Standing on the platform, watching you go – Report
Sunday, 1st May 2022 01:08 by Clive Whittingham
One of the strangest final home games I’ve been to in 30 years of following QPR saw a departing manager thunderously applauded from the field after another demolition of his team, this time by Sheffield United.
A team with so much promise, a season with so much potential, and in the end nothing but dust.
From top two hopes and top six certainties, Queens Park Rangers will now be singularly fortunate to finish in the top half of the table. Sixteenth remains a possibility, which would be hilarious if we weren’t all so emotionally invested. A footballing meme, more than a football club.
Loftus Road at night used to gleam and sparkle and hum. So largely unchanged for so much of our time it is a canvas against which so many of our happiest memories have been played out. Through the back streets of people’s lives and routines to our weird blue box Mecca, lights on stalks guiding us home. You don’t even have to close your eyes to see Roy Wegerle torturing Arsenal in the pouring rain of an FA Cup fourth round replay. “And I suspect, in the middle of all that, may be Kenny Sansom.” Gerald Sinstadt, rest in peace my man, we've all had moments in cinemas. “Lukic has lost it a mommmmmeeeennnnt, Bradley Allen” scoring against Leeds at the Loft End from an angle so acute the boy could open a tin of tuna with his right foot. Brian Moore, also best off out of it, so startled he mistook him for Clive on the commentary and before he could regather himself Wilkins had put Sinton in for another from the kick off. “My goodness, there was nearly another break for him, and now Sinton with the shoottttttttttttttt. ANDY SINTON.” How different our world might have been if Richard Pacquette hadn’t intelligently continued to retreat from his offside position. “Carlisle, through the middle, for Paul Furlong. Away from Hall…”
Now unforgivably tatty and neglected - more candlelit than floodlit, more Antiques Roadshow than ESPN Sports Centre - it is a hall of ghosts. We came here with our grandads, and our dads, for last minute Clive Wilson penalties to take us to FA Cup quarter finals, and Devon White punching the ball past Neville Southall. The good times were seldom, the potential unfilled, but they existed and felt so good, and it lingered to keep us coming back. Now we convince ourselves we’re lucky to be able to compete with Huddersfield Town, and the ground itself is a millstone dragging us beneath an incessant tide. So bleak was the football for so long under no-marks like Steve McClaren and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp, that an actual drowning can at times feel like a preferable option. We crave the sweet release as Jordan Hugill leans back on a shot you’d score yourself. I'm onside more than Andre Gray, and I sit 18 yards off the Loft End byline.
As the local youth retreat to PlayStations and Arsenal shirts and stabbing each other, and neighbours we used to treat to a pat-on-the-head pre-season friendly establish Premier League credentials and bank balances, those that retain the hooped faith plod back here weekly hoping for a new hero or moment or memory. Sand drains through our fingers. A club, and a ground, and a people from a bygone era, left behind by the unpleasantness of the modern world and sport. I watch you all across from me, standing en masse down the Ellerslie Road side of the ground, from where we once marvelled at Trevor Sinclair scoring the greatest goal of all time, now desperately hoping Ariel Borysiuk might somehow turn out to be the bastard love child of Akos Buszaky. We watched Ale Faurlin here, print it out for Andre Dozzell. Tony Currie comes out during the half time break to wave at us sometimes, and we wave back surrounded by empty spaces where our lost loved ones have been replaced by fox and pigeon shit. It’s a shame. Quite literally a shame.
All we have is hope. The flame burns so dimly here now we can barely see the far corner of the field from our seats. The coal is on ration – we’re allowed a very occasional, random 4-2 midweek win at home to Sheffield Wednesday inspired by Paul Smyth, but it must immediately be followed by a gob bumming by Preston Knob End, and Smyth is now turning summersaults for Leyton Orient. We’re playing a par three that is 95% water hazard. It requires immaculate perfection just not to fuck up massively against Rotherham United. It is long, and drawn out, and soul destroying. I don’t know what’s in my bank account, I daren’t look because it’s not a lot, but I’d pay it all for one Europa Conference League group campaign. Instead, I sit here and try to do 2,000 words on why a draw at Burton Albion isn’t the worst result in the world.
