LFW Awaydays – West Bromwich, The Hawthorns
Wednesday, 30th May 2012 21:34 by Awaydays
Part two of our week long catch up on the missing Awayday reviews looks back at the trip to The Hawthorns and narrow defeat against West Brom.
On the pitch
QPR were undone by a combination of poor finishing and inferior tactics to those employed by Roy Hodgson. Again, playing catch up with these columns post season gives us the chance to apply hindsight but at the time this looked like a damaging defeat for Rangers’ chances of staying in the Premiership, and there was very little hint that Hodgson would go on to be appointed England manager at this stage.
Here the Baggies boss showed his skill and craft as the coach of a squad of basic players – something that will come in very handy with the England national team providing the players’ egos allow them to take on board what he’s saying. He pinpointed QPR’s narrow, deep lying midfield three as a potential weakness and played around it with Jerome Thomas and overlapping full back Billy Jones giving Taye Taiwo a torrid time down one flank and Chris Brunt doing likewise to Nedum Onuoha down the other. Help from Diakite, Barton and Derry was in short supply with surging runs from Dorrans and Mulumbu keeping them occupied along with Peter Odemwingie who spent the entire game running backwards and forwards in an arc around the top of the penalty box hunting for space behind Fortune the lone striker. It was a tactical masterclass, in stark contrast to the narrow attack Spurs had deployed a week beforehand that Rangers had easily stifled in a 1-0 home win. Those who still believe Harry Redknapp was a better bet than Hodgson for the England job – and I may still be in that camp myself – should watch tapes of those two games.
That all said, Rangers still should have won. Hodgson would do well to persuade Ben Foster there is a future for him in the national squad as soon as possible, and Mark Hughes should have the loaned Birmingham keeper somewhere near the top of his summer shopping list, because the former Man Utd stopper was in flying form here. He denied Bobby Zamora twice in one on one situations in the first half and the former Fulham striker should also have scored with a free header. After half time Zamora scuffed a presentable shot from eight yards out confirming it wasn’t his day.
Rangers are apparently looking for a replacement keeper this summer with Paddy Kenny tipped to join Leeds, and perhaps Graham Dorrans’ winning goal here is one of the reasons Hughes has made that a priority. The Scottish midfielder’s shot midway through the first half was undoubtedly well struck, and he had time and space to pick his spot after the Baggies again outnumbered Rangers in a wide area before working back infield, but Kenny had a clear sight of the ball and appeared to get two hands to it as it flew past him into the net.
A real shame Cisse was unavailable for this one because Rangers lacked sufficient invention and threat in the final third to secure a point they deserved.
Scores >>> QPR performance 6/10 >>> West Brom performance 7/10 >>> Referee performance 8/10
In the stand
Now, the Hawthorns has never been my favourite ground to visit.
For a start it’s sandwiched between a railway line and two motorways on a dual carriageway that runs through an industrial estate. The whole surrounding area smells of cheap meat being fried and the stale sweat of fat men. Pubs you’d want to frequent within a 20 mile radius of here can be counted on the fingers of one hand and considering that if you drive to the game you’re likely to spend up to two hours of the pre-match sitting in traffic perhaps potential landlords have long since realised the area is a dead loss. I still recall how angry West Midlands Police were after our 3-3 draw here during John Gregory’s time when we returned to the car we’d abandoned on the hard shoulder of the M6 ten minutes before kickoff under the oft-repeated LoftforWords’ mantra of “it’ll probably be alright.”
My first experience of this place was shortly after our Premiership relegation when, despite an enterprising performance across the first 60 minutes and typically well executed John Spencer goal, Rangers contrived to lose 4-1. For reasons known only to himself my father decided to spend most of the final half an hour of that game hurling very loud, very obscene abuse at Baggies’ striker Paul Peschisolido based around a running theme of his sexual conduct with his wife Karen Brady. I sense there might have been a little jealously of the Canadian forward on dad’s part, although if there was I can’t see how screaming stuff about the respective size of their cocks for half an hour was going to turn the two domestic situations around in his favour. I learnt words for parts of the female anatomy that day that I’d never heard before or since. Quite an extreme fellow my father at times.
By the time we returned, Ray Harford had walked out on West Brom to join QPR and replace Stewart Houston, infamously getting the QPR job on the strength of a post match conversation with our then chairman Chris Wright that included a promise that if he had Spencer, Mike Sheron and Kevin Gallen to select from Harford would get QPR promoted with his eyes closed. He left West Brom when they were in the top two of the First Division, and as he never signed a proper contract there he left hurriedly and with no compensation changing hands. Our first subsequent visit there was evil, with the Baggies fans somehow mistaking their QPR counterparts in the away end as having anything to do with the appointment of Ray Harford and therefore worthy of an afternoon of abuse and gratuitous violence.
