LFW Awaydays – Middlesbrough, Riverside Stadium
Thursday, 3rd Mar 2011 00:28 by Awaydays
After a controversial Christmas and early year break due to time constraints the LFW Awaydays makes a return to look back on the weekend trip to the Boro – guest starring Alejandro Faurlin.
On the pitch
I could write this section by copying and pasting everything Tony Mowbray said in his post match interviews, and saying the exact opposite. Mowbray believed his Boro side was well in the game for long periods (they weren’t), and that they more than matched QPR for most of the game (they didn’t). He said the scoreline flattered QPR (it didn’t) and that we, to steal a Mourinho phrase, “parked the bus” with regards to our defending (we didn’t).
Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t that phrase about bus parking coined on a day when Tottenham played a flat back ten at Stamford Bridge and basically held hands in a straight line and waited for the final whistle to blow? QPR scored three here and could have had three more at least so how it’s remotely appropriate to this game I haven’t got the first idea. I like Tony Mowbray, but he sounded like a an early onset Alzheimer’s patient after this game, unable to recall with any degree of accuracy events that had occurred just minutes previously.
Heidar Helguson had fired over when through on goal before he gave us the lead with a deflected shot before half time. He buried a second headed goal shortly after the break and Taarabt converted a penalty for three nil. Boro keeper Steele had to save at Taarabt’s feet and the Moroccan also found the side netting with a first time volley.
There’s life out there, but there’s a hell of a lot more empty plastic seats.
QPR dominated the possession as well as the chances, and thanks to Alejandro Faurlin’s majestic range of passing it was controlled and quality possession that always looked like it was going somewhere. Middlesbrough should have scored after one minute when Kenny’s weak kick went straight to Scott McDonald, and should have scored in the last minute when McDonald went through again but cleared the bar by some distance, but in the intervening period they were absolutely awful.
Scores >>> QPR performance 8/10 >>> Opposition performance 3/10 >>> Referee performance 6/10
In the stand
‘Literally’ is an overused word in modern day English. ‘Literally’ and ‘like’. I try not to listen too much to conversations going on around me on public transport for fear that my brain may rot, or try to escape, but whenever I do tune in it’s always some moron trying to deliver some sort of anecdote basically using those two words alone. “And I was like literally, like, amazed at that because, like, she’s, like, supposed to be literally one of my best friends and, like, I just literally could not believe that she would say, like, something like that, like, do you know what I mean?”
When they strap me to the chair please tell them that the murder was just.
Anyway if I was one of these brain dead barrel scrapings that seem to have infected our society and then spread like a dose of the clap through a brothel in Stoke-on-Trent then I would tell you that the Riverside Stadium was, like, literally completely empty when we were there on Saturday. Of course it wasn’t literally empty – because I was there, and Tracey, and Neil and some other excited QPR fans. But it was pretty empty, more than half empty in fact – and by God did it both look and sound empty. I actually thought when I came above decks for the first time and took a look around that the game may have fallen victim to the weather late in the day such was the paucity of support I saw around me.
Huddling together for warmth
We’re almost at a Coventry City level of horror with this place now – a vast stadium totally out of proportion with the support of the team it houses. Middlesbrough is a small town in a desperately poor area of the country, reliant on industries that have abandoned it in large numbers, and cannot possibly continue to proffer 35,000 people willing to pay £28 to sit and watch a team as bad as Boro undoubtedly are. When you look at Loftus Road and all its faults, remember trips to places like this. Imagine QPR falling on hard times in a ground built for 36,000 people. Imagine how desolate that place would be, how dull the atmosphere would be, how little you’d look forward to going to home games.
Boro opened this place in 1996, the first new ground in this country since Scunthorpe knocked up Glanford Park in 25 minutes using some bits of corrugated iron they’d found fly tipped round the back of the railway viaduct at the end of the 1980s. It was built at a time when Steve Gibson was like Roman Abramovic, throwing big money at big players as if it was wedding confetti. Juninho, Emerson, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Merson, Fabrizio Ravenelli and others all joined Captain Marvel himself Bryan Robson in a spectacular new era for Middlesbrough that eventually led to them lifting a major piece of silverware for the first time (the League Cup) under Steve McLaren. That’s what these grounds are meant to be for – times of growth, and optimism. Nobody when they’re designing them ever thinks about cold February afternoons when the team is total crap and nobody in the town has got any money, or desire, to come and watch it. Last year there were thousands of empty seats as well but the Boro fans seemed to be trying to make the best of a bad situation with a gang of singers behind the far goal and another group to our right proudly wafting around what the LFW message board may describe as “big gay flags” but such is the rank quality of this Boro side the group at the far end has gone altogether, and the gang to the right now number no more than a dozen.
