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Coventry/Peterborough/Millwall — Awaydays
Monday, 7th Mar 2022 17:34 by Clive Whittingham

Few laughs to be had as the team and the atmosphere starts to turn through a clutch of unpleasant awayday experiences.

Peterborough High Street

Early Saturday evening on Peterborough High Street, and it’s on. From a group of lads walking 20 yards ahead of us a big geezer in a green coat peels off to the left into a rival set and, after a brief exchange of words, goes in on a guy with a headbutt. He doesn’t miss, and the situation unravels rapidly, multiple fights between pairs and small groups, sprawling across the precinct in front of us - maybe 20-involved.

Two big beasts square up, exchange a couple of punches, grab hold, try and wrestle each other’s’ coats and jumpers over their heads and - after swaying back and forth in front of us - eventually, comically, are carried by their own momentum through the glass doors of the local Primark with a loud and dramatic crash. “New arrivals this spring” the sign above the door proclaims, and here they are. It’s like Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones’ Diary, except this is absolutely not Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. “Your belly’s hanging out,” shouts an unimpressed mother of two young kids whose afternoon at the shops has now turned into whatever the fuck this is. And it was. Thankfully, the normals, and us “scarfers”, are left out of it, as is the way of things. We leave the boys fighting over that last XXXXL tracksuit, and pick our way through the wreckage back to the pub untouched and unbothered as a line of police sweep in from the back, swinging sticks and aggressively forcing the melee off to the left and towards the railway station where, it turns out, there are no more trains tonight because another poor bugger has decided they’re best off out of it and jumped in front of one.

It's trendy at the moment for middle class wankers like me to write deep dive think pieces on the re-emergence of football violence for other middle-class wankers like me to read in The Times or The Athletic and tut at over our eggs Florentine. Our travelling party forgo the chaos of the train station altogether and head to a place called The Spice Affair where the curry is exactly what we need, and the conversation is more about what we saw on the high street than at the match. Gosh, isn’t it ghastly. There was one recently focusing on 2,500 fans of my hometown club Grimsby Town travelling to Notts County, where crimes as heinous as beer cans being left behind on trains were reported, and the visiting fans sang “if Town score, we’re on the pitch”. The fact Town did score, and win, in the last minute, and nobody did go on the pitch, merely a footnote. Shame to ruin a good story I guess. Let’s have it right here, football fans are frequently treated like shite. By their clubs, by the competition their teams play in, by the broadcasters that air the matches, by the rail companies, and by the police. And if you treat people like shite, they soon start behaving accordingly. That’s not to excuse it, it’s simply stating a fact.

I have no doubt at all that for the train manager, and other passengers, an East Midlands rattler from Grimsby to Nottingham on a day when 2,500 Grimsby fans are heading for Meadow Lane would have been deeply, deeply unpleasant, and there will have been some wholly unnecessary and unforgivable behaviour among the travelling thousands. But the majority will have been sound as a pound, and anyway should somebody somewhere not be telegraphing this, and thinking that perhaps running one three-carriage set every two hours on that day is asking for trouble? Longer trains, more carriages, more frequently, perhaps not a bad idea? Somebody handing out bin liners? When you book Saturday night trains between London and Manchester with Avanti now an actual warning comes up on the screen that your train will likely be overrun with football fans and you might like to go at a different time. But ideas like football specials, which were commonplace 30-40 years ago and might alleviate a lot of these problems, are seen now as some logistically impossible radical idea. If there are 4,000 QPR fans heading to Coventry it makes sense to me that you’d put some extra trains on for that. That’s just sensible isn’t it? In this country we actually run fewer, and the train station built next to the stadium and bearing its name is closed on matchdays in case too many people use it. The same thing happens at Sunderland, where you can use the Stadium of Light’s Metro station every day of the week except the ones when the stadium is in use. In Germany, the US, the Netherlands, this would seem incredible to them. But then, there your match ticket gets you on the train as well, and here GWR want £106 to take you to Swansea on the final day of the season. It forces more people onto smaller trains, cramming them in. Or into cars, to drive to a stadium that was built with a “green travel plan” — by which they mean we’re not going to let you park within 20 miles of the place. Again, treat people like shit, expect them to act accordingly.

