|LFW Awaydays β Bolton, Reebok Stadium|
Thu 15th Mar 2012 00:11 by Awaydays
A day that started with a lecture on olive oil, finished with a telling off from a Labour party member and included some of the worst refereeing known to man befell the LFW travelling party at the weekend.
On the pitch
A Championship game in all but name, and that's probably being unkind to the Championship. This was a truly piss rank football match with almost no redeeming features or moments of quality whatsoever.
Bolton came into the game sitting second bottom in the table and nursing the worst home record (two wins, two draws, nine defeats) in the entire country. I sense this has come as a bit of a surprise to one of the Premiership's more established names having won plenty of friends last season with some enterprising football and a journey to an FA Cup semi final. Manager Owen Coyle is highly rated for his work at St Johnstone, Burnley and, prior to this season, the Reebok Stadium. The general consensus seems to be he's been unlucky to lose Johan Elmander to Galatasaray, Daniel Sturridge back to Chelsea, Kevin Davies to old age, Stuart Holden to a dreadful knee injury, and Chung Yong Lee and Tyrone Mears to broken legs all at roughly the same time.
Fair enough. What his excuse is for leaving Ivan Klasnic on the bench and selecting David Ngog alone in attack in a crucial, must win home match against a poor team with only one win from its last 15 matches is anybody's guess. Particularly as Klasnic, and fellow sub Davies, tore QPR a new arse back on the opening day of the season when the Trotters won 4-0. You might remember David Ngog from such classic Liverpool encounters as Liverpool 0 Fulham 0 and Hull City 0 Liverpool 0. He's the glum looking French kid that Rafael Benitez would use instead of Fernando Torres when he wrongly thought Liverpool could win the game with a weakened team – a tactic that let him down with monotonous regularity and cost Liverpool the league title in 2008/09.
Here Ngog dived around a lot, offered all the cutting edge of a wooden spoon, and looked less of a threat to QPR than some of the QPR players. Eventually, quite by accident and in a mad rush to get Darren Pratley off the field before he was sent off, Coyle sent on Klasnic who needed just six minutes to run through and score a well taken winner. This made Coyle look like a tactical genius when in fact his team selection and tactics to that point had been utterly moronic.
Of course if you want to talk about tactical ineptitude look no further than dear old Queens Park Rangers who were resplendent in their baby-sick-orange away strip from hell. "Could that kit get any worse?" you asked after its last outing. Yes, yes it can - now behold the monstrosity with orange shorts as well. Who is responsible for that strip? Seriously? Somebody somewhere at some point presumably thought that it looked reasonably ok. I pity them. I think we should play shirts v skins away from home for the rest of the season.
As for the team itself, well for once I’m drawn to the words of Flavio Briatore: "Fucking coach, he's choosing to lose this game." Bolton are incredibly weak in the full back area. At right back they had Sam Ricketts but he picked up a long term injury so they brought in Tyrone Mears but he broke his leg so they loaned in Dedryck Boyata before realising he actually couldn't play the game at all and now they have Gretar Steinsson. On the other side they've been trying, unsuccessfully, to coax Premiership performances out of Paul Robinson for most of the season in the absence of first choice Marcos Alonso who has struggled all year with a foot injury and now they have the returning Ricketts playing there out of position. They have conceded more goals from headers and crosses than any other team in the Premiership. I'll repeat that; Bolton Wanderers, the team we played on Saturday, have conceded more goals from crosses (balls in from wide areas) than any other team in the Premier League. Any other team. Balls from wide areas. Worst in the league. Crosses.
QPR responded to this by fielding, for the first time this season, a team without wingers. No wingers at all.
QPR also left out their technically better players – Akos Buzsaky, Tommy Smith, Adel Taarabt (injured) – in favour of a hardline three man defensive midfield set up designed to win an arm wrestle. An arm wrestle. With Bolton.
I'm sorry, I'm finding it hard to put this lunacy into complete sentences.
And yet QPR still would have won, thanks to Bolton 's sheer rank incompetence, had the game been properly refereed. Sadly our three man team of officials was every bit as bad as both sets of players rendering the game a total farce. QPR went through their usual carefully planned kick off routine of hooking the ball into the main stand within five seconds and then not touching it again for 15 minutes but immediately after that they scored a perfectly good first goal from a corner. Linesman Bob Pollock, presumably busy thinking back to his last sexual experience circa 1987, missed the fact that a very tall ginger man wearing a fluorescent pink sweatshirt and bright white gloves had reached into the Bolton goal by some three feet to claw the ball back into play. Out of interest Mr Pollock, if a football travels upwards and forwards off the glove of a goalkeeper and still hits the underside of the bar do the laws of physics not dictate that the bastard thing must have been behind the line to start with? Clunge. Anyway he lied and said there were two players in the way, which having studied the replays is actually more concerning than his assertion that the ball didn't cross the line. This is clearly a man with serious eyesight issues.
