Bank Holiday Monday 5th May. Perhaps a lie in and an opportunity to reflect on how to get tickets for the play-offs? Not a chance, there was work to be done at Loftus Road.
The six a side tournament organised by the club and the LSA was due to kick off at 10a.m.
I’d arranged to meet the 10-man QPR1st squad at 9.30 and got there early. Some players were already there, so we chatted a bit, looked at our watches and chatted some more.
Of course, preparation is the key to success in this event, so burdened with kit kindly loaned by McGinley via QPR1st Committee member Will Wall, several bottles of water, bunches of bananas and boxes of cereal bars, now it was a short walk away towards the changing rooms, where so many victories had been planned and then onto the precious turf where so many victories have been achieved.
This time I was the non-playing manager and confident that the players would give a good account of themselves. We’d been drawn in a group featuring Team Stevenson, Wandgas R’s and Peterborough R’s. The final placings in the group would determine which teams went forward to the Alec Stock Cup and which would play for the Daphne Biggs Plate. There were six groups of four teams and three pitches had been set up.
We were given a pre-tournament briefing by Andy Evans from the QPR Football in the Community scheme, welcoming us and asking us to treat the pitch and each other with respect. All monies raised were going towards the QPR Youth Scheme.
10am rolled around and the first group matches kicked off. Loads of energy from all teams and while we waited our first fixture at 10.15 we discussed positions and tactics, emphasising the importance of keeping two players at the back to reduce the opposition’s chances. I’d never managed a football team before but Juzza from the QPR1st Committee and Accrington Stanley Bowles FC had been good enough to ring me earlier in the week to suggest some players and tactics.
10.15 am and off we go playing Peterborough R’s. Both teams hustled and bustled but space was at a premium and goal-scoring chances were quickly stifled. Nick, our goalie got his first important save of the day and we emerged with no strains or injuries and a precious point. So far so good.
Several hundred appreciative spectators watched the tournament in bright sunshine. The players sat among them in the Paddocks. Somewhere there was a bar open and snacks were available. I reminded the players to keep hydrated and offered bananas and cereal bars all round.
The second game wasn’t due for a while so we chatted and discussed tactics, line-ups and substitutions. Each group match lasted 7 minutes and that is a very short time to get players settled on the pitch while trying to ensure that substitutions are made to suit fitness, enthusiasm and a game plan.
Our next game was against Team Stevenson, ably managed by Vic from the LSA Committee. Both teams were playing well when disaster struck. A QPR1st defender inadvertently placed a foot inside the goalkeeper’s area and the ref spotted it. Penalty! No use trying to explain to the ref that momentum works like that and no harm was done or advantage gained.
The Team Stevenson player went to take the kick and as he made contact with the ball, Nick flung himself sideways reaching to make the save. No good though as the ball nestled in the back of the net. We couldn’t break through and the game ended in a 1-0 defeat. The team discussed the penalty afterwards and although the ref called it as he saw it, I was pleased that ‘my’ lads had sufficient spirit to feel aggrieved and determined to put things right in the next game. Nick and I had a quick chat and we agreed that there’s not a lot a goalie can do from that range when the shot is accurate.
By now it was clear that all our players were committed to the cause and also enjoying the day.
During intervals between games we mingled with other teams and admired respective shirts. Northern R’s were particularly resplendent in white tops emblazoned with a ram motif, ASB had their familiar black and grey hoops and Acton & Ealing Whistlers were not heard to whistle but sported their green and white hoops with pride. QPR1st wore red and white tops. As well as noting sartorial elegance, talk soon moved to getting tickets for the play-offs. More than one wallet was opened and ticket stubs slipped to a friend or team mate.
Soon it was time for our last group game against Wandgas R’s, a young team decked in purple and white tops who are young and full of energy. They also included Scott Fitzgerald who was later voted player of the tournament by the match officials. Our players were looking for points and our first goal of the day but it was not to be as Wandgas squeezed past 1-0.
Time for lunch, a rest and a chance to ponder who our next opponents would be. We guessed that one point out of nine would be insufficient to lift us into the Cup competition and we were right. We settled for the knock out stages by competing for the Plate.
Zack, our captain attended the briefing for the afternoon games and returned with a fixture list printed on sheets of paper watermarked with a photo of Richard Langley as a very young player in Red and Black Hoops with and Ericsson logo on the front. At this stage, matches would last for 10 minutes.
As the fixture sheet had teams identified by placings and not team names, I’ve no idea who our next opponents were.
No matter as we beat them 1-0. A goal at last and victory. The team had got through the first knockout stage. As we all shook hands at the end of the game, the disappointment was evident on the losers ‘faces. Mark, our scorer was chuffed and I felt some pride as we left the playing area.
I tried to pinpoint the exact reason for our victory. Possibly my stirring team talks, brilliant tactics and substitutions combined with good dietary preparation and rest? Er… not really, more a case of Mark taking a fine opportunity when it was presented. I’m also sure he wasn’t the only player who had a hot dog for his lunch.
So on to the next knock out stage where our opponents were Kent R’s. The game took place on pitch three, which we had now dubbed our ‘lucky’ pitch. Unfortunately it didn’t work for a second time and Kent R’s squeezed in a winning goal from the acutest of angles to put us out of the tournament. There was some consolation to see the victors collect the Plate at the end of the afternoon.
The QPR1st team had played 41 minutes of football against 5 sides, scored once, conceded three goals including a penalty, had one player booked and tried extremely hard. It was a real pleasure to work with them. Several of the guys had travelled long distances to get to the ground. They had given up a Bank Holiday and time with family and friends to turn out for the Trust. In return I know they had a chance to do what few QPR supporters do and play at Loftus Road. They are wiser now as to how different things are at pitch level as opposed to what might seem possible when watching from the stands.
Thanks again are due to the LSA and QPR staff for all their organisation, the match officials for their participation and finally to Zack, Mark, Justin, Geoff, Al, Ally, Jason, Gareth, Johnny and Nick for playing for the Trust.
Now all I’ve got to do is eat bananas and cereal bars for a week.
Graham Barnes, Manager QPR1st 6 a side 2003.