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Armstrong goal; miracle working keepers; tales from the river bank - Austria pt 2
Sunday, 16th Jul 2023 16:06 by Clive Whittingham

Part two of our round up from QPR's tour of a bit of northern Austria features a first ever goal for Sinclair Armstrong, an explosion at the old Simpson place, a heartfelt farewell to Leon Balogun, and a bit of blue for the dads.


“We’ll get a cab”. Of course, the Londoner’s answer to everything.

The fact we’d been in Rohrbach for an entire day and – bar a few hundred drunken Slavia Prague fans, their mostly topless football players, and a few locals avoiding the heat in the municipal swimming pool – seen only the café lady who poured us out eight pints then closed her shop and left, would serve as no obstacle. We’ll just get a cab. From here. Back to Linz. In the middle of the night.

To be fair, the last train back to Linz from Buttfuck Nowhere Parkway was inconveniently timed close to the final whistle, and left from the tiny station at the opposite end of the village up the sort of hill Barnet used to like winning the toss to kick down second half. It was also just shy of a gazillion degrees. Polish Paul’s long and distinguished local football career included an infamous incident (and subsequent lengthy ban across the South East Counties divisions) where he managed to break both a goalkeeper’s legs with his head (“the ball was there to be won your honour”) but he’s a bit closer to Chris Martin on the mobility scale the borough council uses to determine blue badge qualification these days, and to get back in time for that service he’d probably have to have turned around and started back almost the very second he arrived in the ground in the first place. Mind you, the way QPR’s first friendly of this Austrian tour played out that might not have been a bad thing.

Plus – Indian restaurant. Because of course Indian restaurant. Even in the village of the damned there’s an Indian restaurant. We’ll go there, grab a bite to eat, drink Cobra (or the non-union Austrian equivalent), talk about old times, then the lads will just get a cab. From here. Back to Linz. In the middle of the night.

This, unbelievably, turned out to be a bit more difficult than first imagined. I know, I know, worst episode of Poirot ever. A hilariously optimistic firing up of Uber brought great clouds of smoke billowing from my mobile telephone. Two of the town’s three bars had, belatedly, opened, to serve eight customers between them. “When’s high season here?” we asked barkeep number one. “You’re sitting in it,” he said. Not with the face of a man who was joking. He did, however, find the notion that a couple of ours wanted a cab, from here, back to Linz, in the middle of the night, a good deal more hilarious. That lad who sticks a fiver on Lyndon Dykes getting a hat trick every week has more chance of success. Barkeep number two, however, across the street, “knows a guy”. Guy summoned, quite possibly out of bed, and not an hour and three quarters later was here in a flash, driving the only taxi that’s ever been within 50 miles of this joint.

The lads were very relieved. Not half as relieved as the faux Coco Chanel chaiz lounge and its suspiciously spindly legs back at the abandoned clock tower, nor the rather handsome deposit I’d paid to the owner of said tower and sofa for a weekend loan of the only Air BnB in the village, which had all been gearing up for unplanned house guests. But certainly relieved enough to jump straight into the vehicle and set off into the night without asking (m)any questions. Questions like, how much is a taxi, from here, to Linz, in the middle of the night?

The answer to which, in case you were wondering, was €186 split between two. Asleep or otherwise, no wonder the geezer took the fare.

The Match Report

From there it was to the impossibly beautiful Salzburg. For lake swimming in 34 degrees of heat next to a lad in red swimming shorts who looked like he'd been carved out of wood - bastard. And pretty building fatigue. Oh, it's another palatial concert hall from the 1700s is it? Mozart played here did he? Good.

And on further still to Innsbruck. A mistake, according to everybody who knows Austria - and certainly a good deal more concrete, functional, business/commerce over tourism, cold and wet than the prior locations - but with plenty of charm in itself. There's a funicular railway here opened in 2007 to take you four stops up the mountain side, each station designed by architect Zaha Hadid to look like a glacier sliding back down the slope towards the town. Even the railways in Austria are beautiful. A day was spent pissing about on that, surfing the cable car, and trekking across the top of the world, literally above the cloud line.

