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Preston/Sheff Wed/Ipswich – Awaydays
Monday, 12th Feb 2024 15:37 by Clive Whittingham

One trick is to tell em stories that don’t go anywhere – and in that spirit it’s our Awaydays catch up from the Christmas fixtures.

Portion control

Tom, grandfather on dad’s side, was what he would describe as a bit of a ‘rum sort’.

Formal introductions with my mother took place over what remains to this day the best plate of fish and chips served anywhere in the country at Steels Corner House in Cleethorpes. Upon receipt of a typically generous helping he announced, ostensibly to my grandmother but effectively to half the restaurant, “we shall not be having intercourse after this”. At the end of the meal he undid his belt, and his trousers, allowing his stomach flop out over the top to “let a bit of slack out”.

An enormous man, six foot-plus, up and across, he worked as a moulder on the steel works in Scunthorpe. That’s the guy who makes the moulds which they pour the molten steel into. Tough stuff. He liked to unwind afterwards with eight pints of Best. He caused something approaching a family crisis when, after one such session in the Clee Social Club prior to a Grimsby Town match, he fell asleep on the train home and ended up at Manchester Airport. “They had the heater on”, he reasoned, later (much later) that evening after an impromptu Whittingham family outing across the M62 to fetch him. Still, that wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the time he veered away from Best and onto a pint of murky brown the then landlord at The British Queen on Uxbridge Road had brewed himself and Christened ‘Brain Damage’ with a marketing catchline of “four pints guaranteed to bring an elephant to its knees”. Tom had six, followed by something approaching a stroke, and a dramatic uncontrolled bowl movement while unconscious on the train back from King’s Cross.

In the week of John Major’s “there are bastards in my cabinet” outburst, one foolhardy young copper on the terrace at St James’ Park decided they were going to have Tom for abusing referee Keith Hackett. “If that language is good enough for our prime minister it’s good enough for me, now fuck off”. And he did.

He was well known, and loved, around The Goldhawk. One Saturday lunchtime he bowled in with a sure-fire tip on a dog from his barber Hassan – curator of the world’s most banterous combover, of which Tom was stupidly protective. Fivers were duly handed over by half the pub and off he sloped to the William Hill by the tube. There was a celebration so loud you’d have thought QPR had taken the lead when the hound duly won by half the length of the track, but the locals took it in good spirit when Tom returned empty handed having changed his mind at the last minute because “the odds didn’t come in enough” and instead backed an alternate pooch which cracked its head on the trap on the way out and had some sort of epileptic seizure approaching the first bend. He mostly spent his time in there telling Margaret the Landlady they should get married so he could show her how to run the pub properly – pretty much as Margaret was running it already, but with Tom no longer paying his tab. Long suffering, eternally patient, meek and mild grandma – “good arse and belly” - would wait for him at home, losing her temper with him only once in 40 years of marriage when he launched an enormous wolf whistle across my aunt’s wedding reception, bringing proceedings to a silent standstill, to ask her to “bring us back some more sausage” from the buffet. “I’m the black sheep of the family, our Helen,” he’d say to my mum.

Uncontrollable at the best of times, it was Christmas when he really came into his own.

Tom, my dad, roguish Uncle Shaun, really rather normal and cowed Grandad Cliff on the other side, and an assortment of other menfolk would spend Christmas morning getting tanked up in The Queensway. There was an unfortunate incident requiring some intervention from Humberside Police when the gathering came to blows in the car park over who’d brought the Russians into World War Two. They’d then return for the dinner, lovingly prepared by the women of course, and we’d all cram into the tight sitting room at the house British Steel had done them a deal for to get them down from Motherwell in the first place. Grandad would initially try to ‘help’ with the cooking, which one year involved him trying to remove the turkey roasting tray from the oven with his bare hands – an endeavour which sent the bird skidding across the kitchen floor in its own juices and coming to rest amongst the cat litter against the far wall. The assembled diners watched as he carried it back to the cooker by one of its legs, dusting the detritus it had collected along the way off with his spare hand. Ooooh, lovely. Then he’d retire to the table and tell a series of horrifically graphic stories to the assembled gathering of children, and Jean Who Mum Used To Teach With, about the myriad sexual adventures and fetishes of the Queen Mother, who he insisted was an absolute trollope and frequently threatened to expose in a book he was planning called The Life And Times of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.

