LFW Awaydays - Barnsley, Oakwell
Wednesday, 27th Apr 2011 20:06 by Awaydays
Just about sobered up from the trip to Scunthorpe the LoftforWords motley crew was quickly back on the road, and the beer, in South Yorkshire three days later.
On the pitchThere’s so much talk these days about confidence, momentum, state of mind, formation, style of play, transfer activity and so on that sometimes it can be easy to forget the basic aims of the game – firstly score more than your opposition, which QPR did here, and secondly try and keep possession of the ball as much as possible, which Rangers sadly did not.
…and you join us here at a literally heaving Oakwell as the teams emerge onto the field.
In many ways this was a performance every bit as bad as the one at Scunthorpe three days earlier where we had been beaten by three clear goals by the team at the bottom of the league. QPR were far too keen in both games to present cheap possession to their opponents, and that made life much more difficult than it really should have been against a couple of hard working, tidy but ultimately limited sides. The really frustrating thing about the abandon with which Rangers treated ball possession in this game was that whenever they did put six passes together they looked really threatening, and unlike at Scunthorpe we actually had something to protect through the second half having taken the lead in the first minute.
Wildlife photographers have had to wait less time than Neil did for this shot of QPR holding controlled possession of the ball.
Nevertheless it turned out to be another win, and another double completed – 23 of the former now, and nine of the latter. This was achieved firstly by scoring a very fine opening goal when Routledge set up Taarabt for an eye catching finish across the goalkeeper in the first minute, secondly by a greatly improved defensive effort with Kaspars Gorkss recalled at centre half and right back to his best form after a few dodgy weeks, and thirdly an ability to continue trying to play the game in the face of some of the worst refereeing I’ve ever seen in my life. Time and time and time again the officials got the most basic decisions wrong - chiefly a Barnsley penalty appeal at the end of the first half that was either a penalty or a Barnsley throw but was given as a corner – and both sets of players deserve credit for not allowing it to descend into a complete farce, although it went bloody close on several occasions.
Scores >>> QPR performance 5/10 >>> Opposition performance 6/10 >>> Referee performance 1/10
In the stand
What a difference three days, and actually hanging onto a one goal lead, can make to a travelling support. The numbers travelling were about the same, which deserves huge praise in itself as Barnsley isn’t the easiest place to try and access, or get back from, on a working Tuesday evening. Bearing in mind Rangers had dragged us hundreds of miles up the country for a thrashing just three days before I expected many people would pick and choose between the two games and this one would lose out in most cases.
But no, on a beautiful sunny evening the away end quickly filled up with a travelling support larger in fact than the one we brought he on Easter Monday during our last promotion push. The official figures say Rangers brought 1,600 or thereabouts, but it looked like well over 2,000 to me from my seat in the stand halfway up and to the extreme right. We always seem to gravitate to that spot when we come to Oakwell, which would actually be an ideal spot for an end of season promotion clincher given the sheer size of the away end (6,000 seats) and easy going nature of the stewards who let you sit where you like and pretty much do as you please within reason – although running down the pitch is forbidden, as one fella found out at the final whistle, racing off to God knows where pursued by two stewards who showed good persistence and stamina to stay with him and rugby tackle him to the ground on the halfway line.
Moments of note – a lengthy pre-match discussion about whether the young lad in front of us was Rob Hulse’s brother, the striking resemblance said yes but the enthusiasm with which he sang Neil Warnock’s name before the kick off probably hints at no, and then at half time a big fight downstairs between Rangers fans which probably owed much to alcohol consumption in the away fans’ bar.
Well if that’s not Rob Hulse’s brother just call me Luke Varney.
The difference I spoke about at the start was in the atmosphere. At Glanford Park on Saturday I could scarecely believe some of the things I was hearing. Yes the game hadn’t gone well and QPR had let themselves down but that was only a fifth defeat of a league leading season and yet the vitriolic abuse that went out towards Hulse, and even Warnock at one point, had to be heard to be believed. Here QPR didn’t play much better, but the support was absolutely fantastic. Of course it’s easy to be supportive when you’re in front but QPR didn’t play a great deal better in this game than they did three days previously. The early goal, Dunkirk spirit of the players, and performance of the referee fired the QPR fans up in the right way and although the few hundred who massed at the front for a party with five minutes to go would have looked daft had Jacob Butterfield’s last minute volley flown in off the post rather than wide it was still a wonderful night to be a QPR fan.
Scores >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 5/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 7/10 >>> Stadium 7/10 >>> Police and stewards 7/10
On the road
How the Swiss must laugh at us. In Switzerland when you arrive for your train you know what platform it will be leaving from, because it leaves from the same platform every day, and what time it will be leaving, because it leaves at the same time everyday and it’s always on time. In Britain neither of those things are true. Even when the trains in this country do run on time, you have to go through the whole rigmarole of the platform lottery draw before you’re allowed to get on.
