2 October ~ As a QPR fan from south-east London I have mixed emotions about playing Crystal Palace. Inevitably many of my friends support the Eagles and I find them a strangely difficult team to dislike. Today, with Rangers top of the Championship (both traditionally and financially) and Palace in convalescence after administration, the teams meet at Selhurst Park. Rarely have their fortunes been so markedly different. It’s come to something when you project your own middle-class guilt on to a footballing situation, but I can’t help feeling sheepish about the visit to Palace.
Not only are Rangers embarrassingly loaded in comparison to the shoestring operation at Selhurst, but we’ve also had the cheek of nicking manager Neil Warnock and two key players, warhorse midfielder Shaun Derry and imposing left-back Clint Hill.
Warnock has handled his switch with something approaching dignity – he’s at pains to point out how much he likes Palace at every opportunity, often to the annoyance of QPR fans who clearly believe that any new recruit should pretend he has a tattoo of Stan Bowles and has always really liked hooped shirts.
Supporting Rangers this season has been a surreal and brilliant thing, all comfortable 3-0 wins and barnstorming away performances. We’re unbeaten after nine games with a goal difference of plus-20 and have only conceded two goals all season, both in the same game. Crazy statistics for a club used to mid-table ignominy and farcical managerial changes in recent years.
The Eagles have made a predictably uneven start after escaping relegation on the last day of 2009-10, but the mood at Selhurst is defiantly buoyant. My Palace-supporting friends are full of “we’re just happy to have a club” rhetoric and pleasantly surprised by the attractive passing football employed by George Burley.
With a young team and a remarkably dedicated (if somewhat incongruous) Ultras section in the Holmesdale End there’s a buzz to the club, a sense that fans, players and management are connected. Draught Real Ale will return to the supporters’ bars for the QPR game due to popular demand. A small touch, but exactly the sort of thing that engenders a positive relationship between club and support.
Rangers’ performances so far this season suggest promotion is on the cards, and while a return to the top flight would be the uncontested highlight of my 20 years supporting QPR, what comes next? Parking the bus at Old Trafford trying to keep the score down? Scraping a Europa League place with prohibitively expensive players after one outstanding season? Perhaps just a first win in the FA Cup since 2001?
Let’s not get carried away. With QPR flattered by a 3-0 victory over Doncaster last Saturday and frustrated by a well-drilled Millwall side in the week, while an improving Palace held Cardiff, this fixture may upset the formbook. Despite appearances to the contrary and my unerring pessimism, this is a pretty good time to be supporting both teams. Thom Gibbs