Mother would view this whole thing in a state of something approaching nervous breakdown and so decided, horribly naively, to take matters into her own hands one year by offering to host.

Well, I don’t know about that our Helen, you don’t mess with tradition and disrupt routine lightly you know, but, eventually, an accord was reached where this could take place as long as Tom was allowed to “sort the meat” by way of expressing his gratitude and contributing. Hmmmm, okaaaay. And so, the weeks and days ticked by and the nights grew colder and darker and the presents were purchased and wrapped and the veg and booze was procured and all the turkeys slowly vanished from the shelves at The Big ASDA and all reasonable preparations were made for the invasion of The North’s most ridiculous family. Dad even popped round the corner to The Hainton to make sure it could serve as location in lieu for the consumption of All The Best – fights in the car park notwithstanding. Everything was in place, except the meat, on which details were extremely sketchy and questions or probing apparently unwelcome.

This situation managed to sustain in relative calm all the way through until about half ten on Christmas morning at which point a lid was finally flipped in the kitchen, and mother started waving a large knife around in a threatening manner while ranting, not entirely unreasonably, about how in the name of fuck she was supposed to prepare a fucking Christmas dinner for more than a dozen family members, and Jean Who Mum Used To Teach With, when the fucking meat wasn’t even here yet and there was no real fucking indication that it ever was going to fucking arrive or whether it even fucking existed at all. “Life’s a serious business with Helen,” dad explained. And it was around that moment, just as some of the better crockery had become airborne, that Tom triumphantly rounded the corner onto our street.

It had taken Tom nine attempts to pass his driving test in the first place. Leaning over the instructor to wind the window down and tell a pedestrian waving you out at a junction to "fuck off" is a major apparently, as is turning the engine off and free wheeling down hills into roundabout junctions to save petrol - who knew? Now allegedly fit for the road, he drove an old Vauxhall Cavalier which you had to park in gear because it didn’t have a working handbrake (what fun we had finding that out for the first time). The only cavalier thing about it was when gran was allowed to drive it anywhere and would insist on taking both hands off the steering wheel to change gears - to much explicit lewdness from the passenger seat about other things she could accomplish two handed – and the thing was clearly straining to complete the trip while riding around noticeably low to the ground against its back axel. Out we all trooped in our new Thunderbirds pyjamas, mum on the verge of tears, for the ceremonial opening of the boot and the grand unveiling of what turned out to be an absolutely enormous, completely whole, extremely muddy, and quite obviously only very recently deceased pig. Tom said his mate ‘Bricky’ had “sorted one out for him” and by “sorted one out for him” we strongly suspected he meant gone out that morning, lightly killed, and stolen while the farmer was busy having his breakfast. “I’ll have a bit of the snout, our Helen,” said Tom, conveniently overlooking “please train and qualify as a butcher by this afternoon”. I think they dumped it by the Grimsby-Louth branch line (disused) in the end. That being the Christmas Day of the fish finger sandwiches.

Not since then have I seen a portion of food quite as ridiculously and unexpectedly large and substantial as the lunch we were served on our way to Ipswich.

Expecting an absolute hiding on the pitch and deprived of one of the division’s better awayday journeys by a rail replacement bus service (I’m not getting on a rail replacement bus service Lynn, I’ll just talk over you, try and make me get on a rail replacement bus service and see what I do) we resolved to improve a trip around the M25 and negotiation of the always horrendous Dartford Crossing by re-upping the experience with a pub lunch. Muchos tequilas later we’re in the car together, winding our way ever deeper into nowhere at all, on roads decreasingly able to cope with our chosen vehicle for the day, through much “are you sure Clive?” to the point where we were one sharp braking application and a five-point-turn away from descending into the River Orwell.

