LFW Awaydays – City of Cardiff Stadium, Cardiff
Sunday, 22nd May 2011 11:23 by Awaydays
Better late than never, the final two LFW Awayday reviews focus on QPR’s crucial away matches at the end of the season starting with our 2-2 draw at Cardiff City.
On the pitch
The annual Cardiff City meltdown is becoming so regular in timing and execution (always late April early May, always both dramatic and hilarious) that I’m starting to treat it the same way I do Christmas, Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve – a regular, joyous day on the calendar to be looked forward to and enjoyed.
I’m writing this with hindsight of course. Cardiff put up stiff resistance in this game, twice taking the lead first through Jay Bothroyd who briefly looked like the player he had been before Christmas and then Craig Bellamy who lashed in after Matt Connolly had handled the ball in the penalty area. But we now know that subsequently they would lose 3-0 at home to Middlesbrough a day after some of their first team players went out for a poorly timed piss up, and then crash and burn in the play offs with another 3-0 home defeat against Reading.
Prior to the Boro game Cardiff boss Dave Jones, for the millionth time this season, railed against a television reporter who asked about the club’s reputation for choking at this stage of the season. Jones said he was “insulted” by both the question and the word ‘choking’ and proceeded to point out that their defeats in play offs, cup finals and so on were actually successes made to sound like failures by the evil media. Two hours after that was aired Cardiff had choked yet again.
Although the welcome and hospitality we received from all and sundry in South Wales (in stark contrast to previous visits) actually had some QPR fans rooting for Cardiff over Reading in the play offs Jones has kept the contempt burning bright this season. A man who had his pick of Premiership loan players - Aaron Ramsey, Craig Bellamy and Jay Emmanuel Thomas to name just three of seven or eight – who didn’t come close to automatic promotion in the end and then failed miserably in the play offs, blaming the media, his budget and referees but never himself throughout. He’s said “we should have had a penalty at QPR” so often this season it actually echoes in my head whenever I find myself in a silent room.
The fragility that would eventually cost Cardiff their season was on display in this game. Bothroyd’s eighth minute wonder strike was swiftly cancelled out by a similarly brilliant goal from Adel Taarabt – his curling shot from the corner of the penalty area was in from the moment it left his boot but having conceded a vaguely similar goal to Taarabt in the game at Loftus Road where, like here, he received the ball back in a wide area from his own corner Cardiff’s willingness to allow the Moroccan time to weave some magic was astonishing. In the second half Taarabt showed his famed first touch, and upper body strength he’s perhaps less renowned for, to bring the ball down on the edge of the area, push through two defenders and score with an early shot into the corner.
Despite being the better team to that point, and forcing three or four great saves from Paddy Kenny, Cardiff wilted pathetically thereafter and could easily have lost to a late Heidar Helguson chance which he put into the side netting.
Scores >>> QPR performance 7/10 >>> Opposition performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 8/10
In the standTrips to Cardiff have always been undermined slightly by the overwhelming sense that everybody around you would like to kill you. Who can forget the atmosphere at the end of our 2003 meeting at Ninian Park where Richard Langley had thoughtfully scored for us in the very last minute to win the game 2-1. I’ll always remember how keen the home fans were to congratulate us and engage in a mass hand shaking exercise on the street outside. On previous visits the street traders have been dealing with great queues of people eager to buy various Welsh v English shirts, dragons holding up the bloodied head of St George and that sort of thing. And there’s always that day once a season when Cardiff come to us, increasing the police presence at Loftus Road ten fold and bringing the Bush to a standstill between 2pm and 3pm as they are marched, gnashing and wailing, to the ground by the old Bill who are then bizarrely happy to just release them out into the community after the game which always results in a series of punch ups on South Africa Road as young children are swiftly led away from the scene by their parents. Yes, a friendly lot indeed.
It was for that reason that I hadn’t actually intended on going to this match from the moment the BBC said they would televise it. I planned to save my money and sit on my arse in the safety of my own home and watch it on my television. However at Middlesbrough away, when it became clear QPR were on the verge of something very special this season, the travelling crew made a pact to attend every match for the rest of the season and so not only did I end up going to Cardiff, I ended up travelling down from Kettering and queuing at Loftus Road at the crack of dawn to buy everybody’s tickets for the bloody match.
Haven’t we seen a ground like this somewhere before?
