|LFW Awaydays β Blackpool, Old Trafford|
Sat 02nd Jun 2012 16:28 by Awaydays
No, not a headline typo, we really did decide to take the whole LFW team up to Blackpool for the Man Utd away match. And here’s how it went…
On the pitch
There’s certainly no shortage of evidence knocking around that proves footballers don’t live in the real world. I’m always drawn back to Ashley Cole’s assertion in his autobiography that he was so furious when Arsenal “only” offered him £55,000 a week instead of the £60,000 he’d been expecting he had to pull his Range Rover over to the side of the road to compose himself.
This country’s top footballers inhabit a strange world where they are given more money than they could ever possibly spend sensibly, given no indication or education on what to do with it, occupied by their club for barely two hours a day five days a week and then left to get on with it. At the bigger clubs everything will be done for them: their cleaning, their washing, their shopping. It’s a different world, certainly not the one known to most people, and it makes them incredibly naïve and self centred at times.
After 12 minutes of our match against Manchester United at Old Trafford Ashley Young, four yards offside, blatantly dived in the penalty area under almost no contact whatsoever and was promptly awarded a spot kick. Not only that, but Shaun Derry was sent off for being in the vague vicinity of the theatrics. United scored, and ten man QPR were finished from that point on. An impossible task had become a pointless one.
Young is a cheat. He did the same thing to Aston Villa a week later, and tried to do it to Swansea before the end of the season as well. He’s not even very good at his art, but wears a Man Utd shirt so gets away with it more often than not. Alex Ferguson said after the Villa incident that he’d “had a word” with Young about his behaviour. Presumably that “word” stretched about as far as “keep doing it, but don’t make it so obvious.”
On this occasion he was grateful to linesman Ceri Richards who was presumably thinking about other things when the ball was played through and missed the most blatant offside not given all season and referee Lee Mason who had the whistle in his mouth and the red card in his hand before Young had completed his third roll. Mason is forbidden from refereeing Bolton Wanderers matches because he is the chairman of the Bolton Referees Association, is a Bolton Wanderers fan and has a brother who used to play for Bolton Wanderers but is, apparently, ok to referee games involving Bolton Wanderers’ nearest relegation rivals.
But Young is also an incredibly self centred individual. A month later and, by some quirk of fate, United found themselves relying on QPR to get a result at Man City to secure the league title for them. Ferguson’s team subsequently suffered a surprise loss at Wigan and dramatic 4-4 draw at home to Everton before losing at City to put Roberto Mancini’s men back in the driving seat. In the build up to the game the press turned to Young for his thoughts, and he had the nerve to say he hoped QPR would do him “a favour.”
Now, would it not have occurred even to somebody as thick as Grant Holt to clarify that with something along the lines of “although I appreciate I’m not their favourite person” or “even though they’re probably still upset about what happened at Old Trafford”? He just doesn’t have the foggiest idea does he? He’ll come to Loftus Road next season get dog’s abuse, and wonder why. Somebody will probably have to remind him.
Still, we’ve known for some time that Mr Young isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. This the man who used to spend his pre-match hotel time in front of his webcam knocking one out for people on the Wedcamo website and, if they asked nicely, lolling his tongue out at the same time Lesley Grantham style. Nice lad.
I think Owen Parker summed up QPR’s attitude to Mason and Young in song better than I ever could in words.
Anyway Scholes scored in the second half, Michael Carrick hit the post from 35 yards but still can’t get in the England squad ahead of Jordan Henderson, Paddy Kenny made several outlandish saves including an especially logic defying one from Rafael and, yeh, that was pretty much that. Dull.
Scores >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Man Utd performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance N/A
In the stand
Football fans like a stereotype: footballers with long hair have a caravan outside, people from the north are inbred and on benefits, people from the south have loads of money and pay those benefits and nobody who supports Manchester United actually comes from Manchester.
There are varying degrees of truth to all of football’s prejudices. United clearly have a bigger portion of fans living away from the city the team is based in than any other club. Compare the amount of red shirts you see in Euston on the morning of a Man Utd home match to, say, the amount of Arsenal shirts you see on the concourse at Sheffield station when they are at home. Not forgetting the legions of idiots in the Far East who pack into their Manchester United themed sports bars to watch a team they’re never going to see play competitively in the flesh.
But it’s not until you actually get to Old Trafford that you realise just how ridiculous this club has become. This is the Theatre of Commercialism. The home of the half and half scarf; a force of evil that has crept into our game to such an extent that QPR/MK Dons scarves were on sale outside White City tube earlier this season. Souvenirs for people who intend to attend one match every five or six years, and by God they were selling like hot cakes here.