Pin Mill, apparently. J’arrive. The Butt and Oyster, fire blazing, happy to see us. This feels like a pub that floods a lot – all stone floors and high insurance premiums. We’ll have some whitebait while we decide what we want to eat. In the work of but a moment, all the whitebait left in the world arrived. Individual pieces the size many central London pubs would try and pass off as “fish and chips” for £24.99. This wasn’t even meant to be the starter, this was meant to be the thing we were going to eat while we decided what we wanted as a starter. Light, crisp, immaculately cooked, soaked in lemon and vinegar, impossibly moreish, and served by the metric tonne. Grind salt over it and then grind some more. Feel the sensation on your tongue. Don’t even flinch as the batter peels the skin from the roof of your mouth. I would say bring me a bucket of these, but that is actually what happened. No wonder the EU tried to impose fishing quotas is there? Somebody’s drained the entire North Sea into this one pub near Ipswich. If you wondered what would happen to all the Sea World orcas after the Blackfish exposé then fret no longer, they’re being served here under the thin disguise of “battered haddock”. One of ours went off-piste with a 'steak and Broadside Ale pie', and was immediately faced with a Cow Pie of a size Desperate Dan would have had to send back. Fred Flintstone was at an adjoining table awaiting a steak. We dipped bread in oil – by bread I mean the entire Warburton’s bakery, and by oil I mean the damage the Exxon Valdez did to the Prince William Sound. It was all grossly excessive, heavy to rest, and absolutely delicious. I'd say I could have sat there all day and eaten food like this, but there was so much of it that is essentially what happened. Aussie Nick curled up in the corner with a bottle of Malbec and had a little snooze.

Hat’s off, pub food as it’s meant to be. It’s a strong recommend, though I’m not sure I back our ability to find the place again.

It was a shame we had to leave really. Not because leaving these idyllic little corners of Britain we find on our travels to stand in the cold and watch QPR search in vain for their own arse with both hands is a stupid life choice – actually this time Rangers played quite well, got a decent point that should have been three but for a Paul Smyth miss and a series of typically one-eyed bullshit from Queef Loud’s natural successor David Webb, and Portman Road remains one of the great venues in which to watch football in this country – but because we were all so stuffed we ended up sleeping through most of the game. That match report is a work of complete fiction. Something something giving the ball away too much something something Chris Willock’s injured again something something graphic sexual imagery something something Taylor Richards is a knob something something QPR star man Ilias Chair.

On the way home Andy got fined for stopping in a box junction on the South Circular at one in the morning. Bastard, think of the children. No regrets, though that pre-starter was probably a bit much.

Disappointed

While we’re gratuitously playing the hits from my obviously inappropriate childhood let me also say that it was at Sheffield Wednesday, the venue for Rangers pre-Christmas disasterclass, where Devon White once nonchalantly turned on a ball never knowingly under control and accidentally top binsed the thing from 25 yards. We lost the game 3-1, but I’m not sure it matters when we bear witness to such living miracles.

It was that pre-match where granded inadvertently ended up sitting next to Denise in the public house of choice. She’d become something of a celebrity in W12 after interrupting the previous week’s 4-0 home defeat to Leeds by storming the pitch whirling her top around her head – though not, as was tradition at the time, going the whole way with the bra as well. “We were all proud of you love but I must say I was disappointed,” was Tom’s post match report. Ahhh, the 90s.

That was the period I really got into following QPR home and away as an impressionable ten-year-old and, while there was little to my understanding of whatever the hell was going on at the time (nothing changes, eh?), I did quickly gather that some bloke called Thompson was the sworn enemy, and we wanted him ‘out’. We wanted him ‘out’ a lot. I remember the song still being sung at Bath’s Twerton Park, for a pre-season testimonial (Phil Purnell, possibly?) against Bristol Rovers, even after Thompson had left.

