In which, as the year comes to it’s end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;
Despite this year’s unspectacular personal vintage, there have still been Caught By The River moments to strip from the mind’s eye and stick in the scrapbook. Cycling across Walthamstow Marshes with my wife as the mid-summer sun set over the River Lea. Snorkeling off the coast of Belize and gliding alone through walls of rays and darting sharks. Convincing three teenage muggers on the Euston Road shortly before dawn that they should remove their hands from my pockets…
But as time passes, these memories will blur with those of different years and I’ll be unsure what happened when. And that won’t matter because they become timeless. Yet there’s one date I’ll remember with certainty, one Caught By The River moment in time: September 1 2007. It’s tied intrinsically in with one of my Caught By the River moments from 2006.
On November 27 of that year, I was in the upstairs bar of the Bushranger pub on Goldhawk Road celebrating Jamie Woolgar’s birthday. We were doing so in the best possible fashion: in front of a pull-down screen showing our desperate QPR battling for a draw away at table-topping Cardiff City, live on Sky. Against all form, Rangers were holding their own as the game entered the final quarter, though it was tense and, as always, despair loomed larger than joy.
Then suddenly, in the 88th minute, we broke from our half. Nick Ward swung a hopeful ball across the six yard-box and, boom!, sliding in at the far post was Ray Jones, his long left leg prodding the ball past the Cardiff keeper and home. The pub explodes! Jamie comes running from the toilets, swings round and, catching the replay on the screen, starts leaping around the room arm in arm with some other herbert in a hooped top. Snap. That’s the 2006 moment. And there, up on the screen, Ray is running over to the gurning, furious Cardiff fans with one cheeky finger in the air. Ray Jones: 18 years old, 6 foot 4, strong as a middleweight boxer, as nimble and deft as a dancer. An England youth centre forward whom QPR plucked from Sunday league battles on Hackney Marshes and who was subsequently the subject of rejected six figure offers from various rivals, including Colchester who, ironically, turned him away as a youth. The greatest young forward I’ve seen play for QPR since Kevin Gallen stepped from the youth team into the Premiership in 1994.
And then, then there’s this year’s Caught By The River date: 2:50 PM, September 1. I’m standing in the Upper Loft at QPR and I’m clapping, I’ve been clapping for 10 minutes, maybe more. The teams, QPR and Southampton, emerge slowly from the tunnel, forming a circle in the centre of the pitch, all the QPR players sporting the same name on the back of their shirt, that of their mate, Ray Jones. Ray’s family are here too, huddled together for protection and support in the middle of the pitch. All the staff are lined up on the touch line too, clapping along. We’re singing his name – Ray Jones! There’s only one Ray Jones! – and I’m crying, everyone is. I’m welling up as I write now. For Ray Jones died suddenly a week earlier, on August 25. Driving his brand new Volkswagen Golf through his native East Ham, the newly qualified Ray Jones collided with a bus, two of his old school mates dying by his side.
Cynically, you could say this was my Princess Di moment as well as my CBTR moment, I suppose. The death of people I don’t know personally doesn’t usually impact on me at all, even if I love their work. Arthur Lee was a hero, his songs illuminating the darkest times, but his passing this year merited little more than a raised glass in the bar. Maybe I’m cold. But this, this violent, premature end and the denial of such promise, alongside the communal out-pouring of grief was shocking and touching. All those emotions pouring through a packed stadium impacted on me in a way that I’ll never forget. Watching the video of the afternoon below brings those feelings instantly to the surface again (I apologise for the mawkish soundtrack. Diddy was on repeat in the stadium pre-match. Unbelievably, it was Jones’ favourite tune. He was a footballer at the end of the day, Brian).
Now, though, the only concrete thing left is this simple stat: 37 first team appearances, six goals. That and the enduring memory of that half an hour before the game on September 1, his name carried across the Western skies by 15 thousand choking voices. The unbearable lightness of being, indeed.
And his goals. You’ll want to turn the sound off for this, though. It’s almost an insult: