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Saturday – Preview
Friday, 26th Jun 2020 17:03 by Clive Whittingham

Lockdown football game two of nine takes QPR, beaten by Barnsley on their return last week, across London to face another relegation-haunted side Charlton Athletic.

Charlton (11-9-18, LWLLLW, 19th) v QPR (14-8-16, WDWDWL, 13th)

Context is important.

Fifty thousand people are dead. Probably more. They’ve been dying alone, tubes stuffed into them trying to reflate ravaged lungs, flipped onto their fronts to see if oxygen can be forced into them that way when all other attempts have failed. Their loved ones have been at home, banned from seeing them, informed of their last artificial breath via telephone. An economic recession is coming so deep and long lasting it’ll make the banking crisis of 2008 look like a walk on the beach on a summer’s day – a nice beach, not one of those ones we have that people use as a waste receptacle for the remnants of disposable barbecues and too much KFC. With that will come unemployment, poverty, misery...

Everything is to be set in that context.

In my day job I analyse the international television business, and the last three months have been gruelling weave through how it’s going to cope in the short term and exist in the long term. How do you produce the BBC’s gratuitous bonk-a-thon Normal People if everybody has to be two metres apart? How do you produce a £100m drama like Netflix’s The Crown if you can only have 20 people on set at any one time? How can channels afford to order anything new when 50% went off the ad market between March 31 and April 1? How will you ever get insurance for a television production again? How do you swap and trade completed shows, arrange productions and coproductions of future ones, get yourself in front of commissioning editors to pitch your ideas, if all the international markets used to swap, trade, arrange and pitch at can’t take place? If you’re Channel 4 and you’ve lost £150m from your annual content budget at the same time as 800 hours of shows you have ordered now won’t deliver what happens next? (A lot of Scrubs and Buffy The Vampire Slayer repeats as it turns out).

Fascinating, in its own way, and important, in the sense that it employs tens of thousands of people and has actually grown into a handy export for the UK internationally, worth more than a billion to the country’s economy each year. But, also, in context, first world problems.

More recently attention has been turning towards football. Do you bring it back, and if so when, and how? Is three weeks enough to go from locked down with parents and doing 5k training runs round the block to playing competitive sport against professional athletes? Should we have more substitutes and shorter halves? When does next season start and will it take the same form as it has before? Do we abandon the whole thing? Points-per-game or weighted points-per-game? What about player contracts that expire in June, and players that are only on loan? What about the transfer window?

Interesting, and again football is a multi-billion pound industry, employing many and providing community assets and focal points to just about every town and city in the country. But, also, in context who really gives a shit if the rich footballers are fit enough for their behind-closed-doors matches when we’re not going to be back at Loftus Road for months and when we do get there we’re going to look around and a lot of the people who’ve always been there with us, and we assumed always would be, have gone?

Compared to many I’ve absolutely nothing to complain or worry about during lockdown. I’ve kept my job on reduced salary. I haven’t been ill, and what’s left of my tiny family has stayed safe and well. In truth, I’ve quite enjoyed quite a lot of locked-down life. I’ve never cooked as much, eaten as healthily, exercised as much or been in such good shape. I’ve never spent so much time outdoors, so much time in the garden, so much time reading. I’ve never had so much sleep. Am I sick of Zoom and Skype meetings? Yes I am. But do I miss leaving home in the dark and getting back in the dark, and the Northern Line, and the people who push onto the tube without letting others get off first, and people who think headphones aren’t for them and the whole carriage would like to listen to their absolute fucking racket, and being in an office every day, and great crowds of people, and Pret sandwiches, and those binlids who wait until they get to the till before thinking about how they’re going to pay and where that method of payment may be upon their person, and those pricks who get to the tube gate in rushhour and hold everybody up through many painfully laboured attempts to pay for their travel using an Apple watch, and people who just spit randomly in public, and not being able to get a bottle of water in WH Smith without first dodging a series of attempts to get me to take a copy of The Daily Telegraph and a discounted bar of Dairy Milk as well like it’s a round of the fucking Krypton Factor? No. No I do not. And has it been a real eye opener on just how much money I spend every month on all of that, and how much of it was really necessary to do my job and earn my living? Yes. Yes it has.

But all of that notwithstanding, and with the context of the first paragraph obviously front and centre with everything else paling into insignificance besides it, I would like to talk about Saturday. Because I have missed Saturday, and I think that’s ok to admit.

Saturday has always been my day from when I was a little boy going on big train journeys to away games in Coventry and Newcastle with my dad and his mates, feeling like a grown up. Or a teenager desperately glad of day in Plymouth or Bristol to escape the horrendous northern secondary school and repeated bereavements that waited for me at home. Or now, when the stress and strain of adult life and money and the constant desire to strangle the living shit out of people whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make mine more difficult quickly melts away into pubs and friends and Bright Osayi-Samuel. It’s been my escape, my release, my pleasure and my identity for my whole life and I miss every bit of it.

I miss waking up before my alarm on Saturday because I’m excited about it (yes, still, don’t look at me like that). I miss taking a long walk into Shepherd’s Bush to pass the time. I miss breakfast with a pile of newspaper. I miss standing outside the Crown and Sceptre waiting for it to open like some desperate wino. I miss seeing all my favourite people drift through the door in various stages of dishevelment, and then us all walking to the ground together at half two. I miss the two games a year I get the match preview prediction right, and Pat Harrison insists on buying me a drink as a reward. I miss all the people who sit round me a lot more than they miss me, and I miss those midweek games when it’s all the same people in all the same seats but suits and work clothes. I miss those nights when we’re still in the pub after it’s closed. I miss celebrating every goal like it’s our last. I miss watching players like David Bardsley and Les Ferdinand and Ray Wilkins and John Spencer and Ale bloody Faurlin; and deep down I also miss Bob Malcolm, and John Curtis, and Zesh Rehman and Stefan bloody Moore. With light comes shade, pain heightens pleasure, and few clubs take you to both extremes quite like QPR. I miss them inflicting both upon me. I miss losing my absolute shit with Keith Stroud.

Most of all though I miss the awaydays. I miss booking a train two hours earlier than we really need to set off because it was marginally cheaper and I miss herding my hungover friends together at Kings Cross or Euston or very frequently Marylebone and fielding gentle queries as to why we’re going at this hour. I miss the morning papers, and the black coffee, and the catch ups about everybody’s week, and sleeping off the last remnants of last night’s excess as we rattle through the countryside to Norwich, or Sheffield, or very frequently Preston. I miss returning to old pubs and discovering new ones, the first beer of the day, the last beer of the day, and all the beers in between. I miss train beer. I miss sitting through tens of QPR away defeats just so when they suddenly, randomly, without warning, win 3-1 at Villa it feels like the greatest day of your fucking life. I miss singing about John Terry being a cunt, or Paul Ince being a wanker, for 20 or 30 minutes at a time, and seeing in their face and their performance that it’s getting to them. I miss the offy run for the train home, or those nights we get a later train so we can go for a curry in Leicester or Newcastle or very frequently Bristol. I miss the silly games we play to pass the time on the journey home until one of us dares to suggest why not, this time, instead of going straight home, we get off the train and go to Mabel’s Tavern, “for light ales”, instead. And how we all suck our teeth, and pretend we didn’t know the suggestion was coming, and that it hasn’t happened like this every awayday before, and that there’s a possibility that we might not, of course, be spending the rest of the night in Mabel’s watching Match of the Day. I miss running to make the last tube, and falling asleep on it, and having to walk back home from High Barnet.

