Gurnham, Gurnham is that you my old friend? Report
Sunday, 20th Mar 2016 22:16 by Clive Whittingham
Referee Andy Woolmer turned a run-of-the-mill midtable fixture between Preston and Queens Park Rangers into high farce in the style of Gurnham Singh and Rob Styles at Deepdale on Saturday.
In a week where Queens Park Rangers CEO Lee Hoos unashamedly pleaded with supporters to climb on board with his early season ticket renewal policy, perhaps Northamptonshire referee Andy Woolmer was sent as a gift from the marketing Gods. Even a midtable dead rubber can be turned into a nail-biting cliffhanger if you leave a maverick lunatic in charge of it.
Both Preston and QPR can be reasonably content with their seasons so far, which are now over to all intents and purposes.
Actually, North End should be bloody delighted. While their fellow newly promoted sides MK Dons and Bristol City have battled relegation, Simon Grayson’s team have climbed into the top half of the table in their first season back at this level. That’s achievement enough, given the Financial Fair Play rules and the Deepdale budget relative to most of the rest of the league, but with last season’s star strikers Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford out of form and injured respectively for most of the season and the attempt at replacing them, Stevie May, now also absent it’s quite remarkable. As they’re not Leeds, Derby, Forest or, dare I say it, QPR, they’ve had no coverage at all but they’re one of this division’s stand-out success stories of the season.
QPR have also consolidated, rather than plummeting straight through the division - which is always a risk when you’re relegated and decide to break the squad apart and cut costs. Recent performances have given rise to optimism that there’s an exciting 2016/17 season to come with a team on half the budget of the wasters of 2014/15. A transitional campaign has been completed with some success and hope for the future.
But sitting tenth and eleventh at the start of play, a long way distant from the relegation zone and too far shy of the play-offs with too few games remaining to correct that situation, this one didn’t exactly scream Eastenders Christmas Day Special. “You’re not my mother…” “I know you daft cow, be quiet, sit down and drink your rum and coke.”
The stats were less tempting for a creditable following of 700 QPR fans than the £20 train tickets on offer for the day. The first meeting between the sides had finished 0-0 without QPR having a serious shot on goal, one of eight scoreless games involving PNE this season – understandable, given their ongoing struggles to rota enough attacking players for match days. Here Jordan Hugill battled gamely as a lone striker, but lone was the operative word.
For a while, things looked like they were going to go to script. QPR’s giant German centre forward Seb Polter was able to lose his marker Tom Clarke far too easily from a fifth minute corner and powered in a free header from six yards to give QPR the lead. Seven goals for Polter this season now, his cult status growing with each elaborate, prolonged goal celebration. A tenth goal of the season from a corner for Rangers too – the most in the division – amazing what can happen when Joey Barton isn’t taking all your set pieces any more.
And, for the first half at least, things plodded along quite routinely. Preston’s dreadlocked midfielder Daniel Johnson, arguably their best outfield player, almost plundered an equaliser on 18 minutes when the QPR defence was hesitant in dealing with a routine loose ball in the box. Greg Cunningham lashed over via a deflection from the edge of the area when the resulting corner was cleared out to him.
Both teams threatened around the half hour mark. Karl Henry, in ever-improving form, tempted home keeper Anders Lindegaard – on loan from West Brom – from his line for a flap and Polter was unfortunate to see his header back down towards the unguarded net come to nothing. Almost immediately, at the other end, Hugill’s increasingly physical battle with Angella continued with the Preston man glancing a header wide under heavy pressure. Later Clint Hill, in full-on warrior mode, stuck his face in amongst the flailing boots to dive and head a lethal cut back from the byline away to safety.
But there had already been one or two warning signs that all was not well with the match officials. Five minutes into the game Calum Woods launched into the sort of cunt’s trick challenge on Ale Faurlin that ordinarily has people discussing whether a red card is appropriate. The Argentinean, knees held together with elastic bands and chewing gum, leapt up immediately to remonstrate with his opponent and the pair had to be separated. Woolmer showed no card at all, presumably under the unwritten “it’s a bit early yet” legislation.
Problem was, having not booked for that, it sort of skewed the rules for the rest of the game – if you can deliberately chop into somebody with a reckless tackle off the ground and not be booked, what exactly is a yellow card? Woolmer’s struggles escalated from there on in, and presumably ended later that night with him in the arms of his wife in tears while she stroked his balding pate and assured him it couldn’t possible have been as bad as he thought. It was. In fact, it was worse.