I’ve never really liked West Brom since then, and was somewhat disappointed when, two years on, QPR stuck the cue on the rack in an end of season game at Loftus Road and allowed Gary Megson’s side to escape with a point from a 0-0 draw that ultimately kept them up at likeable Walsall’s expense a week later.
These days though, it’s hard not to admire a lot of what you find at The Hawthorns. We now know, of course, that a Baggies team with nothing to play for and a manager about to leave for the England job fought right to the end of a meaningless game (for them) at Bolton and secured a 2-2 draw from a 2-0 deficit that ultimately went a long way towards keeping QPR up. But even before that I found myself sitting in a traditional, well developed, atmospheric football stadium reading a programme article from West Brom’s director of football Dan Ashworth and wishing we’d had somebody like him at our club over the past few years. The general thrust of an article so long and rambling that it could have been published on LFW was that the difference between fourteenth and eighth in the Premiership means little but costs the earth to bridge and there was a discussion about how much West Brom wanted to risk to try and achieve it.
The programme itself is done out like some sort of strange chapter of the bible and is clearly a labour of love for somebody somewhere. It’s excellent, with a similar idea to this website that people are still capable of reading more than 250 words built around a Tweet from Wayne Rooney these days and there is a place somewhere for 4,500 word geeky football analysis and beer stories.
West Brom is a club that has not been afraid to you-yo between the top two divisions rather than break the bank to stay in the Premiership and is now reaping the benefits of that policy with a healthy balance sheet and attractive, competitive team. It’s also the club that intends to drop ticket prices across the board next season to attract more young fans and then, if that increases demand as they suspect, add to the capacity of what is already a very decent stadium indeed.
I’m growing to like them. Which makes me feel a bit wrong. They got the last laugh over Harford as well. Bastards.
Scores >>> QPR support 8/10 >>> Home support 7/10 >>> Overall atmosphere 7/10 >>>> Stadium 7/10 >>>> Police and stewards 6/10
On the train
I hold my hands up to only ever being in one fight in my life, and whether you’d even call me swinging a stool into the side of the school bully’s head after weeks of torment a fight or not I’m not sure. I’m not built for fighting, and I’ve never been angry enough with anybody to start one even if I thought I could win. Unless my opponent was an eight year old girl chances are I wouldn’t succeed, and even if I did it would probably be a points decision.
People who go to football to fight I understand even less. Admittedly at Norwich City this season I did, to my eternal discredit and considerable embarrassment when Norwich scored again a moment later, climb across three friends to hang over the dividing line between the away end and the home fans to our left to celebrate Luke Young’s goal by screaming in the faces of any yellow-clad carrot crunchers I could get near to. But then I’ve grown to dislike Norwich recently so I sort of have an excuse and had any of them decided to give me a slap for it I’m sure they would have been able to shut me up and floor me very swiftly indeed. Or, more likely, I’d have run away.
It seems to me that a couple of decades ago lots of people only really went to football if you fancied some aggro. The idea that the lift in the building I work at in Shoreditch would be constantly filled with plumy voiced knobs in ridiculous hats talking about the “footy” at the weekend was a foreign one. Get invited to some middle classed ponse’s dinner party these days and they can’t wait to discuss the latest goings on at “The Chels” whereas 20 years ago you’d have been better off traipsing dog shit through the shag pile than bringing up the weekend’s action from the Barclays First Division over the sorbet course.
Those who enjoyed a tear up or three back then now write books about the time West Ham had 250 but they still “got run” by 50 Millwall that are read by God knows who and made into films like Green Street that are enjoyed by the missing links in the evolution process. But one or two still remain.
I’m not sure what made the Neanderthal, pug faced, fat chump on the 1837 from Snow Hill to Marylebone after this game think we were QPR fans, or indeed football fans at all. Our group had been reduced to three by this point – Neil, his other half Cez and I – and none of us were wearing colours, reading a match programme, talking about football or giving any indication that we wanted to engage anybody else in fighting, conversation or anything else. In fact the three of us were sitting drinking beer quietly while Neil continued his persistent attempts to embroil me in the new mobile phone craze that is Draw It – and received various cock pictures back as a reward.
But anyway he decided, as he heaved his substantial gut back from its latest wring out in the toilet, that we were not only QPR fans but frightfully interested in what he had to say and potential fighting opponents as well. “Ha ha 1-0 you fucking tramps,” he said as he walked past, and again I stress that with no QPR colours, programmes or discussion around our table I can only deduce that as well as being an absolute bell end he was also a psychic.
We ignored him, so he returned to his table and loudly announced to his other friend yet to develop opposable thumbs that the “fucking tramps” further down the carriage “fucking wanted it.” There followed an awkward ten minutes where we were repeatedly branded “fucking tramps” by two fat old blokes sitting half a carriage away, and they were berated by their wives sitting opposite them. This was half disturbing and half hilarious.
