William Shakespeare once wrote “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” He wasn’t talking about watching Queens Park Rangers play against Aston Villa at Loftus Road, but due to the weather he might well have been.
I haven’t been to Villa Park in a long time and so I’ve tried to make a more concerted effort to see them play when they visit the capital – the last time was a hammering at the hands of Arsenal during a woeful season that almost saw them relegated.
On this occasion, a colleague, John, had spotted the fixture and managed to get tickets at the last minute. Unfortunately for us two Villa fans, we were in with the QPR supporters as the travelling Villa contingent had sold out the School End many weeks before.
On Saturday 18th November 2017, the weather had been nothing but appalling since the morning and with John caught in traffic in the Bermuda Triangle that is the Uxbridge Road on a Saturday afternoon, I was condemned to standing at the side of Ellerslie Road as the rain fell unabated.
After a bus, train and Uber taxi, John finally arrived as the match kicked off and we joined the ever-increasing bottleneck of fellow latecomers, all struggling in through the compact turnstiles that appear in a gap between the Shepherds Bush terraces that envelop the stadium.
Loftus Road opened in 1904 with the amateur Shepherds Bush FC using it as a home ground. QPR didn’t actually move in until 1917 from their previous home in Park Royal. In 1931 they moved back out to the White City Stadium that had originally been build for the 1908 London Olympics, before moving back to Loftus Road again. A few ground upgrades and new covered terraces later (and another brief spell at the White City Stadium), QPR moved back for good in the 1960s.
Getting inside, the same things that appealed to me about Brisbane Road and Roots Hall made Loftus Road seem a wonderful stadium and a throwback to a bygone time of football stadia: the walk through residential streets; the sense of stepping into a Pandora’s box as you fight your way through tiny turnstiles and find, nestled amongst the crowded streets, a small oasis of football with four separate stands surrounding it.
Additionally, with a capacity of just 18,439 and the four stands all meeting in the corners, you feel incredibly close to the pitch compared to other modern stadia, like The Emirates, the experience is much more intimate. I could imagine that if you were a QPR player and the home fans were on your back, it would make for an intimidating environment.
On the day, the early exchanges on the slippery pitch in the mizzling rain seemed to be going in QPR’s favour, and on 18 minutes Jamie Mackie was able to tap in from a yard out after a corner was poorly dealt with – all much to the consternation of the Villa fans in the School End.
QPR’s momentum didn't last long and Villa started to get back into the game; without three regular strikers though they were struggling to convert the chances. Luckily, on the stroke of half time, the referee awarded Villa a penalty and Albert Adomah duly dispatched it to make the score 1-1.
During half time, we made our way downstairs to the refreshment stall. With there being so little space around the outside of the ground, it was a bit of a scrum to get a drink and pie in the 15-minute interlude. That said, the fans were friendly and no one seemed to push in or jostle too much except for a group of middle-aged fans from Norway who were desperate for wine.
As the second half started, and John destroyed the pie he’d bought in quite dramatic style, Villa came out with much more energy and, at the goal in front of us, put the hosts under sustained pressure. Then, on 58 minutes, Albert Adomah slotted home to the relief of the Villa fans and to make the score 1-2.
For QPR fans and players the opposite was apparent. A few rumbles of discontent in the stands became more and more vocal as the game went on. Their players seemed to have run out of ideas and energy. Villa started to run them ragged in a way that I’ve not seen them play since my last visit to Villa Park over a decade ago.
With the match over, it was just a short walk back to Shepherds Bush Market on the Hammersmith and City line. With another colleague’s 40th Birthday taking place a little later on, John went to read Love in the Time of Cholera for a couple of hours to get in the mood and I resolved to meet him in the nearby Defectors Weld pub in a bit.
Overall, Loftus Road is a lovely stadium. As a business, naturally the club will one day want to move to bigger and more modern facilities, but if they do it will mean that another stadium filled with classic character will presumably make way for a development of unaffordable luxury apartments and a slice of West London history will be lost forever.
For highlights of the match: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZpTXKxHF5w
For more information about Queens Park Rangers, visit: https://www.qpr.co.uk