Saturday, 29 October 2011

behind enemy lines

this is my england recounts the frustration of hearing about a famous QPR victory from a foreign airport, speculates about the prospect of glory-hunting nouveau fans at Loftus Road and looks forward to watching tomorrow’s away match among the Spurs fans

QPR 1  Chelsea 0 – they don’t like it up ‘em

In the few days ahead of the recent west London derby, a gentleman rejoicing in the name ChelseaMick123 informed me via Twitter that he would be sitting in the Loft pissing himself laughing as his side put five goals past the Rangers. The Loft, for the uninitiated, is the home end of QPR’s compact stadium in Shepherds Bush. Away supporters like ChelseaMick123 are meant to be accommodated in the visitors’ section, known as the School End. 

Mick's prediction about the score turned out to have been just a tad optimistic. So his underwear presumably remained dry, with little amusement on offer to trigger the promised episode of urinary incontinence. It also transpired that Mick's ticket was for the School End, where he ended up sitting among fellow followers of a south-west London side whose discipline deserted them as they failed to come away from Loftus Road with a single point. Funny, that. I'm not sure how he formed the impression his seat was to be at the opposite end of the ground from where he actually ended up watching Chelsea's defeat. After all, he had seemed so sure that he'd be one of hundreds of Pensioners fans seated in the home areas of the ground. A quick and admittedly unscientific survey conducted among the habitués of We Are the Rangers Boys suggests that on this last point Mick was once again wide of the mark. WATRB regulars are adamant that away fans were conspicuous by their absence, other than in the School End. That said, one fellow, who sits (stands?) in the QPR ground's noisy R Block, reports the presence of two apparent away supporters who did not return to their seats after the half-time break.

By that time, of course, Heidar Helguson had been subjected to a clumsy shoulder barge by the hapless David Luiz and had slotted home the resulting penalty kick to register the game's only goal.

Unfortunately, I am not reporting any of this detail first-hand. As referee Chris Foy blew his whistle to end the first period of play, I was standing by a baggage carousel at an airport in the Middle East. 

You wait a decade-and-a-half for your team to meet your most detested rivals in a league fixture only for an unavoidable business trip to crop up, ensuring you don't even get to see it on telly. Buggeration.

As the suitcases made yet another circuit, I fired up the Blackberry and called for news of events at Loftus Road. Word of the Rangers' one-goal lead and of Chelsea's two red cards caused a reaction of disbelief and joy. On the cab ride away from that airport, however, I remained nervous, not daring to be confident of a QPR victory even with the two-man advantage. This apprehension was justified, it seems, with all post-match punditry converging on the idea that numerically handicapped Chelsea looked the more threatening side during the second half of the match.

Another matter on which most pundits seemed to agree was the correctness of Foy's game-changing decisions, namely that penalty and the two Chelsea dismissals. Analysing the game on Match of the Day 2, Lee Dixon felt that the penalty was entirely justified, even if Helguson had been a bit "clever" about the manner in which he drew the foul. Dixon remarked that Foy had "quite a good game" and was in no doubt about the marginally more contentious of the sendings-off. Sulky QPR playmaker Adel Taarabt, doubtless still ticked off about Helguson having taken the penalty instead of him, nutmegged the defensively very suspect David Luiz, thereby releasing the ball to a rampaging Shaun Wright-Phillips. The diminutive wide man was then tugged to the ground by Chelsea fullback José Bosingwa. The Portuguese, judged by the official to be the last man back, received his marching orders for denying Wright-Phillips a goal scoring opportunity. Pensioners skipper John Terry failed to make the case that he had been in a covering position. In the MOTD2 studio, Dixon was adamant that the England captain would never have been able to prevent the QPR winger from shooting so felt sure that the red card was spot on. Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail allowed himself to concede this was "probably right". Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph similarly writes in terms of a "justifiable straight red card" for the Portuguese international.

Of Didier Drogba’s dismissal for a two-footed lunge on Taarabt, there seems to be near-universal agreement that Foy made the right call. Mark Irwin of The Sun described the challenge as "brainless".

Not all match reports spare QPR from the accusations made by Chelsea manager André Villas-Boas, namely that the referee’s decisions lacked consistency. Dominic Fifield of The Guardian, for example, suggested that the penalty award was on the soft side, setting a tone that would have justified similar decisions for an apparent foul by Fitz Hall on Frank Lampard and a Helguson "grapple" with that man David Luiz. That said, Messrs. Dixon and Hansen declined to make anything of either incident on MOTD2. Hansen, always a harsh critic of dodgy defending, instead had much to say about the wayward performance of the man who gave away that crucial first half spot kick.

What next for the Pensioners?

Chelsea supremo André Villas-Boas did not take any of this in good heart. His post-match accusations about the referee must surely draw some form of punishment and it was interesting to see cracks in the young Portuguese manager’s supposedly cool demeanour.

