LFW Awaydays – Wigan, DW Stadium
Tuesday, 20th Sep 2011 23:33 by Awaydays
LoftforWords travelled to Wigan via Edinburgh (as you do) at the end of August to catch sight of the old QPR for the last time.
On the pitch
This almost felt like going into battle for the final time on a soon to be de-commissioned war ship. I saw message board posts over the summer saying that to write QPR off as "doomed" was disrespectful to a group of players who'd fought tooth and nail to in a fine promotion last season and to some extent that is correct. Players who we relied upon last season and would worry terribly when they weren't fit are suddenly this season's dead wood who we cannot wait to get rid of and replace with something better. It seems a shame but it's the nature of sport – the Reading side that came up under Steve Coppell and remained in the Premiership without adding any players was a freak, and relegated in its second season.
Whenever they take an ageing warship out of service the Daily Express will produce a Little Englander article about what a terrible shame and waste this is. "Cold, evil economics eating into the very fabric of British life," the article will say as it tries to make you believe a vessel built for battle conditions 30 years ago can still be completely fit for purpose in the modern era. Progress is a banned word in the Express.
To be fair this QPR team wasn't even very close to the one we'd been promoted with last season – almost like sending the boat out for one last run after the weapons had already been removed and scrapped. Patrick Agyemang was preferred up front to Heidar Helguson – mystifying enough as it was, but thoroughly ball aching by the end of the match when Warnock let him remain out there making a fool of himself, and us, for the full 90 minutes. The defence, too, was vastly inferior to the one we finished last season with. Four centre halves, with no recognised full back, strung out across the back line with Matthew Connolly not only out of position at left back but also forced to play on his weaker foot. Fitz Hall got injured again, Bruno Perone looked as erratic as he had done in pre-season – coming close to scoring two at one end, and costing us two at the other. That Danny Gabbidon was the star man in an unfamiliar right back position spoke volumes.
The last of the QPR we used to know. I'd say 'never mind the quality feel the width' but we were pretty narrow as well as not being very good.
And yet Wigan struggled to take advantage – almost as if we'd picked the French for the final battle in the hope we might win regardless of our inferior equipment. In wide areas they were threatening and impressive with Victor Moses probing down one side and Hugo Rodallega raiding down the other. Hall's injury should have left us further exposed to this because when he was finally removed, after half an hour of limping and gesturing towards the bench during which time he'd been slow to close down the first Wigan goal, Michael Harriman went on to replace him looking like a ball boy pressed into action by lack of numbers. Indeed Wigan scored again immediately, another deflected strike from Franco Di Santo, but actually as it turned out Harriman did rather well, further emphasising the benefit of having recognised full backs playing those positions rather than centre halves filling in.
But elsewhere the home side was very poor indeed, and only won the game thanks to two heavily deflected shots from their worst player Di Santo. Sadly Rangers' own rank poor lone striker didn't have the same good fortune and Agyemang found fingers pointing at him from the away end as he missed two great chances, including a one on one with the keeper after Adel Taarabt had hit the post that he skewed hopelessly wide.
That wasn't the first, or the last, time QPR hit the woodwork so they could perhaps count themselves unlucky not to take something from the game but in truth Neil Warnock's men were never quite good enough on the day. Thankfully, Joey Barton's presence in the stand hinted at better things to come but even so, this felt like three points wasted from a game we could easily have won with even just one or two more quality players involved.
Scores >>> QPR performance 5/10 >>> Opposition performance 6/10 >>> Referee performance 6/10
In the stand
What a strange day to be a Wigan Athletic fan. The entire town either in London or settled in pubs to watch the area’s main sporting institution lift a prestigious trophy, while tucked away in a corner a few thousand football fans sloped off for their sport of choice. There they all were, the lonely few who don’t care for the town’s main attraction, traipsing through the rain as it hammered down just before midday. They wore the looks of lonely businessmen heading back to their motel rooms for a spot of autoerotic asphyxiation – people nursing a secret shame in a society that just doesn’t understand, sneaking off to get their kicks while everybody’s attention is drawn to something more mainstream.