And then this team, and this manager came along. Him speaking as I want to be spoken to, them playing as a QPR team should. First contact, second ball, not in an arrogant way, far from it. Taking care of the football. Lee Wallace, a Scotland international, the captain of Glasgow Rangers. All credit must go to the players. For so long we couldn’t watch them. Locked in our homes by a government too busy sending our pensioners to mass graves in amongst Co-op beer runs and crafty wanks in work hours, we pressed our noses against television screens and relied on Nick London to cue up present-day Sinton screams. “Rangers not even trying to play it out from the back at the moment. Just want to get it forward. It drops for Ball.” *STUNNED SILENCE*
We came to expect wins, and wins we were delivered. Wins against Watford and Bournemouth and Stoke and fuck your budgets and parachute payments. Wins against Forest and West Brom and Brentford and I’ve taken the trouble to roll your FiveThirtyEight.com print outs up very tightly to make it easier for you to shove up your arse. Down to ten men at Middlesbrough, not a problem mate, if anything it should have been 4-2. Albert Adomah danced on the bar after calling last orders on Leyton Orient and Watford and Luton. “Here’s the winning goal” Nick would say matter of factly, before it had been scored, and with uber stoppage time still to play, because whoever it was wasn’t going to miss, and whoever they were weren’t coming back from it. “These are the good old days” I said. These were the good old days, I genuinely thought. Idiot. Now, once again, we barely score at all. Even Andy Sinton sounds cross again.
Friday night was sliding doors. Somewhere out there a parallel dimension, Loftus Road stuffed to the seams, fizzing as it did in the day, Sheffield United cowed, a new king waiting to be crowned. Technically only two fewer fuck ups – Cardiff and Peterborough at home – away, but in reality a galaxy apart. Albert Adomah’s cut back and cross on the half hour rolled back the weeks. Charlie Austin, comprehensively monstered by John Egan to this point, tried his luck pulling onto Chris Basham and found him woefully under equipped to deal with a vintage header into the far bottom corner. This will be Austin’s last appearance at Loftus Road, and a final goal to sign off with. His underperformance one of the key factors in the collapse of the season. He’ll tell you, with some justification, that crosses like this have been as frequent as factually accurate summations from Nadine Dorries in recent months. Get it over early, get it over with quality, get him a run on a Championship centre back, get a goal. He’s done it to Everton and Everton and West Brom and now Sheff Utd. But he, and we, haven’t done it enough.
It should have been what they call at the front of F Block a “stairs goal”. Friends, way too invested in this, grabbing hold of each other, wrestling bodies down the concrete in celebration, losing ourselves and forgetting our troubled worlds, emotional baggage lifted by a QPR concierge, waiting for us in a hungover Sunday morning, but who cares about that at this moment? SkyBot2.1 spewing mealy mouthed pre-prepared lines about a club and a people and a veteran striker putting their chips on the table for a final throw of the dice and coming up blue and white hoops. Instead, we applauded. Like we’d seen a decent shot on day two of a moderately important golf tournament. Because it was nice to score, and for him to get it. I guess. But it didn’t really matter. And it was never meant to be like this. Austin spent his Saturday shilling Big Racist John's monkey NFTs.
To make matters more unbearable still, the game then played out much like the season. For a while there, hope, expectation, excitement. Joy. Charlie Austin had scored, QPR were winning, and Jack Robinson’s bath robe journeyed around the R Block as it absolutely had to do. Nobody – NOBODY - should be allowed to leave a fucking beach towel lying around for long throws at our ground, these things are a matter of standard and respect. In H Block, the Loftus Road squirrel was back. Close your eyes and see Lee Cook orphaning Danny Butterfield’s children. Come on you R’s. Come on you R’s. Little did we know, that winning betting slip we clutched to our chest bore the name of Devon Loch. Tonight, and for the season. Stupid horse.
With the second half of the game, as with the second half of the season, came a brutal and rude awakening. QPR missed Moses Odubajo, Rob Dickie, Yoann Barbet and Lee Wallace from their first choice back five. Sam Field played left centre back. Keiren Westwood’s latest eye-roll moved us onto goalkeepers five and six of the season – the mischievous adventures of Murphy Mahoney and Harry Halwax, like something from The Beano. Mahoney looks like somebody who might still have a subscription, standing around four foot tall and frantically waving his dad’s gloves high in the air to give the appearance of physical presence in the land of the giants. I thought he was exceptional in the circumstances, a clear man of the match for the home team, an absolute credit to himself and his family. His diving save to keep out Jack Robinson’s flicked header at the School End was a beautiful moment. Not sure whether he got a touch to a flicked header from Morgan Gibbs-White which came back into play off the base of the post and was booted clear in a blind panic by Dion Sanderson but let’s say he did, because let’s say he did.
