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This Week – Fixtures bring the buzz back as we prepare for a season without Styles
This Week – Fixtures bring the buzz back as we prepare for a season without Styles
Friday, 19th Jun 2009 09:02

Despite spending the last few months wishing that QPR and football in general would just go away the fixture list release has really got the juices flowing again – and we have an extra reason to look forward to 2009/10.

It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas
Have you ever sat down and tried to explain ‘fixture day’ to a none football fan? This is why they release them at 10am you know – so you can get sat down at work, get actual work nonsense out of the way and explain to all work colleagues around you why exactly you’re so excited on a run of the mill Wednesday morning. It’s not easy though.

Basically if you asked the girls I work with for one thing, one character trait, one vital piece of information about me they will all tell you the same thing – do not speak to him before 11am. This is down to my eating habits, in addition to the general grumpiness, because like my Mum before me I cannot stomach anything to eat first thing in the morning. I cannot even think about eating until half ten at the earliest and on a work day it is apparently frowned upon to arrive at nine and then clock off again to eat at half ten so I wait until lunch. Sadly our bodies were not designed to be dragged out of bed at 6am, forced to concentrate down 30 miles of the M1, then bunged in an office chair and made to think for three hours before being fed for the first time. I am consequently a grumpy, sleep, arsey, toss pot before 11am.

Except on Wednesday of course. Fixtures day. God I love it. I bounded into the shared car with a big smile on my face, a diary in one hand and a holiday request form in the other. Of course my colleague was keen to know exactly why there was this sudden departure from precedent and so, despite her QPR knowledge stretching only as far as “they sing that ring of fire song and wear that smelly kit you bring to work on Thursdays” I attempted to explain fixtures day. A simple enough concept, but to a non-football person almost impossible to marry up to the enthusiasm and excitement it creates in lunatics like me. They all tried in the office bless them but I started to get the impression that my cries of “agh look at those three trips all slung together” and “thank God we’re not at Plymouth on Boxing Day” piercing the silence grew tiresome after a while and so I went and sat in the car and had ten minutes with myself to calm down.

So now we know. It’s Blackpool to start, immediately noted down as a win by 99 per cent of all message board posters but a bloody horrible, niggly, awkward start in my book, and then three trips to the South West followed by somewhat kinder fixtures against Forest and Scunthorpe. Personally, without knowing who is buying who or what or when I believe we should be targeting nine points and cup progress from those games – hopefully win both the home matches and the Scunthorpe one, possibly sneak something at Plymouth if we’re lucky but let’s not be greedy.

The main talking points prior to the release seemed to be: one, when will we play Newcastle away? Two, when will we play Newcastle at home? And three, are we going to have to go to bloody Plymouth for Christmas again? As it turns out we’re at Loftus Road on Boxing Day and Newcastle come to us on the last day which isn’t too bad for QPR fans – Bristol City are less than impressed at starting away, finishing away and coming to us for Christmas as you might imagine.

The Newcastle away game is, sadly, on a Wednesday night in September striking a fatal blow to the plans of many Rangers fans who had wanted to make the most of a first trip there for more than a decade by going up for the weekend, drinking their beer, marvelling at their ladies and generally taking the piss out of the whole sorry situation they find themselves in. All in all though considering Rangers fans last year had midweek trips to Cardiff, Swansea, Doncaster, Sheffield and Blackpool the midweek games have been pretty reasonable and kind to us. In a division of so many teams spread so widely and so many midweek fixture dates trips to Bristol and Nottingham on a Tuesday are probably the best many could have hoped for.

Many of you will probably have read with great interest, as I did, Paul Fletcher’s BBC blog into how the fixtures are produced. I’m sure I read something like this last summer, and the summer before, but it was intriguing all the same. The age old criticisms of the fixture list, and certainly not complaints we are adverse to making ourselves here on LFW, are the amount of midweek night fixtures (ten in all) and the sometimes impossible distances supporters are asked to travel on those Tuesday nights. Fixture man Glenn Thompson explains, with some justification no doubt, that you cannot programme the fixture computer to recognise that sending QPR to Newcastle on a Wednesday night is a thoroughly bloody shit idea. He also points out that factors such as World Cups and international weekends dictate the number of Tuesday night games although as I have said on here in the past I think Championship clubs should be forced to play on those weekends regardless – in rugby league the seasons in Super League and NRL continue regardless of internationals or origin fixtures, leaving clubs like Leeds without as many as nine regular players.

