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Not a film about a shark – Column
Sunday, 25th Jul 2021 23:59 by Clive Whittingham

Queens Park Rangers beat Manchester United 4-2 at Loftus Road on Saturday, so you’re going to have to indulge us.

Did you know, if you try and take a photograph of the scoreboards at Loftus Road, they strobe like one of the shirts Richard ‘Keysie’ Keys used to rock on TV-am in the 1980s, before he started knobbing his daughter’s mate behind his poorly wife’s back. Takes you five or six goes to get a usable one – the pictures I mean. This has, naturally, never been a problem before - the strobing scoreboards, that is.

On Saturday we went to a football game, but nobody ever came to a football game in July for the football. Substitution-laden, pedestrian-paced, trumped up fitness exercises played out in a heat the sport is unaccustomed to in this country. A sighting of a new signing here, a worrying looking injury to a first teamer there, the odd new haircut and youth teamer with a better first touch than you’d previously imagined – the whole thing forgotten even while it’s taking place. Who wants to hear about my summer ER rewatch?

These things are irrelevant. In 2010 Neil Warnock’s QPR finished their summer with a defeat at Crawley, and draw at home to Plymouth. The sort of thing the internet can get very angsty about. They then went 19 games unbeaten at the start of the season and won the league at a canter. If you’re there in person it’s because your addiction is so acute you simply cannot hang on until the first Saturday in August for a fix, and need to pay ten pounds for this poor methadone to tide you over. How out of perspective you’ve got QPR in your life is the story at these things, not how they did in the poxy, meaningless game. This is not a film about a shark.

After 15 months in cold storage, on Saturday the fans of Queens Park Rangers tentatively stepped out, blinking into the light, breathing in the smog of the city once more, to begin the process of putting their lives back together again. They came to see friends not greeted in person since the world became a vastly different place – warm embraces between an ageing fanbase who saw each other three times a fortnight for 20 years and then not at all for 18 months, tempered by the absence of faces you knew, sort of knew, or just held as part of the furniture of your Saturdays until you suddenly didn’t, and now hope to yourself are on a “holiday” in a government-sanctioned greenlist country.

Chances are they’re dead.

This is not a film about a shark.

They came to buy sexy new replica shirts, and queued half the length of South Africa Road for most of the day to do so. See what a difference it makes when you pay some attention to the detail of a kit design, and don’t just piss some stick-on badges over a Nike catalogue template and tell me it’s 60 notes-worth of pink champagne. They came to remember what it’s like to sit in a pub, stand three deep at the bar of the Crown for their pint of Pride, buy a paper copy of A Kick Up The R’s, click through a turnstile at ten to three, ascend those steps and see that lush green hone into view just like it did for their first time as a kid. They came to sit in their seat, with their name on it, surrounded by all the people they’ve always been surrounded by, and wrongly assumed they always would be. They came to practice getting their legs in that space again, and wave back to Stefan Johansen. They did not come here for the football.

They came on what remains of our tube service, by car, by bike, by bus and on foot. They came down the Uxbridge Road, you should have seen them. They came across the Scrubs, where a crusty, creaking Brentford fan took time out from his morning Park Run struggle to mock their relative league status – yeh, alright mate, well done, shouldn’t you be running you fucking fat mess? It’s called the Park Run, the clue’s in the name. Come on you Bees indeed. They came from north, from south, from east, and from west. They came desperately seeking their old routines, connections and escape. Manchester United? Big whoop. Jesse Lingard - never too early or too small-time to satisfy the commercial partners with the patented, merchandise-pumping, #JLingz finger wank - scoring through a busted defence after a minute and 45 seconds? Give a shit. Be grateful for small mercies, if Pogba had scored it we’d still be there now, waiting for an Olympic Opening Ceremony-style, choreographed, self-hail of his own ego to encore its way back to the halfway line. Viral clips of Mark Goldbridge? Perhaps he’d like to suck a fart out of my arse and film that for the likes and subscribzzz. If you’ve come for that story about how Eric Cantona killed my dad you’re to leave disappointed, because that’s a football story, and this was not a film about a shark.

Until, that is, the football started.