Sadly, he needed to be brilliant. The game was comprehensively lost in the midfield where John Fleck and Oli Norwood played in dinner suits and the enormous child Sande Berge came to devour us all. Stefan Johansen looked like a dad in a dads and lads match – and not one of the good dads either. Luke Amos was forlorn, naïve, and anonymous. Andre Dozzell needs to learn how to assert himself into physical Championship battles and impact games if he’s not to flop here – frankly his input was so inconsequential I think he should probably have been charged an entry fee. I lost the plot once around 85 minutes and had a bit of a scream and shout, and that’s one more contribution than he made.
You couldn’t take your eyes off it for a minute for fear of missing another moment of catastrophic idiocy as QPR proceeded to concede corner after corner, free kick after free kick, and defend all of them as if they’d never seen a corner or a free kick before in their fucking lives. Put a couple of passes together perhaps? Rangers have gone from conceding from three set pieces in the first 24 games, the league’s best record, to ten from 20, the league’s second worst. Stick another couple on that abject total. Here they barely defended them at all. Sheff Utd went near post and far, on a rotation, like a metronome, and unmarked players jollied around free to live a life of rich religious fulfilment. How do you like them? Back post? Egan nods down, Ndiaye slams home from the scramble. Second phase free kick? Basham nods back across for Jack Robinson to give the visitors the lead. Because of course. Whichever one of you is sinning could you turn it in for a while, vengeful God is vengeful.
Jimmy Dunne did hit the crossbar, diverting a mishit shot from sub Osman Kakay to within an inch of an equaliser. Excellent comedy potential. But Rangers really weren’t at the races. They brought on Lyndon Dykes for the final half hour, Austin waving farewell as he departed thankfully without a contract extension for next year, and I can’t remember him touching the ball or being in the Sheff Utd half at all. I’d drunk a lot of Peroni, granted, but QPR’s threat, possession, and time spent in the opposition red zone was non-existent. More on Austin to come over the next couple of weeks, I’ve said enough and we’ve all got homes to go to. As ever, I can’t help but conclude that a lot of these problems might not occur if Simply The Best was still the run out music.
Frankly given the scale of dominance, particularly through midfield, Sheff Utd should be ashamed and embarrassed that we had to start going through the painful Championship rigmarole of players who aren’t injured sitting down, demanding a stoppage, physios trudging on, player walking slowly off, referee complicit in the whole thing waving the cunt straight back on, and him sprinting back into position. Everybody, everybody – Every. Body. - involved in this knows what’s going on. Grown ups, grown men, adults, going through this pretence, game after game, week after week, month after month, to the point now where the ball is in play for barely 50% of the average Championship match – by miles and miles and miles the worst ratio in European football. Basham knows he’s not injured, Peter Bankes knows Basham isn’t injured, the trained medical professionals who at some point have sworn some sort of oath know Basham isn’t injured, everybody in the ground knows Basham isn’t injured, and yet we go through this fucking scandalous pantomime. It’s disgusting. And everybody involved in it should be flogged until they need some actual medical treatment. I’ll do the flogging for free - certainly a better use of my time than dropping another 200 sheets going to Swansea next week.
Bankes, to his credit, did add a thick eight minutes for all the obvious bullshit, as opposed to the standard Championship 4/5 regardless of what has happened. That may have given Rangers a chance to push for an equaliser should they work out how to cross the fucking halfway line, but they were immediately overpowered through the middle again and Conor Hourihane slammed in a third with his first touch off the bench, teed up expertly by Berge the game’s outstanding player – as you should be as a £20m midfielder playing against Osman Kakay. You don’t win many football matches by losing the midfield which, along with the defence of set pieces, has been a hallmark of Mark Warburton’s QPR when they’ve been at their worst. He’ll tell you, with plenty of justification in this game, that he’s bringing a toothpick to a gun battle, but we’ve lost midfields and set pieces to worse outfits than this.
Never mistake a manager who's taken you as far as he can for a manager who's taken you as far as you can go. The public relations shambles of the week before forced the club and manager’s hand on Thursday night to confirm the blindingly obvious that Mark Warburton would not be staying for next season. A good, honourable, decent, respectful man, who took on an absolute shambolic basket case of a team from Steve McClaren and restored pride, consistency, structure and results, effectively pushed over the precipice by an interview with “Moose” from TalkSport at a fucking golf day. By Christ Rangers I need you to be better than that. We need you to be better than that. It did, however, mean that instead of being booed from the pitch by a tiny handful of die-hards sticking another comprehensive defeat out to the end – a twelfth loss in 18, a ninth loss in 12, a seventh loss in nine – the whole ground stayed to applaud their manager from the field.