Loftus Road half full can still be a formidable place – two of the best atmospheres I can recall there in recent times were for midweek 1-0 wins against Preston and Birmingham in different circumstances and on both occasions more than 7,000 of the seats were empty. Places like the Ricoh and the Riverside (and to be fair the design, look and feel of the Riverside is a million and one times better than the loathsome shithole Coventry call home) are not formidable, or even nice places to go, in happy times and they sure as hell take it out of you in times like these. Once more I plead – may QPR never, ever, ever, ever end up in a place like this.
Considering the presence of almost 20,000 empty seats it seemed rather pointless that Boro paid a fee to two stewards to stand at the back of the away end and make sure no QPR fans went in the back row. Presumably, when Sunderland or Newcastle come here and sell out, people will have to sit in that back row at some point. If they don’t, why did Middlesbrough spend money on bolting seats to it? Even as Adel Taarabt was lining up to take his penalty stewards were trying to clear the back row with idol threats of ejection if you didn’t do exactly what you were told right there and then and no you can’t just wait for the penalty to be taken. There must be vacancies for pedantic, jobsworth wankers like these to be football referees somewhere surely?
LSA travel supremo in back row seating ban violation shocker
For what it’s worth, the 800 or so QPR fans who did brave the long trip didn’t seem to mind either the stewards or the lack of home fans much. They were in the best voice, certainly at the back of the stand, that I have heard them in for several weeks – trotting out the “we’re going to Liverpool, you’re going to Hartlepool” and “say hello to Brentford” smile raisers among others. There was also a bit of Depeche Mode in there too, one to listen out for in future weeks. The celebrations after the first two goals shall live long in the memory - yes, YouTube clips circulate of me jumping on people and abusing opposing fans are once again doing the rounds.
Scores >>> QPR support 8/10 >>> Home support 3/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 5/10 >>> Stadium 6/10 >>> Police and stewards 3/10
In the pub
In 1921 American philosopher and journalist Lincoln Steffens said of his impressions of the new Soviet government: “I’ve been over into the future, and it works.” This, through a misquote in a book written in 1933 by his wife, coined the phrase “I’ve seen the future, and it works” which has since been hammered to death in films, books, speeches and everyday life. On Saturday, in Middlesbrough of all places, I think I saw a little bit of the future for myself – and it did work, eventually.
Sky deserve everything they’re about to get from the European Union. All the high priced lawyers money can buy haven’t been able to save them from a preliminary ruling by the European Attorney General (and if form stays true this will become the final judgement) that if public houses in an EU country want to buy themselves a television system from another EU country and use it to show football matches then they should be perfectly within their rights to do so. For all the nonsense the EU brings to this country, all the ridiculous human rights bullshit we have to deal with, all the immigration problems it causes it has gone a small fraction of a way to redeeming itself with this ruling.
A month or so ago Neil and myself journeyed up to Burnley and started off in an old favourite haunt of the Northern R’s, the Ministry of Ales. It’s a perfect pub this one – right by the station, walking distance to the ground, a thousand different types of beer, pie and peas available for three quid, and Sky Sports on a plasma screen in the corner. Except this year the latter part was missing. Sky had, overnight a year or so back, told the landlord of this tiny independent pub in Burnley which only does any kind of serious trade on the 23 days a year when Burnley are at home that they were increasing his subscription to their channels ten fold. Reluctantly he shelled out, aware that football fans formed a large part of his trade. The new subscription, totalling many hundreds of pounds more a month he told me over the bar as I ordered my Budvar, only covered him for Sky Sports 1 and 3 which, as the football is almost exclusively on SS1, didn’t bother him greatly. In fact he only noticed he didn’t have Sky Sports 2 when he opened the pub one day and went to put the match on only to find it was on 402. But then so was the next match, and the next match, and the match after that, and all the matches in fact apart from the Sunday games. So he got onto Sky and asked to upgrade his package to Sky Sports Two, only to be told the cost would go up by a third again. So from a subscription cost of around £100 a month he was suddenly being asked to shell out more than a thousand.
