How fans are returning QPR’s Loft to its past glory

Pictures: Ian Randall Photography

There’s been next to nothing to shout about for QPR fans at Loftus Road over the past 12 months, but the revival of the Lower Loft has been the one positive to take away from home games.

Supporters of a certain vintage often recall the days when the Loft was the only area of the ground to be regularly packed, and YouTube videos of old matches frequently show the mosh pit-style goal celebrations that are part of football’s folklore.

Even when the terrace became all-seated in 1993 following the Taylor Report into the Hillsborough Disaster, the Loft was still the area of the ground which generated the most atmosphere.

It was a key factor in Rangers being unbeaten at home during the 2003/04 promotion-winning season under Ian Holloway and also packed out regularly during the unforgettable 2010/11 campaign under Neil Warnock.

But during the club’s last stint in the Premier League, then chief executive Phil Beard took the decision to relocate the family stand to the Lower Loft.

It resulted in hundreds of empty seats behind the goal at midweek games as many school-aged children were unable to attend, and the negative optics of a half-empty home end.

It was during one of those flat Tuesday night fixtures that lifelong QPR supporter James Grant decided on his drive home to Bracknell that something needed to be done and launched a Facebook group called Return The Loft To Its Past Glory.

His quest was to persuade the club to install safe seating in the Lower Loft so a fan-led area could be created in which banners celebrating the club’s history and identity would be unfurled at home matches.

Followers of both Crystal Palace and Ipswich have helped successfully rejuvenate the atmospheres at Selhurst Park and Portman Road respectively, and Grant felt the same could be done at Loftus Road.

After a meeting with QPR’s former operations manager Ben Green, he was put in touch with Terry Millichope, a fan who had also expressed his frustration to the club after a steward ejected his friend from the ground for standing up during a game.

“I was a season ticket holder for 15 or 16 years in the upper Loft in Q Block,” James said.

“When Phil Beard changed the family stand to the Lower Loft the atmosphere would come around from P, Q and R blocks and once it got to the family stand it stopped.

“I fell in love with QPR because of the atmosphere under the lights. I remember in League One under Ian Holloway, there might be 10,000 in the ground but the whole place would be rocking.”

After several meetings with James and Terry, who also runs the QPR Pride of London Facebook group, current QPR chief executive Lee Hoos was convinced the idea had legs and put it to the board.

Less than a month later the proposal was approved and plans put in place to introduce standing areas at Loftus Road for the first time in almost 30 years.

The initial plan was to make the entire Lower Loft safe-standing, but that was scaled back, with a reluctance from the club to move the family section entirely.

That area was instead moved across to two blocks towards the South Africa Road side of the stand, with existing seats in the remaining three blocks ripped out and 726 modern safe-standing units put in.

A further 240 were installed in the Stanley Bowles Stand along with a further 230 in the Upper School End.

“James and I just had this passion and we just kept pushing for it,” Terry explained.

“We were invited in to do a video by the club and whenever we went in to the pub all people wanted to talk about was safe standing. It has really taken off.”

With the club fulfilling their side of the bargain, the onus was on James and Terry to produce the flags and banners.

Nottingham-based Simon Lavall, who runs the Loft Flags Twitter account, came on board to help with fund-raising with the group reluctant to keep relying on crowd-funding for revenue for new flags.

“The only way we were going to do this was by doing some fundraising,” Terry said.

“We brought in Simon as he had a lot of fundraising experience, so we came up with the idea of selling bucket hats and stickers and we use the profits from that to start buying the flags.

“We also have an agreement in place with the Forever R’s club and they share the costs for flags featuring former players, so that has been a huge help.

“The new club-and-country hats have sold really well – we sell many of them at away games and also via the Return The Loft To Its Past Glory and Loft Flag social media channels.

“We will soon be bringing out beach towels and scarves, which we hope will sell well.”

Since the start of the 2021/22 season, the Return The Loft To Its Past Glory group have now produced 14 big flags which are rolled out across the season and 400 flags for hand-waving. These are all laid out before the stadium opens on matchdays.

“It’s hard work. We get to the ground early to prep the banners and the hand-waving flags and it is so difficult trying to get people to help us, so if anyone can then please get in contact with us,” said Simon.

“It’s like another job. We all have families and full-time jobs and we speak in the evenings to prepare.

“We would also like to ask people not to take the flags home. We store them at the ground to use each game so everyone can have one, but we don’t want to have to keep buying more for every match.

“I feel really honoured that James and Terry have asked me on, because I have jumped on the back of it, but they don’t make me feel like that.

“The three of us have all stood on the Loft and we all want to hand this over as a legacy to younger generations.”

One of the recent flags that celebrated former Rangers manager and player Trevor Francis, who died in July, received international attention when it was laid out at St Andrew’s during last month’s televised 0-0 draw between Birmingham and QPR.

It was created by Rangers fan and designer Frankie Reilly, who also made a flag to mark the anniversary of the death of young striker Ray Jones, who passed away in 2006.

“This is just the start,” James insisted.

“The feedback on social media was fantastic and really supportive but it is still early days for us. We are still growing.

“Kids get hooked by coming to games and that is how we need to be different and that is how we can get kids coming to Loftus Road and not Chelsea, Fulham or Brentford. We just need the team to start winning now.”

Anyone wishing to buy merchandise or help prepare the Lower Loft on matchdays should contact James, Terry or Simon via the following channels:

Twitter/X: @LoftFlags