I’m writing this on the 07.30 to Preston, for which I’ve paid a small fortune and had to get up at 05.30 to catch, because Sky have moved one of our most northerly away games at Blackburn to Saturday lunchtime. It’s two weeks out from a trip to Luton, which has been shifted to a Sunday morning, for which QPR will receive a minute ticket allocation and yet with a fortnight to go I don’t know what that allocation is, how much one from it will cost, what the score with loyalty points is, what special security arrangements may be in place for a game that has loomed large on the horizon ever since the first meeting blew up before Christmas resulting in one bloke in hospital in a coma and another awaiting a court case. I’m reasonably fresh back from Millwall, where the away end is treated as a demilitarised zone, fenced in and policed all night by seemingly every Met officer measuring 6ft 4 and above on the force, accosting QPR fans for such vile discretions as trying to sit in the first row of seats at the front of the stand, while three other sides of the ground do exactly as they please. At Bournemouth away this season a perfectly benign situation after the final whistle became an explosive powder keg at the front of the stand when some jumped up, power-crazed steward tried to Mark Dennis a child at the kneecaps as he went to grab Albert Adomah’s shirt. I’ve been filmed getting off trains, because I’m there to watch a football match. I’ve spent time researching pubs for lunch, only to arrive at a station and be told I’m going to this pub, with these people, to drink that piss, out of that plastic glass. Again… well, I’m at the risk of repeating myself here.

When Cardiff City moved to their new stadium they ran an experiment where they basically dropped the policing of away fans altogether, welcomed them to the city and the stadium as guests, right down to stewards and staff in the away end wearing the visiting team’s shirts. They found that trouble, incidents and arrests absolutely tanked. Fans responded to the respect in kind. It went from being one of the season’s horrors to one of its highlights. Sadly, it hasn’t caught on. Losing 2-0 at Millwall on a Tuesday night isn’t even the worst bit of the evening — it’s the stuff afterwards, penned into an alleyway, released at a time of the police’s choosing, told which train you’re getting in which direction. I’ve never had a fight in my life, but the hassle, expense and hostility that comes with wanting to follow a middle-of-the-road Championship club around the country sometimes makes me feel like smashing somebody through the doors of Primark as well.

Let’s also have this right though, since lockdown was lifted the behaviour at football matches has been in steep decline. Arrests, pitch incursions and banning orders are all on the rise but you don’t need statistics to know what’s going on in front of our eyes every week. I’ve seen more fights in Peterborough this season than I had at all the QPR games put together over the previous ten years. People running onto the pitch, people throwing things at the players, people throwing things in the stand, flares, is all now the rule rather than the exception. Blackpool’s equaliser at Loftus Road was, once again, greeted by what looked like a lighter being heaved towards the celebrating players from the home end. Lee Hoos’ fans forum anger at QPR being moved from the lowest policing category to the highest has seemingly had no effect - the cup visit to Posh was every bit as unpleasant as the league. Police and stewards very, very hot on anybody daring to take a bottle of Diet Coke with a lid on into the ground, much less motivated to do anything about any of the real problems. In the away end at London Road — one of the most abysmally designed new stands I’ve ever been in, with a toilet to cope with a 4,000 capacity not a great deal bigger than the one I’ve got in my house — stewards stand outside the gents and do nothing while a drug den operates inside. At Coventry a steward asks one of our mates what she’s “intending to do” with an apple in her handbag. Is this a trick question? Have we got our priorities right here?

It’s also trendy to opine on why all this might be, so here’s a few thoughts over and above ‘if you treat people like shit…’. Alcohol is a factor of course, and there has always been violence at British football matches, but people have always been drunk at the football and the grief is now far more prevalent. Not at 1970s and 1980s level, but way worse than it has been since 2000. The cocaine is newer. We’ve seen it take over at boxing, at big race meetings, and now at football. Lads in three-piece suits calling it on off the table of the 10.30 from Waterloo to Ascot are now here, in different attire, heading to football matches as away fans. From the odd incident, with the odd person, in the odd toilet, to endemic and rife, now sometimes being hoovered up in open view, off the back of hands, on trains and away end concourses, ridiculously early in the day. Now so cheap and in such ready supply that if the police do happen to have a sniffer dog at the train station, it just gets dumped and tossed aside to be replaced later on in the day. It’s not just a football thing — every pub, every night out, every work event, everywhere you go in London now, it’s just there. It’s as common as people going out for a smoke. But as far as football is concerned, wired, angry young boys, piling out of football grounds after a frustrating late defeat — well, you do the maths. That equation is playing out fortnightly.

