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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 12/03/05, 3.00pm
Queens Park Rangers
Parallel universes
Or, it's local but it's not a derby
By Pete Bradshaw

According to the Princeton physicist, Hugh Everett, there are infinitely many parallel universes. In one of those universes, Watford have fifty points now, just as Ray Lewington, many of us fans, and many of the players no doubt predicted. We would be going to Loftus Road on Saturday safe from relegation to enjoy a game with a club that is one of our local rivals.

Local rivals who, in another parallel universe, are not just one of the local rivals but who are the local rivals. With a range of pointless songs sung about them by the lads at the back of the Rookery.

Who in yet another parallel universe progressed from their fifth place in the league in 92-93, which saw them as the best club in London, to become the team in West London, probably owned by a Russian billionaire and playing in a new stadium on the site of the British Empire exhibition alongside what used to be the M41 before motorways were outlawed in the Greater London area (this last bit is in this universe, and is due to the Greater London Authority being the highway authority for London and responsible for all roads therein. They are not, however, allowed to look after motorways as they are the remit of another body, The (sic) Highways Agency).

In another parallel universe, I would be writing for the QPR web fanzine. My mother lived all her early life in and around Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush, only moving out of her White City flat a few years before I was born. My Uncle Charlie and his wife Winnie lived three streets from the Rangers' Ellerslie Road ground. Fortunately for me, Charlie was no football fan, and so he never took me along.

And so it is off to South Africa Road on Saturday. Retracing a route to the West London Hoops' ground that I first took in the mid-seventies. In what seems like a parallel universe, the Rs were to finish runners up to Liverpool some seven years before we did. Terry Mancini, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles - faces staring out of the bizarrely checkered covered programmes that came in a range of bright colours, not just blue and white.

My earliest memory of the ground wasn't a Watford game though (we were playing Halifax, Southport and Workington around this time). It was a promotion battle with Norwich City. Long before Delia Smith's exhortations to the crowd, one Jim Bone was to be seen pumping his fists at the massed ranks of yellow and green as the two clubs fought out an epic goalless draw.

Even before this, the league cup win of 1967 was a significant event for the footballing public of South Oxhey, and the carpet shop there still sells rugs with the Rangers crest on. Truly a parallel universe - I often wonder if they have ever sold any.

This season saw Ian Holloway escort his young flames up from the division below. The year before they had been treatedto a slap up dinner and dirty weekend in Cardiff but got rudely awakened in the night and the lack of beauty sleep cost them dear. This season they were predicted either to struggle or do well, depending on who you asked. Somehow the mid table anonymity that they have now settled into just didn't seem likely. And denying the Bristolian charmer reasons for crooning to the media is not half as much fun, whether it be monologues on promotion or relegation.

When we beat them comfortably at the start of the season, it was hailed as a great result, which it was. The subsequent few weeks took the edge of it as they slipped down the table, only to suddenly turn tail and put on an altogether more enticing run. Holloway would have likened this to the flightiness of some of his older flames, no doubt.

A mid-season flirtation with the playoffs has been quenched by a run of four home games without a win, punctuated with an unlikely win at Ipswich. Maybe we're well matched....

Simon Royce has been kept on loan for a second month and the Charlton keeper is scheduled to make his last appearance for QPR on Saturday. Chris Day, sometime radio reporter and true Hornet-at-heart is out on loan at Preston, so we may see him next week. Generoso Rossi is now able to take his place in the squad having served his ban for betting irregularities. Fortunately, such bans were very rare in the seventies or QPR may have struggled to field a team. Youth keeper Jake Cole has also just left on loan to AFC Wimbledon.

The back four of Marcus Bignot, Danny Shittu, Matthew Rose, and Richard Edghill have played the last three games together. This following the departure of on-loan Andrew Davies back to Middlesbrough despite Rangers' attempts to sign him. The deal fell through due to the club not being able to meet the player's wage demands and caused a memorable outburst from Holloway when the deal was all but up: "We're 5-0 down with a minute to go on this one," he said, spurning more obvious romantic analogies. Stereotypically long haired Argentinian Gino Padula is the only other recognized defender in the recent squads, with the appropriately named, and counterbalancing, Arthur Gnohere being ruled out for the season after only a handful of games.

Ever-green Georges Santos will no doubt bring his less than athletic frame to midfield alongside Martin Rowlands. Santos comes from Marseilles, home of Pierre Issa's parents. Maybe he is a regular at their Lebanese restaurant - there must be some reason for his lack of mobility. Or maybe he trained with Issa? Lifelong QPR fan, and self-confeesed member of the Loyal Supporters' Association, Marc Bircham will be bringing his finesse to the centre of the park. The battle with Gunnarsson and Mahon will be interesting.

Equally fervent supporter Lee Cook, formerly of this parish, has established himself once more in the team having been in and out for a while. He will be doubt keen to test out our sometimes flat-footed full backs. On the other hand, Jay Demerit will probably welcome the challenge of the aging but fairly prolific pairing of Kevin Gallen and, third of the former Hornets, Paul Furlong. Jamie Cureton got a hat trick for the reserves this week and will no doubt feature at some point as might Rookery favourite Tony Thorpe. Support the team, lads, don't wind him up.

Two defeats in four days and what was looking likely to be a meaningless end of season game (and probably still is, in some parallel universe) has now become crucial for us to regain some form. We could also do with some confidence restored to a very young squad. Maybe Helguson will be fit, maybe he won't. I would certainly expect Dyer to start again and this may well mean 4-5-1. With a bit more care at the back and a bit more fitness in midfield, we should be capable of winning this.

We certainly need some points before the mid-season break that is Easter, so that we can look forward to next season in whatever-it-is-called and the return of another local derby. And this seems to represent a better chance than home games against teams who are fighting for survival or for promotion.