The QPR fans that did travel made enough noise for three times their number and were an absolute credit to the club – although I grew increasingly pissed off by the family sitting in front of us who bought a ticket that could have gone to a genuine QPR fan (and I knew a few without one) for their young daughter who sat for the entire game playing on a Nintendo DS and didn’t see a single second of the football. Is this not what babysitters or grandparents are for? When tickets are in such short supply for such a massive match I thought that was selfish. QPR were only given 2,000 tickets for this game, which considering the ground holds 26,000 seems rather low and indeed rather less than the league’s regulations would appear to stipulate is necessary. Apparently Cardiff get around the ten per cent rules by making tickets available to QPR supporting parents with young children in their family area. Whichever way you slice that, and remember QPR gave City 3,100 tickets in a ground that holds 18,000 earlier in the season, it’s absolutely scandalous and shouldn’t be allowed to continue.
But that’s enough Cardiff bashing because for whatever reason this shiny new stadium, that looks like a distribution centre for a major conglomerate from the outside and pretty much like any other unimaginative new ground that’s been built in the last 20 years inside, seems to have changed the whole mindset and attitude of the locals. Where once there were lines of police dogs separating the visiting fans from angry Welshman, now there are Cardiff fans keen to welcome you to their city and chat football over a beer. For the first time this season I was welcomed to the stadium by a steward standing at the turnstile, and encouraged to enjoy the game by the man who took my ticket – so polite and helpful were they that I immediately forgave both of them for telling my programmes were on sale in the ground when they weren’t, a lie that sent me on a hunt for a willing seller among the QPR fans that lasted right through until the end of half time.
Yes there was the usual collection of idiots to the right of the away end, patting their heads when things were going well and telling us we were going to be deducted ten points anyway when things weren’t, but apart from Scunthorpe and Barnsley away there’s been an idiot section like that next to every away end we’ve been in this season. Overall the atmosphere at the ground, and in the city all day, was a friendly and welcoming one. In Cardiff. Who would have thought?
Scores >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 8/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 9/10 >>> Stadium 6/10 >>> Police and stewards 9/10
On the road
My day began in a puddle of sick. A trip to South Wales meant a rare departure from Paddington station where I’d agreed to meet Colin while Tracey and Nik planned to join us on the same train at Reading. I arrived at Paddington in typically early time and wandered around the concourse kicking my heels and being a train geek as I’m far too prone to doing. My amblings carried me, much to the delight of a couple of nearby children who had telegraphed my path and spotted the hilarious outcome of it long before I realised, into a dramatic looking pool of orange vomit under the departure board. Somebody had clearly enjoyed their Friday night rather more than they should and had paid the price in spectacular technicolour fashion. I tutted and mumbled something about today’s society – never before has so much pride come before quite such a spectacular fall. More, gruesomely, on that later.
Now for many years after my dad died I used to travel to football with my good friend Stuart but since his death my travelling partners have been many and varied. It’s only really been this season that the LoftforWords travelling crew has solidified into myself, Colin, Owain, Nik, Tracey and the official LoftforWords photographer (not a salaried position) Neil. Furthermore it’s only really since my other half Lindsey moved to London nine months ago, and I followed a few weeks back, that we’ve all been travelling together from London rather than just meeting up in random northern hell holes that I used to live in/near. Doncaster away was one of the first trips we all travelled together from Kings Cross and on that day, thanks to knowing a bloke who works for East Coast who sorted us out, we travelled first class. Now Colin goes first class a lot because he’s terribly powerful and important in an industry none of us are quite able to pin down - it’s something to do with leaves anyway. Whether it was through habit of booking first class travel for his work, or some misguided belief post-Doncaster that LFW’s advertising revenue is so enormous that we always travel first class to away games, he decided to book himself in the posh seats for the trip down to South Wales. The poor generous sod then shelled out £30 extra to upgrade the rest of us so we could all sit together. I suppose we’ve effectively been sitting here for the last nine months with our wallets open allowing the rail companies to take whatever they like so why stop a couple of weeks away from the end of the season?
He travels first class, he travels first class, he’s Colin Speller, he travels first class.
All that settled and sorted we tried not to look too conspicuous among the other first class passengers who, despite the huge increase in cheap first class seats becoming available for those savvy enough to know where and when to look online to get them, remain middle aged, middle class, white, Telegraph reading males who like reclining seats, quiet train carriages and poorly paid migrant workers who speak English as a third language but patrol the first class carriages of trains meticulously ensuring everybody’s free tea and coffee is topped up. Our blending in lasted slightly more than half an hour – until the train pulled into Reading in fact.
“Do you want anything for breakfast,” Tracey had text as we left London, and although I’d lined my stomach before departure, fearing a heavy day ahead, with a Ploughman’s sandwich from Marks and Spencer (£4.35 would you believe) I thought that sounded jolly nice and text back saying as much, and leaving the order in Tracey’s capable hands because she knows the kind of things I like.
