Boredom in its purest form – Report
Sunday, 10th Mar 2019 21:35 by Clive Whittingham
On Saturday Queens Park Rangers drew nil nil at home to Stoke City, a team that has won just two away games all season and played for more than 82 minutes with ten men. If you were there, then you have my deepest, deepest sympathy.
Back in about 2012 my very attractive and slightly looney girlfriend decided that life with somebody who goes to every Queens Park Rangers game wasn’t quite as glamourous as it sounds and left me for a floppy-haired South African boy in her office. While she was packing her things and fucking the fuck off I thought it might be an idea for me to beat a retreat from our house/country and get myself away for a few days so marched into the office on Monday morning, perused the list of conferences taking place in the industry that week, and very assertively told my boss that my questionable value to his company would be greatly enhanced by me spending the next four days in Prague.
Bit of background, – believe me, we’ve a lot of time and space to fill here – my job when I’m not trying to put the pain of following QPR around into words is to follow the international television industry around and report on its pain instead. Every week, all over the world, producers of television content, and distributors that hold the rights to it, gather in hotels and locations of varying quality and wait for all the people that own television channels in that region to come and see them and buy their shows. It’s a little like the football transfer market and occasionally something frightfully interesting happens like when Channel 5 pinched Big Brother from Channel 4, or Showtime came back from Israel with a little-known drama called Prisoners of War which they promptly stuck Damian Lewis and Claire Danes on the front of, called Homeland and changed the broadcasting landscape for ten years. But, in truth, it’s mostly just 200-hour slabs of low budget tat where Americans prise open storage lockers and cream their pants over the contents, bought for a price that barely covers the cost of the lunch the deal was done over, and aired on a channel deep within your EPG that you’ll never watch.
So, Prague. Or, rather, a flat-roofed, four-storey, hangover from the Soviet era out near Prague Airport that masqueraded as a hotel. The thing was an evil jigsaw of brown concrete panels, wind whistling through the cracks and under your door whenever it blew, and had almost certainly been the scene of multiple prostitute murders. The carpet in my room had questionable stains. This was the glamourous venue for the New European Content Market or European New Content Market or Grand European New Content Market or Grand Content Market Europe, or something like that. I forget. It’s not important. And also a sordid little grief hole for me to hang out in while ex Mrs Loftforwords was back at home deciding whether or not she dare take our shared DVD copy of Jurassic Park. She dare not, as it transpired. Clever girl.
And this was fine for an hour or so. The weather wasn’t trying to kill me, the company was paying for it, I walked over that little bridge with the statues into the old town... Prague.
Problems did surface rather quickly though. Firstly, the Braidwood Inn was in the middle of Buttfuck Nowhere and in order to go into Prague and walk across the little bridge with the statues into the old town a taxi had to be summoned from civilisation, paid for, and sat in for quite a serious period of time and whenever I left my “room” for more than ten minutes I worried that one of the other guests may tire of bludgeoning their hooker and pop in through the door I was able to open with my Morrisons petrol card and steal my iPad. Secondly, once you’ve walked over the little bridge with the statues and into the old town three or four times Prague starts to get really fucking old. And thirdly, nobody had ever heard of the New European Content Market or European New Content Market or Grand European New Content Market or Grand Content Market Europe or whatever the fuck it was called, let alone tried to attend it. Bar one sweaty gentleman with dubious personal hygiene who was looking for €35 for his catalogue of 6,000 hours of Turkish soap opera, and another who was peddling the sort of porn collection you used to find dumped in the woods, there was nobody there.
Buyers – the people with the money to spend, the people who do the deals, the people the sellers want to talk to, the people I need to talk to for the stories – numbered one man from a start-up airline in the Central African Republic who was offering a round of drinks in return for a back catalogue of 1980s sitcoms they could show passengers to sooth them while their pilots tried desperately hard not to turn their ageing planes into a fiery mess on the ground. Or, sometimes, the sea. Several trips to the organisers’ office armed with a handbook that had promised big channels from Germany, France, Spain, the Far East, America and elsewhere brought sheepish shrugs and panicked phone calls in a dialect I didn’t understand and a body language I did. Vague hopes that somebody who runs a female lifestyle channel in Slovakia, or Slovenia, or Bulgaria, or Hungaria, or that bit of Romania that has paved roads, might turn up quickly dissipated. At one point they tried to hold a presentation on “television trends in Central and Eastern Europe” for which I was the only attendee. There I sat, staring up at a PowerPoint presentation that a delinquent 11-year-old could have done in their sleep, delivered in a monotone drawl by a middle-aged divorcee more nicotine than woman who paused for time periods ranging from 30 seconds to four and a half minutes after each slide to ask if there were “any questions from the audience” (me) and then stood in silence while I stared back at her, trying to imagine if there’d ever been any hope in her life. Maybe we should have shagged, just to see if either of us could still feel.