Of course, we now know that much of the fans’ concerns about death by a thousand cuts were well founded. QPR finished ninth in the Premier League that season and eighth the following but Dave Thomas memorably described it in A Kick Up The R’s as “eighth, narrowly avoiding relegation”. The mismanagement of Clive Wilson’s contract, sale of Les Ferdinand and disastrous recruitment drive with the money when there were plenty of Kasey Keller, Alex Rae and Clive Mendonca types about to buy instead of our Jurgeon Sommer, Ned Zelic and Mark Hateley fucktastrophes, proved to be the straws that broke the camel’s back just as the Premier League TV money exploded. That, and Tony Fernandes’ subsequent botching of our reprieves 15 years later, are arguably the two moments that have condemned us to a lifetime of lower division obscurity rather than Premier League mainstay with global marketability.

At that point though, the anger was at the sale of Darren Peacock to Newcastle and… was there much wrong with that? Peacock himself had been a cheap pick up from Hereford to develop in place of the big money departure of the superb Paul Parker. Trevor Sinclair a superb buy from Blackpool with the money brought in by selling Andy Sinton, himself a bargain basement buy from Brentford. This is what QPR were supposed to do, wasn’t it? Given the progressive, attractive, attacking football football we played under Don Howe, Gerry Francis and, at least to begin with, Ray Wilkins, all while selling players and finishing fifth, eighth and ninth in the top division, we’d rarely had it so good, no? The Sheff Wed defeat was part of a nightmare fortnight immediately following the Peacock sale in which we lost 4-1 at Oldham, 4-0 at home to Leeds and 3-1 at Hillsborough with no-hopers like Alan McCarthy filling in at the back. Not ideal, but immediately before that we’d won four and lost only one (very narrowly, at home to team of the decade Man Utd) of seven games, a sequence including wins we still talk about today away at Coventry (1-0), Norwich (4-3) and Ipswich (3-1). The losing run lasted only three games – we finished that year drawing with Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham and champions-elect Blackburn, beating Everton at home and winning at White Hart Lane. How terrible. And, I say again, look at the league position. Eighth in the Premier League, while running the club sustainably off buying low and selling high – it would be like Brighton fans invading the pitch this Saturday in protest.

Ours was never a support base shy of letting its feelings be known. It successfully warded off a late 1980s merger with Fulham through protests, pitch invasions, lobbying and carefully organised and orchestrated opposition – out of which A Kick Up The R’s grew in the first place and sustains to this day. Thompson was, indeed, eventually driven out, though not soon enough to prevent relegation, and only to be replaced by the gross mismanagement and asset stripping of the club’s training ground by Chris Wright. Later Flavio Briatore’s hubris, arrogance and mismanagement sent one of the Championship’s most expensive squads plummeting down the table from a point where we looked like the best team in the world under Jim Magilton to the stage where we were losing 1-0 at Peterborough (twas ever thus) and starting to wonder whether League One might be a possibility. Wonder, and a possibility, that’s all it ever was. Neil Warnock was hired, results improved, within 18 months we were champions. You’ll never, ever find me sticking up for Briatore and Ecclestone – we headlined each match preview and report with a different image of a clown through that period in the old Rivals days – but I think the lowest we got in the table that year was somewhere around eighteenth, and the longest winless run we had in the league was seven games. That was enough for something approaching a riot on South Africa Road, police with truncheons drawn and cocked, supporters trying to smash their way in through the glass doors of reception, all scenes captured in The Four Year Plan.