As was the “Official United song book – all the lyrics to all the songs.” I don’t even know where to start with this one. Our group, which had swelled to eight by the time we reached the ground, was fighting its way through the thronged masses outside Old Trafford about half an hour before kick off when we first heard it mentioned. We were grumpy, hungover and in a bit of a rush as it was raining but when the silly cow flogging these shouted that out we stopped as one, looked at each and burst out laughing. “The official United song book – all the lyrics to all the songs.”
Just imagine that for a moment will you; a support base that needs a lyrics sheet to remember its own songs. What next, a list of today’s hymns on the scoreboard? That smarmy wanker on the tannoy announcing midgame that people should turn to page 38 of their “Official United song book – all the lyrics to all the songs” and sing that fucking dirge about Eric bastard Cantona?
I’ve never felt sorry for a Man Utd supporter before in my life but I did at that point. In amongst this one-game-per-lifetime brigade of glory hunting scum-of-the-earth there will be some genuine, died in the wool, through-the bad-times die hards who must be abjectly embarrassed by all this. I’m embarrassed for them. “Official United song book – all the lyrics to all the songs”. Incredible. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Pathetic.
As it turned out, the “Official United song book – all the lyrics to all the songs” doesn’t seem to be a particularly big seller considering the near total silence 73,000 people sat in throughout this game. It was left to the QPR fans up in the corner to make the majority of the noise, gently teasing the hosts that we would “race them back to London” and retorting to “we’ll never play you again” with “you’ll never come here again.” The Rangers then spent the final 20 minutes singing “2-0 down, who gives a fuck, we’re QPR and we’re staying up.” Which turned out to be true, despite us not doing Ashley his favour on the final day.
This was all in the face of the most heavy handed, out of order, unnecessary, over-the-top and at times outright illegal stewarding operation it has ever been my misfortune to witness at a football ground. It seems the lobotomised gibbons in yellow coats in this part of the world are either on commission, on a mission to empty the away end before the hour mark, or a bit of both.
QPR fans, scores of them, were ejected throughout the match for nothing. Now I’ve spent my life loudly swearing, yelling and generally being a prat at football matches and been threatened with ejection once in 20 years. I think I’ve actually only been spoken to by a steward three times in total actually: once at Newcastle this year when I leapt forward and nearly toppled out of the seventh tier of St James’ Park, once at Wolves a few years back when some git in the upper tier spat on my head and the steward tried to tell me it was “condensation from the roof” and that one time at Coventry where they did say they were going to throw me out if I didn’t shut up. This leads me to believe it’s actually quite hard to get thrown out of a football ground, and ordinarily I’ve little sympathy with those who find themselves out on the street after half an hour of the game.
But this was something else. Take the gentleman in the row behind me, ten seats along on the aisle who, midway through the first half, stood up out of his seat to see the match over the heads of four stewards who were marching up the steps to presumably throw somebody else out. A very large, very aggressive steward at the front told him immediately to sit down so he pointed out he would do once they’d gone past and he could see the pitch. No swearing, no aggression, and he didn’t appear to be drunk. Suddenly the steward went for him, body checking him with his belly and sending the supporter spilling back into his seat. A bout of wrestling took place and the steward, red of face and short of temper, was dragged away from the supporter by his colleagues who then retreated downstairs. It was astonishing. Not since the infamous conker incident at Cambridge United has there been such an example of somebody who was meant to be keeping the peace causing trouble like that.
Five minutes later, a new batch of four stewards appeared to talk to the man who’d been attacked. I felt sure they’d come to apologise and perhaps take a name and address in case there was a dispute over the steward’s sacking at a later date. But no, they were coming to throw the QPR fan out, for here at the “Theatre of Dreams” being bumped to the ground by a fat steward is an offence which you can be ejected for. I’m sure he felt his £54 match ticket was money well spent. Scandalous.
Scores >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 5/10 >>>> Stadium 8/10 >>>> Police and stewards 0/10
In the pub
There's been something of a 'who blinks first' attitude about the LFW Travelling Crew this season. What started off as a desire to do as many games as possible on our first return to the Premier League in 15 years slowly developed into a competition to see who could suggest the most outlandish thing and get the rest of the group to agree to it. As a consequence, you'll be left with a skeleton staff of Colin Speller next April when six of us go to Mexico for the week. Well, why not?
Not quite as extreme, but still pretty daft all the same, was our plan for the weekend of the Man Utd match. United's (snigger) Europa League commitments and Sky's (less amusing) constant obsession with them meant that five weeks before the game we still didn't know exactly when it would take place and as time ticked by the cheap train tickets started to disappear. So, drunkenly, a suggestion was made (not by me) on a train home one Saturday evening that we should just go to Blackpool for the weekend. It's sort of close to Manchester, and we could book the cheap train tickets to cover every possible kick off time without a worry. The fact that we then spent £35 each on hotel rooms, £12 each on further train tickets to Blackpool, £35 to get into the Pleasure Beach and so on was irrelevant. It felt like we were winning.