As, it seems, is his opposite number Jake Collin who allowed Djibril Cise to equalise from a very offside position immediately after half time. And referee Martin Atkinson too who failed to notice, among other nonsenses: Darren Pratley committing three separate bookable offences after being yellow carded once; David Wheater clearing Jamie Mackie's goalbound shot off the line (he gave a goal kick); Anton Ferdinand being hacked down from behind at the knee (he booked Nedum Onuoha instead); and Chris Eagles palming the ball down in his own penalty area swiftly followed by Nigel Reo-Coker bundling Onuoha to the floor – take your pick for a spot kick, but don't give neither you absolute weapon.
Bolton had two quality midfield players – Mark Davies and Ryo Miyaichi – while QPR's isolated strike force of Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse looked good when they did receive some semblance of service. Apart from that this was absolute toilet water from start to finish. A total shambles all round. An embarrassment to all involved.
Scores >>> Bolton performance 2 >>> QPR performance 2 >>>> Referee performance 0
In the stand
It was Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit who first dreamt up places like this. "I see a place where people get on and off the freeway," Doom said. "On and off, off and on all day, all night. Soon, where Toon Town once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly prepared food. Tyre salons, automobile dealerships and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it'll be beautiful."
It'll be Horwich Parkway is what it will be. It's all here; a stadium for another town's football club, a Harvester serving the same food as everybody else's Harvester, a retail park full of the same shops everywhere else has got so you can all wear the same things, a gas station, an inexpensive motel. Why on earth do people come to these places? It remains a mystery to me. People driving miles out of town to eat a microwaved meal at a Frankie and Bennies that was delivered five days earlier in a cardboard box when, chances are, there is a family owned Italian restaurant within three miles of where they live in the town. Why would you do this to yourself?
Souless and soul destroying, like so many other places exactly like it scattered all over our country.
The Reebok is one of the more forward thinking new builds too. I certainly can't level the identikit criticism that applies to Middlesbrough, Southampton, Leicester, Derby and others at this place. The curved roof and diamond shaped floodlights make for a spectacular sight as you approach, like a space ship has stopped to refuel on its way to an alien stag do in Blackpool. Inside, the lower tier is a complete bowl enhancing the atmosphere with the upper tiers slotting into the curved formation on top – only the lack of seats in the corners detracts from a really well designed new stadium and a genuinely beautiful piece of modern engineering.
That said, why, when designing modern football grounds, is there an obsession with putting things between supporters and the field of play? Now I know, having grown up at Loftus Road , that it's not really practical any more to have a situation like we have in front of the Ellerslie Road stand where supporters can reach out and touch players as they take a throw in. But at the Reebok Stadium, and it’s by no means unique to this venue, once you cross the touchline you have a patch of grass, an electronic advertising hoarding, a strip of tarmac, another advertising hoarding, a step and a concrete walkway, a fence and another strip of concrete before you finally get to the front row of seats. Why is this? Who is sitting down to design football stadiums believing supporters want to be as far away from the action as possible?
The atmosphere swayed with the pattern of the game – periods of quiet from both sets of fans but almost always fraught with tension. QPR's travelling support contributed to it all by launching ten rubber rings and two inflatable dolphins into the air as the teams came out and then watching them blow off into an empty section of seats in the high winds. Nevertheless the numbers were creditable given the kick off time and Sky coverage.
The main problem with this place is quite easy to spot; it's not in Bolton . Of course Queens Park Rangers don't play in Queen's Park, and Grimsby Town don't play in Grimsby Town, but this is really not in Bolton . Not by a long chalk. In fact our train stopped in Bolton on the way, and then continued for what seemed like an age before stopping in Horwich, which is where the ground is. It's actually closer to Wigan in a place that looks very much like it was conceived by Judge Doom himself.
It's four visits to the Reebok Stadium and four defeats now for Queens Park Rangers. The last time we won in this part of the world was in 1995/96 when both teams finished the season in the bottom three and were relegated. Danny Dichio headed the only goal that day at Bolton's old Burnden Park ground.
