Bringing back memories

Steve Wicks knows all about west London derbies, having spent the vast majority of his playing career with Chelsea or QPR.

Wicks had two spells with each team, but it is Rangers he instinctively refers to as “we” – and not merely because these days he is involved on the corporate hospitality side at Loftus Road.

“My happiest memories of my career are from my time at QPR and when I started out at Chelsea,” he explains.

“Chelsea was where it started for me and they gave me some of the happiest times of my life. But when I went back there for my second spell, things didn’t go as I wanted them to.

“At QPR, playing under the brilliant Terry Venables and then going back to the club again, I loved it and never wanted to leave.

“Rangers will be massive underdogs, but look how far we’ve come.”

“I had a great relationship with the fans, who were fantastic to me, and that’s always stayed with me. It’s why I’m so pleased Rangers are back where we belong.”

Not that Wicks is under any illusions about the size of the task facing Rangers in their first top-flight match against the Blues since 1996.

QPR finished above Chelsea in 15 of the 22 years prior to their relegation from the Premier League, but much has changed since then and on Sunday the R’s will face a star-studded team and their biggest test of the season so far.

“You look at the players Chelsea have got and they’re a quality team, aren’t they? There’s no doubt they’re a top side,” Wicks told West London Sport.

“As a club they’ve been transformed in the last couple of decades. They’ve got an abundance of talent, especially up front, and any team is going to have problems defending against them.

“But for QPR it’s an opportunity and a chance to show how far we’ve come. It’s been a long time coming – being back up there with the big boys.

“It took Chelsea time to build something and it’ll take Rangers time too, but things are moving in the right direction.”

“It was often like a home game for Chelsea, they had so many fans there.”

That wasn’t the case only a couple of months ago, when Rangers were facing huge problems both on and off the pitch and looked on course for a brutal – and brief – stay among the elite.

But Wicks believes the Tony Fernandes-led takeover and subsequent influx of new signings has given them a fighting chance of staying up.

“What it did was give the fans hope,” he says. “Before, there was none. Most Rangers fans I spoke to were completely fed up. Morale was so low.

“It seems unbelievable to say that about a club that had just been promoted and had such wealthy owners, but that was how it felt.

“Now, there’s a really good feeling around the place and a sense that the club’s really going places. It’s brilliant.”

Wicks, now 55, played in some memorable battles between the clubs and has fond memories of one season in particular.

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He was part of the QPR side that walloped Chelsea 6-0 in 1986, when they also beat them in the quarter-finals on the way to the Milk Cup final that would prove to be his final appearance before leaving Rangers to return to SW6.

“There were some cracking games between the two teams back in the day,” he recalls.

“The matches were always intense, especially at Loftus Road where the crowd’s right on top of you.

“I have to say in those games at Rangers it was often like a home game for Chelsea, they had so many fans there.

“I’ll never forget that 6-0 win, when we were six-up with about half an hour still left and could have scored even more, and the cup games against them that season too.

“Jim Smith had us really fired up for that game and the day we beat them 6-0 I think we’d have thrashed any team in the country. We were great that day.

“Things have changed since then, that’s for sure. Rangers will be massive underdogs, but look how far we’ve come. Not long ago we wouldn’t have believed we’d be playing matches like this again at Loftus Road.

“Seeing the two teams play each other again will bring back some memories. I’m really looking forward to it.”