Anyway even if you give Glenn and his fixture men the benefit of the doubt on those ones, and it is certainly fair to do that especially considering the well balanced fixture list we have just been presented with where only really the Newcastle away game making you catch your breath at the size of the task facing QPR fans that want to go, two things stuck out of the article for me as being particularly annoying.

Firstly, the assertion that the Boxing Day fixtures are in fact hand selected. So the ridiculous situation with us spending two of the last three Christmases in Plymouth was actually decided on purpose by a human with a brain, and not by accident by a computer with a programme. I’d like to give that human a dry slap if I could, or at least insert my petrol receipts into him somewhere. Could they not have at least switched the bloody thing so they came to us the second time? Or better still sent them to Cardiff, Bristol City, Southampton or Reading? Grrrrrr.

Secondly the frankly ludicrous reasoning put forward for leaving a fixture between Dagenham and Redbridge and Morecambe on a Tuesday night. To summarise it was recognised that making 20 Morecambe fans do East London on a Tuesday night was tantamount to cruelty so they looked into changing it, however it was decided that changing it to a Saturday would affect so many other games it was best left where it is? I’m sorry but what possible damage could that fixture, between two clubs with no history of animosity and likely to attract a crowd of barely 3000 people, do to those of Blackpool, Preston, West Ham, Southend and all the rest of the teams in their vicinity? My only encounter with Morecambe fans was at Derby station a couple of years ago when a gang of ten of them were changing trains after a match at Burton Albion – while standing on the platform two of them actually took out jotters to take down the numbers of passing trains while the Derby and Forest fans fought around them. I did the police calls at work that Monday and there were no reports of Derby fans being injured by flying spotter jotters after I’d left.

Towards the back end of last season there was a similar farce in Derbyshire where Matlock Town had to move a game with FC United of Manchester to a Sunday because they were expecting more than 1000 people and Derby were playing at home some 20 miles away. In a week when the police are whinging and asking clubs to pay greater fees still for their services on matchdays perhaps I’m just lacking in sympathy for them at the moment but it irritated me all the same.

Still, fixtures now out I’m one week in the sun away from being fully recharged and ready to go and that is booked for me very shortly – play nicely while I’m gone, big brother (or in this case little brother) will be watching.

Don’t let the door smack you in the back on the way out
If the fixtures did not get you excited about the forthcoming season, perhaps the thought that our favourite referee will no longer be around to stick the boot into our team will do. That’s right, Rob Styles is apparently set to announce his premature retirement - premature with regards to age, certainly not before time for the thousands of football fans who have wasted money going to see matches refereed by him.

Just think, at no stage next season will you log onto LoftforWords on a Thursday night, turn to the back of your programme on Saturday afternoon or stare down at the Loftus Road tunnel at five to three and utter the immortal line “oh bloody hell not Styles” ever again. I’ve found easing back in a comfortable chair and sitting in complete silence with my eyes closed while running that fact over and over in my mind strangely soothing this week.

Rob Styles’ history with QPR is well documented: the sendings off, the penalties, the disallowed goals, that day at bloody Wycombe where we saw him literally have a total mental breakdown before our very eyes sending off four and disallowing two perfectly fine strikes in a farcical 4-1 defeat. Styles was always a man who did things his own way - using the rules of the game as a mere guideline rather than a black and white, hard and fast book of laws by which the game must be officiated. He of course attempted to create the ludicrous “intent is enough to award a penalty” idea rather than simply admit he’d made a mistake when Steven Gerrard flung himself to the ground at Bramall Lane under no contact whatsoever and then stepped up to take the resulting spot kick in 2007. That Styles later denied Sheff Utd a penalty at Old Trafford and they were relegated as a result of those two decisions is certainly not lost on Neil Warnock.

He seemed to revel in cruelty and awarded penalties just to liven a game up - the fact that by buying Van Nistelrooy’s dive at Portman Road six years ago condemned Ipswich to defeat and relegation seemed to bother him almost as little as the laughable decision to give Man Utd a penalty against Bolton this year when the visitors had miraculously held out for 70 minutes without conceding. When even Christiano Ronaldo does not appeal for a foul you’ve got to wonder surely? Every one of Styles’ classic cock ups received the same reaction from him - shrugged shoulders, up turned chin, wry smile. If you had to draw a picture of somebody who just didn’t give a toss I think you’d probably picture Styles at Old Trafford last season - shattered and heartbroken Bolton Wanderers players scattered around him, Styles struggling to contain a snigger.

Occasionally we laughed with him when he cost our rivals points but even when he was funny to us the blind could recognise that the man was at best eccentric and at worst completely incompetent - like airline pilots, these are not qualities you want in your referees.

