Masters title snatched from QPR’s grasp by Watford
Monday, 11th Jul 2011 00:46 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s run of London Masters wins came to an end at Wembley Arena on Saturday night as they were beaten in the final by newcomers Watford. LoftforWords took a strong crew of five along for the ride.
Since I finally turned my back on the world of local newspapers where a reporter can expect to earn three buttons and packet of chewing gum a week (if they’re lucky) in favour of the more lucrative business to business press it has become my job to write about the business of television. This consists of, among other things, speaking to production companies in Eastern Europe about programme ideas they have come up with and are trying to flog to the UK, Germany and, very occasionally, the US.
Some of the ideas I’ve heard already in three months on the job have had me scrambling for the Google translator just to make sure something hadn’t been lost as it crossed the language barrier. Take the Romanian reality programme ‘Eye of the Mother in Law’ for example. This is a sort of Wife Swap concept where a couple who are having relationship difficulties invite their mother in laws to come and live with them for a week and offer marriage counselling and advice. Isn’t it odd, sometimes things you wouldn’t think would work in a million years turn out to be some of the best ideas ever conceived.
Which brings me neatly on to where the LoftforWords crew spent their Saturday night. Sky Sports may remorselessly plug their “fantastic summer of sport” on television, online, and on the wall of every pub toilet I’ve been in for the last month but I’m sure even they would admit that the June and July line ups across their channels aren’t exactly going to have new subscriptions flowing in. Live Surfing from Cleethorpes sea front in HD, live and exclusive coverage of the World Tiddlywinks Championships at Lyme Regis and a ridiculous amount of fishing programmes don’t exactly get the pulse racing. Big Train’s superb World Stare Out Championships can only be a matter of months away from becoming a reality.
They can plug all the extreme sports, crown green bowls and crazy golf competitions they like, the fact remains that I’d say nine out of every ten Sky Sports subscribers have it for the football. A few thousand people who live near the M62 watch their excellent Rugby League coverage, and the Twenty20 cricket still pulls in those who didn’t get bored of the slugfest within the first 18 months but it’s football that sells. Proof of that, if proof were needed, is that they’re already advertising coverage of the Dublin Super Cup and Emirates Trophy – deathly dull pre-season friendly tournaments which, incidentally, I will be interested to see if Jack Wilshere is a part of given Arsene Wenger’s grave concerns about his burn out.
So a few years ago somebody at Sky came up with an idea to provide subscribers with some football when there is no football to provide. The Masters, a summer arena tournament between teams of retired footballers. This took a little while to get started, and the early tournaments were played out among teams of very overweight 50 year old former pros. But as the concept has grown the number of teams taking part has increased and it’s become a serious business for those involved. In their first attempt QPR had Dean Wilkins playing for them, on Saturday night they turned up with Kevin Gallen, to give you an example of how things have progressed.
Chelsea’s team for last summer’s event actually looked like, on paper at least, it could still do a job at Championship level – although when it actually started playing they turned out to be pony. It’s strange which teams work at this level, and QPR seem to have the knack of it. Rangers have won the London Masters for the last two years, beating West Ham in the final on penalties on both occasions. Very un-QPR like all round.
Fair to say I didn’t take the claim that an army of Pwopah Nawty West Ham boys were massing in Mabel’s entirely seriously.
Well, starved of QPR action and with the clear sound of a bandwagon rolling by LoftforWords Towers we decided to go and see what all the fuss is about this year and so betting columnist Andy Hillman, official LFW photographer (not a salaried position) Neil Dejyothin, first class traveller Colin Speller, entertainment for the evening Tracey and myself decided to head for Wembley Arena on Saturday night to hurl abuse at Tony Roberts and hopefully see Rangers make it three wins in a row.
The evening was preceded with an afternoon of drinking and catching up in Mabel’s Tavern – apparently they had just about spent the last of the several thousand pounds we put behind the bar after the Watford match and were therefore very glad to see us, although they seemed quite grateful when Tracey decided that 2pm on a Saturday afternoon was too early for shots, even for her.
