Rangers in the forest of deep despair

Dismal performances, dwindling crowds, demoralised fans. We got those Loftus Road blues
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HE SAYS that he doesn't care. He has said it before, many times over the years, just as I have said it, but now he really seems to mean it. His mind is elsewhere, on more important matters. Doubtless there will be other 21-year-olds who find themselves disenchanted and bored by their local team, but he's my son and he's my fellow fan, and I find it hard not to take it personally.

Team. Fan. To those whom these words will cause to turn quickly to the obituaries page, I can only promise that this is not a football-as-metaphor story.

There's no profound subtext to the fact that my son and I have supported Queens Park Rangers since one Saturday afternoon 16 years ago when, each as clueless about football as the other, we went to a game against Spurs (2-2). Over the years, it became something that we did, and kept on doing - whatever else was going on in our lives - and now we no longer particularly care about doing it any more.

You get mocked following a team that lacks glamour and wins nothing, but, frankly, I feel sorry for supporters of those vulgar, larger teams. How tedious it must be to share your devotion with millions of people across the globe; how dull to know that, at times of difficulty, the solution is simply to buy another foreign genius.

Looking back, I find myself impressed by those like my son who had the sheer character to remain loyal to their local team while their gullible, glory-seeking pals were swaggering about in the latest strip of Liverpool, Arsenal or even - poor, innocent fools - Chelsea.

Until now, our team have never really let us down - or at least, they have almost always let us down, but somehow in a way that has just about kept hope alive for the next game. We've clung to a few golden moments: the defeat of Liverpool in the semi-final of the League Cup (followed, in quintessentially QPR fashion, by a thrashing from Oxford United in the final); the televised match at Old Trafford when we hammered Manchester United 4-1. We've gloried in our great players - Parker, Seaman, Peacock, Ferdinand, Sinclair - and, when they've left us, as they inevitably have, shared in their subsequent achievements with a certain resentful pride.

We've taken our triumphs where we could. Wayne Fereday was the fastest man in the league. Clive Wilson was the greatest left-back never to play for England. Not once, but twice, we've won Match of the Day's goal of the season: Wegerle's weaving run through the entire Leeds team; and Sinclair's utterly impossible overhead kick against Barnsley. These things have kept us going.

It could be tough off the pitch, too - domestic discussions in which the case for attending more improving attractions were advanced with some force. What was wrong with art galleries? What was wrong with the theatre? During the close season, we were even packed off to Lord's for what we both still agree was the dullest day of our lives. Occasionally, I tried to explain that the subtle human dramas unfolding upon a pitch were incomparably more absorbing than anything on a stage - a view confirmed on the occasion when we attended a matinee at the Donmar Warehouse on a Saturday of an away match and my son forgot himself, punching the air and going "Yes!" as news of a goal came through on his secret earpiece.

And now? Now I begin to understand why fans get angry, smash up seats, invade the pitch, and howl and swear and punch each other. It's not just that our team is plummeting down the league so fast that the eye can hardly keep track of them; or that, on the very few occasions when we are mentioned, football's cruellest cliche, "rooted to the bottom", is deployed; or that Fulham down the road get bigger crowds than we do, and, unbearably, that Chelsea have become quite successful; or even that our programme is amateurish, our players bewildered, that the tiny crowds we attract watch with an air of weary self-hatred.

It's the helplessness that is so enraging. Chairmen can sell up and buy another club. Managers and players can move on. Only the fans have no escape, trapped by a blind loyalty over which they have no control.

All we can do is to stop caring. We still talk about our team, my son and I, but it's with a sort of embarrassment, as if our fandom has become a small, shared vice, as if our past has been betrayed in some weird way.

We'll probably go on paying our money and hoping for the best, but right now it feels as though something is going down, going down, going down, and it is more than just a football team.