Back in the present day, at Hillsborough once more, and QPR are actually winning. Not playing well, by any means, but winning all the same. Sheff Wed have done that blokey thing of playing with their Ilias Chair straight out of the box without reading the instructions. Had they done so they’d have known not to let him cut in onto his right foot and shoot like that. Bambo Diaby helps the ball into his own net just to make sure. This lot are as excoriatingly poor as we are. Rangers are doing dumb things though. Increasingly, with Lyndon Dykes on at half time, they’re playing long ball which Gareth Ainsworth conclusively proved doesn’t work for this group. Rob from the Crown and Sceptre turns to me after 70 minutes and says “did I nearly catch a smile there, Clive?” The answer is no. There’s a bad feeling brewing in Duffman. Despite the pleas and protestations of their manager, QPR are sinking deeper towards their own goal – a regular default panic mode for this team – rather than pressing and maintaining a high line. To be fair, while I absolutely love Marti Cifuentes, he doesn’t help in this by removing a midfielder and adding another centre back to try and see the game through. There were more goals there for the scoring, as Sam Field proves with the latest of his gilt edged misses late in the day, and certainly no justification for retreating back to the goalline to let Old Man Bannan have his wicked way with us. Belatedly, meltdown. One nil up and ten points ahead of the Owls to 2-1 down and up to our tits in shit in a matter of minutes. Hillsborough dissolves into limb waving ecstasy around us. The noise is incredible. And all we can do is stand there.

All we do do is stand there. It’s weird, I keep coming back to the fans who applauded the team off at the end of the 6-1 at Blackpool. I don’t understand the mentality. What are you clapping? Who are you clapping? I find it perplexing. You save up for months to take the other half to Chez Bruce for their birthday, the chef curls out an absolute steamer onto your plate and serves it with a little paper umbrella, you pay £250 with a generous tip and leave a glowing review on TripAdvisor. It does not compute.

We arrive in Sheffield significantly late, thanks to overrunning engineering works, on a 30-year-old train set to a temperature Delia Smith might describe as a ‘cool oven’. It has five coaches, which includes a coach and a half of first class and half a buffet bar. The cities of Sheffield, Leicester, Derby and Nottingham are linked to London by one train an hour, half the length of a District Line tube and twice as old. New rolling stock is on order for this line and due to arrive, 18 months later than advertised, in mid 2025. To be fair, 18 months is a pretty standard delay when you travel on Est Midlands Rail and qualifies you for 25% of your ticket price back. The new trains are also only five coaches long. They will "mostly" be joined together in sets of ten say EMR, which rings about as true as their repeated insistence our journey to Sheffield and the one back were only delayed by 15-30 minutes, and I’m therefore only entitled to 50p and a packet of biscuits in compensation, despite being presented with a welter of evidence to the contrary. Fares went up another 5% this January.

We are, collectively, getting really good at taking punishment, perhaps because so much punishment has been metered out we’re now numb to its sting. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

At QPR I am in no way issuing some sort of call to arms here. Marti Cifuentes looks like one of the best things to happen to us since Neil Warnock, and things are steadily improving despite the collapse at Hillsborough and a subsequent disaster at Millwall. Whether they’ll improve to the extent we survive I still have my doubts. March’s fixtures loom very large indeed. Whatever happens, though, certain people at Loftus Road and Heston need to realise how fortunate they are that this support base has taken the last 18 months in such resigned good humour.

There is an understanding of FFP among this fan base that dwarfs that of most others, ‘sign a fucking striker’ brigade notwithstanding. Loftus Road is full, every week, despite some of the division’s most expensive tickets and a run of four home wins in a year and a half. The away support is remarkable. I turned up at Preston in December, with a pitch so frozen the game would certainly have been off had it not been televised, and temperatures dipping miles below zero, expecting to be one of about 150 people – there were in excess of 500 Rangers there, on a Friday night, for a televised game. They were rewarded with a great win, but those rewards have been few and far between. Gut punches like that delivered in Sheffield have been far more common. Standing on the tram stop, watching the Stone Island virgins posture at each other across the road, about as likely to involve themselves in a real fight as they are shag a real woman, wondering what on earth you’re doing with your life.