I remember that day well. My dad and I stood at the back of the away terrace from where the view of the right side of the pitch was obstructed by a supermarket that had presumably been plonked across half the land behind the goal to make Bolton some money. Given that the terrace backed onto a vast expanse of flattened rubble posing, badly, as a car park but looking more like a nuclear fallout zone I couldn't help but wonder why the supermarket needed to be built right up to the touchline but it's all rather irrelevant now. Burnden Park had certainly had its day by the time we got there and it was no surprise when, after a further visit when Steve Morrow scored an unlikely goal from three quarters of a mile out, they moved.
But both regular readers will be familiar with my thoughts on such out of town arrangements. I've ranted enough except to say I want to go to an actual place to watch my football team play, a place I can identify with, not a motorway junction.
Scores >>> QPR support 7/10 >>> Home support 6/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 7/10 >>>> Stadium 7/10 >>>> Police and stewards 8/10
In the pub
The Balcony Bar at Manchester Piccadilly Station did a wonderful line in surrealism when we dropped in for an hour on Saturday morning before journeying north. Claims of “award winning pork sausages” on its menu were very much false, unless the only other pub in the competition was the Station Inn in Preston which tries to pass off crusty gruel as a sausage, but I was more taken by the music and company at the table than anything.
Lana Del Rey, followed by Scooter, followed by Celine Dion at ridiculous volume, followed by the Pet Shop Boys – this was a playlist being selected by somebody with severe bi-polar disorder. Celine Dion was just gearing up for her key change when a pigeon joined us at the table for breakfast. I swear that place was so random I wouldn’t have been that surprised to hear the ragged bird strike up a conversation on the benefits and drawbacks of a single European currency.
Later in the day we visited our old favourite The Old Vic in Preston, which now boasts a sign on the toilet door that says: “Wet Floor – this is a warning, not an instruction”, although clearly several of the more inebriated customers only got as far as reading the first part. Won’t be doing those shoe laces up again in a while.
LFW has doubled the female quota of the group since promotion, adding Jaz to Tracy, and without either of them this weekend we saw why that was a shrewd move. If Tracy isn’t there to ply everybody with shots and Jaz isn’t there to convince everybody they’re terribly funny and engaging by listening to what they’re saying and laughing at the jokey bits then it does turn into four blokes getting quite depressed together. Luckily LFW betting columnist Andy Hillman started to dance like a cross between David Brent and Dr Zoidberg at about 5pm and it was all steeply uphill from there.
Scores >>> Pubs 7/10 >>> Atmosphere 7/10 >>> Food 5/10 >>>> Cost 8/10
On the road
My assertion in the match preview that of the 6 billion people currently inhabiting the world I can just about tolerate only around 30 of them drew prickly responses from the travelling posse of three when we arrived at Euston in time for what is becoming the usual LFW 0820 service to Manchester. To be fair I'm quite fond of the people who allow me to book trains for them that depart at stupid o'clock on Saturday morning and arrive back in the early hours of Sunday without complaint, and I listened attentively to Andy’s lecture on the crisis (and it's certainly nothing less than a crisis) currently gripping the olive oil industry in southern Europe as we journeyed north to Manchester. My point, about the vast majority of people in the world at the moment being absolute twats, was well proven by the end of the day however.
What is it that makes people, particularly on trains, think anybody gives a flying fuck what they think about anything? It's slightly different on buses, where the average passenger doesn't actually think anything salient about anything at all and has nothing to contribute to discussions so therefore settles for playing you their God awful music at great volume instead. People on trains are of a slightly better class in that they can at least string a sentence together, but so often they labour under the misapprehension that you give a toss about those sentences.
Our train from Manchester to Bolton was a three carriage affair and was packed. People wearing Bolton shirts were left standing on the platform at Salford and Bolton, dangerously close to kick off time, because of the lack of room on board. It was almost as if there had never been a football match at the Reebok Stadium before, both the train guard and the rest of the passengers seemed stunned that people would want to go there.
LFW photographer Neil Dejyothin, group newbie Tom Ferry and first class ticket holder Colin Speller joined an old lady at a table and immediately intimidated her into getting off at Manchester Oxford Road . Whether it was Colin's chat up lines or Neil's closet ninja ways that caused her to leave is unclear, but leave she did begrudgingly wishing us luck as she went. Andy and I sat further down the carriage next to an interesting sub-human specimen who I could kindly describe as a smack addict, or perhaps more accurately as a waste of flesh, oxygen and benefits payments.
