LFW Awaydays – Vicarage Road, Watford
Sunday, 22nd May 2011 23:20 by Awaydays
The final away trip, and last Awayday of the season, was our memorable 2-0 win at Watford.
On the pitch
It’s easy to look back and smile now because we know the outcome, and it was easy to try and brush it all off at the time with flippant comments like “typical QPR”, but sitting here basking in the summer sun and the warm glow of promotion I don’t think a part of me will ever forgive the people at our club responsible for the Alejandro Faurlin transfer mess and the FA for the farcical way they went about looking into it.
The atmosphere at the Hull match five days before this trip to Watford was utterly bizarre. Half the supporters ran onto the pitch at the end of the game to celebrate while the other half looked like we’d just been relegated – my brother was in the former group and I was predictably in the latter which led to some disagreements later in the evening. And at Watford, where the scene was altogether more joyous, there was still that nagging doubt at the back of one or two minds (including mine) that it could all be for nothing.
Oooh, here they come look…
This wasn’t helped by the stories in the Friday papers from Sun “journalist” Shaun Custis who said he’d heard from an FA source we’d be looking at a 15 point deduction, or former FA chief Mark Palios who took time out from knobbing his secretary to also tell anybody that would listen that we’d be robbed of points. This is the thing I really hate about tabloid journalists and message board rumour mongers – when, as is quite often the case, what they’ve said turns out to be complete nonsense there is no comeback. Custis was on Sunday Supplement again this morning, spouting off about this story and that story his sources had told him about, never once did anybody else on the panel fly across the table and shove a final Championship league table down his throat as proof that he and his sources don’t know a bloody thing about anything. Neil Warnock had to pick his dressing room up from a morgue like state, and the QPR supporters had what should have been a fantastic day undermined, because of the timing of the article and for Custis? Nothing - keeps his job, keeps writing bollocks.
Interesting contrast in looks.
It also wasn’t helped by the sheer amount of people who felt the need to tell me, at the Watford game and prior to it, that “it would all be fine” and “they won’t deduct any points.” In the end these people were right, but their assertions were based on nothing other than personal hunches or friend of a friend relationships with a bloke who was painting the lines on a road half a mile away from where the hearing was taking place. Why the need to foist these feelings onto me and tell me to cheer up? Judging by the sheer outpouring of excitement, joy, relief and celebration around Shepherds Bush a week after this game when the verdict finally returned in our favour, it would seem that all these people weren’t quite as sure and certain as they’d insisted on making out to me time and time and time a-bloody-gain.
The Hull game, and this victory at Watford where QPR’s performance could best be described as “patchy”, should have been joyous afternoons but were tainted by the whole farce that the club brought on itself and the FA allowed to run completely out of control.
LFW’s small gay flag
In fairness, the joy at this result was still there to a large extent. I was in tears long before Tommy Smith rolled in the killer second goal in injury time after Adel Taarabt had snuck in to give us the lead 15 minutes beforehand. Incidentally, those who question Taarabt’s temperament and attitude may like to reflect not only on the season as a whole but also on the way he came to the table with three absolutely crucial, and very different, goals in the final two away matches of the campaign. The Moroccan is no flat track bully, and when the going was tough at Watford and Cardiff he was the man who scored the crucial goals.
This was a result that summed up why QPR have won the league. They lost left back Clint Hill to injury in training the day before forcing centre half Matt Connolly to play out of position. They then lost Player of the Year Paddy Kenny in the warm up which meant Radek Cerny had to play for the first time in a year. And then Fitz Hall went off injured after 20 minutes forcing another reshuffle at the back. Despite that - and a dreadful playing surface, and our recent awful record at Vicarage Road, and the presence of the league’s top scorer Danny Graham in the home team’s attack, and the fact that Watford had outplayed us at Loftus Road in December and won 3-1 – we still won. That’s what champion sides are made of.
Scores >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> Opposition performance 6/10 >>> Referee performance 7/10
In the stand
Isn’t it odd what makes you cry? Previously, apart from death and serious illness of close friends and family, I could probably count the times I’ve cried in my adult life on the fingers of one hand. One of those occasions was in the Corby Morrisons the day I moved there having left my girlfriend and family in Sheffield and with my friends still an hour away in London. It was a sort of “what on earth have I done” cry and had I been anywhere else in the country somebody may have taken me into a back room and offered me a cup of tea or something, but the Corby Morrisons is full of battered Scottish wives trying to stretch their benefits around shopping for a family of six while still finding £60 to spend on the week’s supply of fags so it’s not unusual to see people randomly crying in there and I was just left to my despair in the deserted ‘world foods’ aisle.
You can all do your own inflatable birthday cake, sex doll and lilo joke at this point.
Apart from that, and my ridiculous inability to get through the final scene in Cool Runnings without sobbing notwithstanding, I’m not a regular crier. But it all got rather too much for me here. The triumph through adversity - both over the whole season and at Watford in particular where we overcame the three injuries, the terrible pitch and the pre-match newspaper coverage to win anyway – just stirred something inside me. Then I started to wish that Stuart, who died two years ago almost to the day of the game, and my dad and granddad were there with me to see it and then Tommy Smith scored a second goal and I was in floods.
