Fulham/Peterborough - Awaydays
Sunday, 14th Nov 2021 14:58 by Clive Whittingham
Two more quintessentially QPR Awaydays you'd struggle to find as the team crash and burn first at Fulham, and then at Peterborough.
“Don’t bother lads they’re fucking stupid cunts.”
We have arrived in Peterborough. There’s a Norman cathedral here in the name of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew (make your mind up chaps) with an architecturally unique three-arch west face – don’t say you never learn anything on LoftforWords. It’s the original burial site of Mary Queen of Scots (long way from home), Catherine of Aragon (best off out of it love) and Ralph The Timid, who died in 1057 which is rather a shame as he sounds like the ideal man to beef up QPR’s midfield.
To ensure a prompt arrival, or for that matter an arrival at all, we’ve taken advantage of a group-save discount on the big, posh, fast train for £22 each. Perfectly reasonable when faced with the alternative, slower, stopping service operated by Great Northern – a company for whom the railway timetable is more of an aspiration than any firm guideline to get hung up over. Sure enough, a day before the game, Great Northern are warning passengers not to bother, because there aren’t enough drivers to cover their Saturday rota. This, apparently, is a product of the Brexit/pandemic double whammy but whether you swallow this lie or not really rather depends on whether you’ve been living near to a Great Northern station and relying on them to get you to work for any period of time or not. Let me tell you, after ten years of paying north of £2,500 a year for these cowboys to take me half a dozen stops from Oakleigh Park to Old Street, the only thing that’s changed in that time is they used to not have enough drivers for filthy, unsafe, unreliable, 50-year-old trains, and now they don’t have enough drivers but new, shiny, horribly uncomfortable, five-year-old trains.
The LNER train takes 50 minutes and by midday this has already proven too much for one QPR fan who lets out a big “You R’s” having disembarked, then loses his footing somewhat, stumbles off to the right, and stacks it face first onto the concrete platform. Nous sommes arrivés. We leave him behind and head for The Brewery Tap which has ticked a lot of boxes for us in the past – you get a seat, there’s a decent beer selection, there’s food, it’s not a Wetherspoons, and to get to it you have to turn the wrong way out of the station and head away from the ground which usually prevents it being overrun. It also looks closed, from all sides except the one with the door in it, which sparks a low-key panic attack in the LFW Minister for Pub Selection by the side of the adjacent dual carriageway. Is this the Awayday equivalent of Ian Woosnam’s caddie costing him the 2001 Open by sticking one too many clubs in the bag – “God, I give you a job to do and you can’t do it”? It is not, but now there’s a chap approaching us at pace, through the door we’re about to enter, slick-back grey hair and an angry red face, advising is in most ungentlemanly-like terms not to bother.
His problem, it turns out, is there’s a queue. Too many punters, not enough bar keepers, it takes us about ten minutes to get served. We suck it up. From a group of 12 we make sure there’s always one of us on the queue, to maintain a steady flow. It’s manageable. It’s also not unusual now. A week prior at Fulham we’d ended up in The Rutland after the match, which is a mistake we’ve made before but apparently needed another miserable experience in there to jog the memory. The Rutland is one of a clutch of mostly lovely pubs (The Chancellors, The Blue Anchor, The Dove) around Hammersmith Bridge which come any Saturday afternoon are pretty much rammed, football or no football. You go in The Rutland because it’s the one you can still get a table in, then you see the beer selection, suffer the service and gag at the food and realise why that is. Green King’s ownership, identikit refurbs and under staffing of what should be brilliant pubs is tantamount to vandalism, and this shithole is a prime example.
There are two people serving post Fulham massacre, and that includes taking the food orders at a separate till and delivering them to the tables, taking and making elaborate coffee orders from people who should be shot in the head with a massive elephant gun, and continuing to field orders from the outside tables made “via the app”. Get to three off the front of the queue and you think you’re nearly there, but no, because the woman directly in front of you is Hugo’s mum, and Hugo is a fussy eater, so there’s going to be changes and alterations requested to the privileged little prick’s child’s portion of fish and chips (“could we have it with hake not cod, and without batter, and with potato smilies instead of chips, and with baked beans instead of peas…”). She also wants a soy milk, caramel, macchiato. And if I throw her in the river I’m in the wrong. One of our rounds, of four drinks, takes 40 minutes from joining the queue to sitting back down again – something we only end up following through on through blind stubbornness of refusing to be beaten having already invested 25 minutes of time into the process. Chris gets a round of applause when he finally returns to the table. I'll be amazed if we top this time this season.