He, and several others just as disgusting as him, seemed to be heading for some sort of bender in Blackpool. En route they believed that everybody in the carriage should pay attention to what they had to say which, although plentiful in supply, rarely seemed to contain any actual words. Coke head in chief would grunt at the other scumbags for 30 seconds and then laugh the high pitched screech of an ageing hyena unveiling a set of teeth that must have taken many years of crystal meth abuse to perfect. He believed that those of us who tried to ignore him by texting friends asking them to send help or a rescue helicopter, or reading the paper, or just talking among ourselves were "fucking rude cunts". While he determined our behaviour unacceptable, his decision between Bolton and Horwich to actually set the train on fire was apparently perfectly reasonable. I'm actually tempted to buy the Manchester Evening News every day until I see this guy's face in the obituaries column just so I can rest easy that the world is a better place.
In the interests of keeping the costs down we actually went further north to Preston after the match, on a little rattly train where a man who looked disturbingly like a potato delivered a Bolton perspective on QPR's troubles in that way some morons do that is ostensibly them talking to the person next to them but in actual fact is directed at anybody within earshot because they're just that important and full of wisdom.
But none of this really compared to our experience on the 1901 from Preston back to London – another train we're currently spending an awful lot of time on for supposedly sane people.
In defence of our final and most ridiculous travelling companion I too have met obnoxious football fans on trains before. I can recall a particularly wonderful two hours at the mercy of eight Manchester City fans heading back from Arsenal who were particularly pleased with their latest song about the Munich air disaster and attempt to kill a man with a scaffolding pole the evening before. I also freely admit that our swollen, and rather the worse for drink, travelling party on the way back from Newcastle in January did verge on being "that group of twats on the train" that reasonable people talk about so often. But four fairly depressed blokes quietly sipping beer while trying to recall our favourite pubs from the Championship at the back of an almost completely empty carriage wasn't, I didn't feel, either out of the ordinary or order.
I say 'almost empty' because on the other side of the carriage was a flame haired lady in her 30s who, just past Warrington, sighed loudly and said to our table: “When are you lot getting off.” Now that is to greetings what John Prescott is to tact and diplomacy and is probably an opening gambit that Prescott himself would be proud of, ironic really considering the conversation that transpired.
Andy, God bless him, believed her angst was down to a desire for a coveted table seat and pointed out that there were other tables down the train. Sadly, she was actually wishing we’d just piss off in general and took Andy’s perfectly innocent offer of spare seats further down the train as a sort of “sod off if you don’t like it” attitude to her complaint. After asking us who “Leeds Park Rangers” were she then got properly huffy and shouted that she didn’t care about football “actually” and was in fact more concerned with “the government and the NHS.”
Christ alive, consider that. You thought you had a disappointing day in Bolton, if you follow the government and the NHS you must feel that bloody awful all the time.
An awkward 20 minutes of near silence passed before she got up, walked across to us, and asked for one of our beers. The dynamics of our travelling group were immediately obvious. On one side of the table there was myself, UK’s most miserable bastard 2008, 2009, 2011 and probably 2012 as well, and Neil, who occasionally drops things into conversation that make you think he may well have killed a man at some point, or at the very least severely bothered a large dog. We’d have no more given this nut case a beer than flown her to the moon. On the other side of the table Colin, clearly at a stage in his life where aggro is something to be avoided rather than sought out, and Andy, who’s just too bloody nice – one of them fished a bottle of beer out and the other opened it for her.
Had we taken a hardline approach with her she probably would have moved. Instead she stayed, got drunk on our beer in that way only women who don’t drink can do on one bottle of lager, and felt able to interject on our conversation whenever the mood so took her for the rest of the trip. She offered relationship advice to me after hearing of my recent new found singledom, doubting the wisdom of my current plan to try and find an attractive QPR fan to shack up with and suggesting instead that I “join the Labour party.” She seemed to be some sort of activist for the party, turning every conversation and dilemma the four of us had back to us all possibly signing up for the Labour Party. Perhaps this is how they’re going to regain power, brainwashing one drunk group of downtrodden men at a time.
She was replaced at Milton Keynes by the world’s drunkest girl. At Euston she disembarked, tried to put a coat into an already over populated flight case, and then watched as four other drunk football fans who she’d asked for help used their brute strength and stampy feet to force it in there until the case split and spilled her belongings out onto the platform.
And that was Saturday.
Scores >>> Journey 9/10 >>> Cost 7/10
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