Unlikely Pride Of London: Inaugural Premier League High-Flyers QPR

The first Premier League season was a strange and distant time; there were 22 teams, of which one no longer exists. Only 13 foreign players appeared on the opening day of the season, as your Brexit Dad fondly remembers.

Ryan Giggs was just 19 years of age, Stamford Bridge was quite literally a building site and Arsene Wenger bore no connection to Arsenal. But more bizarrely than all of this, Queens Park Rangers were London’s highest placed football club.

QPR finished fifth that year, they haven’t finished higher since. London’s second-highest club was Tottenham in eighth, just four points behind the Hoops. Arsenal slumped to 10th whilst Chelsea and Wimbledon took up the two spots behind them. Meanwhile, Crystal Palace finished 20th and were relegated (maybe times weren’t so different, after all).

Rangers on the other hand compiled a very respectable 63 points, comprised of 17 wins, 12 draws and 13 losses.

The season prior, QPR had finished mid-table but were showing signs that they were an improving side. Most notably, the Rs travelled to Old Trafford on New Years Day, 1992 and recorded a 4-1 demolition over Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

Live on ITV, Dennis Bailey scored a famous hat-trick. Astonishingly, Bailey remains the last opposing player to score a hat-trick at Old Trafford and play on the winning team (Brazilian Ronaldo managed the feat in 2003, but Real Madrid lost 3-4).

Despite Bailey’s heroics of the previous season, he was quickly frozen out the side by Gerry Francis and replaced by the likes of Gary Penrice and Andy Sinton. However, QPR’s main goal threat during the 92/93 campaign would come from Les Ferdinand.

The English forward had scored just 10 goals in the previous campaign, but it would be in the Premier League’s inaugural season that he established himself.

Ferdinand eventually finished as the league’s second top scorer, just two goals behind Tottenham’s Teddy Sheringham who netted 22 times. His goals were crucial in several of QPR’s wins, including two consecutive hat-tricks against Nottingham Forest and Everton in April 1993.

‘Sir Les’ would go on to become the Premier League’s eighth-highest all-time goalscorer with 149 goals following notable stints at Newcastle and Tottenham after leaving QPR in 1995.

11 of QPR’s 17 wins in the league came at their home ground, Loftus Road. Whilst a small ground in capacity, its tight, enclosed nature typically generated an electric atmosphere, making it an intimidating place for opposing teams to visit.

Loftus Road saw Rangers record impressive victories over the league’s 2nd and 3rd placed sides: Aston Villa and Norwich City. They also pummelled London rivals Tottenham 4-1 on home turf earlier in the campaign – this victory included an equaliser from their current manager, Ian Holloway.

However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for QPR; in a period between October and November prior to Christmas, they recorded six losses in nine games, including four losses in which they failed to score. They also produced a similarly dire run of form between February and March ’93, including a comprehensive 3-0 home defeat to Blackburn.

Despite this, QPR started and finished the season very strongly with consistent goals from Ferdinand providing the firepower alongside significant contributions from fellow forward Bradley Allen and left-midfielder Andy Sinton.

Rangers fine form would be enough for them to place above more fancied sides including Arsenal and Liverpool in a season that is fondly remembered by their supporters. However, this didn’t stop the Rs playing their role in one of the best 90s football clips you can find on the internet.

In an FA Cup meeting with Manchester City in January 1993, the two teams recorded one of the most spectacularly rubbish periods of play ever seen in English football. So bad that one Italian magazine voted it the worst 20 seconds of football ever:

Fortunately, these moments were few and far between for the Hoops who produced high-quality football frequently during the season.

In fact, when put into context, QPR’s success in the Premier League’s inaugural year was far from unprecedented at the time. After all, they had been a well-respected team for the past two decades in English football.

In 1975/76 they finished runners-up in the First Division in a side featuring club legend, Gerry Francis, their manager during the 92/93 campaign. They also enjoyed success in the eighties, including an FA Cup Final appearance in 1982 and two fifth place finishes in the league over the following years. Therefore, few doubted their potential as a Premier League force come 1992.

Rather, if any team were to be labelled ‘overachievers’ in the PL’s first year it would probably be Norwich City, who emerged as surprise title contenders having finished 18th the season before. Similarly, Blackburn Rovers recorded a shock fourth place finish despite being a newly-promoted side, although they undoubtedly benefitted from Jack Walker’s financial injection.

Nevertheless, QPR’s high finish will seem like a distant memory for many of their fans today, as the West London club currently lingers in the depths of the Championship.

Chairman, Tony Fernandes’ project has failed to produce any consistent success at QPR after two poorly-guided, unsuccessful stints in the Premier League this decade. Indeed, there will be little hope of Rangers repeating their early PL feats anytime in the near future.