This is sick and completely unfathomable to people who don’t live their lives this way. Those that do will get all this immediately. Nobody has ever wanted to be in Wigan on a Good Friday as much as I wanted to be in Wigan on Good Friday, except the other 1,000 or so headcases who would have been there with me. Tomorrow I pine for London Bridge breakfasts, and river drinks, and distributing a dozen tickets for Charlton Athletic. What we’re getting instead is gruel for our hunger, or methadone for our heroin addiction. Football in Charlton, but without us there. Sure, it’s nice to have it back in a way, it’s good to have something to watch I suppose, I’ll enjoy seeing our sparkling young attack and accident prone defence again maybe. But it’s PornHub on your mobile phone vs sex with somebody you think the fucking world of. Serving a purpose, tiding you over, passing the time, and ultimately doing very little for you compared to the real thing. It’s a hollow experience for somebody who lives for the decision of whether to change in Sheffield and go to The Tap, or change in Doncaster and go to the Tut’n’Shive when playing away at Rotherham United.

The things we live for – awaydays, football grounds, pubs, trains – are going to be the last to come back to normality. We’ve long since accepted that and sucked it up, though that’s becoming harder to stomach when you look around and see exactly what is permitted and how other people are behaving. Like I said at the start, context is important.

But rest assured, that first Saturday back in The Crown, that first Saturday rendezvous at Euston, that first trek out altogether again to Swansea, or Cardiff, or very frequently Blackburn…

That’s going to be quite a Saturday.

Links >>> There’s no escape – Fans Forum >>> Sharon Warnock – Podcast >>> Third in line – History >>> Three owners and counting – Interview >>> Robinson in charge – Referee

Geoff Cameron Facts No.95 In the Series – Geoff’s new one year contract, signed today, comes with a clause allowing him to fire a gun into the air when he wants people to run off.

Saturday

Team News: Geoff Cameron returns from his one match ban to bolster QPR’s defensive midfield area. Responding to criticism of his short-handed subs bench last week, manager Mark Warburton revealed that the club had furloughed its U23 squad to help with the financial squeeze during the Covid-19 pandemic and only Faysal Bettache, Charlie Owens and Joe Gubbins have come from that squad to train with the first team – the latter has since turned his ankle. Niko Hamalainen and Deshane Dalling have returned from loans in Scotland and Ireland but are unlikely to be allowed to play. The league has relaxed the rule banning season long loanees returning to their parent and playing that campaign, but only if the club can prove they have nobody available who has ever played in their position before – unlikely in both cases. Osman Kakay is another who Warburton listed as currently injured.

Charlton remain without leading scorer Lyle Taylor, Birmingham loanee David Davis, and Chris Solly who are all out of contract at the end of the season and refusing to play in the summer fixtures. The club had been hoping to recreate this fixture on Fifa during the lockdown period with Ebere Eze taking the controls for Rangers, however the match fell through when Charlton put forward the ever-durable Jonny Williams to take part and he cut his finger on the eve of the game. I know that sounds like the sort of thing we usually make up in this bit for shits and giggles, but it’s true. Jason Pearce scored the winner at Hull last weekend having dashed up on the morning of the game to make kick off. He initially stayed at home with his heavily pregnant wife. She went into hospital to have their third baby on Friday morning so his involvement this week may be in doubt, unless Trevor Francis has anything to do with it.

Elsewhere: Cardiff’s poor start to the Championship campaign after relegation from the Premier League last May sadly brought a premature end to the Eleventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour, and having declared Crystal Palace to be his “last job in football” some six positions and 12 years ago it seemed certain that the curtain was coming down on one of QPR’s greatest managers of the modern era and he was going to finally get that idyllic Cornwall retirement he’d talked about in interviews at least twice a week for the last decade. He spent the summer appearing on podcasts, reminiscing and holding court with long stories that didn’t really go anywhere about that time he told Adel Taarabt he’d get him the sack, and that time Adel Taarabt didn’t turn up to Scunthorpe away because he was back in France except Warnock had his passport so he couldn’t have been, and that time they all went round to his house and Sharon did a big barbecue, and that time he got the ferry over to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbeyville in those days, because he needed a new heel for his shoe. Back then, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them – give me five bees for a quarter Curley would say. He was happy, we were happy. He’s got a box of emails from QPR fans you know.