I was there for four days. My bath taps had two settings – liquid nitrogen and molten lava – so on day two I opted for the latter, filled the tub, left it until day four, and then sat in the bath for three hours watching an old episode of Air Crash Investigation where an overworked pilot tries to put his American Airlines jet down at Little Rock in a severe thunderstorm and ends up splitting the thing in two on a metal walkway leading from the end of the runway down to the Arkansas River. Eleven of them died and I envied them all. I watched it twice.
Now I throw all this in here at this point for two reasons. Firstly, to establish my threshold for boredom and misery. It takes a lot. I’m very resilient. I can sit there for days through this stuff. Just numb, and marking time. Just existing. I gave up on this world and these people and this life a long time ago and now I can just sort of drift along, for days and weeks at a time. And secondly to fill space, because when you come to LoftforWords you come for 2,000 words on whatever we’re talking about, and what we’re ostensibly talking about today is Queens Park Rangers v Stoke City, an alleged football match that took place in West London on Saturday in which precisely three things happened. I’m going to run through them now chronologically, as I am contractually obligated to do, and I don’t want you to blink, because you might miss them, but I do think you should sit through them because… well… I fucking had to.
The first was a red card. This happened after only eight minutes and was handed out to Stoke’s midfielder Sam Clucas who, having been very fairly and very well tackled by Josh Scowen, decided to stamp on the QPR player’s shin five yards away from referee Gavin Ward. It was an action of such blatant, mindless stupidity one could only surmise that he’d wanted to use his trip to the capital for a posh dinner, left it too late to book a table, then taken the one by the bogs they had available at 5pm anyway. They’re about Gavin Ward’s level those sorts of decisions, and he couldn’t get the red card out quickly enough.
Faced with more than 80 minutes against ten men, QPR took all the conventions on how to take advantage of having an extra man in association football – move the ball quickly, stretch the pitch widthways, attack with speed in wide areas – and ignored each one of them in turn. Stoke – who have won only twice away from home all season, who have failed to win any of their last ten road trips including a cup game at League One strugglers Shrewsbury - slipped calmly into a 4-4-1 set up and never once looked remotely troubled. QPR started in a 4-4-2 with Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells up front, Pawel Wszolek and Luke Freeman on the “wings”, Mass Luongo and Josh Scowen in the middle, Jordan Cousins at right back for the dropped Darnell Furlong, and the usual suspects elsewhere. They phoned in an excruciatingly dull pile of dreary sludge. This was a stubbed toe on the end of a bed on a cold day while simultaneously standing on an upturned plug with one bare foot and a scattered mess of discarded Lego bricks with the other. In mitigation, it was very windy, and the pitch suddenly looks like we’ve been grazing livestock on it, but this was a barbaric assault on the senses.
At half time Bright Osayi-Samuel, an actual “winger”, was summoned from the bench to play on what we’re led to believe used to be called the “wing” and this led to moments that - relative to everything else that went on yesterday afternoon - could pass for sort of interesting. Shortly after that the second incident occurred when Nahki Wells spun in the right channel of the penalty box and unloaded a very decent shot towards the far corner that I suspect most Championship goalkeepers – either through their shitness or having been lulled into a false sense of security – might have conceded. Jack Butland, an England international, dived right and saved well. Applause.
Wells is not in good form, and is not playing well. You have to be a pugnacious bastard to play for QPR, a club that just seems to sap the life out of anybody that comes within 300 yards of the place, and Wells has gone from just about as good as you’ll get at this level to a forlorn, lost, sad-looking boy over the course of his time with us. He does though, at least, keep going, keep running, keep getting into positions, keep trying. Which is more than you could really say of his alleged strike partner Tomer Hemed on Saturday. Hemed is a man previously described as “a warrior” by his manager but you couldn’t even say he went through the motions in this game – because there was no motion. Even the occasional jog off to the left to make a token (failed) effort at winning a header, or a little trot over to the right to hang a leg out in the vague vicinity of a clearance downfield, that we’ve come to expect was absent here. They’ve put kids on the side of American milk cartons for less. Clucas had more influence on this game and that prick got sent off after eight minutes.
There wasn’t a single positive to take here. Luke Freeman toiled for no reward. Josh Scowen’s difficult second album with QPR plumbed new depths with a performance so inept that I went all the way through anger and came out the other side wanting to cuddle him and stroke his hair. He knew it as well, the look on his face as one pass after another sailed off into the stand said more than words ever could. Samuel’s introduction added some purpose down the left, but Rangers had absolutely nobody doing the same down the right making the team horrendously lopsided and easy to defend against. When Mide Sodipo was belatedly summoned for a first QPR appearance since January 2017 to correct the imbalance we neglected to pass him the ball. This is where Stoke City eat. From the moment Clucas went off it was completely impossible to tell which team was playing a man light unless you counted them up – which was actually a better way to pass the time than watching the actual fucking game.