Some of the older school QPR fans say we’ve gone too soft. One of the club’s ultimate zero to hero stories is Paul Furlong, who to look at him around the training ground still looks in the sort of physical shape to do a job for our present-day team – certainly a better job than most of what we’ve currently got in his position. He’s spoken before about how he came to QPR at the end of his career, if not quite for a final pay day then not far off it, and the savage abuse his fitness and performances received made him realise he had to buck his ideas up and that playing for QPR was a serious business. He subsequently became one of our best modern day players in a spectacular Indian summer that included scoring in our first ever play-off win, the game that won us promotion, and a hatful back in the Championship. He’s one of my all time favourite players now, and I remember crawling over seats at Notts County after a 3-0 defeat trying to get at him for daring to sarcastically applaud an away end in uproar.

These days the attitude is much more convivial towards the players – support and cajole rather than abuse and hector. It’s probably right. Particularly with some of the waifs we’ve got these days – shout at Zesh Rehman as much as you like, he’s not going to be a better footballer for it. Nevertheless, some have previously been absolutely savaged by this crowd for far less – I did laugh at ‘The Grim Meaker’ nickname somebody recalled on the message board recently, I remember him getting it horrendously at a very young age for the heinous crime of not being Sinton, Sinclair or Impey – and the current crop would do well to remember that. Bar Preston at home last season, and a brief “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” chant, and Wigan away where the reaction was basically provoked by International Year of the Wally Brain Leon Balogun, there has been precious little backlash against a group of players who have lost two of every three games they’ve played and won barely one in six for two years now.

Likewise the executives. Bar a flurry of anti-Les Ferdinand chants at West Brom last Easter, and a few clown stickers on toilet doors, there has been relatively nothing said. Nothing against Lee Hoos, Tony Fernandes, Amit Bhatia, Ruben Gnanalingam (possibly because his name doesn’t fit a chant). Again, there’s an understanding of the accounts here like in few other fanbases and people know that without the owners writing a £1m+ cheque each month we’re bankrupt overnight. But many of those losses, and the position we’re in at the bottom of the Championship, have been driven and caused by their decision making. If Richard Thompson does still ever look in on what’s going on here he must be absolutely scratching his head at why he got it in the neck so vociferously and these guys escape almost entirely.

When our shiny new CEO Christian Nourry sticks out one of his ‘shit you read on LinkedIn’ explanations for why the club are no longer going to reveal how long players’ contracts are at QPR, he might want to bear all this in mind. You’re not protecting any market intelligence or gaining any competitive advantage there. If Leeds United are desperate enough to know how long Charlie Kelman’s questionable new contract is, they’ll ring his agent and ask, and he will tell them. The only people you’re depriving of that information are the long suffering, and extremely tolerant QPR fans. It makes it look like you’ve got something to hide – like, as in the case of Jack Colback, you’re having to do shitty deals you know are shitty deals just to get people here. And you’re saying to the supporters who have stuck with you that, having done a whole series of deals on our behalf that have driven us to the brink of away games at Stockport and Wrexham, in future you’re going to tell them even less than you already do about those deals. Undisclosed fee, undisclosed agent, undisclosed salary, undisclosed contract length – roll up, roll up, pay your money, shut the fuck up, keep swallowing. Like Paris Hilton, but without even the warmth of a hotel room.

You should be keeping this fanbase more informed, not less. Don’t get too comfortable, don’t take them for granted, and don’t sling this management speak at them thinking they’re too thick to know what’s going on. They’ve been remarkably (remarkably) good about everything that’s happened here over the last 18 months. Treat them accordingly.

Trouble at the old Christmas pudding burrito stand

Preston away. One of this division’s longest away trips, to one of this country’s worst places, on this country’s most expensive and least reliable trainline. It’s the Friday before Christmas, it’s five degrees below, and it’s on the television. It’s the sort of trip that has your bank calling to make sure your card hasn’t been stolen. No, it’s just me, at Euston again.