Back at The Brewery Tap the staff aren’t being stupid enough to turn the coffee machine on, nor do table service “via the app”. They’re also not collecting glasses. Every pint pot served between 11.00 and 14.30 when it starts to empty out remains out there on a table somewhere for the duration. The place looks like it’s hosted an Irish wake. It’s quite a feat really, there’s more glass in here than on the island of Murano, and presumably a dishwasher the size of one of the moons of Jupiter is all set to be put to work as soon as we’re gone. Britain’s immigration policy now seems to be we only want you if you’re the “best and the brightest” your country has to offer and you’re coming over here for cool, clever, fulfilling jobs – all the shitty, badly paid, poor quality jobs we want to keep for ourselves. As a consequence pubs are struggling to find people to drive their beer to them in lorries, and then serve it to people when it gets there. The Crown and Sceptre is the only pub we’ve been in this season that I would describe as adequately staffed.
Pubs have been a strange thing throughout the height of the pandemic, and in many cases continue to be so today as we pretend it’s all over. You’ve had ridiculous periods of time where you could go to the pub as long as only sat with members of your household, or a maximum of five other people, or outside in the freezing cold, or if you order a Scotch egg with every pint. You’ve been allowed to go to the pub as long as you remain seated and order drinks on your phone, but not if you stand up and walk around the place because apparently Covid-19 is like some giant game of What’s The Time Mister Wolf. So far this season we’ve been in The Rutland, which is persisting with the table-service idea while at the same time trying to run a traditional bar service with two people; The Nag’s Head in Reading, which was perfectly lovely until anybody threatened to get out of their seat at which point they were struck down dead by the fury of hell, which as we said at the time is fine as long as somebody does come to the table to take the order; and post Peterborough in The Ostrich, which was a great little place but not one for whom the pandemic is apparently a thing any more/ever in the first place, with every square foot taken up by a human.
In the end, they’re trying to square a circle. If there is an airborne, respiratory disease in circulation that specifically targets the elderly and the unhealthy, the absolute worst place you could be is in a pub. No amount of apps, table service, social distancing, scotch eggs, rule of six or anything else will change that but what's the alternative? Close every pub and bar indefinitely? Not a vote winner. Eventually you just have to accept it, and then make the personal decision about whether you want to sit and/or work in one regardless or not. We choose the former, and it'd be really terrific if you would assist in this by getting your latte from fucking Starbucks cheers.
There’s a step about two thirds of the way down the away end at Craven Cottage that’s three times as deep as all the others. A small sign warns you of this fact when you first enter but if you’re busy looking for your seat, and you’ve had a few beers, you’ve obviously long forgotten this by the time you get to the fucker. You might think they’d paint it bright yellow, wouldn’t you? Fool. In the darkness of a midweek game, it’s a flying death trap, and our mate Lovely Jon snapped his ankle on it a few seasons back.
That really is all there is in my mind to distinguish between our trips to Fulham since our paths re-crossed in 1999. There was obviously the one, lone victory thanks to Idrissa Sylla and Alex Smithies, but other than that it’s just been a catalogue of heartache and misery, moved to weird and wonderful times and days by Sky Sports. Was that the one where Rob Styles sent Rob Steiner off for diving? Nooo, that was the one where Adel Taarabt got the bus home. Was that the one where Chris Samba turned up drunk? Noooo, that was the one where Lovely Jon fell down the steps and broke his ankle.
There are few more quintessentially QPR experiences than standing behind the goal for a Saturday lunchtime/Friday evening shellacking at Fulham. It’s just one of those things we do, like changing at Preston to get to Blackburn, or drinking in the Tut ‘n Shive when we’re passing through Doncaster. QPR lose here, frequently very heavily, often having been multiple goals behind by half time, however good or bad our team is relative to theirs, and whatever form and mood the two sides are in approaching the game. There’s something about the non-threatening atmosphere, the ludicrously embarrassing beat of the clappers, that lulls our players into a stupefied state right from the very beginning. Fulham, more often than not, score in the first couple of minutes of this fixture, and sure enough Rob Dickie, supposedly one of this league’s best centre backs, is caught treating Aleksander Mitrovic like a fucking precious museum artefact with the time still in single digits. Cross the velvet rope Rob, give him a bit back for the love of God.
I’d probably argue, though, that Peterborough was even more ‘typical QPR’ than that. There’s a scramble for tickets, multiple extra allocations sold out, everybody who’s anybody is there, the trains are rammed, the pubs are heaving, faces you haven’t seen at Rangers for years – always a bad sign. Chart a graph of QPR’s performance relative to the size of the travelling support and you’ll get a line as straight as a Roman road - though with less protection from ambush. Peterborough are crap – newly promoted, worst defence in the league, three wins in 14 games prior, star striker out suspended for something he said on social media while still in short trousers. This, as we know, is also not a good omen. QPR are so inept that even though the winning goal from speedy Siriki Dembele is scored in injury time, from a Rangers mistake, in a game we had led midway through the second half, it’s difficult to argue they, and we, didn’t deserve it.