I can’t say I was anticipating her breakfast to consist of four cans of Pimms (no, I couldn’t believe it came in cans either) for her and eight cans of Becks for the rest of us but I also can’t say I was greatly surprised. It was far too early to be doing that to myself, but I got stuck in anyway and after a first beer that tasted like a mixture of toothpaste, M&S sandwich and dregs from the bottom of a warm bottle recycling bin they started to slip down surprisingly well. As I’ve mentioned once already, this does not end well.
Looking more and more like a before shot from a Regain commercial every week.
The journey back was an interesting one. A quick dash around the middle of Cardiff had successfully resulted in the purchasing of more beer, however we were all in cattle class on the way back and none of us had seats reserved together either. Cardiff Central station needs ten platforms but has to make do with five so trains often stand in a line of three and you have to have your wits about you to make sure you do end up on an English bound service rather than one of the sheep drawn affairs off to the land of valleys, closed coal mines and teenage suicides.
This task is made all the more difficult by the station’s policy of announcing and displaying all information in Welsh first. Now I’m all for keeping the Welsh language alive and promoting its use, but when you’re standing on a railway platform staring at three trains not knowing which one is yours and there’s only two minutes until you’re meant to leave you don’t want to have to listen to them run through all the bloody information in Welsh first before they finally inform you, in English, that there’s actually been a bloody platform alteration and your train is now leaving from the other side of the sodding station in about 15 seconds time. Everybody, Welsh and English, speaks English so do the bloody announcement in something we can understand and then do your parochial language promotion stuff afterwards while we’re sprinting through the underpass.
When our train arrived, 15 minutes late because it had had to sit and wait outside the station for a platform, it was fully reserved apart from coach E which was totally empty with no seat reservations. I ran straight for that, intending to secure a table, only to find my path blocked when I arrived at the door by a small female police officer. “This is for football fans only,” she said. “That’s alright, I am a football fan,” I said and she let me get on. Almost as soon as I was on two things happened - one I got a call saying we had a table in coach A, and two I realised I’d just made a very big mistake. Clearly the police were saving coach E for people they wanted to keep together and keep an eye on, and having volunteered myself as one of that group I was now stuck there with the police refusing to let me escape. A fake toilet break got me away.
The rest of the journey was very much like Proms in the Park from my point of view. I sat back, soaked up the beautiful evening sunlight through the window, swigged my beer and listened to the musical entertainment provided by the two absolutely, totally and utterly wasted teenagers sitting in the seats behind.
I could almost imagine myself laid out on the soft green grass of Hyde Park and polishing off the last of the picnic cheese as the orchestra came to life. For Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 we had “I’ll be running round Chelsea when Lampard dies”, for Bach’s Toccata And Fugue in D Minor we had “Don’t want to be gay, don’t want to be gay, don’t live in Swindon, don’t want to be gay” and instead of Orff’s Carmina Burana: O Fortuna we were treated to “I’m reading in Reading, reading in Reading, don’t want to be gay, I’m reading in Reading.” Like all the great operas and proms our multi-talented lyricists were keen to finish with a flourish, and so as we approached Paddington, after almost two hours of solid singing and japery, they decided it would be a good idea to stack all their empty cans of Carling on top of one another to form a tower which for one brief shining moment stretched from the floor almost to the ceiling before inevitably collapsing onto Colin’s head.
Cez, who in a parallel universe left Neil to be with one of the train drunks and now spends her evenings being serenaded with songs about Frank Lampard’s death.
This posed several questions. Firstly, how is it possible to get that drunk on Carling? My piss has a greater alcohol content than canned Carling (and tastes better) which means you can only get so drunk because even if you spend all day drinking it the effects of the first can are already wearing off by the time you start the fourth and so on. At best you can get slightly merry, and then very annoyed that you’re having to go to the toilet every five minutes. Secondly, why is one of the brain’s first responses to being drunk to immediately send a message to the mouth telling it everybody within earshot would love to hear you sing? Thirdly, having snivelled and drooled his way through one song about the death of “big fat Franky Lampard” after another, then 45 minutes of homophobic/anti Swindon numbers, and then ten minutes of beer tower building what exactly did the more wasted one of the pair expect to happen when, having leered at Neil’s lovely girlfriend Cez as she got up to go to the bathroom, he then followed her down the carriage and waited outside the toilet for her. Was she supposed to fall into his arms as she opened the door? Did he expect her to apologise to Neil but tell him that he could never possibly compete with such a fine specimen of man? In his mind did he imagine her swooning and going weak at the knees, murmuring about wanting to spend the rest of her life in his arms listening to his repertoire of Frank Lampard death songs?
Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever be sure.
Scores >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 6/10
In the pub
One of the less considered LoftforWords message board posts of the season (an award that would take many days to judge given the volume of contenders) came after one of Neil’s dearly loved videos of us all going mental after a goal at Middlesbrough made it onto YouTube. These videos are a new addition to our site this season, and one I’m not altogether comfortable with as QPR goals tend to possess my body like an angry demon and send me on into a violent 30 second spasm that clears out all in its way in a sea of gnashing teeth and flapping arms. To this season the only people that knew that were the poor bastards that sit with me every week, and those who’d been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of said outer body experience in full flight on BBC1 at Derby last season.
Anyway, in this video from the Riverside Stadium I first hurl poor Tracey over a row of seats, and then throw myself through the air into the arms of Big Steve from Sheffield who, luckily, catches a lot better than Tony Roberts ever did and saved me from whatever horrific injuries a reinforced concrete step and metal seat bracket can do to you when you throw yourself at them from six feet up in the air. One response read: “Who brings their bird to the football anyway?”. Tracey is not “my bird” – she has a long suffering boyfriend sitting at home while she’s being thrown over rows of seats in Middlesbrough just as I have a terribly understanding girlfriend back in London wondering what gutter she may have to come and retrieve me from later in the night. We’re just part of a group of mates who go to the football together. Startling.
Useful police diversionary tactic.
She may not be anybody in the group’s bird, but Tracey is terribly useful to have around on heavily police awaydays because she couldn’t really look less like a football fan if she tried. In Cardiff, a trick we’ve pulled many times over the years, we avoided the police at the station exit who were gathering up the QPR fans and herding them towards one particularly dank and dingey plastic glass infested pub of their approval by sending Tracey out ahead. Then it’s always just a case of following her with enough confidence and purpose. As usual the police looked at her, and us, and thought about asking us if we were QPR but then thought better of it because she doesn’t look like a football fan and we look like we know where we’re going.
This should have left us open to select the nicest boozer we could find, but what we actually did was walk straight into another plastic glass infested shit hole – one of those pubs that thinks it might actually be a club but isn’t quite sure. To make matters worse, a lovely bar with outside seating and glasses made of glass was open right next door, and we only noticed it after getting the first round in. We went in there afterwards, which sort of made up for it, and besides we’d been beaten to it in the first instance by “Bekki’s hen party” which consisted of 20 slim, attractive, tanned, busty girls and Bekki, who looked like a cross between a half inflated bouncy castle and the Guinness World Record attempt at the world’s biggest blancmange. Pity the poor fella who’s married to that now – unless he’s into moving rolls of fat aside in a bedroom situation, in which case congratulations are in order. We have long lens photos, but I’ve decided against posting them. Too cruel on her, and you.
Don’t look now, Bekki’s hen party is heading this way…
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times already, things didn’t end well for me on this particular day. I wasn’t going to mention it but starting the day standing in a puddle of sick made for a good introduction which now requires a pay off, and as today is meant to be the end of the world I suppose I should start confessing sins now. When we got back to London (oddly being attacked by a fierce thunderstorm as our train pulled in) we went to another pub to watch the end of Chelsea v West Ham. I know I shouldn’t be surprised but I’m new to London and was astonished to see three separate tables at the Aberdeen Angus Steak House next to Paddington occupied by people in Chelsea replica shirts while Chelsea were not only playing a match just down the road, but playing a match that those people could have watched in the pub next door to the bloody steak house.
Then, as Lindsey had joined me, we decided to go down to China Town and set sail on a set menu. Well early morning canned Becks, mid afternoon beer from a plastic glass, far too many train beers on the way home, another couple of beers while West Ham were charitable with Fernando, and enough fried duck breast to sink a small boat eventually took their toll and to me eternal shame I was sick on a street corner. Not a little bit of sick either – three big heaves, then a pause, and then another load besides. Shoes ruined, jeans splattered, tourists horrified.
Society today, tut.
Scores >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 7/10 >>> Cost 6/10
All photos featured on LoftforWords this season have been taken by Neil Dejyothin, who was also on hand with his camera at the Player of the Year dinner and end of season celebrations. If you see yourself and want to order one, for a small donation towards the QPR Ladies team, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org
@LoftforWords is now on Twitter. Apparently.
Photo: Action Images
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