LFW Awaydays – Fulham, Craven Cottage
Friday, 7th Oct 2011 22:51 by Awaydays
Fun in the sun for the LoftforWords travelling crew at Fulham last Sunday, despite the result which we’ll try and gloss over a bit as Colin Speller takes up the Awayday Reporting duties.
On The Pitch
Dear God, where to begin? The worst defeat for more than ten years against a local rival that we haven’t played for much of that time. QPR were one down in 78 seconds, could have been five down at half time and one way and another got off lightly by only conceding six. ‘Lucky to get nil’ is the good old cliché that springs to mind.
Whether QPR are really as bad as the score suggests, or Fulham as good, only time will tell. There is a theory within the LFW ranks that we are only ever three weeks away from a PR disaster and having diced with one around the Barton v Henry bout following the Wolverhampton win, in the aftermath of this game there were rumours of Adel Taarabt storming out of Craven Cottage at half time as well as stories of tensions in the camp generally. These stories were subsequently dismissed by Warnock and treated similarly by Shaun Derry in a Monday evening tweet.
If Adel’s exit was as claimed, then the dramatic effect was much undermined by him allegedly being found sitting at a bus stop and/or loitering in a pub. I used to work for the government and his actions reminded me of story in the in-house magazine about a bloke who decided that the promotion interview he was in was going nowhere, so he called it to a halt, told the members of the panel he was wasting his time and theirs, stood up and with his nose in the air swept out through the nearest door. Two minutes later he was back in front of them having discovered that rather than leaving the room he had walked into a closet. Anyway, Adel, next time call a cab, call a mate – or stay put!
For the record, Johnson got a hat-trick, Murphy despatched a penalty crafted out of nothing for him by Hall and Kenny forgetting that Johnson is quick and there were embarrassingly simple goals for Dempsey and Zamora. In summary, one of the worst performances for years in front of a big, noisy and expectant QPR away following that was then followed by twelve days to stew about it before we see the team again. Give all the circumstances, why did we ever believe in all the 1-1 draw predictions?
Scores >>> QPR performance 1/10 >>> Opposition performance 8/10 >>> Referee performance 7/10
In the Stand
Craven Cottage’s riverside location is well-known and it is delightfully idiosyncratic with the cottage in one corner and the managers, coaching staff, substitutes and other hangers-on forced to walk across the pitch at the start and end of each half. Our approach from Putney via the bridge was a pleasant walk in blazing sunshine at the height of summer’s ‘let’s take the piss by reminding them of what they missed this year’ brief return at the threshold of September and October.
QPR fans respond to a cry of ‘where are the likely gaps in our defence?’
The away end is of straightforward construction with a reasonable view and decent legroom, although I would not have wanted to be in my seat on a wet day. Stewarding was discreet and calm and the message boards have been generally complimentary about it. There was a fair police presence outside and I didn’t see any trouble. Indeed, there were probably more groups of people supporting both sides walking together to and from the ground than I’ve seen in any other game, just underlining the closeness of this local derby.
In the build-up to the game, and the aftermath, much was made of the library-like nature of the atmosphere and the indifferent nature of Fulham’s support. The ‘neutral area’ has come in for much criticism and someone has been on the Fulham website and dug up a list of hints and tips for people attending a football match who are unfamiliar with what goes on. Whilst the comic value of this is obvious it all starts to seem a little hollow after a 6-0 thrashing.
Indeed, it also suggests memories of less than 15 years in length. May I take you back to the early nineties? QPR had been in the top division since 1983, and whilst it’s true to say that the Premier League hype had yet to bite, I think it’s also fair to say that there was a large degree of indifference around Loftus Road in those days. Just go and look at the crowds – 11,000 for an April fixture against Arsenal in 1994. The ground was usually full for most derbies and Manure but for many of those games, Manure in particular, the home stands were packed out with away fans who bought a £10 QPR membership each year just to get tickets to see their team play. In 1996, when Cantona scored the Man Utd equaliser whilst the then Third Division results were being read out on Sports Report, the part of the South Africa Road stand that I was sitting in was alive with whooping and yelling Manure pillocks. And, correct me if I’m wrong but have we yet sold out the home areas of Loftus Road this season?
