “incitement to riot”.
For years there was next to no trouble at QPR – in fact a principle reason why Chelsea are unpopular with Rangers fans is precisely because they attract people from all over the South East who simply want to fight. The low police presence at Loftus Road is a reflection of our good record over the years – much bigger games than that with Portsmouth have passed without incident. Now, suddenly we’re the pariahs of the League. Rather than bothering to investigate the incidents properly – to wonder for instance why even with CCTV cameras monitoring every crowd movement, the police didn’t think to intervene in the ten minutes it took Portsmouth fans to climb the away end – the FA seem prepared to heap the blame on QPR fans. And there could be more to follow if we find ourselves landed with a reputation for trouble – we’ll become an obvious target for bonehead elements at other clubs who fancy taking us on. Bad enough that the football authorities should be so keen to jump to hasty conclusions over these incidents, it is utterly amazing that QPR themselves seem to be taking a similar view.
From WSC 123 May 1997. What was happening this month