I guess I’m in danger of being bald, white, middle-aged, middle-class Clive writing a think piece for The Spectator about the dangerous infiltration of drill music here, but it does seem to me there is a new generation of often very young lads attending games attracted to this yob/mob/ultras culture - Stone Island clothes, those weird hoods with the goggles, “meets” at railway stations. The one we saw outside the All Bar One at New Street for the Birmingham away game was the most ridiculous and pathetic thing I’ve ever witnessed, but presumably looked good on SnapChat. My rapidly ageing and creaking Monday night fives team ended up in a cage with a team a couple of weeks back, supported from the side by a bigger away following than Fulham get, all in the same gear, all filming the game on their phones and screaming when one of the kids nutmegged us (which they did a lot). All great fun until you foul one of them and they’re straight back up with “I’ll cut you” and “I know people that’ll kill you”. One of them was 13. It feels to me like there are fewer older fans going to games now after the pandemic - possibly out of the habit, likely wary of being in crowds and on packed trains - leaving space and tickets for this new group to come through. When the Luton tickets did eventually go on sale with a high loyalty point threshold one reaction online was “this will be the oldest away end ever”, but it’s noticeable that even a skinny allocation of 1,000 tickets were on still on sale until you only needed a few hundred points to get one. The oldies, with the multiple points, put off by exactly what another demographic will be relishing. I’m sure the police are as thrilled as the rest of us.

I’m not saying ‘all young fans are the same and bad, all old fans are the same and good’ by any means, and I’m sorry if it comes across that way. That division is clearly and obviously growing among the QPR support base and I don’t mean to exacerbate it. At the most recent fans forum one guy who I’d probably put in his 50s stood up and rather bravely spoke publicly about the trouble he’d seen at games this season, how threatening and unpleasant he was finding it travelling with the team now, and how he wanted to see people banned from games and the problem rooted out — predictably one reaction online was “look at this cunt”, and "grass" like we're all in a fucking episode of The Wire. Among the younger supporters there is frustration at things like the loyalty point situation, which blew up around the Reading away game, and people who “sit down away” harming their attempts to, as they see it, build an atmosphere that backs the team. When you look around the room at fans forums or consultation committees, the average age is high, there’s rarely anybody under 30 there. It’s the epitome of pale, male and stale, because they’re the sort of people who want to go to the fans’ forum, and they tend to moan a lot about things like the publication of youth match team sheets on the official website. These people need to be valued and taken notice of, because they're the thick and thinners who will be going to Coventry in ten years' time regardless of the division or how good the team is, as opposed to some who've perhaps been drawn in temporarily this season by the prospect of some success on the field. I don't remember a lot of clamour outside of that group for tickets to Reading under several previous managers. The club also needs to grow its support base, and needs to talk to the younger guys who do want to go home and away and support QPR, creating atmosphere and so on, about what they want to see around loyalty points, ticket allocations, standing area, travel etc. But, in addition to that, again simply pointing out what you’ll have seen travelling to away games post pandemic — there is also a new group of mostly younger lads who are there primarily for the drugs and the aggro.

