IT COULD HARDLY GET WORSE

~ Posted by Anthony Gardner, November 23rd 2012

Three years ago, I wrote a piece for this website about supporting a football team for four decades without going to see them play. Among my reasons for non-attendance was a dread of seeing "overpaid mercenaries, oblivious to the privilege of playing in our colours, trotting noncommittally around the pitch". This season we Queens Park Rangers fans have had to put up with precisely that—which is why Mark Hughes’s dismissal today as manager is such a relief.

For me, QPR’s dismal start (eight defeats, four draws, not a single win) has been the recurrence of a nightmare. In my first season as a supporter, 1968-69, the club was relegated with the lowest number of points ever collected in the then First Division. Surely it couldn’t be happening again—above all with the sensible, intelligent, extraordinarily ambitious Hughes in charge?

His failure is all the more depressing because he is QPR’s first manager in years to be given a free rein. His predecessor, Neil Warnock, had to answer to the jaw-droppingly megalomaniacal Flavio Briatore—a boss who famously sent one manager over 70 "helpful" texts in the course of a single game. Briatore’s refusal to pay for new players made Warnock’s life in the Premiership almost impossible—but even his understrength squad now look like World Cup winners in comparison with the multi-million-pound outfit assembled by Hughes with a new owner’s blessing.

When QPR escaped relegation on the last day of last season, almost beating the new champions Manchester City in the process, Hughes seemed like a Messiah. But the first game of this season—a 5-0 home defeat to Swansea—suggested otherwise. Never in my memory had we conceded five goals in an opening game; certainly not to Swansea; certainly not with a new goalkeeper paid £50,000 a week.

As one terrible result followed another, I found myself growing numb to the pain. I was able to take a detached, almost academic view of events. Just how long could QPR go on failing to win? And how long could the owner go on backing Mark Hughes?

We now know the answer to the second question, but not to the first. At least things can hardly get worse under Hughes’s successor: the surprise will be if QPR aren’t relegated. But Hughes’s legacy of expensive, apathetic players could take years to recover from. In my darkest hours, it occurs to me that I might never again see those splendid blue-and-white hooped shirts on a Premiership pitch—and supporting this hapless team seems not so much a pastime as a Sisyphean burden, inflicted on innocent west Londoners for the amusement of capricious gods.

Anthony Gardner previews talks for Intelligent Life and edits the Royal Society of Literature’s magazine RSL. His recent posts for the Editors' Blog include Kensal Rise stunned by All Souls and Zero tolerance at the gift shop