So, Fulham’s fan-base is blasé about another Premier League game? Well, let’s see what we are like if we are fortunate to remain here for as long as they have. So, their business model includes attracting football tourists and relieving them of £49 to sit in a so-called ‘neutral area’? Well, hats off to them, I say – Mr Al Fayed has to find some way to defray the alleged £200 million investment he has made (thus far) to get them into the Premier League and keep them there and I’m sure the lesson won’t be lost on our owners.
On the other hand, QPR fans have lived through all the pain of the last fifteen years during which time clashes with top-flight London opposition have been limited to cup games against Wimbledon, Chelsea (twice) and Arsenal, the latter ironically having produced the last 0-6 score-line. In spite of the £49 price (plus booking fee), QPR fans turned up in large numbers (3,000 plus) to fill the away section, considerable parts of the neutral area and some of the home areas as well. The QPR support was noisy throughout and 90% of it stayed until the end. Song of the day was ‘We’re 6-0 down, who gives a f**k, we’re QPR and we’re staying up!’ All in all the support was fantastic and at the opposite end of the spectrum from the performance of the team.
The Fulham support appeared largely silent but in conversation with Fulham supporters after the game they claimed that the home end was very noisy at times, but they could not hear the QPR support very much. This was neutral opinion, by the way, not bravado and it rather confirmed my view that the open arena allows the noise to dissipate very quickly.
It’s difficult to feel positive about a stadium after an experience like that, but I’ve been to worse places.
Scores >>> QPR support 9/10 >>> Home support 4/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 4/10 >>>> Stadium 5/10 >>>> Police and stewards 7/10
In the Pub
Given the trials and tribulations of QPR in recent years, we have often speculated on what we would do if – God forbid – the club folded. One serious option would be to continue to meet on Saturdays in a variety of locations where we would seek out a pub with tv football, beer in glasses, decent food and a decent atmosphere. We would watch the lunchtime game, Sky’s Soccer Special and the early evening game before staggering home. After 76 minutes of the game at Fulham and 6-0 down this seemed to be an even better option for a weekend day out especially as, in the Fox and Hounds in Putney, we had found a rather good watering hole.
Not only was there tv football, the beer was in glasses, there was food and it all seemed ridiculously cheap – more like Wolverhampton prices than London. Deal of the day was a hearty all-day breakfast including a pint for £5.45! It even had a beer garden, well ok a Beer Yard, that included a wide-screen tv on the wall. Clive and Tracey have often speculated about running a pub together and this would get pretty close to their ideal set-up.
We enjoyed the usual good craic and were even joined by some Fulham-supporting mates of Tracey’s who seemed decent sorts. As I’ve said before in these pages, this was not the first time the foundations of a good piss-up have been spoilt by leaving to watch QPR get thumped.
In the excellent Beer Garden with tv Andy tries to look nonchalant as two Fulham fans take his advice to go onto Betfair and put their life savings on a 2-2 draw, betting against some – ahem- random guy.
After the game we slouched back to the same venue to drown our sorrows and I bought four drinks for a price that made me wish I’d funded the whole pre- and post-game session on the basis of everyone else buying the drinks for several weeks to come. The two Fulham lads were also back there, all calm and laid-back about it as if they won 6-0 every week. This was a genuinely enjoyable pub and we’ve even considered it for a pre-home game session on the basis that the savings in the drink bill would allow the luxury of a taxi ride to HQ.
Scores >>> Pub 8/10 >>> Atmosphere 7/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>>> Cost 8/10
On the Road
What? Stories of getting to Fulham?? Well, hold on a minute – for some of us every trip to a game involves a fair amount of travel. There have been many occasions in the past when a home game has involved the LFW team arriving from places as far afield as Sheffield, South Cambridgeshire, Oxford, Staines, London and France. These days the Sheffield branch has migrated south, so on match day the real travelling was done by the Spellers, junior from New York via Oxford and me from home near Royston, Herts.
I love Cambridge train travellers and they love their non-stop service to Kings Cross. They like to sit down, place their bag on the seat next to them and defy anyone who dares to consider asking to sit down in that spot. They also demand library-like silence and are capable of world-class hurrumphing at the slightest interruption to the service or decline in the travelling conditions. They are particularly pained when their non-stop service loses said status and is forced to call at Royston, mostly because it often involves their bags having to give up their seats and, God forbid, some of the interlopers talking to each other. With all that in mind, it is always a glorious day when there is a bus replacement service between Cambridge and Royston and they arrive sweating and grumbling at Royston to find the best seats already taken by non-Cambridge people and their own bags.