Barnsley, Doncaster and Scunthorpe away? Let’s take a fortnight off and make a holiday of it.
This is the problem with a monopoly. Sky own the rights to all the football and whenever competition rules dictate that they have to give up a channel to BT or Virgin they simply move the football onto a channel they don’t have to give away, or create a new channel like Sky Atlantic and stick all their best programmes on there. Now I like having Sky, I enjoy their football coverage, I watch it religiously and think it’s brilliantly presented. I hear the arguments against them and the damage they have done to football and I grumble about our lack of Saturday games at the moment but I wouldn’t want to go back to a time when ITV had the rights and showed one match a week and some highlights at two in the morning. But what Sky has done to pubs, at a time when pubs are really struggling, is scandalous and plenty of chickens are now coming home to roost. I’ve spoken to landlords of bigger city centre pubs who have told me horror stories about annual subscriptions of £16,000 and more – and at the end of the day pubs only get really busy for a match involving “the big four”.
So is it any wonder these landlords are looking elsewhere? The only surprise is the EU has decided to let them, I felt sure Sky would chuck enough money at the situation to make it go away. So on Saturday we went back to Doctor Brown’s, a bar/pub and live music venue just around the corner from Middlesbrough train station and a five minute walk across the railway line to the stadium. We were here last year, everybody had been bloody nice, the drinks were ridiculously cheap and that’s exactly as we found it this year. This is a pub that replenishes stocks of thick cut chips on the bar for you to scoff while waiting to be served every ten minutes or so, and let’s be honest what’s not to like about that? And how about eight 450ml (just over three quarters of a pint) swing top bottles of Grolsch and a bottle of wine for the train for £18? Hell Neil went to a hotel in London for a works do the other week and ordered four drinks that came to £82 – he could probably have bought this pub for that.
I’ve seen the future, and Neil shouldn’t have left that Guinness so close to the edge of the table.
Now Doctor Browns as a large town centre (ish) pub would, no doubt, be one of those that Sky would like to charge the cost of a lower league footballer every year for them to show their games. Games that, let’s not forget, the pub has no control over – so they may pay that subscription and find that Middlesbrough are only on three times this season, or that their peak Saturday lunchtime trade is treated to Kilmarnock versus somebody else so abysmally awful and Scottish I can’t even bring myself to think of a named example. And Doctor Browns have said no. And fucking good on them for that.
What they have instead is some system or other that pipes in the Fox Sports, Canal Plus, Italian Sky Calcio and a variety of other Arabic language channels – all of which carry football from this country and just about everywhere else besides. When we arrived Wigan v Man Utd was on – which was odd as Wigan v Man Utd didn’t start for another three hours. Bloody fancy these foreign boxes you know. Anyway despite the fact it was clearly dark, and one of the Man Utd players looked a lot like Cristiano Ronaldo, it took some in our group (no names) a while to realise this was in fact a highlights reel of an earlier fixture. Two blokes on the other side of the pub, judging by their reaction to Wigan’s opening goal, weren’t even that quick off the mark bless em.
Anyway 12.45pm came around and it was time for Swansea v Leeds. The Championship is a well watched league, and English football is popular, so it would be out there somewhere. But where? Landlord started by working his way through the Sky Calcio channels but could only turn up the lunchtime Serie A game, an early Serie B match, some form of football from the United Arab Emirates, and old Villa v Blackburn game, another Serie B match, a screen advertising a Serie B match later in the day and so it went on. And between every change there was an agonising wait of 30 seconds or so where a message displayed on the screen advising: “Please wait while the satellite rotates 13 degrees east.”
I had a vision of a large dish on the side of this pub in Middlesbrough slowly moving around under the power of an electric motor, or better still being operated by two small worker boys who would once have been sent down a mine of some sorts in these parts frantically rotating a handle. Whether either of those things were true I never quite found out. In the end he admitted defeat and tried the Canal Plus, and then Fox, and then we started on the Arabic language channels by which time a quarter of an hour had passed and news was filtering through that Swansea had scored anyway. Ellis remarked that such was the foreign box’s taste for replays of old matches it may have been best to just come back here this time next year and watch the Leeds Swansea game then. It struck me that what Sky are effectively doing is charging you £500 a year for the football and £13,500 a year for the convenience of having a television guide that tells you where the matches are.
