I set off last night for the Kit Sponsors` Evening, as I have done for the past three or four seasons, with a great thrill of excitement. This was the first time I would be meeting players of the ilk of Djibril Cisse, Bobby Zamora, yes, Joey Barton(!) Players who, a few years ago, we at QPR could only dream of seeing playing on the Loftus Road pitch – for the opposition; but who now, thanks to the munificence of Tony Fernandes and our Board, ply their trade for us week-in/week-out!
Last year, having beaten Watford to secure promotion (though with the outcome of “Faurlin-gate” still to be announced), I expected the evening to be more of a celebration than it turned out to be. The players were disinterested and deserted us as soon as they could which meant that so many people and, importantly, children, failed to meet their heroes. I wondered if this year, with so many “stars” in our squad, the same thing would happen – particularly as the Liverpool/Chelsea match was being screened and I know how much those players love to watch their football!
I am happy to say, this year`s evening was better organised and the players were in better spirits – despite the looming Manchester City fixture – and they spent a great deal of time chatting, signing autographs and having photos taken with the kit sponsors and their guests. But I jump ahead of myself!
Regrettably, and much to Amy`s annoyance, I had to without my co-sponsor this year. (Amy was stuck at University giving a presentation she wished she did not have to give!) Instead, I was joined by my husband and younger daughter, both – as you all well know – avid Gooners; and Jezza`s oldest, our very own DanielQPR. Half-way to Loftus Road, Daniel shrieked in panic, having received a text from his Mum who had come home from work to find Dan`s entrance ticket on their kitchen table! Was it a compliment that he believed I, of anyone he knew, could blag my way into getting Daniel into the evening?!
At Loftus Road, we were ushered into the C-Club room (with no blagging required!), where I met up with fellow Vitallers and sponsors, Daxvondrac and DMD, and their sons, Robbie and Matthew. We sat together, chatting, until the compère for the evening announced that proceedings were to start. He had overhead my complaints to Dax about the behaviour of the players last season, agreed wholeheartedly with me, and then quickly reassured me that this year was going to be different!
And indeed it was! First, Phil Beard gave a short “thank you” speech and assured us that, whatever happens on Sunday afternoon (!), QPR as a Club will be fine! But should we retain our Premier League status, he promised us that next season we will see our team “fly”! That is a very nice thought – should we retain our status of course!
Then, one by one, starting with Paddy Kenny (who DMD sponsors), the players came forward and each sponsor was called up to receive his or her kit and have a photo taken by the in-house professional. Of course, when DMD, Dax (who sponsors Jamie Mackie) and I had our photos taken, there was a group of paparazzi taking their own photos of us – some of which you will have seen on Vital already! Dax, who is a little mischievous I would say, jested that he hoped Shaun Wright-Phillips wouldn`t fall over as he walked to the front of the room to hand his kit sponsors their gear! Cisse received a massive cheer – but no more massive than that reserved for Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Ale Faurlin and Jamie Mackie, if I`m honest!
I am sure you are all aware that Amy and I sponsor the shin pads of Akos Buzsaky and Ale Faurlin -of which we now have a tidy collection! Because Amy was not around, our Hannah stepped in manfully – well, womanfully (!) – for the photos. Much to Amy`s chagrin, when I spoke to her later on, we were graced with kisses from both players – quite a thrill, I will confess! The funniest moment, however, came when Faurlin`s shirt sponsor, a young girl, came up. Faurlin bent to give her the customary, foreign peck on both cheeks but she turned away before receiving her second kiss and he was left blowing air kisses! He has a lovely sense of humour and made a joke of the situation at his own expense!
It was lovely to see how the players, as they came forward, would high-five the kids who were specifically sitting on the aisle to better see their heroes. A little game ensued between Matthew and a young boy sitting on the other side of the aisle to him; to see how many players they could high-five. Their faces were a picture of joy, excitement and adoration. It was truly wonderful to see. This is what an evening like this should be about – kids enjoying a unique opportunity to interact with their heroes on a one-to-one basis. When one little girl went up to receive her shirt, she did a little jig as her name was announced and then jogged to the front with a grin that can only be described as Cheshire Cat-like.