Can I digress here for a minute? Site stats suggest you are most likely to be reading this at work so I’m sure you won’t complain if I do. A trip for me to Loftus Road involves three bits of research at least – the First ‘Crap-it-all’ Connect website to see if they plan to dig up the line at any point, TFL to make sure the Hammersmith & City isn’t running again and the BBC weather site to estimate whether the average two degrees Celsius higher temperature in London will move me into a different clothing zone (e.g. an upgrade to ‘no coat’ or even ‘shorts’). With all the information available on t’interweb, getting caught on a rail replacement bus service is a schoolboy error. Despite that, I’ve made it twice in the last few years and regretted it seriously on both occasions.
A season or two back I was coming home from a night game and got kicked off at Stevenage onto a bus. It was empty, so I sat near the back. First on were two black lads who then took to whistling and catcalling at the pubescent (and mostly pre-pubescent), scantily-clad girls who were milling about outside the station, and being quite explicit as to what they would like to do with them. During a lull in their calling three shaven-haired, rather tough-looking lads got on and sat behind me, one of whom was sporting a bloodied face having apparently tripped and fallen down the stairs on the way to the bus. All three were wildly drunk and very loud. The black lads started calling out obscene suggestions again and this caused one of the lads behind to stagger down the bus and sit opposite them trying to attract their attention whilst attempting to pull something out of his coat pocket. Having succeeded with both he then tried to maintain the guys’ attention whilst fumbling to open whatever it was he had got out. My heart sank. This was, to my fertile imagination, the opening gambit of a racist skinhead who was up for a fight. And, if it all kicked off, the trouble would be very much between me and the exit, thus blocking my escape...
Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity the guy finally got whatever it was sorted out and waved it under the guys’ noses. It was a warrant card. He went on to explain that he and his mates were off-duty coppers out on the piss, they didn’t want any trouble, but the obscene suggestions were unreasonable and if they didn’t stop he would be forced to call his on-duty colleagues onto the bus. The two guys agreed to behave and the copper finally got his warrant card back into his pocket at the fifth attempt and returned to the back of the bus, falling over only twice. For the rest of the journey home I was entertained to a deconstruction of the police budgets in Cambridgeshire and their effect on policing on the ground.
For the Newcastle game this season I repeated the error and was turfed off the train and onto a bus at Hitchin. I was reading intently and not paying attention (I did not need to as the bus was due to terminate at Royston) when I suddenly realised we were in Baldock, facing the wrong way with a scene developing at the front of the bus between the driver and some of the few passengers on board. To cut a long story short, it turned out that the main A505 between Baldock and Royston was shut and the driver did not know an alternative route. The passengers at the front, clearly with ambitions to move to Cambridge at some point, were complaining loudly without being able to offer any solutions. The situation was resolved by yours truly taking command and, to the driver’s clear discomfort, guiding him through the country lanes and villages of South Cambridgeshire to Royston. I climbed into bed at 1 am that night. As I said, a schoolboy error and I’m hoping that I won’t make it again.
Anyway, the replacement bus was to the north of me on Sunday so I delighted in a non-stop Kings Cross service both ways. The journey was completed by Underground to Waterloo and the dreaded SW Trains to Putney. I arrived early in the pub and, after catching the 6.32 from Putney was home by eight. All very smooth – the only entertainment was ‘Contraceptive Boy’ who kept up a non-stop interrogation of his unfortunate mother from Waterloo to where I left them to it at Putney, built solidly on repeating the question ‘why?’ It was enough to encourage celibacy, or a permanent form of contraception, in even the most hormonally-charged couple. The man opposite me was groaning audibly with frustration by the time we got to Vauxhall and was clearly contemplating suicide by the time we pulled out of Clapham Junction. What was most amusing was that it was clear from the look on his face that he knew that if he had said anything in protest to the mother, the child would have simply said ‘why?’
Which, funnily enough, was what most people have said to me when I’ve said that all in all, despite the score-line, I really enjoyed my trip to watch QPR at Fulham.
Scores >>> Journey 8/10 >>> Cost 4/10
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Photo: Action Images
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