A morning run went awry when a bridge I believed I could cross to head back to the hotel turned out to only be passable by risking certain death under the wheels of the faultlessly punctual high speed trains they have here (I mean, who wants that for their country, really?). I'll carry onto the next bridge, thinks I, all full of joy from the perfect week away. This turned out to be quite a substantial distance away, across a motorway. And an international airport. Quick half marathon to start the day there. Fucking dickhead.

Cultural learnings. A sports bar here can be many things. A) A sports bar, all well and good even allowing for the Tour De France obsession. B) A bookies. And not a good bookies either. The sort of bookies your grandad used to hang in. Like that William Hill that used to be next to the Shepherd and Flock on Goldhawk Road. C) An aggressive prostitution bar, where the prostitutes aggressively prostitute themselves upon you while you try to drink a flat Heineken. It's been causing issues. In Vienna, Andy, who you get to speak to when you need tech support with the Patreon, had to stand up and announce to the slavering crowd that we'd made a terrible mistake, would be drinking up and leaving as soon as possible, and don't rub your fanny on me. It was the most British thing I'd ever seen/heard.

What about the football Gromit? Ah, yeh, those guys. Looming large on the Saturday horizon, here to piss on my chips with their short corners and rolling three-year FFP calculations. I've lost nearly a stone since Queens Park Rangers ceased their torture of me in May. I'm tanned, fit(ter), happy, relaxed. I've bought a hoodie, and started wearing it, at 38. But the prospect of Watford, of 48 match previews and reports, of "A six? For Dunne? Are you a complete cunt?", of the Twitterati children telling me Dozzell and "EDB" are coming to save us, of £47 tickets for Tuesday night shellackings at Leeds, of Premier Inns and not-so-premier inns, stalks me at night in my sleep and will soon become my reality again. I spent an hour this week sitting by a river with a book and half a bottle of wine, do you know that? Next week - season preview. "Sixth? For Millwall. Are you a complete cunt?"

But football we must, particularly this weekend when you, the viewers at home, were not able to actually see the "action". QPR announced early Saturday morning that the second friendly with Austrian outfit Vorwaerts Steyr would not be streamed back in the UK after all, despite summer-long promotion promising it would be. This, predictably, sent a torrent of brickbats and barbs the way of beleaguered streaming partner Recast, something of a bete noire of the QPR fans since the club starting using it for things like pre-season friendlies two years ago. On this occasion it was nothing to do with Recast at all: the outside broadcast van, from the production company QPR have used for sometime for their foreign pre-season games without incident, broke down almost three hours away from the ground. It meant the club could film the match for highlights, but lacked the OBU required to provide a stream solid and reliable enough to not buffer/collapse every time more than five people logged into watch it.

Cookie used to buy us Jager Bombs.

This isn't the first time Recast has copped the fall out for something that really wasn't their fault. They fucked up their first swing at covering one of our games, away at Cambridge in July 2021, and only the swift action of the PR on duty that night to flick the switch to provide a YouTube feed saved that particular day. They have, as the media team warned them would be the case, always been judged against that failure. The media department at QPR is one that spends money rather than makes it, not a position you want to be in when bloodthirsty execs are scanning around the building looking for cutbacks, and Recast was one attempt at trying to claw in some income so it could “wash its face” as Lee Hoos likes to say. Unfortunately, the platform’s crap. Whether the various issues have been their fault or not, I can't see that relationship continuing further given the current state of it. Having initially partnered with Hibs and Man City as well as ourselves and numerous other sports and organisations, the platform these days is virtually deserted. What adverts are available to watch earn you just 1p each, with a limit of 25 a day, so to save enough for one QPR friendly (£5) you'd need to watch 500 adverts totalling three hours spread over 20 days.