All the reasons he should stay, and all the reasons he has to go, encapsulated right there. This needs to go very well, very quickly, next season for risk of turning toxic. But stick with a manager who presided over such a monumental collapse as this and the same applies. It’s a no-win situation, as QPR have been in for the best part of 30 years.
I just want to wish you both good luck, we’re all counting on you. The club is undoubtedly having another one of its moments. I can rarely recall my DMs being as busy. Literally two dozen people peddling names, and lines, and stories, and stuff they’ve heard, as people seek to shore up positions, and get excuses in early. The Crown was alive with gossip deep into the night. From airtight silence, the club is now leaking like a sieve again. Some of the stories are wild. If your communication dips to the level it now has, and you treat your paying customers with this disdain, don't be surprised when rumour and innuendo fill the vacuum. Mark Warburton deserved, and deserves, a lot better. We do too. The Patreon interviews ten years from now will be tremendous. The Twitterati think Sean Dyche and Daniel Farke are coming. Adjust your sights to the Karl Robinson, Lee Johnson, Darren Moore level kids. And whoever it is now inherits a highly complicated situation, with a lot of egotistical politicking going on overhead. An afternoon board meeting ran so long and so fraught at Loftus Road on Friday that it almost ended up bumping into the kick off. Keep an eye out for American investor Richard Reilly, quietly snuck in earlier this season and only known about because we’ve been burned so many times before a couple of our fans now diligently keep an eye on Companies House. What’s his business? Why is he here? What does he think? How much has he been agitating? One to watch.
Yoann Barbet, 28 years old, durable enough for 97 consecutive appearances, one of the best left sided defenders in the league, now reportedly talking to other Championship clubs as we allow his contract to run down, left to do a lap of the field by himself with his wife and adorable son (can he play in goal?), applauded by 300 shell-shocked punters who’d stuck it out that late into the night. If we were about to sign him on a free transfer from Coventry you’d be creaming your pants, and yet here he is sheepishly waving goodbye having not been spoken to about a deal. Mark Warburton left to face the press on Friday morning and say the thanks for his hard work over the last three years amounted to “well they haven’t spoken to me so I presume I’m off”. Be, better, than, this, Rangers. Be better than this.
We came for new legends, and left with more ghosts.
QPR: Mahoney 7; Adomah 6, Sanderson 5, Dunne 7, Field 6, McCallum 6; Johansen 4, Dozzell 4 (Thomas 72, 5), Amos 5 (Kakay 72, 6); Chair 6, Austin 6 (Dykes 62, 5)
Subs not used: Ball, Gray, Halwax, Hendrick
Goals: Austin 31 (assisted Adomah)
Bookings: McCallum 88 (dissent), Johansen 90+6 (foul)
Sheff Utd: Foderingham 6; Osborn 6, Basham 6, Egan 7, Robinson 7, Stevens 6; Norwood 7, Fleck 7 (Hourihane 90+3, -), Berge 8; Gibbs-White 7, Ndiaye 7 (Osula 75, 6)
Subs not used: Davies, Davies, Uremovic, Norrington-Davies, Jebbison
Goals: Ndiaye 54 (unassisted), Robinson 73 (assisted Basham), Hourihane 90+4 (assisted Berge)
Bookings: Fleck 87 (foul), Robinson 90 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Murphy Mahoney 7 Acquitted himself well under heavy fire from a big, physical team that were potent from set pieces and had beaten us totally through midfield.
Referee – Peter Bankes (Lancashire) 6 Little to referee, with QPR so uncompetitive at points. I thought he let Jack Robinson get away with a lot of the needless cuntery that’s always been a part of his game, including wrestling and throwing a man to the ground on the far side of the pitch to me in the second half. Sam McCallum ended up with a dissent booking after the most blatant handball you’ll ever see was missed entirely. Also this routine we’re now obliged to go through where a player can sit down, demand treatment, physios get waved on, player trudges to the side of the pitch (in Basham’s case laughing and winding up the people in the Paddocks) and then sprint straight back on when everybody in the ground including the referee knows there’s fuck all wrong with him is pathetic and needs stamping out – some sort of system that allows the referee to make him stay off the pitch for longer would help, though is fraught with problems and difficulty.
Attendance 15,824 (2,800 Sheff Utd approx.) We’ll always have each other.
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