2 October ~ The Fulham v QPR derby wasn't the first game Rangers fans looked for when the Premier League fixtures came out. After so long away, we wanted to check on when we'd make our first visit to the Emirates or Etihad stadiums. It's not as if Craven Cottage isn't the most pleasant away trip in London, or that we don't want to see the Jacko statue. And this is, after all, the first-ever top-flight encounter between the clubs. Maybe the lack of anticipation is explained by past west London rivalries. For while we loathed Chelsea, they don't really care about us. We, on the other hand, don't give a hoot for Brentford but they hate us with a passion that is almost comical.
When I was a small boy watching Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis, Fulham were always a league below. I even remember with glee watching Rodney Marsh on the telly at the Cottage, returning to his alma mater to play a few exhibition matches in the old Division Two – after making his reputation at Loftus Road. The clubs briefly became too close for comfort, when the proposed Fulham Park Rangers merger was mooted in 1987, but nascent fan power intervened. And when they fell down the divisions, it's fair to say that the majority of QPR fans were saddened by their plight, and gave a patronising cheer as they pulled themselves back up – I mean, after all, we did take Paul Parker in the fall-out from the merger.
That was as good as it got, because while unlovely owners sold our best players, and we dropped into the second level, they were enjoying the riches of Mohamed Fayed and heading the opposite way. We passed briefly, Fulham taking full advantage on their way to the Premier League. Sometime later, they were even briefly our tenants, their chairman allegedly installing a solid gold bog for himself.
We returned to the top flight for 2011-12 with a squad surely destined to go back from whence it came. Sandwiched between two early defeats, we battled to victory at Everton, but then came a boardroom and playing personnel shake-up of major proportions, with half a (new) team, each now looking to “kick-start my England career”. Rangers went on to dominate Newcastle and Aston Villa for long periods only to pick up a point apiece and, in between times, celebrated thumping Wolves at Molineux. Being QPR, we half-expect things to go pear-shaped again at any moment, though team captain Joey Barton and his predecessor, Adel Taarabt, seem to be getting on fine so far.
Certainly the likes of Damien Duff, Bobby Zamora and Danny Murphy don't strike fear into our hearts as they might have a few short weeks back, but we're new to this game. When we were entertaining Scunthorpe and Doncaster, they were taking on and beating Hamburg and Juventus. We're chirpier about our Premier League prospects now, but there'll be some rude awakenings ahead, and anyway, Bowles had only just gone last time we won at the Cottage, 31 years ago. Jamie Sellers