Blackpool is trying hard. The cruelty of the Championship fixture list meant we hadn't actually been here outside January since Richard Langley's hat trick back in 2003 and the subsequent winter time trips had been like visiting the set of 28 Days Later. But some money has been spent in the meantime. They have a new landscaped sea front, and the trams that look like a poorly valued item on the Antiques Roadshow have been replaced by swanky new purple things. It is though still the place where the scum of the north come to play – vintage LFW railway rant to follow – and as we journeyed to our Travel Lodge in a taxi in the middle of Saturday morning I couldn't help but marvel at the sheer number of fat tattooed men standing outside pubs necking Stella.
The worrying thing is we hadn’t had any beer or sugar at this point.
At the Pleasure Beach Tracey, Andy and myself went on every ride. That included the Pepsi Max despite being held in the queue while they rescued a trainload of people who'd got stuck halfway round (reassuring) and an old wooden contraption where the mechanism snapped halfway up the main incline and sent us rushing back down the slope for a few horrifying seconds before the safety catch kicked in. Another ride – with upside down twirly bits – was delayed for a few minutes before we could get on because the ten-year-old lad in the front row was so traumatised by the experience he refused to let go of the harness and get off and had to be levered out of his seat by one of the pikey (copyright Daily Mail) ride operators using a length of wood.
Colin, Jas and Neil watched on from a distance for a while, and then couldn't bear to watch any more so went ten pin bowling. It later transpired that Jas and I both have the uncanny knack of picking out the same spot in the left gutter with every single throw. She trotted out the "I'm a girl" excuse and then went to, literally, prise Andy away from the fruit machines – a shame she couldn’t have borrowed the ride operator’s two by four really. Perhaps he was trying to win back the three figure debt he clocked up on the betting column this year? I blamed alcoholism for my lack of accuracy and then we went to the pub to watch Stoke v Wolves.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
On reflection that perhaps all that money the Thompson family took out of QPR back in the day was well spent after all; you can't argue with a day at the Pleasure Beach, even if the entry fee is extortionate.
We found a seafront boozer for the match and settled in to watch Wolves' latest disaster. Neil saw little of the match after becoming embroiled in a game with a nearby three-year-old. The rules basically seemed to be that the child would release her helium balloon and Neil had to catch it before it got stuck to the ceiling. I'd have probably played this twice, out of courtesy, and then told the filthy little urchin to sling her hook but as the game seemed to be vaguely competitive that meant there was a winner and a loser, and as Neil doesn't like to lose he completed a full 36,784 rounds in the space of three hours and then declared himself the winner when the child climbed into her pushchair and fell asleep.
Meanwhile, down at the bar, the world's drunkest man had spotted Tracey, who gave him her real name and seemed flattered by his attentions, and Jas, who didn't and didn't, and after a brief initial chat up session then came over to the table to ask if we were with "Tracey and that Janine" and if so whether we'd mind if he "took them off our hands for the evening." Yes we were and no we didn't was the committee response, which didn't go down awfully well, so we went back to the hotel for a change of clothes and a bollocking.
The team behind your LoftforWords website. And Neil behind the camera, as always.
Andy was in charge of curry, and quickly sourced an excellent back street joint up a flight of carpeted stairs where the very Indian waiter introduced himself to our table by taking one look at Neil and saying: "You look a bit foreign." Which was nice.
When we emerged back onto the street we were confronted with two pubs. And I picked the pub on the right. Which makes me a genius. Churchills, it turned out, was hosting what we believed initially to be a karaoke night in front of a crowd of extras from Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights. I say ‘initially believed’ because what was actually happening was two people – Big Les and even Bigger Trish – were taking it in turns to get up at the front and belt out a well known hit from pre-1984 to the moderate delight of the crowd which was entirely made up of people aged over 75. On reflection, I think this might actually have been a cabaret evening, which may explain the somewhat muted reaction we got when, later in the evening, Andy and Colin seized the microphone to sing.
I've got to be honest, I didn't ever see myself dancing enthusiastically with a woman older than my grandmother while the chief executive of the country's premier leaf blowing firm belted out Human by the Killers to a stunned crowd of pensioners but then you never can tell where life is going to take you next.
And from that moment on everything we touched turned to gold. Further down the street we found an old style music hall populated by one old man (asleep) and a smack addict with a rather beleaguered looking rock band packing up early after a wash out. They were all delighted to see us, so with our warm £1.50 bottles of Stella from a multipack behind the bar in hand we went to the front and formed a mini middle class moshpit. We were rewarded with the lesser heard 17 and a half minute version of Rocking in the Free World which included the singer – ignoring his lead guitarist's advice of "don't bother Dave" – introducing each of the band members individually at volume during a drum solo.
