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Awayday Reviews - Preston, Deepdale
Awayday Reviews - Preston, Deepdale
Monday, 19th Nov 2007 09:59

Rangers drew 0-0 at Preston at the end of October and events off the pitch were just as dire as those on them.

1 - The Game
Goal kick is awarded, goalkeeper boots ball away down field, striker and defender challenge for bouncing ball, free kick is awarded, free kick is pumped downfield, striker is flagged offside, free kick is pumped downfield, striker and defender challenge for the ball, free kick is awarded, free kick is booted straight out of play for throw in, throw in is taken, two midfielders challenge for the ball, free kick is awarded, free kick is booted down field, referee calls player back to take the free kick from the correct place which is actually only three inches from where he took it in the first place, free kick is booted away down field, striker and defender challenge for it, free kick is awarded.

It was hardly what you'd call an advert for the Championship. Two teams lacking quality and confidence refereed by a fussy old woman who couldn't keep the whistle out of her mouth for more than 15 seconds at a time. That Trevor Kettle was assisted by two linesmen with a very flimsy grasp of the rules of the game didn't help matters either. Preston had the better of it, and were only denied a win by a string of fine saves from Lee Camp, including a penalty save from Paul Gallagher.

Rangers only really threatened when Marc Nygaard was introduced but with Camp in great form it had 0-0 written all over it and those unfortunate enough to be inside Deepdale were left to reflect on £20 spent on watching two teams executing a lesson on how not to play football and a referee running round shouting "look at me" and penalising everything for the benefit of his ego. If only somebody could get close enough to Mr Kettle's whistle to choke him to death with it.

We wished we'd stayed in the warm pub even before we got back there to find Arsenal had put on a display of total football in the Champions League and won 7-0. An evening wasted.

2 - Rangers' performance
The exact opposite of Mick Harford's first away match in charge at Colchester. That night our front four had caused the home side massive problems, scored two goals and gone close on countless other occasions only to be let down by a woeful defensive display. We were lucky to only concede four at Colchester but with Martin Cranie now at the heart of the defence, Mikele Leigertwood finding some form in midfield ahead of the back four, and Harford clearly getting them more organised and together as a unit we looked much more secure here. There are certainly things to work on, the fact that we only got a point thanks to some heroics from Lee Camp makes that obvious, but the defence is coming on in leaps and bounds. Sadly their efforts weren't rewarded with three points because we offered precious little in attack. Rowan Vine was isolated up front until Marc Nygaard came on. That allowed Hogan Ephraim to move back to the wing and gave Vine somebody to work off which resulted in ten or 15 minutes pressure from QPR. In the end Preston will wonder how they didn't win, Harford will wonder how different the score may have been had he started with Nygaard and Vine together.

3 - Rangers' Support
I really admire the 400-500 or so hardcore supporters we have for these nights. Preston from London on a Tuesday is really no fun at all and yet so many people happily do it. Good on them I say. The singers at the back did their best to get a few chants going and did very well, although the behaviour of Preston's stewards towards them early on in the match certainly put a sour taste on the whole evening - more on that later. So not the biggest, loudest or greatest travelling support you'll ever see, but a real credit to QPR and themselves.

4 - The Ground
Deepdale is now finally on the way to becoming a four sided ground worthy of the Championship. The old, antiquated main stand has now been flattened and as a QPR fan who had the misfortune to stand on that vast open terrace while we were annihilated 5-0 a few years ago it's not a moment too soon. Far too many bad memories. I've no idea what the plans are for the space that it's left behind but I'd be surprised if it's not going to be another stand the same as the other three. Regular readers know I hate all these identikit stadiums but Deepdale is a bit different. The four stands are steep and tight to the pitch which makes for a decent atmosphere when full, the excessively complex Mechano like structures linking them and the floodlights and apparently holding the whole thing together make the ground recognisable from miles away.

Points lost for the, as ever, complicated and confusing ticketing arrangements. First of all you're not allowed to pay cash at the turnstile, you have to go to the adjacent ticket office. This doesn't matter on a Tuesday night when there is nobody there but it's a real pet hate of mine, especially on a Saturday with a big crowd. You end up with a big queue of people at the ticket office, then another big queue of people at the turnstile, so you're queuing twice as long. I don't understand why clubs do it. It requires five or six members of staff in the ticket office, and five or six turnstile operators, whereas cash at the actual turnstile halves the number of staff required. It's like these stupid barcode swiping devices the Premiership clubs have put in - you need two stewards on each gate to help people work them. Madness.

Preston said before the match that tickets would rise by as much as £5 if you paid on the night as opposed to paying in advance. Again, why? If you pay in advance is the seat more comfortable? The match a better quality? The weather warmer? No, it's the same load of old crap served up in the middle of Lancashire in the freezing cold but you bought your ticket on Monday afternoon instead of Tuesday night. Again it makes no sense and penalises the fan. Just as strange as the idea of charging extra on the night, is Preston's decision not to enforce it on the night. Why say you're going to charge a fiver extra and then don't?