As it turns out, I’m not sure Neil Warnock is quite as keen on Cornwall as he makes out. Not only is he back, not only is the Twelfth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour hitting the road with a limited eight-gig summer run, but he’s back in a job about as far away from the South West as it’s possible to get while still being in England. Nantes, Rennes, Brest, Galway, Sligo, Paris and Brussels among the places closer to Cornwall than his new job at Middlesbrough, a club he’s always wanted to manage apparently, with a clutch of players in the squad he’s tried to sign before would you believe? They’ve got eight games to save themselves now, he says, and everybody’s got to do perhaps just a little bit more than they had been doing. Boro were 3-0 down before half time to Swanselona on the resumption last week but it’s a super club, with great people, and it should be in the Premier League really, if he’s honest. As, according to his pre-match interview on the Boro website, should this Saturday’s opponents Stoke City, taking Neil Warnock’s Perfect Premier League up to a slim 46 clubs and counting. Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson saw the eyebrowless silhouette in the sky and have immediately mucked in to assist.

I love him. I just wish the Teesiders had persisted with the idea that Jonathan Woodgate and Robbie Keane might somehow be a dream managerial ticket for another week.

The Champions of Europe, who pushed harder than most to make sure the Championship season resumed for fear of losing their treasured promotion, hit the ground running with a 2-0 loss at Cardiff live on Sky Sports Leeds last Sunday morning. Patrick Bamford took his total of “big chances missed” to 27 for the season, first by diverting an obviously goalbound shot from Jack Harrison into the arms of Alex Smithies from an offside position, then by going down in instalments and somehow sliding a presentable late opportunity wide from a couple of yards. I’m a bit sniffy about stats like that, because it’s subjective isn’t it? A big chance to me might not be a big chance to you. But it’s fair to say if the ball is already past the goalkeeper and heading towards the net, and you get in the way of it and knock it back to the keeper who’s already dived and is now lying on the ground, that’s a fairly big chance. I’m starting to believe Bamford might actually hate Leeds as much as everybody else and is deliberately trying to sabotage this. If so, big respect. Tarquin and Rupert at home on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Leeds once more. Naturally.

What might save Marshmallow Bielsa’s Premier League dream is the lack of a serious chasing pack. Only Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow seem to be taking the chase remotely seriously, and they sprung back to life last week with two late goals at Craven Cottage despite Bryan Mbeumo’s positive Covid diagnosis prior to kick off. To be fair to Scott Parker, they were probably the best side he’s faced all season, and they’ll certainly be all that and more for West Brom on the tellybox this evening – gap down to five points should Thomas Frank’s all conquering heroes lay waste to another inferior load of old shite.

Nottingham Florist coughed back into life with a superb Joe Lolley goal, but only single point against Sheffield Owls whose form has been dreadful since Christmas. Garry Monk’s side anxiously await the outcome of an EFL FFP hearing which began this week, QPR’s own Nick De Marco defending, with a maximum penalty of 21 points available to the prosecution. Expect a loss of points enough to make it look like they’re sort of doing something, but not enough to move Wednesday into any kind of danger whatsoever. Florist welcome Cowley sisters Danni and Nikki to The City Ground on Sunday, Wednesday can ease their troubles with a positive result at Bristol City in the Sunday breakfast TV game.

What of our old friends at Hull eh? Last Friday The Athletic emailed a list of questions requiring response to the club covering a wide range of issues – from deliberately botched takeovers to the butchering of player contracts which saw five first teamers sit out this summer programme while a sixth, Kevin Stewart, is being held back for fear of triggering an extension and increase to his already outlandish £17,000 a week contract. The Allams felt this outrageous, so much so that they elected to publish the Athletic’s email on their official website to show how disgusting it was, with the confidential details about player salaries and contract negotiations redacted of course. Redacted, unless you copied it into a Word document, and then the redactions disappeared. Their 1-0 loss to fellow strugglers Charlton last week was a thirteenth game without a win and they’ve lost the last five scoring just twice. They’re at Birmingham tomorrow.