“Oim not cumming to the Baggayes wiv yow any mower if this is how yower gowin to behaive,” one of them women said when it was mercifully their turn to get off at Leamington. “Yow down’t even now that thowse power people are QPR fans and this is the second toime we’ve had this from yow todaiy.”
Suitably chastened he cut a beleaguered figure as he trooped across the platform at Leamington with his tale between his legs. A night in the spare room beckoned for sure. He stopped briefly at the top of the stairs for a glance back at the scene of his misbehaviour where, to our discredit, we’d decided that the distance and imminent departure time were enough for Neil and I to make a wanker gesture at him.
Imagine a mushroom cloud.
Well fortunately, for once, LFW’s luck held and the train did indeed depart. I did fear we may have timed our gesture too early, or in the grand tradition of this website the train would immediately burst into flames and we’d have to get out onto the platform where our lobotomised friend would be waiting for us. But we pulled slowly away as he was dragged – red of face, gnashing his teeth and waving his arms – off down the stairs by his poor wife.
Like I say, I don’t understand the mentality.
For the record, we travelled for £5 return each. Why anybody would use Virgin from Euston when Chiltern from Marylebone are almost now paying you to come on their trains is also puzzling to me.
Scores >>> Journey 3/10 >>> Cost 10/10
In the pub
One thing I do miss from my local newspaper days is the chance to cover court cases. I could happily wile away days at a time on the press benches of any crown court in the land, watching the dregs of society come and go.
One of my favourites was the large, black, dreadlocked man at Northampton Crown Court who, upon discovering he’d been sent down for three months at Milton Keynes Prison, slapped his fingers together in the air in the direction of the elderly white haired judge and exclaimed: “Awwww man, Milton Keynes is a shit arse town.” Funny, and not only because he seemed to be missing the fact he’d see little of Milton Keynes while he was there.
Or how about the Sheffield-based rocket scientist who decided to pay for his smack habit by stealing a very large edge-strimmer from the city’s Homebase store? Not exactly something you could smuggle out under your jacket needless to say, and pretty obvious to the security staff who gave chase to him across the car park. Upon reaching the wall at the far end our hero leapt over it, down a ten foot drop and into the river which then enters a very low tunnel and runs for some ten miles under the city centre and railway station. The defendant, according to the witness statements from the security guards, walked through the thigh-high water carrying the strimmer over his head with both hands and entered the tunnel. Aware that he would either have to come back out at some point; or freeze to death; or complete an unlikely ten mile journey through a three-foot high, pitch black, water filled, tunnel under Sheffield the security staff waited by the wall for a couple of hours. When, inevitably, the man emerged he shamelessly yelled up to the men watching him (by now joined by two police officers) “look what I found.” Credit to him, he stuck to that defence in court as well. Guilty.
Or perhaps you prefer the tale of one Victoria Sapphire who appeared in front of a notoriously hardline old judge while I was idling away time waiting for the case I’d actually been sent to cover. For several hours between cases Miss Saphire’s representation pleaded with the Judge not to call her client because she was in no fit state to stand trial but it was all to no avail. “We’re here to do business,” he said, and demanded the defendant by brought before him. In she came - laden with chains, trinkets and clothing made of purple mesh with hair that looked like it had been dragged out of a vacuum cleaner bag – and promptly stood on the chair in the dock and looked over the glass at the courtroom.
“Is your name Victoria Sapphire?” asked the clerk.
“No,” she replied, prompting a stunned silence. In all my years in court I’ve never known anybody say “no” to the name question and judging by the panic it caused, perhaps people should try it more often.
“Well, what is it then,” blustered our judge.
“Well isn’t that the big question?” wailed Miss Saphire, waving her arms mysteriously in the air and shaking her breasts in the judge’s direction. She then promptly passed out, falling the not inconsiderable height from the chair into the well of the dock causing absolute uproar in the courtroom. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. The judge was furious.
The problem is quite often these lunatics get let out. When they do they invariably head straight to the nearest pub, get absolutely rat arsed, and then do something else stupid which results in another appointment with me and the judge in three months time. For that reason pubs next to law courts are best avoided, but as this was Saturday we decided to chance our arm with The Crown right in the heart of Birmingham’s legal district and then jump on the tram up to The Hawthorns from Snow Hill.
You can probably tell, as I’ve filled this section with old court stories, that there wasn’t much to say about the place. The food was edible, the beer was cold, they had two Sky boxes so we could watch both the Liverpool v Everton semi final and Norwich v Man City massacre and it was only five minutes from the train station. It was fine, and reasonably cheap.
Scores >>> Pubs 6/10 >>> Atmosphere 6/10 >>> Food 6/10 >>>> Cost 7/10
Pictures – Action Images
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