First of all you are invited to stand on the concourse while the train is “prepared”. This used to mean cleaned, but now the cleaning consists of the guard walking down the middle of it two minutes before it arrives at its final destination asking you for any rubbish – anything you fail to surrender will still be there when the next people get on. For the Chelsea cup game last season I bought a pack of lager for the train expecting to be joined on the journey by my mate Owain who, in typical style, missed the train altogether. This left me with more beer than I could ever possibly drink in the time so at the end of the journey I left three of them under my seat – knowing that turning up at Stamford Bridge with them tucked inside my coat was a sure fire way of missing the game altogether. Some six hours later that evening I caught the last train back up north and halfway through the journey noticed that my feet were knocking against something under my seat – sure enough, the same three bottles of beer were there having presumably been all the way up north and then back again.
We found the locals to be particularly friendly and welcoming.
Presumably while at Leeds and then again at London the passengers awaiting that train had been invited to stand on the concourse and wait while the train was “prepared” but that preparation didn’t stretch to even removing a load of beer from the floor. So what does this preparation consist of if it’s not cleaning? Does a train psychologist go to the front and talk to it about the journey ahead? I mean once you’ve decided you’re not going to clean it how much preparation is there really to do? The seat reservations are electronic, the fuelling is done at the start of the day, the bogs only get cleaned once every six months – what is there to prepare? How long does it take to load on some giant biscuits and vacuum packed sandwiches?
You are told, by numerous signs, that the platform will be announced 15 minutes before the departure, and the gates will close two minutes before it is due to leave. Why? Why the need to create this mad scramble of 500 people all trying to board a train in 13 minutes? Why is it necessary to have everybody rush to the ticket barrier at once? Why is it deemed sensible to have everybody board the train all at once and block the aisles with their luggage and inability to find a simple seat reservation? What does this achieve? It’s especially galling late at night when there are 20 people waiting for the last train, there is clearly only one train in the station so it cannot be any other, the bloody train actually has the destination lit up on the display board at the front so you know it’s the right one, and still they make you wait until 15 minutes before the departure time.
The situation is even more ludicrous at Euston, where you’re lucky to get five minutes notice of your platform and then once it is finally announced you’re chased all the way from the concourse by officials and announcements saying “please board the train now, it is ready to leave.” Yeh? I was ready to leave 30 minutes ago mate, I’ve been standing out there waiting to leave for a half a friggin hour while you’ve not been cleaning my train, now you give me five minutes notice and want me to rush. I don’t think so.
So why is all this hencing forth now? For years I’ve put up with all of this, and for Barnsley I actually only had to drive the 50 minutes from Scunthorpe to Sheffield so none of it affected me. Well, the Barnsley game had been billed as the LoftforWords annual all day Sheffield drink-a-thon – details to follow – and Tracey was due in the Steel City at lunch time to begin the pub crawl. Except some terribly considerate person who could quite easily have stayed at home and drunk bleach in some dank corner of their miserable life decided to take themselves all the way out to East Midlands Parkway and kill themselves there, causing hassle to thousands of travellers and deep trauma to one perfectly innocent train driver. Tracey knew this, and knew there were no trains moving into or out of St Pancras as a result, because she’s organised and her mate Clive is a train geek who checks up on such things. She arrived at the station in good time to ask what her options were, spoke to the people behind the information desk and was told that there wasn’t a problem. “No suicide at East Midlands Parkway? No long delays and short notice cancellations?” “No madam.”
It’s a train that’s built like a bus, but why on earth does it need a set of wooden ladders?
So she joined the platform roulette game, waiting on the concourse, staring up at the board that said her Sheffield train was on time and waited. What happened? Well the magic 15 minutes until departure ticked around and all of a sudden (wouldn’t you just know it?) there is a problem at East Midlands Parkway after all and the train is cancelled. Sorry for turning this station into a house of lies, sorry for making you stand there for 20 minutes when you could have been making alternative arrangements, sorry to break the news that although you can use East Coast instead the next Doncaster train leaves in five minutes and there isn’t another for an hour after that, sorry you’re going to have to run. Sorry that although you succeeded in making the mad dash across to Kings Cross and got on the train that it was a 35 year old HST set that has the thick end of 10 million miles (no exaggeration) on the clock and burnt its brakes out at Newark causing a further delay. All because, for some God forsaken unknown reason, you are allowed to know nothing, nothing at all, about your train until 15 minutes before it’s meant to leave.
Never before has Northern the Elder’s favourite: “Do you recognise me, I’m the customer” saying been more appropriate.
Scores >>> Journey 4/10 >>> Cost 4/10
In the pub
I remember the day I decided I had no other option but to pull a sickie to go and watch QPR play. It was during Paulo Sousa’s reign and it was for an FA Cup third round replay fixture against Burnley at Turf Moor – we lost, with the last kick of the game, in front of me and one other fella with his dog.
