QPR vs Birmingham City - a traditional English football experience
I am a Chelsea fan and going to a Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge is a bucket list experience for me. However, I failed to get reasonably priced tickets despite my best efforts. As I did my groundhopping research to prepare for my trip to London, people were harping on about how the ‘smaller’ London clubs offered a ‘traditional English football experience’ with great atmosphere. Meanwhile, London’s bigger Premier League clubs were known to have a more diluted crowd, owing to the number of tourists in attendance. Ultimately, it was a toss-up between Chelsea vs Everton for $120 or Queens Park Rangers vs Birmingham City for $25. Having been disappointed by the West Ham atmosphere the previous week and craving the ‘traditional English football experience’ I, rather disloyally, chose the latter.
An entrance to Loftus Road - might have mistaken it for a Decathlon or a godown, had I not known better.
I was accompanied by my childhood friend Om and his friend from high school Adi for this one. We got off at Shephard’s Bush tube station, grabbed a snack from Tesco’s and walked down Loftus Road to the stadium. As we neared the place, we saw thousands of QPR supporters with blue and white scarves around their necks. We bought tickets in the ‘Loft Upper’, on the recommendation of the box office employees, before I got my customary scarf at the club shop.
The stadium was boxed in on three sides by red-bricked town houses, so you would not even notice it, unless you were looking for it. As we entered the Loft and climbed the stairs to our seats, we could see into the backyards of all the houses on Ellerslie Road. Set in a working-class neighborhood, QPR is a club of the people - and you could tell from the second you turned onto Loftus Road. The whole stadium was made of blue metal sheets which gave it a make-shift appearance and seemed synonymous with the clamorous atmosphere it fosters. Inside, the pitch looked tiny, and from our seats, I felt extremely close to the field of play – almost as if I were on top of the corner flag.
Despite the Hoops having won only one of their last fifteen games, the home support was very loud. The QPR hard-core were stood adjacent to us in the Ellerslie Road Stand which only amplified our experience. Unfortunately, the home side conceded within three minutes as former Manchester United youngster Tahith Chong tapped in from close range. The visiting Birmingham City fans celebrated wildly – to the point where a blue smoke bomb made its way onto the field.
For the remainder of the second half, QPR did not look very impressive on the field. They struggled to string even five passes together and the fans were slowly losing their patience. Sam Field, the left center-back, tried repeatedly to play a long diagonal but lost possession every time. After the nth spell of scrappy possession, a man in front of us got up and yelled angrily, “who's the leader your bunch of pricks!” As the half progressed the fans diverted their frustration to the referee and chants of “referee you're a c7%$” began to ring out. By the end of the first forty-five, the atmosphere had died down considerably, and the players were booed off the pitch.
Backyards on the left, the Stanley Bowles Stand on the right - this place really is in the heart of its neighborhood.
At half time, my friends and I decided to explore the stadium and headed downstairs. The concourses were packed with people queuing up to buy a beer, so we hung out by the staircase that led up to the Loft Upper. Here, we came across a middle-aged man who gave us the run-down of being a QPR fan. Firstly, he prided themselves on being a ‘proper working-class club’, unlike Chelsea, Arsenal, and Spurs who are associated with wealthier backgrounds. He called QPR fans ‘Revolutionary Socialists’ while those of other London Premier League clubs as ‘Capitalists’. Chelsea, being a fellow West London club, was especially disliked by the QPR faithful. We heard anti-Chelsea chants throughout the game despite the two clubs being separated by a division and having not played each other since 2015. He said Fulham and Brentford supporters found them to be rather crude (in behavior) and were afraid to travel down to Loftus Road. Meanwhile, he informed us with a certain sense of satisfaction that QPR fans always travelled in numbers to Millwall, a club infamous for its hooligans. Finally, the conversation turned towards the misery of being a QPR fan with the club consistently finishing in the depths of the Championship (a contrast to the good fortunes of all their West London neighbors). Nevertheless, he was apprehensive about getting promoted to the Premier League because the consequent ‘cleansing’ may cost his club its identity. In the end, he told us how the club is like a large family – over the years, he has grown to know a majority of the people in the stands, and he has also met his closest friends through QPR games. We told him how we have been enjoying the raucous, unpolished atmosphere so far and he invited us to come out and support the club every other weekend.
In the second half, the home side came out all guns blazing. They were constantly on the attack and got the crowd going again. Every corner, set piece, or even tackle won was applauded ferociously. QPR had several half chances to equalize early in the second half, but they failed to test Blues’ goalkeeper John Ruddy in any significant manner. At the other end, the visitors nearly converted their half-chance, in the 52nd minute, as Lukas Jutkiewicz's header looked certain to sneak into the QPR net. However, Seny Dieng made a fantastic save to keep the Hoops in the game.
This entertaining second half was only made more dramatic by a group of middle-schoolers who were stirring up trouble with a family in the Loft Upper. I do not think the specificities of that saga belong here, but it ended with the family leaving and one of the kids being kicked out of the stadium.
The last ten minutes were extremely intense as QPR were banging on the door for the equalizer. Just as advertised, it got loud and clamorous. The Hoops were winning corner after corner and trying desperately to put the ball in the net. The best chance fell to Landon Dykes at the second post, after a low cross missed everyone in the middle. Unfortunately, the Scottish international could not quite get it out of his feet and ended up missing with a tame effort – you could feel the disappointment in the air. Meanwhile, Ruddy was exceptional in the Blues goal, collecting cross after cross, which did not help QPR’s cause.
Our view of the game from our seats in the Loft Upper. For those wondering, the pole bothered me as much as it is bothering you right now - for NINETY minutes.
Towards the waning moments of the game, I was pressurized by those trouble-making kids to start a chant. At this point, an equalizer looked unlikely and the mood in the stands was not positive. It was not the time to sing "Gareth Ainsworth's Blue and White Army" or "Allez allez allez O, QPR FC." So, I chose an opportune moment, when the referee gave a free-kick against QPR, and yelled "you're not fit to referee." Within moments, it caught on in the Ellerslie Road stand, then in the Loft, and soon the whole stadium was singing it (I will proudly talk about it for the rest of my life).
Ultimately, the equalizer did not come, and the full-time whistle was accompanied by series of boos, which quickly turned into chants of “sack the board.” Even though we visited QPR during a difficult run of form, and watched an agonizing defeat, it was an incredible atmosphere and a great experience. There were no tifos or drums or jumping but I felt so involved and did not zone out of the action for even a second. Like everyone around me, I stood for ninety minutes, despite having the option to sit, and lost my voice - essentials for a good Saturday afternoon at the footy. As for Loftus Road Stadium, it is not the most attractive or comfortable ground in the World, but it has a certain charm that I would want to return to every other week.