The last time Man Utd played here, QPR were the force of evil. That takes some doing. We do not need another rehash. Since then, we've been cleaning house. It’s taken six seasons, which it will when you do a brontosaurus-sized shit in the living room of a tight terraced house in Shepherd’s Bush. An excellent episode of Homes Under The Hammer I’m sure, but not a footballing experience to relish. The stated aim, each season, merely “to be competitive”. Remove the boron control rods, reduce the wage bill from £80m p/a to £18m, and do it without a Sunderland-style meltdown destroying the club altogether and sending the locals out shooting the stray dogs. It’s a difficult trick, we were told repeatedly, as part of an aggressive expectation-management campaign replacing a decade of spin and hype #announceBorrowdale. But that cannot just be us forever. Keeping in check what, at times, can be a toxic level of over expectation at QPR, allowing young players time to breathe, develop, and move on for money that can get us out of this hole... very good idea. Engagement, ticket sales, attendances, enthusiasm… hope… never going to sustain the idea that finishing just above Birmingham City every year now counts as achievement. There is a sense, as QPR go windmilling big and early into the summer transfer window and come back with the sort of well-scouted trinkets we’re all too used to seeing sign elsewhere, that we never thought could possibly fit within our budget, that this time the light may be the end of the tunnel rather than another train coming towards us. We await the ominous sound of the horn, but haven’t heard it yet, and it’s usually screaming by now. The balance between realism and resignation now about to be replaced by ambition and expectation. The former healthy to a point, the latter easily toxic if left unclarified.

QPR are on the high wire again. Once Jesse had dried the drips off post dance routine, this didn’t turn out to be much of a safety net.

Ilias Chair, over and out. After a week of shopping spares to Man Utd friends, now it was their players requiring a brief to re-enter the ground. Chris Willock, never played in front of a crowd in his life, not showing any immediate signs of it fazing him. Lee Wallace, a cross shaped like the curved spine of a Brazilian porn star. And Charlie Austin. Because of course. One one. Christmas. The snow’s coming down.

Mitigation. The bulk of Manchester United’s squad is still away rubbing sun cream and ointment for a nasty rash into Jack Grealish after their Euro adventures. Mark Paxton sir, he got knobrot off some tart. QPR’s season starts in a fortnight, theirs in three weeks – prepare the “they’re a week ahead of us” summer cliché klaxon. Their team started weak and young, and got weaker and younger as it went along. A club with an official global lubricant partner, and 600 media professionals on staff, who took the time pre-match to deliver an exorbitant list of demands to a Championship football club, that included the forbidding of any Oasis tracks over the public address system, in return for them gracing us with their presence, was never going to miss the opportunity to tell you that the average age of the team they had on the field at the end of the game was 21.8. Hush your mouth, QPR’s was only 22.6. So, Brian McClair’s not playing. Notify the fucking coastguard. United’s ‘children’ cost £171m. They included Juan Mata, playing second half rather than first for fear of ever having to take another corner at the Loft End again. The scars run deep. And anyway Dom Ball’s trying back flicks here, put your phone away and enjoy the ride.

This was Rangers’ first public friendly of the summer having lost an earlier fixture at Gillingham when Public Health England ordered everybody to stay at least 20 yards away from Steve Evans. They looked fast, fit, slick and confident. The shapes, combinations and flavours were all there on the plate. Chrissy Willock, who’s acquired a chest from somewhere, was delicious. Moses Odubajo, still officially a trialist (do we think Lee Hoos is making him wait until August 2 to avoid paying him for July?), rampaged up and down the right side like something Todd Kane has only ever read about in books. “He’s an athlete,” says fan club secretary Warbs Warburton. “He’ll be the fastest player at the club, he’s rapid.” He’ll also, as it turns out, take four touches in a row on his supposedly unfavoured left foot, the last of which dispatches the ball into the top corner from 25 yards. One of those goals that elicits the Spanish “oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhh” sound from the crowd, rather than the more English cheer. Eat that and tell me you’re still hungry.

That made it 3-1, Lyndon Dykes had replaced Austin at half time and scored via a deflection with his first touch off another Wallace assist. As United’s socials headed for the earth’s core, Willock set Dykes clear with a back heel, and the Scotsralian sought out the far corner with his left foot from 15 yards. I’m dreaming. Don’t pinch me, it won’t suffice. Boot me in the balls. This cannot be real. It’s the yellow piping Gromit, the yellow piping.

QPR made plenty of changes themselves. Charlie Kelman, bum like the Underground’s roundel, showed a bit more of that outside-the-box play Warbs wants to see develop into his game. George Thomas, a boy constructed from a collection of squares, looked much more on it than last season. Faysal Bettache was superb and Sam McCallum, not to be too cruel, looks such an upgrade on Niko Hamalianen it’s difficult to understand how they’re the same species. Andre Dozzell, pure Warbs-ball. Piranha-like Stephen Duke-McKenna, perhaps caught up with trying to turn everything into a Soccer AM clip at Hampton a fortnight ago, here a gloriously snappy pain in the visitors’ arse. Mata and Lingard looked up at the scoreboard confused. They weren’t alone.

There was a second goal for the visitors to check the reality, nicely finished off by Anthony Elange. If you want the negative takeaway, the back three was exposed too often. Joe Walsh, the former Gillingham goalkeeper on at half time, made three one on one saves with his legs as United players streamed through gaps in the defence, and a fourth incident was rather generously flagged offside. Rob Dickie warmed the natives' cockles with a monsterous covering tackle. At one point Yoann Barbet morphed into a crude Bo Selecta-style parody of Yoann Barbet, nonsensically winding up both simultaneously the last man back from our attacking corner but also on the right corner of their penalty box, so that when his attempted cross inevitable dissolved into shit it presented nine Manchester United players with a 100-yard unchecked dash to our goal. Walsh got us out of that one too, in a competitive game we’re more than accustomed now to the Barbet red card hack. It felt good to be back.