At that point I worked for a local weekly newspaper in Derbyshire that had its deadline on a Wednesday lunchtime, and was therefore very busy on Tuesday evenings and pretty quiet for the rest of the time. When I’d first arrived I’d booked my Tuesday’s off when QPR were playing until the boss said this was unfair on people who had to cover for me and told me I couldn’t book single days off any more. So then I started booking Tuesdays and Wednesdays off together until she put a stop to that, and then Mondays to Wednesdays off until she did likewise. When QPR then had a game at Norwich scheduled for a Wednesday night (the paper’s quietest day when we used to spend afternoons playing office limbo or sitting out in the park) and she booked me an appraisal in for 4pm and refused to move it I started to get the impression that this was a slightly more personal grievance than I’d previously realised.
So later that year when the Burnley replay came around I called in sick, and so I didn’t feel horribly guilty about it I blamed my boss for making following QPR from South Yorkshire even more difficult than it already was simply because she didn’t like me. Which probably wasn’t true, but it meant the word ‘migraine’ didn’t stick in my throat so much. My grandfather once had all his teeth taken out in the morning and then went back to work on the steel works in Scunthorpe in the afternoon because had he not done so he’d have felt bad for the person who had to cover for him, so pulling a sickie for a poxy FA Cup replay we were never going to win didn’t sit very well with the Whittingham ethos.
Funny, for one moment there I thought my boss was ringing me.
Back then all I had to worry about was filing the LFW match report under an assumed name, although I can’t imagine there are many writers out there who can encapsulate the atmosphere of an icy night in Burnley with quite the same downtrodden misery as myself. Nowadays though if you’re skiving off work, or having an affair, you’ve got to be careful. There’s this new fangled thing, the point of which I haven’t quite fathomed yet, whereby when you arrive in a place you can ‘check in’ on Facebook, and should a person in your group use it then you’re going to have a hard time avoiding awkward questions at work. Particularly when, as here, your day off involves touring round five different pubs and a curry house.
I’d long since decided to book this week off work, even before I resigned a month beforehand, so with a room booked at Lennie Henry’s finest Sheffield branch I was ready for a big night out in one of my former home towns. Neil and Tracey agreed to join me with a collection of others and although they were delayed and then diverted on the train north that only served to add the famous Tut ‘n’ Shive in Doncaster to the list of pre-match hostelries. I had the surf and turf that they’d run out of before the Doncaster away game, Tracy had something that had been lightly killed, fried three times and then baked in cheese.
Time off work, very well spent.
Once in Sheffield Neil and myself went to check into our room, laughing at the receptionist’s barely concealed “are they mates or a gay couple” conversation with one of the waitresses as we went. Actually I say receptionist, they don’t have those any more at the Premier Inn – they have an express check in machine to smoothly guide you through the process. Except there’s nothing smooth about it, and the room keys tend to get stuck in the delivery shoot, so they’ve needed to rehire the receptionist they hoped to replace with the machine to stand by and help people work them. Progress.
The Premier Inn we were in was brand new, it still had that new paint smell about it. However a design flaw, which I presume somebody got their arse kicked for, mean that having put the toilet and the shower into the bathroom there wasn’t room for a sink. So consequently the sink was actually built into one of the bedside tables. Millions they’ll have spent building that place, with no sinks in any of the bathrooms.
We spent the day journeying round some of my old student haunts. Sadly Bia Hoi, a bar where you used to be able to get a particularly nice stir fry with noodles with your Tiger beer, is now some weird Cuban style establishment and the Frog and Parrot, previously a proper drinker’s pub boasting the Guinness World Record holding strongest bottled beer, now resembles the Adams Family’s sitting room.
Viva la revolucion – the modern day Sheffield boozer.
When in doubt, stick to what you know. Aagrah’s in Leopold Square did us a world class curry after we’d arrived back, although quite how glad they were to see eight people stumbling through the door at 11pm on a Tuesday I’m not sure, and then we went to The Harley, which hasn’t changed a bit. Live band at one end, pool table at the other always equipped with some student tool who thinks he’s the world pool champion and is happy to continue handing money over as you take him to the cleaners in front of his mates, and a bar in the middle with a decent selection. Little Phil taught us his dance moves (stand with your feet apart, clench your fists, point your index fingers outwards, and then move your arms up and down and that’s about it) and we got royally pissed up until about three in the morning and then staggered back to the hotel singing about Nathan Dyer’s propensity to steal ladies handbags. The really great thing about the Harley is as long as people want to drink, it stays open. And what’s not to like about that? Tracy stayed until 5am.
A day later there was the small matter of driving Neil and Tracy back to London, then driving back to Kettering for my things, then moving into my new place in Barnet, then driving down to Hammersmith to get Lindsey’s things, then driving them back to Barnet and moving her into my new place, and then finally sitting down to begin the hangover recovery. The bits I’d forgotten were nicely arranged on my Facebook wall for me, which I’m not sure is a good thing.
Scores >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 9/10 >>> Food 9/10 >>> Cost 5/10
Photo: Action Images
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