Britain is an unpleasant and divided place in general. It’s everywhere you go. Social media contributes, Brexit and politics contributes - people are no longer civil to each other. There’s zero empathy. Locking people up in their homes and subjecting them to draconian measures for two years was always likely to lead to a “well, I’ll do what I like now” attitude when they were finally let out, even before it turned out that those who made the rules and forced them upon us were completely ignoring them themselves. It's certainly how I feel. There’s a real, selfish, “fuck you” attitude to the place at the moment in all walks of life. As we came out of London Road the crowds converged to cross the river bridge, crowding the road. That’s inevitable when 10,000 people leave a stadium all at once and have to cross the same river at the same time. If you’re driving in Peterborough then don’t drive there at that time or, if you do, expect to wait a little while. One lad wasn’t waiting. Absolutely infuriated, he revved his engine, and sped up towards the crowds, before slamming the brakes on. As people scattered, the engine revved, the car sped off, and ploughed into the next group of people. Lots of horn, lots of testiculating, lots of anger, lots of people remonstrating with him, until somebody had enough and punched the wing mirror off the side of his car. Totally fucking deserved it as well. Got a round of applause. Out he got to start the fight. He was 18 if he was a day. Some spotty, hormonal boy racer, who couldn’t just sit for ten minutes at the lights. The fan faced him up, and he very wisely thought better of it. This is an angry country. I see it every day.

What the actual answer is - to why it’s happening at our matches or what you do about it — I wouldn’t like to say definitively. Maybe you have your own theories. Maybe you don’t think there’s a problem at all. I just went to Peterborough and Millwall, as I’ve been to every away game this season, and these are some of the things I saw when I got there. And it wasn't the first time. It wasn't even the first time on Peterborough High Street.

I bet you say that to all the boys

My childhood was inappropriate. I know this because my mother tells me repeatedly. Back then she said it repeatedly as well - very, very angrily and loudly into my dad’s face, over and over again. Usually in the car, late on a Saturday night, when we’d got back from Norwich or Villa or Southampton substantially later than originally pitched. And, by ‘back’, I mean back in really rather a state and only as far as Richmond, or Hatton Cross, or Osterley where a reverse-the-charges call from a phone box would be made to inform her she’d need to get my little brother back out of bed, get in the car from Hampton, and come and find us. “This is no way to bring up a ten-year-old Robert,” he’d/we’d be told at quite some serious volume. The rows were legendary, ear-splitting, bitter, unhappy, and relentless.

My dad was an extreme guy, who’d think nothing of getting a travelling party of a dozen into Stockport at nine in the morning and rattling the doors of a closed pub until the landlord emerged in a dressing gown and was persuaded to open for us. Rather than, say, just arriving at midday when the pubs are actually open. Back then kids in pubs weren’t really a thing, and when the landlord insisted on that point dad would park me outside (in all weathers and temperatures) with a small notebook and a pen to take down the numbers and destinations of any buses that went past, and report back to him later. I can see now that this was, in some conventional ways, really rather poor of him. But I loved going to the football, I loved being with him, and I especially loved feeling like an adult getting the train to these exotic parts of the Midlands with all his grown-up mates and their rude jokes.

Then there was the music. The dreadful, dreadful music. Lionel Ritchie, Cher, MeatLoaf, Bon Jovi. Power Ballads, at a volume to wake the dead, played on a loop and sung along to until we both knew all the words. As a six and seven-year-old I’d go up to mum, and sadly on one occasion a school teacher, and ask “on a hot summer’s night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” or state categorically that “Cher’s not getting her share” and, well, hear comes the screaming and shouting again.

As far as I could tell the only restrictions in place once I’d spotted Dennis Bailey double penetrating Manchester United on the television one New Year’s Day and immediately demanded to be co-opted into the travelling brethren were geographical ones. Norwich, Ipswich, Coventry, Villa, Southampton — ok. Newcastle, Leeds, Sheff Wed, Manchesters, less ok. But then there was the dressing gowned landlord at Stockport, and the Jan Stejskal penalty at St James’ Park. I don’t know, I guess rules were a bit loose in general when I was a kid. If he could get me in the car or on the train before she’d realised what was going on I was in.

Coventry was definitely a regular though. Pulled out of a school for a dental appointment (she never knew about this one) to get up there early to see Andy Impey put us top of the league one midweek night. Trevor Sinclair’s 30 yarder, big Devon White striding through. Highfield Road was attainable, Coventry were shit, QPR used to win, and I was in my absolute element doing runs down to the buffet car to get everybody’s sandwich.