On half time the home team were, justifiably, incandescent when Gallagher turned round Hill into open space on halfway and was clearly bodychecked to the ground by the veteran QPR defender. On this occasion Woolmer didn’t even award a free kick, which brought him a lively reception from the home fans and coaching staff at half time.
That reception at the break seemed to be something of a straw for this piss weak official’s crumbling back. Trapped somewhere between appeasing the home fans, and showing them he didn’t care what they thought, he turned the second half into the sort of circus you imagine Gurnham Singh fantasises about in some suburban motorway hotel room with a length of rope round his neck and a citrus fruit in his mouth. This routine midtable dead rubber quickly turned into a game the likes of which I’ve rarely seen before in 25 years of week-in-week-out attendance at football matches. We were laughing by the end. Everybody was laughing.
We’ll ignore the first five minutes of the second half, in which five Preston free kicks were swiftly awarded to loud cheers from the home stands, two of them for almost nothing at all. We’ll mention only in passing now the moment Tjaronn Chery seized on a loose ball and streaked clear on goal only to be obviously and deliberately hauled to the ground by Tom Clarke who knew the game was up – only to say that Woolmer wasn’t even going to award a free kick at all until his linesman felt compelled to intervene and insist that a foul had been committed. The rules say a red card was the only option, and Clarke was therefore shown a yellow.
Sympathy for Chery, and anger over the injustice of it all, is tainted somewhat by the Dutchman later being allowed to race away one on one with Lindegaard but delaying his shot too long and allowing the keeper to make an easily readable save. QPR should have put the game to bed there and then regardless of the Krusty Comeback Special masquerading as a refereeing performance.
What I’d like to focus on instead is two separate incidents where Woolmer contrived to concoct a decision that simply isn’t in the laws of the game at all. First, as Junior Hoilett was preparing to take a QPR corner, Clint Hill made an early run to the near post and was, fairly obviously, tripped and then pulled to the ground by his marker. A penalty, had the ball been delivered, but it hadn’t. What usually happens in these situations is both players get up, the taking of the corner is delayed, the players are spoken to by the referee and the corner is re-run. What happened here was Woolmer signalled for Hoilett to take the corner immediately anyway with both players on the floor, and the very second his foot connected with the ball he immediately awarded a Preston free kick against Hill – now on the ground and buried under his assailant. A free kick awarded in the wrong direction for an offence that took place before the ball had come into play. A new one on me, and I’ve seen Darren Deadman referee.
Hill and Angella’s physicality had the home fans in uproar for much of the afternoon, and they looked fortunate to get away with a few penalty appeals, but it bodes well for QPR next season – we looked like a big, physical, northern side not to be messed with as opposed to the southern softie routine we’ve seen so often from Rangers over the years. The Italian’s tactile approach to centre half play riled first Hugill, then Eoin Doyle, and finally Jermaine Beckford when he was introduced from the bench late on.
This needle led to the second remarkable piece of officiating. When a Preston attack was defused by Alex Smithies - ever commanding, ever confident, looking great in mauve – Doyle objected to Angella’s attentions and a fight ensued. Not a proper fight like you see in Rugby League, a football fight where people push each other about a bit and clasp bits of their face hoping some blood has been drawn so a red card might be shown.
Woolmer, panicked, rushed across to disrupt the melee and separate the players but with the ball in Smithies’ hands and therefore still in play he was now in something of a predicament. He’d stopped the game – though not by blowing the whistle – and now needed to know how to restart the thing. If he believed Angella was in the wrong, it was a penalty kick. If he thought Doyle had sinned, then it was a QPR free kick. If he thought it was neither of those things, then it was a drop ball straight back to Smithies. What it definitely wasn’t, and couldn’t ever be, was play on from the goalkeeper’s hands – something the referee only realised himself long after the keeper had bowled the ball out to James Perch at left back, resulting in another long, random, perplexing stoppage. I think, in the end, he settled on a QPR free kick on the edge of the area. To be honest, it was hard to tell by this stage. Episodes of It’s A Knockout held their structure better than this total nonsense.
QPR had spurned decent chances to put the game to bed – Polter with a poor shot when in a good position, Faurlin seeing a shot thrice deflected after being teed up by Hoilett. The R’s had played well, using the ball well when they had it and defending nastily when they didn’t. Hill, Angella, Perch, Henry and Polter could all be very pleased with their afternoon’s work. It was encouraging.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink sent on Massimo Luongo for Jamie Mackie who’d toiled hard to little effect, and later bolstered an under-pressure defence by adding Grant Hall, but to be honest they were tactically-minded changes at a point when the game had descended into a complete and utter farce. It was akin to thinking very carefully about what lottery numbers you’re going to choose and then wondering why you only pulled one from six in the random draw. A chimp with a machine gun would have wreaked less havoc than this team of officials.
