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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 09/08/04, 7.45pm
Queens Park Rangers
By Matt Rowson

This week I have mostly been listening to music from the period from 1991 to 1994.

There was an "event" every Thursday night in Leeds for most of this period. "The Thursday Bop". A modest affair, 9pm - 12pm, but everyone was there every week. You didn't need to make arrangements, didn't need to check with anyone, because the unspoken understanding was that everyone was going. Always.

The DJ, whose name hasn't lingered, had a similarly modest record collection. Or, to be fair, perhaps he only brought a modest selection of his collection to the Bop every week. Either way if you came along two Thursdays running you had pretty much heard the lot, and although logic dictates that this can't have been the case, my recollection is that the set list didn't evolve over the three years. And the structure of the evening never changed either... half-an-hour or so of very loud stampy stuff progressing through echoes of punk and Indie favourites to half an hour or so of chart twaddle when enough alcohol had been consumed for it not to matter.

Setting to one side for a moment the issue of how painfully easily satisfied I must have been with my standard of nights out, regular attendance of this event during this period has had one lasting consequence... that any song from that setlist has thenceforth been "a Thursday Bop song", filed away in a special box in the memory. Playing back the setlist this week has been extremely evocative...Nine Inch Nails' "Head like a Hole" prompts the heavy smell of dry ice in my nostrils and the taste at the back of the throat. Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing" brings back the taste of horribly watered down lager, and the impossible challenge of ferrying a round in plastic pint glasses. The Stereo MCs' "Connected" and my feet are again sticking unpleasantly to the floor. Take That's "Relight my Fire" and I am still struck by the realisation that it's time to leave the building.

Hellooooooo, Queens Park Rangers.

A glance down the likely team sheet, and more memories come flooding back. Of a goalkeeper's head almost removed from its shoulders from thirty yards at Bristol City in 1998. Of a glorious, crucial, bloody-minded late goal at Oakwell in 1994. Of defiance at Anfield in 1999 (okay, I wasn't there. But so people tell me...). Of a long-sleeved, scruffy whirlwind scoring a winning goal at the New Den last season. Oh, and of a game on 04/10/97, but that's kind of a digression...

The suspicion was that QPR's penchant for sweeping up our players, cast-off or otherwise, would have drawn to a close with Kenny Jackett's departure for Swansea last season (where Gary Fisken may be the first goods to move along a new trade route). But no. As soon as the Hoops' promotion was secured, Lee Cook's departure looked on the cards and the will-he-won't-he few weeks over the summer only looked like having one conclusion.

Cook is undoubtedly a loss, but we've lost promising players before. More difficult for me will be the sight of Richard Johnson in an opposing shirt... whether or not his injury problems have allowed him to return to the player he was, this behemoth of our promotion seasons will always be a Golden Boy in the mind's eye, whilst Cook might ultimately be better remembered for achievements elsewhere.

One of the old boys, Chris Day, appears to have secured pole position in the keeper's slot. Rangers spent much of the summer trying to prise Lee Camp from Derby County, who kept Daisy out of the side when on loan last year, but all moves were rebuffed. With Nick Culkin injured, eighteen year-old Jake Cole is likely to be on the bench; Cole was given his first team intro against Palace last weekend.

With the considerable presence of Danny Shittu still missing for a couple of months following a cruciate ligament problem last season, centre-back is probably the weakest area of the team. Monday night's pairing is likely to comprise two of former Burnley stopper Arthur Gnohere, who has largely failed to impress since arriving to fill in for Shittu, injury-prone former Arsenal man Matthew Rose and one-time supposed Watford target Georges Santos, a recent recruit from Ipswich. A further option would be Terrell Forbes, being retained on a week-to-week contract until a court case in November.

Right-back is likely to be either the reliable Marcus Bignot, re-signed from a sabbatical at Rushden, or former Manchester City skipper Richard Edghill, who is one of several players in the side who ought to be thirty by now but somehow isn't. Left-back will be Argentinian Gino Padula, who likes to get forward although his delivery isn't particularly reliable.

With Marc Bircham out with an ankle injury, the central midfield pairing is likely to comprise Johnno (sniff) and nineteen year-old Marcus Bean, an aggressive player sent off ten minutes into his debut by a certain R.Styles in 2002. Another youngster, Wes Daly, is a further option in the middle, as is the fulcrum of the side Kevin Gallen, more usually employed up front. Kevin Gallen is only twenty-eight. How?

Rangers do not appear to be short of wide options... even with Mr.Cook competing with an achilles injury to make Monday's game. Martin Rowlands appears guaranteed a start on whichever wing other options demand; he was last season's player-of-the-year and scored twelve goals in his first campaign since arriving from Brentford. The charismatic Gareth Ainsworth is likely to play on the right, pushing Rowlands to the left, if Cook isn't fit whilst the quick-footed Kevin McLeod, signed from Everton last season, is another option who may have been given a needed kick up the backside by Cook's recruitment. Despite this apparent surfeit of options, rumours continue to link Rangers with the left-sided Aaron Brown, who turned down a new contract at Bristol City in the summer but is currently recovering from injury.

Up front, four reasonable options became three at the weekend when Jamie Cureton tore a thigh muscle which rules him out; otherwise as well as Gallen, Paul Furlong has prolonged his career into his late thirties, presumably by using the guile that he hasn't always been given credit for... he scored sixteen for Rangers last season. And then there's the ever-delightful Tony Thorpe, concerning whom no comment is required.

The thing to bear in mind about these ex-Horns is, they're yesterday's men, one way or another and for whatever reason. I'll enjoy listening to the compilation CD that I've put together, much as I'll never tire of seeing that replayed goal of Johnno's, or reminiscing about other Watford greats. I'm an old fart already and I'm only thirty-one.

But I wouldn't want to go back to that period in my life. It's gone, it was great while it lasted, but it's finished. My life is great now, I have lots of stuff that I'm proud of and that I'm happy about. Similarly, the Watford of now has Heidar and Gav and Lloyd Doyley and Ashley Young and Alec and all sorts of others. And we've bought back the ground... however far there still is to go, that's got to be worth celebrating.

Dicking QPR would be a good start.