I’m wondering what other games I’d throw in there to try and sum up the experience of following QPR away from home over a number of years. Probably a midweeker at Wigan, or Preston, settled against us by a late goal from a corner kick in what is the only memorable moment in the entire dirge of a game – no train back, get back to The Day’s Inn and find they’ve checked a fat bloke into your room who’s pissed all over the bathroom floor and fallen asleep on the bed in his boxer shorts (actually happened, Derby away, remind me to tell you guys that one someday).
And, of course, something like Middlesbrough away this August just gone. A long, arduous trip to the other end of the country; done at great expense to your bank account and career prospects; destined, it seems, for so long to end in another miserable disappointment, only for Rangers to pull it out of the fire and remind you why you bother after all. Just when you think you’re out, they haul you back in again. Though rarely at Peterborough, and never at Fulham.
With so many travelling such a relatively short distance, Peterborough inevitably comes with an element of what you might class as the useful catch-all ‘anti-social behaviour’. It’s not helped by the design of the new stand at London Road, which has 3,500 seats in the front of it, and a concourse built for about a third of that in the back – none of the toilets, refreshment kiosks, turnstiles or facilities able to get anything like remotely close to coping with this number of people, and what precious few stewards there are happy to just kick their heels against the back wall and let it all go on around them. The tiny toilet blocks exist in a perpetual cloud of smoke, with the stalls permanently taken up by lads who curiously seem to want to go in in twos and threes for reasons I couldn’t possibly speculate on. Ilias Chair’s goal direct from a corner sees another bottle launched into the air, this time striking a QPR fan’s seven-year-old kid, just a week after an older lady was hit in the head by a flying drink at Fulham. There’s a QPR fan on the pitch, again, and having turned down multiple opportunities to hop back over the barrier untouched, he hangs around hugging the players long enough to be apprehended, and then proceeds to kick off.
I’ve been to every away game this season, and up to but not including Cardiff I think I’ve seen a bit of this at all of them. Pretty brazen drug taking is now as rife in football away ends as it has become at boxing and horse racing. What started as impromptu, joy-of-the-moment spilling of beer for England goals at the Russian World Cup, has now turned into deliberate, performative launching of bottles and cans for QPR goals in defeat at Peterborough United. There have been pitch incursions of varying shapes, sizes and reasons at most of the away games I’ve been to this season.
It seems to me that having been locked in our homes by the government for the thick end of two years, and with the threat of further such restrictions left to permanently dangle over our heads with the sweeping but supposedly temporary Covid-19 legislation now quietly extended indefinitely, people are determined to do whatever it is they like to do more aggressively, more rampantly, and in greater numbers than ever before while they have the chance. QPR are doing well on the field, which contributes, but the away attendances are bigger, more raucous, and less in control than I can ever really remember at the moment. Judging by the recent thread from Lancashire Police about Preston fans' behaviour on away trips, and the growing trend for 14/15/16 year old lads to find themselves locked up miles from home, we're not alone in this post pandemic trend.
I’m trying not to go all middle class wanker about it. I personally think it must be pretty bleak if you’re a dad taking his young kids to football, finding the toilets full of smoke and the cubicles permanently engaged so people can hoover up Cocaine at half time. But then I’m sure some parents have despaired of having their kids sitting near me at games when I’ve turned up with ten bottles of Peroni inside me, lost the plot and loudly screamed at Sam Allardyce for being a “stupid fat cunt”, or sitting behind my friends and I who like to stand up at away games thus obstructing the view of the people who might like to sit down behind. If you're bringing kids to the football, they're going to see and hear some grown up stuff - it's football, and it's almost part of the fun. I’d say shoving a load of powder up your hooter at half time then launching a bottle of Diet Pepsi into a seven-year-old’s face because Ilias Chair has scored against Peterborough doth not an Italian Ultra make, but then other, younger QPR fans have rather despaired at being shut out of big games by the loyalty point system and trying to get an atmosphere going that backs the team when it’s the downtrodden, less boisterous “same old faces” who can get tickets.
We all go to football for different reasons and think different behaviour is acceptable or normal when we get there. I’ve been to all the QPR away games this season, and these are some of the things I’ve seen while I’ve been there.
Totals, Fulham 77/140, Peterborough 87/140
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