By the time Woolmer’s random decision generator produced six minutes of added time from the bag the whole thing had basically become football’s version of Billy Smart’s Travelling Circus. Disagreements, fights, set tos and what nots were breaking out all over the field as play continued in different areas of the pitch. Play was stopped for nothing at all, and allowed to go on through obvious fouls. At one point, after Angella and Beckford were booked for a push and shove match, Woolmer then ran half the length of the field to show a yellow card to - I think – Ale Faurlin, who’d been nowhere near anything at all and could only place his hands on his knees and bow his heads in absolute exasperation at the ludicrousness of it all. Henry came across and put an arm around his shoulders in solidarity – both ended up laughing. Somewhere in his lair in southern England, Rob Styles watched on with a mixture of pride and sexual arousal. This was turning into a masterpiece of incompetence even Trevor Kettle would struggle to recreate.
By now both sets of fans were raining abuse down on the field in equal measure, astonished by what they were seeing. I couldn’t help but think both teams would have been better served by removing the referee altogether and replacing him with a bucket filled with strips of paper saying things like “Preston penalty” or “QPR throw in” and simply have the captains draw them out tombola-style every time the ball went dead. It couldn’t have been any more ridiculous, and more correct decisions would have been reached.
Preston scored early-ish in that stoppage time, as they probably deserved to, when Luongo got a bit lazy wide right, and Karl Henry - decent to this point – was caught flat-footed by Cunningham who subsequently had space to cross for Doyle to head in at the near post. Annoying, QPR had worked hard enough for better.
In the end Woolmer played almost nine extra minutes, during which there were four bookings – I think, he was basically walking around with the yellow permanently in his hand by this stage flashing it about all over the show – and three separate fights. Anders Lindegaard, ridiculously, leapt into the air and objected to a challenge from Grant Hall which resulted in another dispute and a yellow card for the QPR man. One you realise the referee has lost control, you’ll try all sorts on - like a class of going-nowhere kids in a down-at-heel northern secondary school presented with a meek supply teacher.
They told me on my referee course there will be days when you just get home, toss your kit bag in the bush at the end of the garden and vow never to go out there again. On such occasions, an inevitable failure of the human condition, you’d probably think the best thing to do would be to bring it to a close as quickly as possible. And yet there we all were, during the second reading of the classified football results, still playing, still fighting, still getting booked, still wondering what in the name of all that’s fucking good in the world was going on, still struggling to believe what we were watching. It was like the Never Ending Story. It was like few other football games I’ve seen. It was wild. It was entirely of the referee’s making. He was like a demented wizard.
I thought Woolmer might bow when the final whistle did finally bring this black comedy to an end. An old man, completely incapable of maintaining control of tenth v eleventh in the Championship, booed from the field enthusiastically by both sets of supporters. If that kit bag was in the bush at the end of his Northamptonshire garden this morning let’s hope it’s fucking stayed there.
Entertaining though, summer’s nearly here.
Preston: Lindegaard 7; Woods 6, Wright 6, Clarke 5, Cunningham 7; Johnson 7; Gallagher 6, Pearson 6 (Doyle 61, 7), Reach 6 (Beckford 85, -), Robinson 6 (Welsh 79, 6); Hugill 5
Subs not used: Vermijl, Kilkenny, Smith, Kirkland
Goals: Doyle 90+3 (assisted Cunningham)
Bookings: Clarke 81 (denying a goalscoring opportunity), Beckford 90+5 (fighting)
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 6, Angella 6, Hill 7, Perch 6; Faurlin 6, Henry 7, Mackie 6 (Luongo 78, 5), Chery 6 (Hall 89, -), Hoilett 6 (El Khayati 90+3, -), Polter 7
Subs not used: Washington, Tozser, Ingram, Petrasso
Goals: Polter 5 (assisted Faurlin)
Bookings: Hoilett 71 (not sure), Angella 90+5 (fighting), Faurlin 90+5 (not sure), Hall 90+8 (foul-ish)
QPR Star Man – Karl Henry 7 Caught a little flat footed for the goal but in a game this ridiculous, and with most of the possession going Preston’s way after the early Polter goal, he was invaluable and played very well. Run close by Clint Hill. Be interesting to see what happens with his contract this summer.
Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire) 2 Remarkable. One point for turning up, one for comedic interpretation of limited material.
Attendance – 11,322 (700 QPR approx) Most comedy clubs kill for these sort of numbers, and this knocked Michael McIntyre, Miranda Hart and Lenny Henry into a cocked hat.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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