Time was passed by wondering just what exactly it is they’re feeding them up in Stoke-on-Trent. Tony Pulis is long gone from the Potteries but everybody in their team bar Joe Allen, who looks like he sleeps at the railway station, is either unfeasibly tall, ridiculously fat, or both. Charlie Adam is from Dundee, you expect it from him, they deep fry their scabs up there, but quite what shape you could describe Benick Afobe as being in at the moment I’m not sure. He very weirdly joined Wolves for £10m last summer only to immediately come to Stoke on loan who then paid a reported £12m for him in January - nothing to see here officer – and appears to have spent the signing on fees from both deals entirely on pastry.
Allen and Adam absolutely bossed the midfield for the whole game, the latter almost scoring with a 25 yarder that looked in all the way but flashed wide. Nevertheless, for bantz, new Stoke boss Nathan Jones slung on another bottomless brunch enthusiast Ashley Williams – an immobile centre half – as a central midfielder. All this height and weight rendered QPR’s multiple corners rather useless as Ryan Shawcross calmly stood and bastarded everything away. Warrior Hemed missing in action. QPR responded to that by playing the corners won in the latter stages of the game short, and then fucked those up as well. With a minute to go Darnell Furlong came on from the bench for Wells (injured? Deep joy) and immediately hurled one of his long throws straight onto the forehead of Shawcross once more. That bloke’s had more challenging visits to his fridge than anything we posed for him on Saturday.
With 20 minutes to go Stoke decided that 0-0 rather suited them and started to go through the familiar Championship procedure of killing a game that was already long dead. This brought a physio – a man charged with the fitness and wellbeing of the footballers – even bigger and slower than Williams and Afobe chugging onto the pitch at the speed of glue and did at least provide some light relief to the dirge.
Incident three came four minutes from time when QPR decided that having abjectly failed to execute anything like a game plan while playing 11v10, it was the Christian thing to do to let Stoke have a bang on 10v10 for the closing stages. This wasn’t so much Gavin Ward wanting to even things up as QPR apparently trying to do exactly that. With Clucas off and the advantage firmly with them, Hemed had already kicked off one skirmish on the Ellerslie Road touchline before Pawel Wszolek started pushing James McClean in the throat and giving Ward a decision to make. What. The. Fuck. Are. You. Doing? Why are you doing this? Why? Ward let them both off but couldn’t turn a blind eye to two wild challenges from Grant Hall, first after a poor header from Toni Leistner and then latterly on Tom Ince on the edge of the area. QPR’s first red card of the season in the league, a midweek return for Joel Lynch, this truly was the day that kept on giving and honestly, honestly, there was a tiny part of me that actually hoped Ince stuck the resulting free kick in the top corner because it would have been exactly what Stoke, and QPR, deserved. He didn’t. It was shit. It was that sort of day.
When the stoppage time board went up with five minutes on it a previously silent gent sitting alone two rows in front of us let out an anguished scream.
Afterwards Steve McClaren said he’d put two wingers on in the second half (Shodipo came on after 73 minutes) and “gone for it”. “I don’t know what more we could have done,” Brent mused. I don’t want to set my expectations too high but I wondered if we might have gone to the trouble of having a proper shot on the goal.
Ten games to go.
QPR: Lumley 6; Cousins 6, Leistner 5, Hall 5, Bidwell 5; Wszolek 5 (Osayi-Samuel 46, 6), Scowen 4 (Shodipo 73, 5), Luongo 5, Freeman 6, Wells 5 (Furlong 89, -), Hemed 4
Subs not used: Ingram, Eze, Manning, Lynch
Red Cards: Hall 87 (two bookings, see below)
Bookings: Wszolek 45+1 (being a moron), Hall 60 (foul), Hall 87 (foul)
Stoke: Butland 6; Edwards 6, Shawcross 8, Batth 6, Martins Indi 6; Allen 8, Adam 8 (Williams 72, 7), Clucas 2; Ince 5, Afobe 5 (Diouf 85, -), McClean 5
Subs not used: Bauer, Fletcher, Bojan, Federici, Woods
Red Cards: Clucas 8 (being a moron)
Bookings: Allen 31 (foul), McClean 45+1 (being James McClean)
QPR Star Man – Bright Osayi-Samuel 6 Ran forwards with the ball towards the opposition goal. Did not try to get himself sent off. This made him QPR’s best player on Saturday by some considerable distance.
Referee – Gavin Ward (Surrey) 7 I actually felt sorry for him. Asked to officiate this catastrophic, bastard of a football match he was presented with two of the most blatant red cards you’ll ever see sandwiching 70 minutes of Ryan Shawcross following him around trying to make out like he owed Stoke an ‘evener’ for daring to send Clucas off for stamping on somebody’s shin. He did very well, with absolutely nothing to work with, and deserves a week off somewhere sunny.
Attendance – 14,823 (1,200 Stoke approx.) And all who sail in her.
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