Jibes about poor attendances, being a rugby town and being artificially inflated two or three leagues higher than they’ve ever played at before on the whim of a rich fan must be fairly commonplace in these parts because the home fans who did bother with this one had immediate reposts to any chants of that nature. It’s easy to write off teams like Wigan, Fulham and to some extent ourselves as small clubs that are only here because some rich fella took a fancy to them one day.
It’s easy for commentators to look at clubs like Leeds and Forest loitering lower down and make thinly veiled barbed comments about “proper clubs” and “steeped in history” like they somehow deserve to be here more than teams that actually are. But let’s not forget that clubs have punched above their weight since time began.
When we were last at this level so were Oldham Athletic and just as we left Middlesbrough were arriving in a new ground with some new money just ten years after going bust altogether. Blackburn won the title because Jack Walker wanted them to. Bradford City have played in the top flight, Hull City more recently and don’t forget Barnsley of course and Brighton back in the 1980s. There have always been these clubs who through big money and/or sound management have come up to the top flight. It’s not a new thing, it’s just Wigan’s turn at the moment.
Tracey was disappointed to be laughed at when she asked to see the wine list. But they did serve two different varieties of beer.
QPR mocked, as I’m sure all visiting fans do, but there was a terrible irony to it all. When the ball went out of play the QPR fans taunted Wigan about their empty seats and false elevated status, when the ball came back in they got stuck into Patrick Agyemang and the other players who Rangers fielded here that simply aren’t good enough for the top flight. The salvation from a season at the mercy of Bruno Perone was represented in the stand to our right by Joey Barton – the first of several new signings we could not afford without our own rich man moving into the boardroom. With our low attendances, empty seats, and generous bankrolling from upstairs how are we different?
Anyway one point added for the bloke who lost his temper with Agyemang to such an extent that he could no longer form words and ended up screaming that Big Dave was an “unbalanced fellow” but one point off for the steward who decided he needed to go through my suitcase before I could go through the turnstile despite the rain coming down in solid sheets of water at the time. Jobsworth.
Scores >>> QPR support 6/10 >>> Home support 6/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 5/10 >>> Stadium 7/10 >>> Police and stewards 6/10
In the pub
I have never been invited to spend any time with the Amish community. Now, if we were playing "I have never" I anticipate it taking quite some time for us all to get drunk if that was the standard of the challenges because I can't imagine many people have. However my years in journalism have led me to some weird and wonderful invitations.
For example while working as a local news hack in Derbyshire I was invited to the BNP's annual Red, White and Blue festival which took place on a party member's land near the notoriously BNP orientated towns of Heanor and Langley Mill. You know you're in the wrong place when the pubs have BNP stickers on the door as you walk in. Anyway the festival was a bit of an odd mixture of far right wing propaganda mixed with fairground rides.
It was all a little bit creepy, and by the end of the weekend the News of the World reckoned it had taken pictures of members burning a Golly doll on the site. Our paper's policy was to allow the BNP to comment on stories and they denied this had ever happened, something which caused the NOTW news editor to ring me at work and shout at me down the phone for 20 minutes about being a "lazy piss poor journalist" which is rather ironic now he's out of a job. I hope he's well anyway.
It was also my paper's policy for most of the senior staff to bugger off home early on a Friday which meant that when I found Nick Griffin carving a hog roast and willing to be interviewed I was told "not to get anything controversial" because there would be nobody around to check it. The only puff piece interview with the leader of Britain 's main far right organisation is probably in existence somewhere out there – essentially it was me and Nick chatting about the weather and different methods of caving a whole roast pig while thousands of angry protesters marched on the grounds of the festival.
An entrance policy I can get on board with.
Anyway walking back into Wigan after this match was strangely like walking onto the festival field that day, or how I imagine it would be were I to ever get to visit the Amish lot. Like walking into something you didn’t understand or trust very much.