I am however, apparently, lacking in understanding of the modern referee according to retired official and QPR fan Graham Poll. Poll told The Guardian on the day of the announcement: “He cared deeply about his refereeing, dedicating himself to serving the game he loves. However, the fact that the majority of the football-watching public will merely shrug their shoulders in indifference at this news or say 'Good' proves the lack of understanding of the modern referee."

Now I didn’t so much shrug as race off to the fridge fists clenched, face contorted into a beaming smile of joy, for a celebratory beer but I suspect Graham would probably include me in that. Poll was a good referee, a very good referee in fact. Through his newspaper columns, books and television appearances it is very clear that he felt bitter about how the final 12 months of his career went following the three card incident at a World Cup that had him earmarked for the final and felt he was owed or could have been afforded more support by the authorities and ultimately it was quite a sad way to end what was an exceptionally good refereeing career. However I do feel, as I have said before, that he allows those ill-feelings towards the way he was treated in the game to cloud his comments sometimes.

The first hint that we may lose Rob Styles for good came in the middle of last season when Newcastle had Beye sent off after 12 minutes of a game against Man City and a penalty awarded against them. Replays showed Beye had touched the ball away and should not have been penalised and the card was overturned on appeal. Of course had Newcastle won that match they would still be a Premiership side today and while the way Mike Ashley has run the club, the manager turn over, the lack of commitment of their overpaid under performing players, and about a million and one other things are all much bigger factors in their demise that decision remains a factor all the same. Graham Poll was a guest on Setanta Sports that night for the game and argued at length with Craig Burley during the game, at half time and afterwards with Burley rightly saying it was a crap decision and Poll trying to stick up for the referee.

Now nothing irks me more than a co-commentator watching four super-slow-mo replays to decide if a player was onside and then, when it turns out he might have been, slating a linesman or referee who only got one look at it, at normal speed, from ground level in a pressure situation. However the video did show that Beye won the ball, and so the red card was overturned. All perfectly fair. However Styles was apparently not happy about this perceived lack of support. I think more than his propensity to make truly horrific decisions it was Styles' wholly arrogant attitude to his own mistakes that had fans up and down the land burying their heads in their hands whenever he turned up at their games. To be annoyed that he wasn’t backed up on a decision that was clearly shown to be wrong on the replays says much about the man for me. That Poll tried to back him on Setanta when the replays clearly showed the decision was wrong again comes back to my idea that his judgement is occasionally clouded by the lamentable way he was treated during his final year on the job.

I’m glad to see the back of him, but I object to the suggestion that this betrays a lack of knowledge and understanding on my part. I’ve played football, I’ve watched an unbelievable amount of football and I’ve refereed football - I'm not going to pretend I could go toe to toe with Arsene Wenger in a discussion on the merits of playing 451 away from home, or Graham Poll in a discussion about modern refereeing at the highest level, but I don't accept that I have a lack of understanding of refereeing just because I'm happy that an official who is widely seen as being a bit of a pillock is retiring.

I speak as someone who spent the thick end of £100 going from Scunthorpe to Wycombe to watch Rob Styles systematically destroy a game of football from start to finish. Same at Charlton in the FA Cup. Same at Fulham. The man was a buffoon at the best of times but the QPR shirts just seemed to do something to him. Were this Howard Webb, Alan Wiley, Martin Atkinson, Mark Halsey or Mark Clattenburg I wouldn’t be celebrating or saying it was a good thing - I would be disappointed because I know a good referee when I see one, we need to keep hold and protect these excellent officials and bring similarly good ones through.

Rob Styles was the worst kind of referee. A referee who finishes the match as the centre of attention far too often. A referee who will always use a card rather than a word on the run, will always give a free kick rather than allow play to continue and cannot admit his own mistakes. In my opinion he was a monstrously poor official even allowing for a sudden miraculous improvement in the last three months of last season. That’s my opinion. I don’t think it displays a lack of understanding as much as it does frustration and relief. In a time of recession I do not want to be paying hundreds of pounds to go to matches only to see them ruined by some egotistical maniac with a whistle.

I’ve heard all the arguments - players make more mistakes than referees, it wasn’t the referee that missed from a yard out, it wasn’t the referee that picked the team or signed that poor player and I agree with them. But referees do make mistakes, costly ones, and some more than others. The world of refereeing and football is not suddenly going to become free of controversy because we are rid of Rob Styles, but it will be a marginally better place all the same.

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