So, what did you miss? Well, a win. And having returned from a run of four wins in 33 matches, and one win in the last 15 at home, to a 3-0 gob bumming by Slavia Prague last week, let's not knock that shall we? Having caveated last week's defeat with Prague's vastly superior league status, regular European football and much more advanced summer programme, it's probably only right to say that Steyr - playing in a ground two-parts football stadium to one-part church - were relegated from the Austrian second division last season and are very much a semi-professional outfit. There was that wonderful pre-season friendly trope of queueing for a beer at the bar behind one of their substitutes. Still, we'll take anything we can at this point - particularly as we, rather terrifyingly, fell behind early when Joe Walsh poorly parried a routine long ranger back into traffic and Jakob Kolb banged the rebound into the unguarded net. If we've learned anything this week it's you can see why they want to sign Asmir Begovic.

The QPR goals were scored by Lyndon Dykes, and for the first time ever by Sinclair Armstrong. Dykes calmly converted a penalty after taking a boot to the face attacking a low cross. Armstrong headed a nice cross from youngster Rafferty Pedder - one for the Pedder Files there, sorry - straight at substitute home keeper Michael Fauland and then, amidst a chaotic rebound situation, saw the ball booted off him and into the net. When we trot out the cliche about an out-of-form striker just needing one to go in off his arse this is the first time I can ever really recall a goal actually, literally doing just that. We did play some reasonably nice football round the box - one slick first half move very annoyingly ending with a cross right between Dykes and Kelman - which was nice to see after the hoof and hope(less) against Slavia.

It would have been a good deal more but for the increasingly, improbably heroic efforts of the two home goalkeepers: Loris Karius look-a-like Valerian Hüttner and his replacement Fauland. This started with an early stop to deny Paul Smyth and continued through ever increasingly death-defying efforts to block Dykes from close range at the near post, Dunne with a lopping header from a corner, Dykes with a diving header from point blank range that felt a certain foal and finally a save by the sub from Pedder after Armstrong had burned a guy in the left channel and put a low cross on a silver platter for the former Spurs junior that was as good as any you'll see this season. Hüttner, AustrianHoop informs me, started out locally and at 15 was picked up by the academy of Austria Vienna while also playing for the national team at U15 and U16 level. He was later picked up by Wolfsburg but has never made a senior appearance. He returned to Austria to play for lower league clubs and is now looking to re-establish himself as a 22-year-old at Steyr. Mind you, picking people up because they played well against us didn't work well for Jordan Cousins... or Bryan Williams.

Casually 1-0 down to a recently relegated semi-professional team, pretending everything's fine while the Springfield Tyre Yard burns in the background.

Having been so comprehensively monstered by Slavia, there was at least a chance this week to see a little bit more of our shape and pattern of play. First half, in possession, this was almost a 4-2-4 set up, with Willock to the left of Dykes and Kelman, and Paul Smyth to the right despite playing much of his Leyton Orient football on the left. As we'd seen from the week's training videos, the focus was very much on early switches across the field trying to expose individual defenders with pacy widemen who could provide cross after cross for a striker we've often lamented we don't service as well or effectively as his national team. Within this, finally some use has been found for Andre Dozzell, who drew his left boot back and delivered accurate balls behind an isolated full back for first Paul Smyth and then Albert Adomah to make hay with. That was encouraging, and QPR created a lot of chances in this game, with a mixture of poor finishing and great goalkeeping denying them a bigger win.

I'm intrigued we haven't really seen Ainsworth go to the 4-3-3 he mostly used at Wycombe. Nor the really, aggressive high press Wanderers used to execute under him — though there was a little bit more of that here, particularly second half when the home attempts to play out from goalkicks became a little bit more raggedy and risky.

Having mentioned the total indifference and lack of engagement from the QPR squad (bar Charlie Kelman) after the first game, attended by all of half a dozen QPR fans, it's only right to say that this was a lot better yesterday, with players, Gareth and Richard Dobson all hanging around afterwards to chat and take pics. I reckon somewhere between 30-40 QPR fans there this time, wonderful to meet some new faces and put some names to old ones in the town centre beforehand.

And, of course, no surprise to see, England manager Sven Goran Eriksson in the crowd.

As ever, much of the interest and chat surrounded the players who weren't playing as much as the ones who were.