The original plan had been to drink there until about 6pm, then get the Metropolitan Line up to Wembley in time for the 7pm start which we didn’t see as being much of a problem. That was until we were informed that Take That were playing at the adjacent Wembley Stadium in front of 90,000 screaming women who are old enough to know better, so we revised the departure time to give us time to beat the crowds.
The obligatory LFW picture of Tracey with a drink. This is rosé, in a plastic glass. No further caption required.
And so, surrounded by lots and lots of mums in Mark Owen t-shirts, off we all went to Wembley Arena. Apparently Take That were supported by the Pet Shop Boys – had I known this I’d have probably bought a ticket myself and left after they’d finished their bit. That, and the classic Polish Paul “I’m not coming to pick you up Paul because it’s 2am and you’ve woken me up, and you sold the fucking car last Tuesday” story kept the menopausal women on the Metropolitan Line amused until it was time to disembark and slope our way quietly out of the throngs of concert goers and into a world where Michael Meaker is some sort of demi-God.
We had excellent seats, on the back row of the first tier and dead on halfway. An old Boots carrier bag and a set of headphones were fashioned into ties to hang the LFW Big Gay Flag up behind our seats and then we were set for the tournament to begin. The teams emerged altogether for a photo call before the first match, and immediately there seemed to be a problem for Rangers as we only had six players to everybody else’s eight. Goalkeeper Lee Harrison (more on him shortly), legendary speedster Wayne Fereday, Kevin ‘Magic Hat’ Gallen, Rufus ‘It Does Sound Like Something I Would Do’ Brevett, Tony ‘Just For Men’ Thorpe and Michael ‘Still Plays for Yate Town You Know’ Meaker were all in attendance but two players were missing. Rumours quickly spread that Matthew Rose had severed his carotid artery while getting out of his car but Marcus Bignot wasn’t there either. Luckily the R’s weren’t due on until match four so it wasn’t a drastic problem to begin with.
Belatedly up to full strength and ready to defend their title.
The first match was Watford, backed by the largest and noisiest contingent of supporters, against Arsenal whose star turn Paul Dickov had failed to show. The Gunners did however name Tony Roberts as their goalkeeper, despite him never playing for them at any level. Roberts has been quite good at this Masters malarkey in the past, and for him to turn out for Arsenal on the basis that he now coaches there leaving Rangers to muddle through with former Barnet stopper Lee Harrison on the basis that he might have watched ten minutes of a QPR reserve match once while waiting for his car to be MOT’d stuck in the craw a little.
Harrison was the QPR weak link on the night, but Roberts didn’t fare much better – sin binned in the first match for handling outside his area and leaving the arena to a chorus of “should have played for the Rangers” from the LFW contingent. Watford, who looked more than useful with another former QPR Master Steve Palmer at the back and Tommy Mooney up front, did them 3-0. Roberts was back for their second game, against Andy Sinton’s Spurs, but they were thrashed in that as well so he was on his way home before QPR had even kicked a ball. Such a shame. Apparently he’s already started campaigning for the ball to be changed to one with a bell in it for next year’s tournament.
Tony ‘Fat Boy’ Roberts in action for Arsenal, for whom he made zero senior appearances as a player.
Without a programme, or a scoreboard, or a clock, and with several bottles of Peroni being well topped up by Becks from a plastic glass it was a little hard to keep track of what was going on but it soon became apparent that there were two groups of three teams, and Rangers would be playing West Ham and arch enemy Chelsea, for whom Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was thankfully a no show, to reach the final. The evening quickly became about two things – beating Chelsea, and Kevin Gallen giving us a chance to sing his song in the proper context. Andy refused to offer a price on the latter, given the absolute certainty that it would happen.
Neil, for future reference, this isn’t a nose that suits side-on pictures.
