At London Wasps Rugby Club they have a saying “Once a Wasp, always a Wasp”. It has a certain ring to it and epitomises the whole spirit and togetherness of a proud rugby club. The club is steeped in tradition, and those that have worn the famous black and gold shirt have done so with pride. There is a sense that it has really meant something and former players seem to remain forever attached to the club.
Wasps are something of an enigma. For years their home was a small ground tucked away amongst the houses in Sudbury, in the heart of North West London suburbia, before sharing for a few years with the Rangers at Loftus Road (even sharing practice facilities at Twyford Avenue in Acton) before moving out west to Adams Park, the home of Wycombe Wanderers. This somewhat nomadic existence, allied to underwhelming practice facilities, has arguably added to the togetherness of the players, the lack of identity being more than compensated for by a deep rooted desire to perform for fellow players, often against all odds. Such a determination, desire and ‘never say die’ philosophy and attitude is never more evident than when playing against the ‘big town’ clubs such as Leicester, Northampton, Gloucester and Bath. Inspired by their talisman Lawrence Dallaglio, Wasps enjoyed an unprecedented level of success in the 2000’s winning 3 consecutive Premiership titles and 2 European Cups amongst others, an unbelievable achievement in the professional era for a club of such size and status. This success was only possible because of the excellent management of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards, as well as the spirit and passion of the players and their love for the club and their fellow players.
It will always be argued that rugby is markedly different to football. For a start, there are only 12 teams in the premier rugby league in this country, wages tend to be much more on a par between clubs (excluding France) because of the enforced team budgetary constraints and there is very little involvement of agents, so consequently there is far less movement of players. But even so, that bonding of players, that inner feeling of pride and deep satisfaction for having played for the Wasps lives on in so many former players. Wasps are unique in many ways and are very much the envy of other clubs, in no small part because of this special “Once a Wasp….” association.
Football is a different ball game. There are more clubs, more players, higher wages and vulturous agents. Player’s heads are far more easily turned, they can be fickle and loyalty is at a premium. How many badges can a player kiss ? Yet it is not just the players to blame for this state of affairs, the clubs are equally culpable as players are often quickly discarded against their wishes, when they have built up an allegiance to a club and a loyal following amongst the supporters. It is the world we live in, life moves on apace, we are here today and gone tomorrow.
How many players in this modern era are ‘one club’ men ? Gerrard and Carragher at Liverpool; Scholes and Giggs at Manchester United to name just four of a very select band. It is very much a rarity and in all these cases reflects a loyalty built upon a childhood nurtured in the local area, a loyalty to the club and its supporters, a loyalty to friends and family and a loyalty to themselves. The club is in their heart and soul.
So what about the Rangers? Where do the players’ loyalties lie? For those of us who have lived through the glorious days of yesteryear, we like to think that the legends of the 70’s, such as Francis, Bowles, Parkes, Gillard, Thomas and Givens have blue and white blood cursing through their veins. Ditto our recent captain fantastic, Kevin Gallen. But what about those who have enjoyed success elsewhere, but still remain QPR legends, like Sir Les Ferdinand, Simon Barker and Terry Fenwick, the latter two having made over 300 appearances for the club ? Whose score do they look for first at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon?
Heroes come and go. In recent times, the supporters have been wowed by certain players, whether it be through exceptional skill or commitment to the cause. These are the players that we like to think are our own and who have our own supporters’ interests at heart. We will all have our own lists but at various times in recent years it has been both re-assuring and exciting for me to see the likes of Bircham, Langley, Furlong, Ainsworth, Cook, Rowlands and Buzsaky on the team sheet. It would be good to think that all of these players will have a place in their hearts for the Rangers, however unfortunate the timing or nature of their departure from the club may have been.
So what about the current crop? It has been quoted that recent recruit Stephane M’bia had allegedly never heard of QPR before boarding the plane to sign. The same might be said for one or two others in the current squad and maybe this is at the heart of the club’s current problems, individuals playing for the cash rather than the badge. It will always take time for a players to settle, to feel the club in their heart. Many never do. Every team needs some fully committed, like-minded individuals in the trenches when the chips are down, players who will give everything and put their bodies on the line for the collective cause and ‘die’ for their fellow man. At the back end of last season, there was a collective will at Rangers and a sense of team spirit. Players felt part of something and there seemed a real togetherness.
Alas, with a plethora of new signings in the close season, that feeling has been lost and it is proving extremely difficult to recapture. New faces and new ideas are all good in theory, but not when such disruption leads to uncertainty and a consequent loss of team spirit. The results are there for all to see. Whatever their footballing limitations, it seems that the discarding or removing from the team all too swiftly and easily of those who have given their all to the club, those to whom pulling on the shirt really meant something, such as Kenny, Hill, Derry, Buzsaky, Mackie and Taarabt has backfired.
So, where does that leave us now? Of the current squad, Faurlin and Taarabt have made the most appearances for the club and it feels as though they are ‘true’ Rangers. Wherever their careers take them, it feels as though they will always be grateful for the opportunity afforded to them at Loftus Road. The club means something to them, it has got inside them and they give everything, which is fully evident from their displays on the pitch. Let’s hope that in the coming weeks their fellow players can catch the bug too, that the passion of the supporters can infiltrate their hearts and minds and heroes will be made. The club desperately needs some. Once a Ranger….