Ilias Chair didn't play. Ainsworth at pains to say he'd rolled his ankle, rather than left the club. Paul Smyth did for the first time since rejoining, and looked our liveliest player with the vast majority of our attack being switched left to right and through him into the box, but he was subbed after half an hour. Again, Ainsworth insistent that was pre-planned. Jake Clarke-Salter, after lasting a quarter of an hour of the first friendly, was absent, as he was for the vast majority of last season, and may now possibly be so again for the opening game at Watford.

The frustrations here are many. That he's injured so often, and for so long, obviously. That it's never with the sort of injuries you'd ordinarily associate with long absences - broken bones, torn muscles, ruptured ligaments - and more knocks, pulls, niggles, strains and the catch-all "calf problem" that QPR have trotted out so often for so many players and myriad complaints over the past 18 months that you could name the fucking season video The Calf Problem - The22/23 Story. The four year contract for a player who'd never managed 30 starts in a season before, hinting at fragility. The player he replaced making 97 consecutive starts before being released. All of this, all of this of course, but unlike other sick notes like Tyler Roberts, and let's be honest here Taylor Richards gave another performance in the second half on Saturday that I would categorise as strange, he is actually very good when we get him on the pitch. Quite a lot of the wasters who tossed it off and phoned it in for QPR last season weren't any good on the seldom occasions they did play, but you can't say that of Clarke-Salter whose physicality, athleticism, reading of the game, stepping into the action and onto the ball with timely intercepts, ability on the ball and more make him easily the best defender at the club, and one of the better centre backs in the division. I guess if he didn't get injured often there's no way he'd be playing for us, but we desperately need him to be able to drag himself even through up towards that 30-game mark this season. It's been an inauspicious start in that regard.

Which brings us, finally, to friend of the site Leon Balogun. A man who, at 34, hadn't made more than 15 league starts in a season in eight years prior to arriving here at the behest of the manager last summer; won friends and influenced people with a handful of good showings to begin with but quickly regressed; then sat out five months of action last season with "a calf problem" and invited you to believe the timing of that the very second the manager left was entirely coincidental; returned for the run in, cost us a relegation six pointer at Wigan with a tackle so pig headedly stupid I couldn't believe Nadine Dorries wasn't involved somewhere along the line; booted off with the away end at full time; pretended he hadn't booted off with the away end at full time; called a training ground summit with fans where, in amongst chucking the club's medical team under the bus, he said the sentence: "I'm not active on social media, I don't post about Rangers all the time... you think maybe I'm saving myself for a move to Rangers... your perception is wrong"; and who has now, indeed, signed for Rangers. Signed for Rangers after QPR not only, as is their PFA obligation, kept him around for injury rehab this summer but also, as is not their PFA obligation, paid to take him to Austria this week instead of giving young players we do own a chance. Henry Hawkins and Deon Woodman were flown out belatedly after Balogun's reunion with Honest Mick this week, something the player who doesn't post about Rangers all the time and wasn't saving himself for Rangers described as "coming home", and both got minutes in the second half on Saturday.

I'm not just saying this because I called this guy right at the very beginning, though I did, but the evidence has been staring the club and its fanbase in the face about Leon Balogun from the moment his name was first linked to the moment of his departure. I can't help but think that Gareth Ainsworth, in going out to bat for him as often as he did, often in the face of long standing QPR supporters, has now been made to look a little foolish. How does his "people who want to play for QPR" shtick wash when you add Balogun's presence this week as detergent? A fairly embarrassing episode really from start to finish.

Still, perhaps one of the Steyr keepers fancies taking his seat on the plane home.

A bit of blue for the dads

Linz has been the unexpected gem of the week.

Mention it to an Austrian and expect a funny look. Steel town, they'll tell you. And, indeed, when you approach by rail from Vienna you do indeed pass through an enormous steel mill, just as you do when you approach Scunthorpe by rail from Grimsby. And if that comparison isn't worth the Patreon sub alone then what is?