A Friday night TV pick – please, do tell me more about your ‘green football weekend’ Sky. A train strike, of course. An Arctic blast that whips the Daily Express into a frenzy and renders the pitch only playable solely by the presence of the division’s host broadcaster. The extortionate expense of Avanti West Coast, all for a train which will now at a moment’s notice tip you onto a bus at Stafford for shits and giggles. A night round Lenny Henry’s gaff. That round of the Krypton Factor where you try to get a cab from Deepdale back into town after a match. All of this, and this year more. An added hazard. Looming from the gloom.

Preston is around 35 miles from Manchester, and therefore trying to book a train ticket there in December does something funny to the booking websites. Bells, whistles, alarms, red lights flashing. “Do not do this”, they say, “go somewhere else, far from here”. Preston, Wigan, Warrington, Stockport, Macclesfield… I try a few, and it’s the same for all. Klaxons and sirens. A man appears on screen and tells me there’s a lifejacket located under my seat, I can blow into this tube if I need to re-inflate it, there is a light and a whistle for attracting attention (he clicks the light on and off to show me). What’s the problem? The problem, let me tell you, is… The Manchester Christmas Market.

The Christmas Market concept, as a whole, is something I struggle to grasp – and I say that fully self aware that I’m somebody who goes to Preston on a Friday night for a game I can watch on my television at home with the subscription I pay three figures a month for. Basically, many thousands of people rush to a place where there’s no parking to cram themselves into an already tight space, made ever more unnavigable by the arrival of hundreds of temporary stalls, and then shuffle around painfully slowly in the coldest, darkest, wettest part of the year peering at various different chutneys. Nobody buys anything. There isn’t a single documented example of anybody, ever buying anything at a Christmas Market. When all the milling about around the Christmas Pudding Burrito stand becomes too much they decamp to a temporary alcohol tent where you can queue for 56 minutes for a shit plastic cup of generic driving lager for ten pounds.

It’s something somebody once saw in Vienna, where it works, because it’s Vienna, and brought here, where it doesn’t, because it’s here.

The Manchester one, TrainLine informs me, is some sort of Death Star version of Christmas Market. Tempting the entire North West into the same corner of the city in precisely the same 40-minute period with the promise of ornamental bags of fudge. I try to buy a ticket to see QPR at Preston. I try to buy a ticket back to London from Preston. I try to go from Piccadilly across to Grimsby to see what’s left of previously mentioned eccentric family. On each occasion the computer says no. It advises in the strongest possible terms that going near the Manchester Christmas Market at Manchester Christmas Market time would be stupid even by my standards of stupidity.

The pop ups are annoying, but it made a change from closing all those Live Jasmin windows. I dismiss them. I mean, for goodness sake, how bad can it be? Preston isn’t even that close. Ignore.

Mistake.

It’s worse than you could ever possibly imagine. I wake, at Lenny Henry’s, in Preston, with the sort of hangover that can only be cured by doing a full weekly shop at The West Country Pasty Co concession. I head there immediately, with pastry on my mind. I’m greeted by a scene of total destruction. It’s the last days of Saigon. Middle aged, middle class women, in faux fur hats, clambering over each other, biting and scratching for a place on the woefully under-coached Northern Trains (for Northern people) service from Barrow, which is coming in 25 minutes late after an incident at Lancaster where middle aged, middle class women, in faux fur hats, clambered over each other, biting and scratching for a place on the woefully under-coached Northern Trains (for Northern people) service from Barrow. A lot of lads, lads, lads are already on the Stella, which is clearly too readily available wherever they're from and so they're going to queue for a plastic cup of mulled wine instead. The Christmas Market militia, marching on Manchester in big numbers. The place stands no chance. The TrainLine was right. Jackie Chan kicks an old lady in the back for attempting to board at Chorley. At Bolton people are trying to climb on the roof. At Salford Crescent a woman in a sparkly jumper I’d put an astonishing amount of money on being called Julie tells everybody they should just calm down a bit – she’s looking for agg, I guarantee it. Get the River Island badge in.

