On Sunday, Queens Park Rangers will face Manchester City in one of the biggest games of the season. The last time the two teams met in a game that was as important as this, City's Jamie Pollock scored QPR’s goal of the season and became more important than Jesus in the process. He also relegated City to Division One in the process (the game finished 2-2). That was April 1998.
Things have changed since then, with QPR battling for Premier League survival and Manchester City knowing a win will guarantee the title. Avid Queens Park Rangers fan Alex Ferguson (no relation to the Manchester United manager) is going to the game, and it’s been a trying journey throughout the season…
Not long after the game begins at 3 p.m. BST, I’ll be able to know—finally—whether QPR managed to keep its Premier League status and whether I’m off to Liverpool or Leeds next season. It’ll be the end of nine tortuous months of top flight, where I spent God knows how much money going up and down the country to support the team and seeing just two away wins (I missed Stoke) and not many other points.
But for me, I think I’ll be equally as sad because my biggest crutch is going away for a few months, and I don’t have anything else to pick up. And by God, do I need something.
You see, on UK Election Day 2010, my wife Suzy had an operation to remove a pesky gall bladder that was later found out to be an even peskier cancerous tumour. She survived by the grace of God and some quick thinking by a doctor.
One year and many chemotherapy trips to the London Oncology Centre later, Suzy was cleared as cancer-free, happily at work while QPR were a Premier League club again after riding Adel Taarabt and Neil Warnock all the way to a League One title despite some speed bumps on the way. (Watch the acclaimed documentary “The Four Year Plan” about QPR’s ownership for details.)
But in July 2011, we got a game changer. Similar to the previous board’s refusal to give Neil Warnock adequate survival funds, we got a call from our oncologist asking us to come and "go through" the results of our CT scan.
We prayed that the results would be good. So did our families, stretching across the world. So did Suzy’s work family at London tech PR firm Lewis PR—which had done so much for us already in this mess. And so did our friends in church, Facebook and Twitter.
But all of this was to no avail. Suzy’s cancer was back.
I needed a crutch, and QPR provided it from August until May. Before January 21st, my personal season highlights were wins against Chelsea and Wolves as well as 3,000 Manchester United fans singing “The 12 Days of Cantona” in the away end prior to the Reds’ 3-0 dismantling of QPR. Otherwise, my season tickets—both home and away—had been tickets for frustration and misery.
The conversations at The White Horse pub in Shepherd’s Bush with my friends were that of doom and constant "scoreboard checking." But Suzy was doing OK and if I’m honest, that’s what mattered. She was still working eight out of 10 days at Lewis, and her family there were still delivering high praise to her as she kept up her commitment to training and hiring. She was also stunned to see my joyful face on that January 21st night when QPR beat Wigan 3-1, because victories—both on the pitch and in our lives—had become something of a rarity over the course of the season.
Who will go down from the English Premier League?
February rumbled on, and although the team got a little better on paper (albeit much worse discipline-wise and defensively), things remained markedly worse.
Then, in March, things took a motion downhill.
Suzy went on a long weekend with the girls to Madrid (not somewhere I’ll ever go to see QPR play, unless Real Madrid really need to schedule a big-time friendly), and came back reeling with pain. She spent the next week in the hospital. Now we were on course No. 3.
Let me tell you: Seeing the lovely stranger in the Oncology Centre get poisoned every two weeks is hard enough. But when it’s your loved one, you’re ripped apart. And when you are trying to be the cheerleader for her, it’s even worse. That’s why friends are so important. In their own way, Tony, Simon, Katy, Kon and Paul—my family away from family with whom I go up and down the country supporting our great love and frustration, provided the shoulders and remained my steady heads even when I was losing mine.
Since March, things have improved markedly in terms of QPR. There has been a home highlights reel to speak of, with consecutive wins against Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Swansea and Stoke. Away from home, the form has been its usual dreadful self. And since March, Suzy Ferguson hasn’t been able to go back to the job she loves and to the team who love her.
Her system’s been shot by the chemo, the cancer and the sickness. Small walks are now a success. Trips to the cinema are now a rarity. And if we all go on the summer holiday, I’ll be shocked. I’m only grateful for her unwillingness to give up. I know a lot of people who are in easier positions with their health who have done so.
And last week was another massive one for both Suzy Ferguson and Queens Park Rangers. QPR needed to beat Stoke to have a hope of staying up, and Suzy Ferguson was getting the results of her latest scan back. On Thursday, the news wasn’t good from the doctor. The chemo simply wasn’t working and her cancer had spread.
Our oncologist looked exhausted of chemo options, and now we’re relying on drug trials and the grace of God to get us out of this mess. The news broke both Suzy and me; we felt like we could sleep for a week. But on Sunday, I felt better. After spending a lovely morning with my friends, the Rangers scored a last-minute winner against Stoke, and after nearly breaking down on Tony’s shoulder, I have hope for the future (funnily enough, more about the drug trial than QPR’s hopes of survival).
Football—it’s a funny old game. And so, it seems, is life.
Post-script: Suzy Ferguson went to hospital on Sunday with huge bowel pains stemming from a bowel instruction. The bowel instruction - and tumors - have been removed - and she's already feeling better. She has a chance of getting better again! Thanks for your prayers.