QPR’s attack is very lopsided to the left, with Chair, Willock and Wallace combining brilliantly out there, but quite often the play and the bodies are so concentrated there either Austin or Dykes is left alone in the penalty box with five or six defenders. It also leaves us exposed down the right, and there is either a big splodge of space in front of Odubajo, or several hectares of prime real estate behind him, that can be exploited by a full back and winger combination, depending on whether he’s gone forwards or hung back. That won’t have gone unnoticed in the video review rooms up and down the Mercantile Credit Trophy, but when your assistant manager is turning down the chance to go and manage a rival side that finished above us and made the play-off final last season there's a chance this division might just be crumbling as QPR solidify.

QPR 4 Man Utd 2. Maybe this was just a film about a shark after all.

Links >>> Photo Gallery >>> Message Board Match Thread

QPR: Dieng (Walsh 45’), Wallace (McCallum 61’), Dickie (Masterson 61’), De Wijs (Dunne 45’), Barbet (Kakay 61’), Willock (Thomas 61’), Chair (Kelman 61’), Austin (Dykes 45’), Ball (Duke-McKenna 75’), Dozzell (Bettache 75’), Adubajo (Adomah 61’).

Man Utd: Some cunt.

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Philothesuperhoop added 07:47 - Jul 26
Magnificent Clive. Love it. Thank you.

I couldn’t make Saturday so watched on all sorts of devices and channels…I still can’t believe that this was the Superhoops looking this good!

Covid has f*cked my career in travel, so I’m unemployed and broke…but have renewed my season ticket anyway, and simply cannot wait for Millwall on Sat week. We’ve all sat through the rubbish, both in that final Prem season and everything since - maybe this is the season that it all turns around.

Your writing has massively helped through the last 18 months Clive. Thank you.

I am going to shout and scream like a kid at Loftus Rd in two weeks time…just as Millwall idiots fight each other and rip the seats out!?!

Myke added 08:52 - Jul 26
Excellent Clive. Just like the game itself, I hope the line ' Lee Wallace, a cross shaped like the curved spine of a Brazilian porn star' doesn't count as the real thing as it's 'only' a friendly write up. Otherwise you have set yourself a ridiculously high standard for the months ahead.

enfieldargh added 10:13 - Jul 26
Fantastic write up Clive and you got in all the bollux we had to listen to on MUTV in the build up.

Didnt go as collecting brownie points but not dead yet so see you Saturday week.

I feel the love.

Shame the R's faithful couldn't have a chorus of Morning Glory, insert Rangers

CliveWilsonSaid added 10:21 - Jul 26
Thanks Clive. Easily the best friendly match I’ve been to.

“George Thomas, a boy constructed from a series of squares”

So true!

PinnerPaul added 16:28 - Jul 26
Endfarleigh - Not quite ALL of it - Clive was in the pub, so missed the classically misinformed "QPR have had a quiet transfer summer"!!!!!!!

westberksr added 21:33 - Jul 26
great report Clive; couldn't make it as on the piss in Manchester of all places; but homeward bound before having the chance to find any of their fans to take the piss out of.

will have to follow the first 2 homes from afar due to holidays too; look forward to your thoughts on those.

sinceApril66 added 22:14 - Jul 26
Thank you so much, Clive, for such an incredibly entertaining and moving reminder of Saturday. Especially loved the snow coming down! My son and I both agree it was (ridiculously?) our happiest ever time @ Loftus Road… and I’ve been coming hundreds of times for over 50 years!?
Could hardly decide on our MotM… Dykes, Duke-McKenna or Odubajo; reminded me of seeing Marsh, Bowles or Tarrabt the first time… Can hardly wait to 7th… although suspect it will feel like they’ve taken the safety net away under the high wire! Feels right now like I’ve lucked-out in buying my first ever season-ticket this year, despite living in Hastings…

HastingsRanger added 22:59 - Jul 26
Thanks Clive, as always. Love the boron rod analogy.

Obviously cannot read too much into Friendlies but with last season's form and the close season signings, can't help but be optimistic this year. What a far cry from those miserable days not recently past. We have an exciting crowd of committed professionals now at the R's, whilst Barton beats up his wife.
Am I dreaming or is this a top 6 team?

SimonJames added 23:55 - Jul 27
I can't stop giggling! Your writing really should make you very rich one day

TacticalR added 12:01 - Aug 1
Thanks for your report.

I am not sure if anyone saw that one coming. The great thing was that all of our goals were quality goals.

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