But Linz, European capital of culture in 2009, Unesco City of Media and Art since 2014, has been the perfect base. So much so we switched plans, trains and hotels to get back here on Friday from Innsbruck in time for a weekend of classical music around the city cathedral, which is all giant stained glass windows and has a capacity of 20,000 people - or, so it reckons. Leeds would have taken more.

It also has a beach. Quite an achievement for a city in the middle of a landlocked country I'll grant you but beach it is, with beach bars to boot, on the inside of the river's curve as it flows through life here. And it was here, on Friday afternoon, in stifling heat, while I lay topping up a hangover with another hangover, that one of the ten most beautiful girls in the world sat down to my left, stripped off all the way down to a thong which really may as well not have been there at all, and went to bathe bare breasted in the shallows of the Danube. London, please, I'm begging you, clean your rivers up. The potential is astonishing.

I am, naturally, at this point retaining a level of professional, calm composure and reading my book while the water is lapping, the curves are curving, the arches are arching and the sun is doing that sparkly, glinting thing. This peace, however, is soon shattered, by a loud scream from the street. A friend has arrived, spotted The Little Mermaid in the water, and is very delighted about this. So delighted in fact that she's now bounding across the pebbles pealing layers off as she goes. All the layers in fact. Totally billy bollocks. Arse like a moon of Jupiter - round and pale and reflecting the sun. Vagina like a garage behind a dodgy block of flats - wide and flappy and used for all sorts of stuff it shouldn't be. These are sex people Lynn. Into the water she splashes for a glorious reunion. Two lesbians probably, sisters, I'm just watching.

Now, I haven't been a resident of Linz long (please, God, let me stay, I'll do you match reports) but I've clocked that the river is swimmable only to, at most, twenty feet from the bank. There are buoys anchored there to attest to this. And motor boats. And 500-foot long river cruisers from Budapest. And bits of old tree floating past at quite the lick. Newcomer isn't having it though. She's pulling her mate's arm and dragging her further out and wants to go SWIMMING. Somebody hasn't seen the first five minutes of Jaws. Original girl returns to the bank and towels off. I am, still, you understand, reading my book. Newcomer sets off out into the channel and, as I suspected might be the case, gets carried off right to left into the distance, further and further "out to sea", right out into the main lanes the boats are using, and really rather quickly down towards the town centre, under the railway bridge I haven't seen anybody swim under in all my time here, and away. "Is she going to be alright?" I enquire. "Oh yes," bilingual girl of everybody's dreams assures, "swims for Austria at the Prick Tease Olympics". Or something. I'm not convinced. Neither, fairly soon, is her friend, who starts making frantic phone calls. Neither, it turns out, is the police cruiser, which picks her up just at the point she'd become a tiny little punctuation mark to us so far down river she'd almost left the country.

Of course the issue with bringing her back from there, sprawnged out rather bedraggled and tired on the back of the motorboat, right the way back through the middle of town past the beach bars packed on a Friday night post-work, back under the road/rail/tram bridge in rush hour, was all the nakedness. If the rescuers had big towels on them, they were keeping them to themselves. And I know these not-at-all-embellished and absolutely-definitely-happened-this-ways stories do often end with "and the crowd cheered", but, please, believe me.

I'm going to miss Austria a great deal.

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Pictures - Action Images

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Gleni1977 added 22:31 - Jul 16
Great account of the trip Clive. Fascinated by the story at the end. I must ask, what book were you reading?

Northernr added 22:51 - Jul 16
No idea. 😇

Scarecrow added 10:40 - Jul 17
great write up Clive. Were the 2 ladies Mermaids,

francisbowles added 10:54 - Jul 17
Even more brilliant.

gigiisourgod added 23:12 - Jul 17
There’s a bit too much f*cking culture in this one for me Clive, bring back the days of Donny away.

Ad99 added 09:29 - Jul 18
Loved this, but very disappointed indeed that we get a photo of some hobo at the football and not the Margot Robbie you describe at the end.

dsw2509 added 15:22 - Jul 18
Ball going in off arse…….Gary Gillespie 1986 at Anfield. He wasn’t a striker (or our player, come to that).

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