Essential matchday headwear.
And I’ve been in floods ever since. I watched the excellent Yout Tube montage of our journey and burst into tears, randomly, at the footage of Tommy Smith banging in the last minute penalty at Portsmouth to earn a draw. That is one of those games I’d almost forgotten about completely and yet something about that brief clip set me off again. I’m ashamed to admit that Linds and me were curled up on the sofa watching Ghostbusters 2 the other night and I felt myself welling up as they rode into town on the Statue of Liberty – admittedly I had drunk my weight in beer that day though.
There were plenty around me at Watford who were also wiping away tears, and all for their own different reasons I’m sure. I felt like death after the Hull match but perhaps it was apt that it was sealed (on the pitch at least) at an away game such as this where only the club’s most fervent and loyal supporters had been able to get tickets. Watford’s piffly allocation of 2,500 tickets meant that everybody in that away end was a season ticket holder who’d been to a fair number of away games as well – with the odd exception or two I’m sure.
Despite his appalling record with away game results this season (he’d been to every defeat) Owain was allowed out for the day.
Those who didn’t manage to get hold of official tickets went for the home areas instead. Now there’s credit and criticism for Watford here. Criticism first - are Watford not hard up? I look at their ground with one side of it a mixture of the condemned and already demolished, and another corner an unfinished reinforced concrete structure and see a club in need of some cash. Yet here they were with a home game thousands more people wanted to go to, refusing to sell them seats and take their money. Had they opened the whole stand behind the goal to QPR fans it would have increased the attendance, made them substantially more gate money, and stopped the inevitable problems caused by hundreds of QPR fans turning up in the home ends.
However to their credit, having created a situation where QPR fans were scattered all around the ground they were at least sensible about it. I’ve sat in home ends once or twice – at Spurs in the Premiership days when their ground was being done up, at Fulham when Rob Steiner was sent off by Rob Styles, and at Oldham in the play off semi final where our club made it personal callers only immediately knackering those of us who lived up north – and as far as I was aware the etiquette is to sit quietly and not draw attention to yourselves. That sort of went out of the window here, with the sheer volume of QPR fans in the home ends making them feel a little more comfortable, although I thought the Rangers fans sitting in the side stand in their blue and white hoops was taking the piss a little bit. But Watford, rather than wading in and turfing them out as I know Brentford tried to do with Southampton just a few miles down the road on the same day in similar circumstances, Watford just made a block available for them at the end of the stand and let them go in there.
There’s a little bit one rule for one and one for another about all of this. Back in the Premiership days we had a long and infuriating history of having our home end infiltrated, particularly by Man Utd fans when they were in town. That has largely stopped now and I remember an Arsenal fan who was foolish enough to celebrate one of his team’s six goals in the FA Cup while sitting in the Lower Loft ten years ago getting a proper smack for his troubles. When Stoke needed to win at Loftus Road for promotion a few years back there was widespread message board outrage at the suggestion that their fans had bought home end tickets, which actually led to some online purchases by Stoke fans being cancelled. Likewise when it was suggested, by Leeds, that if they needed to win the last game of the season and we were already up they should be given more tickets this was (rightly) laughed out of town. Likewise we moaned about the allocation given to us here, but were quite happy for Leeds to be given even less at Loftus Road. But when it’s us it’s alright. That’s life I suppose.
We were sitting dead in the centre of the away end, and the atmosphere there was as good as I can remember it at a QPR away match, topped off with a genuine outpouring of human emotion. It was a fantastic feeling, despite the elephant in the room that undermined it all.
Scores >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 6/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 9/10 >>> Stadium 5/10 >>> Police and stewards 7/10
On the road
When I look back on this fantastic season there will be hundreds of memories that randomly come to mind. Running over the bridge at Eastleigh to make the last train after the Portsmouth game after the driver had mistakenly locked the previous train and gone home with us still inside, leaping through the air in celebration of Heidar Helguson’s second goal at Middlesbrough, learning how to ‘do the Little Phil’ dance in The Harley in Sheffield post Barnsley and so on. But probably the strangest and most random thing will be the paddling pool.
First spotted in the away end at Scunthorpe, the paddling pool was actually more of a life raft given its size and colour. I cannot imagine who thought to bring it in the first place - Dave Cox is the rumour – or how it made it around Scunthorpe, Barnsley and Cardiff before Watford without being confiscated, burst, lost or given up on. When the camera pans to the away end at Cardiff after Taarabt’s second equaliser the scenes of unbridled joy also feature said pool, surfing over the heads of the celebrating fans and making its way towards the back of the stand. Like so many things this season, it’s just so beautifully QPR – random and farcical in equal measure.