Having said all of that points gained for the wonderfully friendly, and bloody good looking, girl that served me in the ticket office and the prices which, without the match day increases, are very reasonable for this division.

5 - Atmosphere
Very poor. The fact the ground only had three sides doesn't really help, as any noise created quickly disappears over the temporary fences and away down the terraced streets. Preston are struggling, like ourselves, and the home fans seemed apprehensive to start with and pretty disgruntled towards the end when a fair number of them turned on their own side. The loss of Nugent has really hit them hard and they clearly haven't managed to get anything like a replacement in yet - football fans are impatient though and they don't think about that before they start booing. The QPR fans tried hard but didn't have the numbers to make an impact. All in all the atmosphere was very much like the game and the night as a whole, instantly forgettable.

6 - Pre Match
During the journey we used our change in Manchester to spend an hour in the Balcony Bar on Manchester Piccadilly Station. This place sadly continues to go down hill - Northern the Younger had a plate of sausage and mash and I had a BBQ chicken dish but the size of the plates, and subsequently the portions, seem to be going down almost as quick as the prices go up. Before we knew it we'd spent £20 and we were still hungry. I doubt we'll be using this place, a regular stop over when we've had to change here previously, again. Once in Preston we'd been instructed by Northern Steve and Mick to meet in the pub opposite the railway station, which we duly did. Straight out of the station we came and straight through the doors of The Railway.

Now I try my best not to be unkind, but Jesus Christ. A pub on a mainline railway station, in the middle of a town, during the rush hour, should be buzzing. There should be a warm welcome and cold drinks and piping hot food and it should be so inviting that it makes you miss your train home for just one more pint. The Railway in Preston is so poor you almost find yourself missing the match and getting the hell out of town on the first available train to anywhere. It's not a good start when you walk into a place on a weeknight, during the rush hour, on a night when the local team are at home and there are eight Champions League matches on the television to see the vast majority of the pub locked up and shrouded in darkness but that's what we found.

Bottles of Becks in hand we parked ourselves in the only open part, a small hard floored and cold bar at the back of the pub with a pool table in the centre and, and this is a cardinal sin in a pub, a pop music channel on the plasma screen. Live sport, Sky Sports News, or turn the bloody thing off.

There was the two of us, one other bloke, a barman and numerous Celtic and Irish flags hanging off the walls and ceiling. I was just composing my rant to Steve for when he arrived, his local knowledge was supposed to find us a decent pub near the station and yet here we were. Thankfully we then got a text from Mick, we'd picked the wrong place! We were actually meant to meet in The Old Vic, a fraction further up the road on the other side of the traffic lights. Steve was already there, Mick joined a short time later, there were carpets, it was warm, there were people, there was Champions League on the television, it was much better all round.

An hour or so before the kick off we headed for the ground and had a final drink in the social club next to the ground - where I got ID'd on entry and my younger brother didn't. That seemed a decent enough place, although the temperature inside was about three thousand degrees. If we both manage to stay up, or we both go down, I think we'll just go straight in The Old Vic next time and stay there!

7 - The Journey
Manchester is right up there with Birmingham in my list of cities I'd rather lose limbs than live in. I just can't stand the place for so many reasons - one of them is because despite the size and supposed importance of the place they have managed to create a bottleneck on the railway that just beggars belief. Every train running north or south that wants to go through Manchester and stop there is forced onto a bridge about 20 feet wide from Piccadilly up to Oxford Road. There is just one line in each direction and every single through train going to Salford, Bolton, Wigan, Preston, Blackpool, Liverpool, Warrington, Widnes, Carlisle, the Lake District, Glasgow, Crewe, Stoke, Birmingham, Bristol, Cheltenham, Exeter, Plymouth, Sheffield, Nottingham, Grantham, Peterborough, Norwich and at least that many stations again has to use it. Consequently Virgin, in the vast majority of cases, terminate their services at Piccadilly or run their through services round the city and don't stop there at all.

But that still means you've got this bridge, and a train every two minutes. It's carnage. When we arrived at a little after 4pm the platform was rammed, five trains were queuing to get in outside the station, none of the staff or departure boards knew which one was coming in first and in the end we were half an hour late leaving. Not only that but the first train of the rush hour to Bolton, Preston and Blackpool only had two carriages on it. It was so full by the time it left that nobody could get on at any of the subsequent stations and scuffles ensued on the platforms as people tried to force one more body into the cattle trucks.

The driver improved matters by whacking the heater on as high as it would go and then, with the delay approaching an hour, announced that the train would actually be terminating at Preston not Blackpool and if you wanted to go further than Preston that was tough.