The town centre was absolutely deserted. There were no signs of life anywhere except for the red and white balloons and bunting that fluttered silently from every railing and lamp post. It was as if the shock of seeing Franco Di Santo score not only once but twice had induced a fear that the end of the world was nigh and sent the locals scurrying home to hide in the airing cupboard.
What was actually happening of course was the Rugby League Challenge Cup final, which is a bit like Christmas day for northern people. I'm a rugby league fan as regular readers (hello to both) will know but for the rest of the LoftforWords travelling party this was a strange and, I sensed, unsettling experience. The absolute silence of the town centre was broken only when we opened the doors of one of the pubs at which point a wall of testosterone hit us like a Tsunami with thousands of large men in red and white tops shouting "FOOOKIN GERRUM ONSIDE YE DICKHEAD" at television screens. To the uninitiated it seemed as if we'd inadvertently wondered into a strange cult and, given that despite being the biggest rugby league club in the country Wigan actually hadn't won the cup for the best part of a decade, had they lost to Leeds I wouldn't have ruled out a group suicide attempt outside Boots the Chemist.
Explaining the strange rugby league cult to a non-believer while waiting for another round of fish paste sandwiches.
We plumped for a pub called The Clarence Hotel as it was the only one we could actually get inside. The reason for this was because it was a dive. We sat underneath the screen as I was the only one in the group who was vaguely interested in the match and honestly we couldn't have looked less inconspicuous if we'd turned up with Louie Spence, Dale Winton and Alan Carr shouting "Hiya lads" and doing cute finger waves at the chaps at the bar. Anyway the bottled beer was on a three for £5 offer and they brought around fish paste sandwiches at half time (like Tuna, but for poor people) so it wasn't all bad. I did find it a little odd that having popped outside through the side exit to make a phone call where I could hear myself speak I noticed there was a large sign advertising the place as a lap dancing bar over the door. There was one woman in the place, sitting at the bar made up to the nines looking like a failed actress who went for an audition to play Deidre in Coronation Street and kept the glasses despite not getting the part, but lap dancing material she was not.
This was hanging above the rear entrance to The Clarence Hotel, promising more than the place could ever possibly deliver.
The fish entrails weren't going to last us all the way back to London so I went out and did a bit of a scouting job looking for a pub to move to once the testosterone festival had finished – with a Wigan win thankfully. We ended up across the High Street in a place called Little 15. This was much more like the type of place LFW tends to end up in with live sport injected into your eyes from a variety of screens, a pleasant atmosphere in a not-too-crowded pub and decent food. I ordered a steak and ale pie and received a steak and onion sandwich but it was still more than half decent and we happily sat and watched the end of Chelsea v Norwich and most of Liverpool v Bolton.
Should we both stay up, we'll be heading back there I'm sure.
Scores >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>> Cost 9/10
On the road
On the second night of the London riots, when it kicked off everywhere, there were strong rumours that the trouble that had flared in Haringey and Hendon was heading the way of LoftforWords Towers into Finchley and Barnet. There was palpable tension among the staff who quietly got on with manning the sweatshop and turning out the Bolton match preview to deadline, all the while aware that a real life angry mob could be heading our way at any moment. BBC News didn't have Barnet down as a potential target (not much to loot from estate agents to be fair) but then it hadn't said anything about Croydon until suddenly the pictures cut to an aerial shot of that poor family's furniture store going up in spectacular fashion. So I took to Twitter, which I'm told is part of a news revolution of some sorts, and searched for Barnet on there to see if anything was going off.
It was there that I found the one thing that sticks out in my mind more than any other from that horrible week in one glorious Tweet. Despite large parts of the city being brought to a standstill, running battles between the scum of this earth and the police taking place in multiple locations, businesses being smashed up, looted an razed to the ground and a general feeling of fear and anger rising in every single person who calls London home the Tweet that stuck out the most was as follows:
Aware of some misinformation, the Toby Carvery in Barnet is open and trading as normal.
I mean short of starting that Tweet with "attention hungry looters" what more could the official Toby Carvery Twitter account have done to lighten the mood? I couldn't think of anything more British than that Tweet. Your city is burning, you're living in fear, the feral youth has reclaimed the streets – but if you fancy some Yorkshire puddings done in a microwave the Toby Carvery in Barnet remains open. Despite it all, we do live in a fantastic place.