Rocking in the Free World, but not to packed houses.
Work done there we eventually meandered down to Dante's seventh level of hell, another karaoke bar where one sign said anybody doing lines from the table would be ejected and another said the singing of sectarian football songs was also frowned upon. It was there that I happened upon The Beast: a 25 stone woman with large tattoos on both thighs dressed in a small black piece of string that sort of held things together rather than covered them up. Mr Speller remarked that the last time he'd seen anything quite like that he was putting it in the oven for Sunday lunch. Am I painting a picture here? Think Kerry Katona's much older, much fatter, much rougher sister wearing half a roll of parcel string.
Well by this time it was about two in the morning and I was somewhat the worse for drink so on the way back from the bogs I decided, for sport, to walk up to the heifer and start dancing with her. Well, you do don't you? And she'd been doing something sort of resembling dancing by herself for quite some time before this so it seemed like the gentlemanly thing to do. I glanced back to our table expecting to see people laughing, and was therefore somewhat puzzled to see the entire group reacting a little bit like that posh bloke in the Fenton the Dog You Tube Clip – rushing towards me, shouting "No Clive, Jesus Christ".
Turns out the bloke with the piercings and knuckle dusters sitting nearby was her husband. Well, nobody told me did they? Swift exit left.
Recommended, even if I felt and looked like death on the train back to Manchester the following morning.
Drink is not your friend children.
Scores >>> Pubs 10/10 >>> Atmosphere 10/10 >>> Food 9/10 >>>> Cost 9/10
On the train
Regular readers of this column – hello to both – may recall that on our trip to Bolton earlier this year we found the Manchester to Blackpool train something of a zoo. In fact, thinking back, somebody tried to set one of the seats on fire just after Salford Crescent that day. So it’s fair to say our expectations were not high for spending twice as long and going twice as far on the chav express.
Fortunately this time we didn’t have a carriage full of blokes incapable of forming full words and hell bent on seeing the train go up in flames. Instead we found ourselves in the studio audience for the North West finals of UK’s Parent of the Year competition. On the table to our left we had the Drinkers family, and on our right we had the Gratuitous-Violence clan.
Not just Colin Speller who travels first class these days.
The Drinkers were a young couple of no more than 25 or 26 who had actually managed to sporn two beautiful young children. Those children climbed over them and swung from the luggage racks while the parents sat and drank neat Vodka. It was about 10am when we were on this train, and they were both already wrecked to such an extent that they couldn’t speak properly, slurred words and tailed off midway through sentences having forgotten what they were saying. Those poor kids have got no chance.
Still, at least they didn’t feel the need to belt their kids every 15 minutes for crimes as heinous as “talking too much”, “eating too much” and “fidgeting too much.” In fact everything the three kids did on the other table they did too much, or on some occasions not enough. Either way it ended up with the miserable Trollope of a mother giving one, both or all three of them a slap. She also used my favourite parenting line repeatedly. I mean what kind of a threat is “I won’t tell you again”? You won’t tell me again? Thank God for that, I was getting sick of hearing your voice you sour faced slag.
Why do these people have kids? If you want to spend your weekend travelling round the country on trains having a drink then fine, great, so do I. But I haven’t lumbered myself with a couple of kids to then drag along with me. And if your kids bring you so little pleasure that you have a face that permanently looks like a smacked arse and all you can do to try and instil right from wrong in them is smack them every ten minutes, leading to a situation where they don’t do as they’re told at all because, at the end of the day, they’re going to get a slap one way or another, what’s the point?
I was sick of pond life by the end of the weekend and Neil, bless him, could see the anger etched across my face so he paid to upgrade the group to first class on the way home. This was a noble gesture and much appreciated, although when the new age football fan who’d been sitting opposite us in the post-match pub for Arsenal v Man City prophesising to two highly unimpressed young women about Arsenal Rovers’ chances and Robert Van Persie’s “head pass” ability it looked like it had backfired. Luckily, he remembered us, and went and sat in a different carriage.
The horror, the horror.
Virgin Trains tipped us out at Nuneaton for reasons best known to themselves, and then took us back up the line to Coventry for 20 minutes. I was horrified. I’ve revelled in the Sky Blues getting further and further away from us on the league ladder and thanking God that I didn’t have to go anywhere near the Ricoh Arena all season and suddenly there we were after all, in the middle of the night.
I don’t remember what time we got back to Euston, or how I got home from there, or much about anything really. Tremendous weekend all the same.
Scores >>> Journey 5/10 >>> Cost 5/10
Pictures – Action Images