Trains so fucked, new ground so horrendously situated, we decided to drive this time, and lunch out in the countryside somewhere at The Old Lion where we offered our hunger to a skilful owner cooking, waiting the tables and serving behind the bar all at once — an arrangement which did result in us all getting halloumi fries for starter whether we'd ordered them or not, but nevertheless turned out really rather good grub with the correct food for mains and desert (two out of three ain’t bad). We’re train people really — we knew this anyway but several beer-induced bladder issues on the way home, resulting in an unpleasant incident with a police helicopter on a roadside verge, reinforced. But it did give us the chance to celebrate Albert Adomah’s late winner, and what felt at that stage like a mammoth three points in the promotion push, with a steady trip back down the M1 blasting out all the really rather ridiculously similar MeatLoaf songs on the stereo following his passing the day before.

The big man, who I vaguely recall seeing perform a dramatic star jump and crash through the stage upon landing at the NEC in Birmimgham, is another part of my childhood now gone. Sitting in the backseat of the car, listening to those songs, after a QPR win, in Coventry, had me feeling ten-years-old again. Close my eyes and wonder where the time went.

Paradise by the dashboard light.


There’s a lad behind us at Peterborough who has ventured onto the hilarious side of ‘worse for wear’. “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” He yells, alone, as the QPR goalkeeper heads our way prior to kick off. “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” This is going to be a thing. “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” If you told me he did this 200 times in the first 25 minutes of the game I’d probably say that was too many, if you told me he did it 100 I reckon that’s too few. He’s very determined with it. Marshall looked rather bemused by it all. “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.”

Nobody joins in. Not one person, not once. “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” I can only surmise that his mates were setting him up, deliberately letting him do it by himself, while making a point to sing anything but. It was actually an amazing thing to stand near and listen, his determination, and theirs. Very funny, certainly a whole lot more fun than the match. “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” It’s incessant for the first 20 minutes, an xM score of at least 85. But Peterborough score, and QPR miss chances, which reduces the output. The spirit is willing - “Saturday night and I like the way you move. David Marshall.” — but the flesh is spongy and bruised. We’re down to an xM of around 43 in the latter part of the first half. When the second half goes badly awry, and there are QPR players to be called out for underperformance, the theme rather sadly drifts away. Also, David Marshall is now down at the other end. xM of 17 for the second half I reckon.

All future away performances shall be judged this way.

On the pitch >>> QPR performance 7/10 >>> Coventry performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 8/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 8/10 >>> Home support 7/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 7/10 >>>> Stadium 4/10 >>>> Police and stewards 5/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 7/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 8/10 >>>> Cost 7/10
In The Car >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 5/10

On the pitch >>> QPR performance 4/10 >>> Peterborough performance 6/10 >>> Referee performance 5/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 7/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 4/10 >>>> Stadium 4/10 >>>> Police and stewards 4/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 7/10 >>>> Cost 6/10
On the train >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 7/10

On the pitch >>> QPR performance 3/10 >>> Millwall performance 8/10 >>> Referee performance 7/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 6/10 >>> Home support 6/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 6/10 >>>> Stadium 6/10 >>>> Police and stewards 2/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 7/10 >>> Atmosphere 7/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>>> Cost 4/10
On the train >>> Journey 3/10 >>> Cost 7/10

Totals, Coventry 93/140, Peterborough 78/140, Millwall 78/140

Links >>> Hull/Boro >>> Reading/Bournemouth >>> Fulham/Peterborough >>> Cardiff/Blackpool >>> Bristol/Birmimgham

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switchingcode added 18:43 - Mar 7
Very good read and I can relate to the good the bad and the amusing you have touched on as a fan who is a regular Home and Away.Have seen the changes over the many years( 55)ive followed football in the lower divisions.Hate the fact I can’t go and drink where I want when travelling to away grounds now despite me and my mates being pensioners whilst where we play now all of the pubs around the ground are for home and away fans the same as it was at Griffin Park.This has worked as I have never seen any real agro between fans at either ground in recent years.The low allocation for away fans has obviously helped though.
The marching gear has become the norm amongst the mainly younger crowd these days which is a massive problem as that mixed with alcohol can be lethal for fans behaviour.This isn’t as you have pointed out a solely football problem I will see worse at the Cheltenham festival in a few weeks I expect.

snanker added 22:19 - Mar 7
Aaahhh this life...............

extratimeR added 12:19 - Mar 8
Excellent piece Clive.

Yes, lot of angry people around at the moment.


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