And I was reminded of that in far more conventional terms on my journey down to Wigan. Originally this was a game I wasn't intending to attend. My new job had sent me to cover the Edinburgh Television Festival that week and even if I could get from there to Wigan by train I was probably supposed to be working that Saturday anyway. Except, as always happens in my warped mind, I started to wonder. If the festival starts on Thursday and ends on Saturday then what's the harm in moving on a few hours early? I could leave there at midday and be in Wigan for kick off – possibly the first person in the history of the West Coast Mainline to travel from Edinburgh to Wigan on a one way ticket but it is a service that exists all the same. It didn't take long to persuade myself that this was in fact the greatest idea in the history of great ideas and shortly after having it I was booked and ready to go. First class as well.
But then things started to conspire against me. It turned out that, although we arrived in the city on Thursday the festival itself didn't start until Friday. Friday lunchtime at that, and Saturday was the main day. And then, and then, they moved the bloody kick off didn't they? If a sign was needed that QPR was a club completely out of touch with its own supporters under the old regime this was it – one wasn't, but they provided it anyway. Just two weeks before the game, with train tickets booked and non-refundable, the club announced that it had acquiesced to Wigan's desire to move the game away from the rugby league final so at least some people would still turn up to support them.
Quickly besieged by a raft of e-mails along the basic lines of "you clueless idiots" they sent out the one man the QPR fans still had any time for at that point Neil Warnock to apologise. But even then we were told it was a choice between moving the game to an early kick off or playing it on Friday or Sunday. Errrr, no, the right answer would have been: "We understand your situation, but it's been pretty obvious that Wigan were going to be in this final for several months now given their form and a favourable draw and two weeks is not enough notice for our supporters. Sorry, but no."
So suddenly I'm leaving at the crack of dawn on Saturday, grateful that I'd worked above and beyond the call of duty at a previous festival to accumulate sufficient brownie points and that two other reporters had travelled with me and were able to cover the Saturday. The advantage of all of this was a morning walk through the simply beautiful city of Edinburgh to my train which then wound peacefully through the picturesque countryside in Scotland and the Lake District . It felt like a fine time to be alive as all that scenery whizzed past.
The way back was not quite so idyllic. It turns out that there is not a single off license in the entire town centre of Wigan that is open after 5pm on a Saturday – a missed opportunity if ever I saw one in a town that was celebrating raucously by the time we left it behind. We therefore raided the bar of Little 15 and filled my Edinburgh suitcase up with wine and beer that would have run into three figures had it been bought in London but actually set us back around £35. This did have the previously unforeseen effect of making my case weight a metric tonne and it needed betting columnist Andy Hillman to assist lugging it down to the station – the money he's losing this season it's the least he owes me.
Fearless calls the August meeting of the Patrick Agyemang fan club to order.
We found messageboard regular Fearless on the platform at Wigan, entertaining Mick and the lads with a 27 minute rant about how dreadful Patrick Agyemang really is, with associated impressions. Virgin were running a shuttle service through the middle of Manchester to Crewe with some sort of work taking place at Warrington (I was hoping they were flattening that shithole and everybody in it but alas it seems it still exists) and as you would expect the QPR fans were the only people on there. That didn’t stop some sort of row breaking out, and almost developing into a fist fight, over a pair of low slung jeans. An unfortunate elderly gent who’d been happily reading his book and sipping his wine in peace before we all turned up looked aghast.
At Crewe we changed, restocked the suitcase including a second and third bottle of wine for Tracey, and then struggled to find seats on the same train we’d caught back from Liverpool after the Everton game. That night there was room to spare, but on this occasion it was rammed. Why? Because Liverpool were at home and not Everton of course. Hundreds and hundreds of Liverpool fans all going back down to London. What did David Moyes say about Everton being the people’s club? Wise fella.
Scores >>> Journey 7/10 >>> Cost 5/10
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Photo: Action Images
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