I decide to bail out of the whole thing and head due east. I give mum a ring Saturday morning and tell her I’m going to come home for a few days. Another impromptu voyage to the seaside from Manchester Airport. Will they have the heater on? Tom, Rob, Stuart, roguish Uncle Shaun, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, that poor pig, the Vauxhall Cavalier and the gear box gran used to stir around while hurtling along the A18 in the pitch black, are no longer. It always hurts that little bit less when QPR have won. For once, they have. Illy and Willy have brought strictly business back to fashion at Deepdale. Ryan Lowe thinks Lyndon Dykes should have been sent off. Into the sea with him. Or, worse still, the Manchester Christmas Market.

Scores on the doors

Preston:
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 8/10 >>> Preston performance 4/10 >>> Referee performance 6/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 3/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 5/10 >>>> Stadium 7/10 >>>> Police and stewards 7/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 7/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>>> Cost 7/10
On the train >>> Journey 6/10 >>> Cost 2/10

Sheff Wed:
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 4/10 >>> Sheff Wed performance 5/10 >>> Referee performance 6/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 7/10 >>> Home support 6/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 6/10 >>>> Stadium 7/10 >>>> Police and stewards 5/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 5/10 >>>> Cost 5/10
On the train >>> Journey 3/10 >>> Cost 3/10

Ipswich:
On the pitch >>> QPR performance 7/10 >>> Ipswich performance 5/10 >>> Referee performance 4/10
Off the pitch >>> QPR support 7/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 5/10 >>>> Stadium 9/10 >>>> Police and stewards 7/10
In the pub >>> Pubs 9/10 >>> Atmosphere 7/10 >>> Food 9/10 >>>> Cost 7/10
In the car >>> Journey 6/10 >>> Cost 6/10

Totals, Preston 83/140, Sheff Wed 74/140, Ipswich 93/140

2023/24 >>> Austria Pt 1 >>> Austria Pt 2 >>> Wimbledon >>> Oxford >>> Watford/Cardiff/Middlesbrough >>> Birmingham/Leeds/Huddersfield/West Brom

2022/23 >>> Blackburn/Sunderland/Charlton >>> Watford/Swansea/Millwall >>> Bristol/Sheffield/Luton

2021/22 >>> Hull/Boro 21/22 >>> Reading/Bournemouth >>> Fulham/Peterborough >>> Cardiff/Blackpool >>> Bristol/Birmingham >>> Peterborough/Coventry/Millwall >>> Barnsley/Blackburn >>> Luton/Nottingham >>> Sheffield/Preston/Huddersfield

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Nick Guoth



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ngbqpr added 17:55 - Feb 12
If there's anything I look forward to more than the match reports, it's these. I wonder who the other reader is? Reveal yourself! (my guess is Nix, given literally everything she posts I could have written myself word for word, to the extent that I sometimes wonder if I once inadvertently set up another account from which I post in my sleep).

The Motherwell thing is a curve ball - I've never quite worked out when & where the QPR gene started in the Whittingham family, but like many, I'm damn glad it did.
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derbyhoop added 18:57 - Feb 12
There's a friend of ours who tells barely believable, comic stories about his Sheffield ancestors, usually leading to the audience clutching their sides from laughter or falling off the chairs in disbelief. Clive - you just top trumped anything he could come up with.
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SouthAfricanRanger added 09:34 - Feb 13
Clive, one of your best ever. And that’s off a high base. Throughly enjoyed it. Thank you for the time you put into these. Great humour, stern facts, balanced views etc - my solace reading these and pre and post match reports. They are high quality and a beacon in murky weeks with work and responsibility and bills etc. etc
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qprninja added 11:32 - Feb 13
Queef Loud. oh my god. :)
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AlexWard added 13:56 - Feb 13
Made my day reading that - at work , lunchtime, at my desk with a uninspiring Tesco meal deal and wishing I was eating whitebait in a pub and off to see the R's. Love these reports..
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johann28 added 23:29 - Feb 13
Yet another classic. Quite astonishing prose.
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