”If we come back next year, they might have a re-run of the Leeds game on by then.
We found it in the end, and by we I mean the whole pub because to pass the time we’d taken to building up a steady “whoooooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” every time the satellite was turning and then giving out a big “OLE” when the channel displayed. And it felt like we’d earned it. We watched Swansea win 3-0 with some Arabic language commentary and everybody was very pleased – with the football, with the price of the drinks, with the pub, with everything really.
No food, apart from the chips, on offer in the pub but we found our favourite van that offers three different kinds of Sunday roast in a bap on the way to the ground and once again enjoyed one of the best sandwiches (no doubt laced with e-coli) that we get anywhere on our travels in a season. We didn’t, sadly, get to sample the local delicacy – Parmo. I’m told by the Boro fan at work that this is a battery farmed chicken, lightly killed and grilled, then fried, then deep fried, and served smothered in cheese and a white sauce of some sorts (check origin of sauce before consuming) and other goodness. Maybe next time.
A top afternoon, and we even had time to pop in afterwards and top up for the way home.
Scores >>> Pub 9/10 >>> Atmosphere 9/10 >>> Food 8/10 >>> Cost 10/10
On the road
An oft recounted story on LFW is the tale of the QPR fan quizzing Angelo Balanta on how his loan spell at Wycombe went while the poor lad was standing having a piss at the Player of the Year dinner. It’s one that always springs to mind whenever I see supporters meeting the players in any kind of context. A lot of our players are not much more than boys, young lads who are very talented at football. To see grown men giggling and approaching them like nervous school kids, or worse still treating them like they’re some sort of long lost friend presumably for the benefit of everybody else to see how well in they are with the players, always makes me cringe a bit.
Insert your own caption here.
But Saturday night was a bit different. We’d ignored Tracey at first when she claimed to have seen the players in the Darlington station buffet. It had been a long day, the 9am departure from Kings Cross had given way to the 11.25am departure from York that came with added alcohol and alcohol had pretty much been added to the mixture every ten minutes or so ever since then. So without wishing to insult poor Tracey I can’t say too much weight was placed in her suggestion that Alejandro Faurlin was just the other side of the information board from us looking up the train times on the Hartlepool branch.
But he was. And I was drunk. And Neil had his camera. So why not? I walked up, I shook his hand, I admitted right from the outset that I was a little bit drunk but told him I felt I had to come up and shake his hand and thank him for how well he had been playing for us lately. He didn’t seem too adverse to that approach and posed (rather better than me, flash South American git) for a photograph. In all seriousness, he seemed like a genuinely nice and courteous lad in that brief meeting and was far more understanding with some drunk rambling idiot than he really needed to be.
Adel Taarabt and Danny Shittu, winning friends and influencing people in Darlington
Slowly it started to dawn on the other QPR fans hanging around the place that they really weren’t as drunk as they thought, and they really were seeing our players knocking around the place. Suddenly everybody was shaking hands with everybody else. Danny Shittu was proving to be especially popular – he told me he was delighted to be back, then shook my hand and broke three of my fingers. Good God Danny’s a big lad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like him up close. As you can see Shittu and Adel Taarabt were rather taken with the big flag one group had with them and happily posed with it – Shittu got a tongue in his ear from an over excited member of the travelling group for his troubles. Message board semi-regular Fearless cracked a gag about Hulse missing the train – everybody was happy, everybody was laughing (in general, not really at Ian’s joke).
The journey on the way home flew by, mainly because of the drink and the good mood. I knocked another beer over, my second of the day, but that apart we all had a bloody great trip.
Beware the legend of Mad Mick, you never know when he might erupt
Then back at Kings Cross we had the perfect end to the day. The players climbed out at the front and walked down the platform in their official club gear, the fans got out at the back and gave it the traditional big “You R’s”. It was a terrific moment, one I was pleased to be there for and wished fans of other clubs had seen. It felt, for one moment at least, as if we’d all gone up there together and played a part in a job well done, and now we were back together triumphantly to London to meet the acclaim of the crowds. Well, the three men and a dog waiting for the 10pm Leeds service at any rate. They counted us all out, and they counted us all back – QPR, top of the league.
Scores >>> Journey 10/10 >>> Cost 4/10
Total - 92/140
Photographs >>> Neil Dejyothin
Photo: Action Images
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