Irish R’s fly the flag

On Saturday QPR will face Bolton in their first Premier League match for 15 years, and along with a large section of the Irish community in west London I will be there to watch it.

The club has a special bond with Ireland going back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when large numbers of Irish immigrants arrived in Shepherds Bush and the surrounding areas.

My father was amongst that number, moving to the Bush from Sligo in 1967.

With a love of football, it wasn’t long before he checked out what was going on at Loftus Road and his timing was excellent – in 1967 the R’s won Division Three and in the same year they became the first third-tier side to win the League Cup.

The 1970s saw the emergence of talented players including Gerry Francis, Stan Bowles and Irish striker Don Givens.

The team’s attacking style was a joy to watch and the antics of Bowles both on and off the pitch are still talked about in the Irish-owned pubs that Rangers fans gather in on matchdays.

Rangers' Hogan Ephraim qualifies to play for Ireland

Givens left for Birminghamin 1978 but waves of Irish immigrants continued to move to west London and attended QPR games in vast numbers – even after the club was relegated in 1979.

I was a regular at QPR during my schoolboy years. My Dad would often remind me of the great QPR teams of the 70s and the skills that Rodney Marsh and Bowles possessed, but in those early Premier League years back in the 90s I had my own heroes – Les Ferdinand and Trevor Sinclair.

Born in Dulwich, Sinclair could have played for Ireland courtesy of his mother, who is a native of Sligo. Watching him unleash a bicycle kick in the green jersey would have been some sight, but sadly England got to him first.

When Ferdinand departed for Newcastle in 1995, QPR struggled to replace him  and relegation quickly followed.

It has been some journey watching Rangers get back to the Premier League, but I’ve been there every step of the way.

It’s certainly not always been pretty and the current owners have done little to endear themselves to the loyal supporters who stuck by the club when the chips were really down. But the majority of that anger will be put to one side as fans enjoy a return to the top flight. 

Martin Rowlands will not be involved, but Paddy Kenny has a massive role to play this season.

Giovanni Trapattoni is likely to be keeping a close eye on Kenny’s form along with that of Hogan Ephraim, who qualifies to play for Ireland and Nigeria as well as England.

If Trapattoni needs a scouting report, there will be a host of Irish fans lining up to give him one

Regardless of how QPR get on this season, the club will continue to have a loyal fan base within west London’s Irish community. Not even the current owners can break that.