In the end it was Michael Meaker who rather stole the show, bagging a hat trick. What a wonderful world to live in, where QPR beat Chelsea 4-3 and Michael Meaker scores three of them. The weird sticky out hair cut is no more, as is the abuse he used to cop from the terraces at Loftus Road, and the value of having somebody in your team who still plays for a living was there for all to see. Bignot and Rose had arrived by the time the game kicked off, and it became obvious from the start that Wayne Fereday wouldn’t be jetting up and down any wings, choosing instead to marshal his side in a sweeper role. Chelsea, who had Frank Sinclair in their side actually looking slimmer now than he did when he last played professionally, weren’t very good, and lacked a cutting edge with Tore Andre Flo clearly not suited to this sort of game. But they wouldn’t go away and with a minute to go Rangers only lead 3-2. Then Kevin scored. Of course he did. A thumping finish, to raise the roof and win the game, that eventually finished 4-3.
We could have gone back to the pub at that point, we’d seen what we came to see. Tracey was of the opinion that our rather loud and aggressive chorus of Magic Hat was perhaps a little misjudged considering the family audience we were in the middle of but her complaints fell on deaf ears. He scores all fucking night.
Meaker on the prowl.
This meant Chelsea were out, hilariously, and left Rangers and West Ham to compete for the place in the final. Rangers only needed a point, because the Hammers had only beaten Chelsea 3-2, but if a QPR team that regularly wins on penalties doesn’t sound very typical the way we nervously tried to hold on for that draw, and almost blew it from a 3-1 leading position, was pure Rangers. West Ham led 4-3 with a minute to go but a hat trick from Gallen and another from Meaker got us through at 4-4. In the final minute of the game, when losing for the first time, Rangers looked really good having laboured through the rest of the game somewhat.
The final was against the impressive Watford side, and their vocal support. Personally I would have liked a semi-final round but had there been one I think we would have been knocking on the door of four hours and would have kicked out at the same time as the screaming devil worshipers from next door so maybe it’s for the best. QPR had to go into the final immediately after their West Ham match which put us at a real disadvantage. Mind you, had we been in the other half of the draw we’d have played our first match with only six players. The tiredness showed as Watford surged into a two goal lead before Tony Thorpe cut in and slid home a typically tidy finish. Remember Tony, Just for Men targets only the grey, replacing it with subtle tones that match your own natural look in five easy minutes.
Taken shortly before a fight over a comb broke out.
Watford scored again after half time but Gallen pulled one back, and Marcus Bignot missed an absolute sitter before time ran out on QPR’s reign as champions. Kevin Miller, the Watford goalkeeper, was in sparkling form in stark contrast to the time he shipped six suspiciously shit goals in a crucial end of season relegation decider at Loftus Road during his Crystal Palace years. In the end all we had to warm our hearts on the tube home was the fact that Rufus Brevett managed to get involved in a little fight– like he said, it does sound like something he would do.
It’s safe to say I’ll be back at this event next summer. It was fantastic fun, like football used to be for me when these guys were actually out there playing for real. Expensive ticket prices, prima donna players, weird and wonderful kick off times – these lads were probably the tail end of the previous generation of players at our club and it was fantastic to go and see them all again in such a relaxed and fun atmosphere. I have to admit though, that seeing a player like Gallen playing in a Masters tournament when it only seems like a couple of years ago my Dad and me were watching him play for the youth team at Rangers was a little unsettling.
We were doubled up laughing for most of night and even though we lost in the end what’s not to like about an evening where Rufus Brevett tries to punch a fellow retired professional, and QPR beat Chelsea 4-3 with a goal from Kevin Gallen?
Gallen pipped Michael ‘Demi God’ Meaker to the tournament’s Golden Boot award.
If you enjoy baiting Tony Roberts too, and would like to do so with more like minded individuals through the medium of Twitter, then please follow @loftforwords and we’ll be only too glad to oblige.
Photo: Action Images
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