Imagine our horror therefore to find the paddling pool in the state we did after this game. We’d stayed in the ground right through to the bitter end in the hope that our players may return for a celebration – a hope that was dashed by a combination of the police who seemed rather over zealous at the end of the game and yet another selfish pitch invasion which saw Warnock and the boys shifted off to the dressing room rather quicker than they, and the rest of us, would have liked.
Oh great, another pitch invasion.
When the police started to clear the away end we started to walk back to the station. This was an amazing experience as QPR fans stretched in a long snake through the streets all the way back to Watford Junction, singing and partying as they went. Clearly some nearer the front hadn’t had such a magical experience though because we saw one fella with a head wound you could have stuck three fingers in that was spewing blood down his face, and a pub midway between the ground and the station that had a lot of Watford fans locked inside trying to get out and a window put through.
It was there, among the broken glass and stressed police officers, that we saw the paddling pool; laid in the gutter, deflated and clearly burst, abandoned after its five week tour of the country. Well, that would never do. It didn’t seem right to leave it there amidst the aftermath of a pub brawl in Watford, so we picked it up and took it with us back to Mabel’s. In fact, Neil went one step further by taking the bloody thing home and falling asleep in it. He still has it I think, a bizarre souvenir to claim from a wonderful season.
A safe and loving home.
Why am I wibbling on about this? Well, what is there to say about a 15 minute train journey from Euston to Watford Junction?
A final point of note – I would love to have been present for the brainstorming session held between the owners of Watford’s premier lap dancing club that sits just off the High Street on the way back to the station. “First item on the agenda, what shall we call our lap dancing club?” No doubt hours went into the decision before somebody round the table, probably called Gaz or Wes or something like that, suggested the eventual winner. Beavers. The Ronseal of lapdancing clubs – does exactly what it says on the door.
Scores >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 7/10
In the pub
Mabel’s Tavern is my idea of heaven. It’s the perfect pub. Regular readers (hello to both of you) will know that I want my pre-match pub to serve me food, not to use plastic glasses, and to show the lunchtime match on television. Mabel’s does more than this. Mabel’s serves good food, Mabel’s serves a good range of beers and ales in glasses and Mabel’s has two Sky boxes for double the sporting pleasure when events clash. When there is no sport, they put Magic on and we rock away to Tina Turner and David Bowie classics. After a game earlier in the season I was in there watching the evening kick off, and James May walked in. It’s that sort of place, everybody there either is James May or looks a hell of a lot like him.
The world’s greatest pub.
Better still it’s set a little way back from the main Euston Road, in between Kings Cross and Euston Square. This makes it ideally placed as a pre and post match boozer for a variety of home and away games which are easily accessible by train and tube but also means it’s shielded from the public by the usual Scream and O’Neills type hell holes on the main road which draw the tourists in and leave those who actually know the area to their quiet beers and Magic radio.
We drank here before the game, and then returned later clutching a variety of flags and a paddling pool. The bar had filled slightly with Chelsea and Tottenham fans who don’t actually go to Chelsea and Tottenham games who wanted to watch Chelsea and Tottenham. They didn’t seem to care about us, or really know who QPR were, and so we settled in for a bottle of their second cheapest champagne.
Usual seat, usual table load.
Owain and myself, in matching outfits rather embarrassingly, were already committed to a birthday event in Soho later that evening which was a shame on two fronts. Firstly, Colin, Neil and Tracey settled in for the long haul at Mabel’s drinking the place dry and remaining long after closing time. When the staff did eventually close, Tracey persuaded them to serve a final round in bottles, so they could take them away. We must have put the best part of £400 behind the bar at that place on the day. Secondly, while that was going on we ended up in the most pretentious, wanky place I’ve ever come across in my life with all the atmosphere of a Coventry City home game, beer costing the best part of £6 a pint and staff that were about as rude as they come. It thought a lot of itself this Club 49 place, especially considering that midway through the evening the world’s largest cockroach crawled out from under one of our tables, stretched itself, and then scurried across a couple of guests’ feet. The reaction to this from the staff when confronted with its substantial carcass in a tissue? “This is Soho, what do you expect?”
Club 49 relies on private party bookings for its income so if me mentioning what an absolute complete shithole it is on here helps put a couple of people off, then good. Needless to say the marks below are for Mabel’s, the pub of all pubs, and not for the latter part of the evening which on reflection we should have blown off and stayed put.
A day later Neil and myself were heading to the Player of the Year dinner, and decided to meet in Mabel’s again to catch the tail end of the Man City match. The bar staff greeted our renewed presense with a mixture of familiarity and horror, but relaxed a little when we promised them that “the girl with the flag” would not be attending.
Scores >>> Pub 9/10 >>> Atmosphere 9/10 >>> Food 7/10 >>> Cost 6/10
All photos featured on LoftforWords this season have been taken by Neil Dejyothin, who was also on hand with his camera at the Player of the Year dinner and end of season celebrations. If you see yourself and want to order one, for a small donation towards the QPR Ladies team, get in touch email@example.com
@LoftforWords is now on Twitter. Apparently.
Photo: Action Images
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