After all the kit had been handed out and official photographs taken, the players sat themselves down on benches along one wall of the room, with tables and marker pens in front of them; and all the sponsors and family members lined up in good order to chat, get signatures and have photos taken. Well, it was a kind of good order! To speed the process up, we were beckoned towards the end of the room and I ended up going backwards along the line, bumping into other sponsors, and I found myself continuously apologising – there is always one and it is usually me! In fact, I even had the extra embarrassment of knocking Nedum Onouha`s glass of water flying! I watched in horror as the water trickled towards Samba Diakite`s smart trousers (the players were dressed rather nattily, by the way!) It was then that my linguistic skills came in handy as I apologised profusely – in French – and was rewarded with a charming smile! He probably wondered who the lunatic was!
Then I was on a mission! Remember I wrote an article a few weeks ago, after the Bolton disappointment, which got Joey Barton all steamed up? Well, I was determined to introduce myself and have a chat about “that article” and the tweeting that ensued. It seems, however, that our illustrious captain really has taken to heart the criticism he endured at the Liverpool game. And when I broached the subject, he was happy to engage! Hannah, however, was worried sick that he might turn nasty on me – poke my eye out with a cigar, perhaps?! – and watched closely to ensure my safety! (She has failed to tell me, however, what she would have done should he have become agitated or upset!)
At first, I could see he was wary of what I was going to say; but in the end everything passed very amicably between us and I ended up chatting to Barton about the film, Avengers Assemble, and having a perfectly normal conversation with a man who turned out to be perfectly normal, actually! I did see fit to praise his performances since the Liverpool game and wish him, and all the squad, all the best for the City game. Smart move! But seriously, I really do think, and bearing in mind he had no idea what I was going to say to him, he is now more understanding of QPR – our history, our passion, our desire to see our players fight for the badge. I know that many fans are still not persuaded but I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt – let us see what transpires next year before condemning him, is my new motto!
After a few photos – Hannah with Joey and me with Djibril Cisse being particular highlights – and a lovely chat with Ale Faurlin and Heidar Helguson about their respective injuries and rehabilitation – I proceeded to the “French” corner: Diakite, Cisse and Traore. All jabbering away in French! – so fast that I could not understand a word despite me priding myself in my ability to converse in their language! Poor Diakite really does not speak a word of English – when one sponsor tried to explain how he and his friends refer to Samba as “the train”, Cisse tried to translate. But even I, perfectly fluent in English, couldn`t understand why these fans call him “the train”!
The end of the evening came quickly as the squad had to be allowed to go home to rest and relax ahead of a gruelling training session this morning. I had a chance to chat to Mark Hughes – he is a charming and quietly spoken man. Whilst he was happy to engage about our final game of the season, obviously he was not going to give anything away – but he did seem impressed with my suggestion that we literally park a bus (Boris Johnson`s old bendy buses) in front of Paddy Kenny`s goal!
Phil Beard, who I have observed writhing with pain or becoming hysterical with joy at home games this season, was happy to confirm that the Academy status was imminent but assured; and that the decision on the new training ground was due next week. He has boarded the QPR rollercoaster whole-heartedly and is totally immersed in helping build our Club for the future. He is enthusiastic, warm and friendly; and it was certainly a pleasure to engage in someone who valued me as a fan – unlike a certain ex-Director/Chairman who thought that those who paid £20 for a ticket had no right to have a “say” in the running of the Club!
And what about my guests? How did they fare? Daniel enjoyed conversing with the players and having a few photos taken – particularly with the Guv! Hannah was in her element – she forgot her Arsenal roots and immersed herself in an experience that she will never get from her beloved team! She took an old QPR shirt of hers along and was proud of how many autographs she got; and was desperate to have her photos taken with Mackie and Barton – she also asked Barton to please nobble Nasri on Sunday. He didn`t understand why and laughed – but she was serious! Since Nasri deserted Arsenal for City in the summer, she has been on a one-woman mission to stop him winning a league winner`s medal this season. I hope we can help her on Sunday as we help ourselves to safety?! And then there was my ever-dependable, lovable hubbie following behind me as I dashed from player to player, with our camera in his hand poised and ready to click away! He did his usual expert job!
And so ended another Kit Sponsors` Evening at Loftus Road, as another season draws to its still-uncertain conclusion. We all enjoyed ourselves and the Club made a really good effort this year – thank you to all involved! The drink flowed, the food looked much better as well than last year although we didn`t partake as the four of us went out to eat afterwards at a restaurant in Baker Street! I enjoy being a kit sponsor – our names are in the programme week after week and we get a lovely evening once a year to spend a few precious moments with our heroes to thank them and to be thanked by them. And it really does not cost me very much for the privilege!
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