This has gone on far too long. Let’s whip through. Preston Knob End v Cardiff. Nice, if you like that sort of thing. Swanselona v Lutown. Barnsley v Millwall. Wayne Rooney’s Late Night BBQ v Reading. Wigan Warriors v Mad Chicken Farmers – local derby of sorts.

And that’s your lot until Tuesday when we do it all over again.

Referee: Tim Robinson has calmed down considerably with his card totals this season, and he’s in charge for QPR for the first time in the league in 2019/20. Details.

Form

Charlton: The Addicks were unbeaten for their first six league games back in the Championship following promotion, and won six of their first 12 fixtures to sit comfortably in the top half of the table. However a catalogue of injuries and off-field problems have derailed the season. The 2-2 at Loftus Road in December was part of an 11-match winless run and they’d won just four of 25 league games prior to the lockdown. They returned to action last week with a 1-0 win at the division’s basket-case club Hull City, climbing to nineteenth and one point away from the relegation places. They’ve won seven, drawn five and lost seven at The Valley so far but have won just two of their last seven games on this ground. Bowyer’s side has conceded 54 goals in 38 games this season which is the best record in the bottom seven and better than Stoke, Birmingham, QPR and Bristol City who are all above them. They’ve scored 45 which, again, stands up well against their immediate rivals however 11 of those were notched by Lyle Taylor who is refusing to play in the summer games, and a further six by Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher who switched to Swansea in January. Tomer Hemed scored seven times in 16 starts and nine sub appearances on loan at QPR last season. Since his free transfer from Brighton last summer he’s yet to score at all in six starts and nine sub appearances for Charlton. So we all know what’s coming there then. Lump on. Matt Smith, who was unremarkable in four starts and six sub apps for QPR in the first half of the season, has made just two sub appearances for Charlton since moving there from Man City on loan in January.

QPR: Rangers were unbeaten in six matches going into the lockdown, winning three and drawing three to move within six points of the play offs. Their second defeat of the season to rock bottom Barnsley upon last week’s resumption derailed that and seemed to pretty much kill the season stone dead in most people’s mind, with the gap to the top six now seven points with eight left to play. Five of those eight are away, where QPR have won six games so far which is their best haul since a promotion year 2013/14 when they won eight. Their record in London derbies is less impressive, as Jack Supple details above. Prior to those three the last win in the capital was away at Palace during the 2010/11 promotion season – four London derby wins in ten years.

Prediction: This year’s Prediction League is sponsored by The Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Our reigning champion WokingR tells us…

“After last week’s dross, I just can't see us scoring and with the troubles Charlton currently have, I can't see them scoring either. Hopefully we will be a little bit more organised at the back too. A boring 0-0 for me.”

Woking’s Prediction: Charlton 0-0 QPR. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Charlton 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Tomer Hemed

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

Pictures – Neil Dejyothin

Neil Dejyothin



Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.



Faurlinho added 06:46 - Jun 27
Poignant stuff: marvellous as always, but this really resonates. I really hope you’ll write that book Clive. No one articulates the magic of it all like you do.
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Philothesuperhoop added 10:41 - Jun 27
Fantastic. This is a brilliant read Clive. Thanks.
This needs to be sent to our friends at Sky to try and get them to better understand football, and for that matter the EFL and the FA etc.
I will be glued to the QPR+ player at 12:30...but it isn’t the same.
The TV games have been blo*dy awful since they have been back on without a crowd. Everyone I speak to thinks the same. However getting this season finished was the correct decision, and as it turns out they got the timing about right. The massive question for me is what happens to next season – surely we can’t even consider starting unless the fans are allowed back in. As you have so perfectly described, football is more than just 22 geezers booting a ball about!
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Garnham added 10:59 - Jun 27
Sensational read Clive, thank you.
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CroydonCaptJack added 11:00 - Jun 27
Lovely, simply lovely.
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thehat added 11:20 - Jun 27

Thanks Clive - Great preview!!
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gigiisourgod added 17:40 - Jun 27
Really excellent stuff. Guess we will all appreciate it that little bit more when it’s back.
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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #08 by wessex_exile
Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by -
Letters from Wiltshire #07 by wessex_exile

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