Rants and musings from the magazine team
From youthful record-breaker to radio commentator, Tony Incenzo has seen it all at Loftus Road. He tells Tom Bennett about his four-decade odyssey...
"I think I’ll have to leave about 6am just in case – I don’t want to chance anything this week...”
This Sunday, talkSPORT reporter Tony Incenzo will tread a familiar path to Loftus Road for relegation-haunted QPR's vital clash with Stoke City. Like all Rs fans, Incenzo will be anxious to get there on time – “as radio broadcasters, we usually have to arrive early to set up and test equipment" – but with more reason than most, for the fixture will be his 1,000th consecutive Rangers home game.
On April 28th 1973, the 10-year-old Incenzo attended QPR's clash with Fulham. He hasn't missed a home game since – league, cup, friendly or testimonial. “I was only a little boy at primary school and I thought I’d go along to the terraces at Loftus Road to watch QPR," he explains.
"I’ve now been there for 39 years and I hope that I’ll be there for 39 years more. I can’t see a reason for it ever ending. I am a true football supporter and I will always stand by and support my club.”
That first game ended in a 2-0 victory for his beloved QPR, who had already been promoted to the First Division. The journey ahead had many highs and lows to come, from Rangers going into administration in 2001 and suffering an FA Cup first-round defeat by non-league Vauxhall Motors in 2002 to their Premier League promotion last season – he really has seen it all.
“When we lost to Vauxhall Motors in the FA Cup we really did hit rock bottom," he recalls. "It was an awful time for the football club. We were relegated the season before and it didn’t look like things could get any worse. No disrespect to non-league sides, but that was really the lowest point.”
Incenzo’s career as a football reporter has only aided his perpetual attraction to the club and given him a front seat for some of the club’s most applauded memories. “I remember on the final day of last season when everyone was waiting on whether we’d be getting a points deduction. I was able to break the news live on the radio – breaking news – that QPR wouldn’t be docked points and would play in the Premier League this season. It was incredible.”
After that final-day hysteria and following his regular post-match interview with manager Neil Warnock, Incenzo experienced what most fans can only dream of. “While the interview broadcasted on air, I was able to hold the Championship trophy. Warnock was holding it and then passed it around to all the journalists. I would have taken it home with me if Warnock had let me! It's simply amazing to have that much access to the club you support."
Tony with the Football League trophy
There have been other high points. “The FA Cup Final in 1982 was also such a special moment, in particular the home victory against Crystal Palace in the quarter-final. Those are the sort of moments you will never forget.”
The young Incenzo began visiting grounds and he hasn't stopped since. Incenzo had visited all 92 Football League stadiums by the time he was 17 – a record which earned him a five-minute interview on the Saturday morning show Noel Edmonds' Swap Shop.
Three decades on, he has now attended games at an extraordinary 1,750 different grounds. “Last Tuesday I went to Linton Granta in the Cambridgeshire Counties League, which shows the level that I’m down to. I’ve been to all the Conference, Conference North, Southern Premier etc – and I’m now working my way down through the leagues…”
Every young lad dreams of meeting his footballing idol, and of course Incenzo is one of the privileged few whose wishes have been fulfilled. “Stan Bowles always used to be my favourite player, my hero and my idol, and now I’m friends with him and chat regularly. I also used to admire Gerry Francis, another player who I now know very well. Last week I spoke to him on the phone twice.”
Tony (at right, aged 12) with QPR legend Dave Thomas
Incenzo parallels his love of the game to the love of his career, which has seen him work for a number of media outlets including Sky Sports. “If you can’t be a footballer, working in the media for football is the next best thing," he explains. "I can remember describing forwards scoring goals, and I just say it as if I was the one scoring.”
He's as qualified as anyone to assess the extent to which our game has changed throughout the decades. “It’s faster, it has a much higher tempo. The speeds at which these players play is incomparable. Also the money involved with football nowadays has increased dramatically.”
If those are the changes brought about during his first 1,000 consecutive home games, what changes will the next 1,000 bring? “You can never tell what the future of football will hold. I’d expect things to grow commercially, especially abroad. I know QPR have links with Malaysia and India so we’ll probably see something over in Asia. I also think a European club league will break off separately to the Premier League.”
As Incenzo prepares for this weekend’s glorious milestone at Loftus Road, his club face the possibility of relegation from the Premier League, but if the worst were to happen, they can of course count on his continued support.
“Even if we went down this year it wouldn’t affect me too much. I’d still keep going to every match; I can’t think of a reason that would prevent me from doing so. We have the financial backing and support at the club so if we did go down I don’t see any reason why we can’t come back up again.”
Tony Incenzo is a reporter for talkSPORT. He was interviewed by Tom Bennett, editor of The Youth Radar.
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