It's a horrible journey by train this one, and we didn't make it back to Sheffield until twenty past one, although I did at least have room to stretch out and sleep on the way back so most of it passed me by. Mercifully we arrived back on time because on my three trips on the late train from Manchester to Sheffield I have experienced it not turning up at all, it catching fire and 50 drunk Sheff Utd fans causing havoc and forcing it to stop and tip everybody out in Edale in the middle of the night. Grateful for small mercies on a horrible night to travel.

8 - Police and Stewards
When we started these awayday reviews three seasons ago the intention was to give supporters the chance to have their say on what it's really like following a football club in the Championship. One of the things I thought would come up more often than not is the poor treatment football fans receive from the police and stewards at games, but on the whole I've been surprised. When you actually get down to it most of the time we're just left to our own devices and the stewards are there merely to point you in the direction of your seat or the bogs.

There's been a few exceptions to that of course - who can forget the Plymouth Argyle stewards refusing to believe Scott Donnelly and the other reserve players that they were in fact players and wanted to go into the dressing room at half time? They were forced to stand at the front for 20 minutes while supporters showed the stewards pictures of Donnelly and the others in the day's match programme. Or the Wolves steward who looked at the world's biggest ball of snot and gunk that had just been deposited on my coat by some Neanderthal in the upper tier at Molineux and told me it was "condensation from the roof". Or George, bless him, at the Ricoh Arena, a fully paid up member of the Nazi party with moustache to match.

They are exceptions though as I say, I can actually count on the fingers of two hands the amount of times I've felt aggrieved at the stewarding or policing of a match I've been to. Even when you do disagree with the way it's being handled, sitting down, shutting up and watching the game is a sure fire way to keep yourself out of whatever trouble may be going on. I have little sympathy for people who get in a steward's face, get involved with pushing and shoving or anything like that who then find themselves trying to find a good vantage point to watch the final hour of the game from in the car park.

However, our trip to Preston on a cold Tuesday night in October is right out there in a league of its own. Never have I seen stewarding like it. It was scandalous and thuggish behaviour from people supposedly there to protect the supporters against all of those things. The game kicked off with about 400 QPR fans spread across the away end, and the usual gang of between ten and twenty standing at the back. I was off to the left hand side as you looked at the pitch and also stood for the majority of the match, as did my friends, because it was bloody freezing and it was good to pace up and down a bit just to keep your feet in the land of the living.

We were left alone by the stewards but the gang at the back of the stand were not so lucky. First of all a couple of the standard orange jacketed stewards went up to the back to have a word and ask people to sit down. This is pretty standard stuff after ten minutes of a match, happens all the time and is usually followed by a chorus of "stand up if you love Rangers" and then everybody complies and the rest of the game passes by. However on this occasion the 20 or so QPR fans standing up pointed out to the stewards that 700 Preston fans were, to a man, standing up not fifty feet away from them on the other side of the segregation divide. The stewards shrugged, some people sat down, some remained standing, the stewards left, that seemed to be that.

Then, moments later, a line of men in yellow jackets, about ten of them I would say, appeared at the bottom of the stand and started to march up the steps in single file towards the standers at the back. I immediately pointed a couple of them out to my brother because they were unusually large guys. I think I said something along the lines of "wouldn't fancy being thrown out by them" as they made their way up the steps.

I watched them arrive at the back of the stand and once again tell the QPR fans to sit down. The next thing I knew all hell broke loose. One of the stewards, a huge guy with a skin head and tattoos on his neck, grabbed one of the younger Rangers fans round the neck and wrestled with him in a headlock dragging him across the seats. I've never seen anything like it. The steward just lost it and started to attack the QPR fan who.

The scene then descended into chaos as the other stewards tried to pull their colleagues off the QPR fan and stop him doing some serious damage to the lad. He was then led away by the other stewards who seemed to be telling him to calm down. He just totally lost it.

Frankly I am appalled by this. What on earth was said to the guy in the ten second conversation that preceded this mindless violence I can only guess at but I'm assured it was simply pointing out that if 700 Preston fans are allowed to stand why can't 20 QPR fans do the same? As I said earlier the best thing to do is just comply and sit down to watch the game, but if you don't you shouldn't expect to be beaten up by somebody employed by the club to keep you safe.

Preston North End need to look into the stewarding situation as a matter of urgency because at the moment it's not only a disgrace it's also unsafe. That lobotomised gibbon may feel all big and brave now, dragging a teenager head first over a row of seats and laying into him when there's less than 400 QPR fans there on a cold Tuesday night, but Preston have some big derby games this season. I wouldn't like to be in the away end with 4000 Blackpool or Burnley fans this year if he tries that on again. He could have a full scale riot on his hands.

It's a scandalous, needless way to treat football fans and the famous old name of Preston North End is sullied by the presence of that hooligan in uniform on their pay roll.

Total - 32/80

Photo: Action Images

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