Just as it was with José Mourinho, his predecessor in the Stamford Bridge hot seat, we have been sold the image of a suave, articulate, sophisticated and unflappable continental coach who will offer something superior to the huff and puff of English football. As with Mourinho, it has similarly not taken long for the pressures of the Premier League to pose a real test for the ability of Villas-Boas to maintain that kind of facade. Just nine games into the season, dogged underdogs QPR, assisted by a raucous and hostile home crowd, had the Chelsea manager and his players nicely rattled. Young Villas-Boas lost his cool and his team lost their discipline.

I am inclined to wonder about the wisdom of the Portuguese coach’s appointment. Consider his track record in his native country – a single season steering a relegation-threatened team to mid-table security; then a single season rich with honours at F.C. Porto, who picked up the league title and UEFA Cup. But of these two achievements, how big a deal is the latter? The club from Portugal’s second city have bagged the title in eight of the last ten seasons. So the success on which Chelsea presumably based their choice of manager is a bit like winning the Scottish title with Rangers or Celtic. So, Andre, you won the league at the helm of the perennial champions? The best-resourced and best-run of the clubs in the league? Very nice, but have you ever pulled off anything more difficult? Although there has been talk of Abramovich having finally found a manager who will be around for a long time, I don’t find it hard to imagine Chelsea finishing fourth or fifth in the league, thereby disappointing the Russian oligarch and causing him to look around for yet another team boss.

Other Premier League teams will have watched this match and cannot fail to have noticed that Chelsea can be unsettled if events do not turn in their favour. It is to be hoped that other opponents will be able to capitalise on the Pensioners’ collective suspect temperament. As it stands, one such opposing team has already got the better of Chelsea since last Sunday’s defeat at Loftus Road – today, Arsenal have twice come back from behind to beat the Blues 5-3 at Stamford Bridge. Let’s see whether Villas-Boas manages to maintain his composure this week. 

Regarding the other kerfuffle around last week’s match, I will decline to comment for now. Maybe John Terry did racially abuse QPR defender Anton Ferdinand and maybe he didn’t. The tale seems quite tangled and I have a feeling that clarity will never be found. What is demonstrably true, though, is that Terry, like so many of his teammates, lost his cool during a difficult game. Photographs of him angrily confronting opposition players are numerous and friends who were at the match speak of him looking upset by the persistent and personal  nature of the barracking he received from the home crowd. 

QPR and the global game

At the end of my Middle East trip, I was sitting in the bar of my hotel, my tired brain slowly recovering from three long days of mentally draining work. I stared dully at a TV rerun of the Liverpool-Norwich stalemate. The friendly barman, a Filipino, I believe, informed me that he is now a Spurs supporter, having seemingly chosen his preferred team off the back of one of Tottenham's better performances last season.

When I informed the genial barkeep that I would soon be at White Hart Lane as an away supporter, he told me that he had never heard of QPR before the previous weekend's win over Chelsea. For faraway aficionados of Premier League football, it seems, clubs outside the top division simply don't exist. QPR, then, for so long banished to the English game's lower reaches, now have the opportunity to perform on a truly global stage for the first time. If this opportunity can be sustained for longer than a single season back in the top flight, and if the club continues to be well run by Tony Fernandes and Amit Bhatia, perhaps we will see Queens Park Rangers opening up significant revenue streams from overseas. If so, this is not likely to happen without side effects that old-school QPR supporters may find rather strange.

On a 2008 trip to Old Trafford for a League Cup tie, it was striking to observe how many Asians were among the home crowd. I don't mean Mancunians of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. I mean citizens of places such as Japan, Korea and Malaysia.

Last weekend's vanquished opponents, too, seem to have picked up a lot of foreign fans since the Abramovich takeover in June 2003. Consider these comments in broken English from a discussion thread at ('One place for all Chelsea FC fans around the globe') - site members were asked to say when they had started following the Blues:

  • "I was catching international football from 03-06 but new nothing about clubs, all the players i liked were in chelsea including cech, so i decided to become a Chelsea Supporter"
  • "fan since the facup 2007 final"
  • "since jose join chelsea it was 2004"
  • "since 2005, still remember the League Cup Liverpool VS Chelsea, 2-3, become ture blue"
  • "i started to support chelsea after i saw the champions league final. Chelsea vs man u. the blues played so great match but they lost. As john terry cryed so am i an fallen in to love with blues. And started hateing man u. It was my 1st live european match as well. Before that i never watch even one live match, at any lavel."
  • "Chelsea supporter from 2007 when we beat real 2:1 at Santiago bernabeu or at bridge dont know for sure that made my day and off course fa Cup against man u same year it made even more sweeter but shame we didn't win the league."
Will a wide variety of foreign fans be saying stuff like this about QPR one day? It's a strange thought. With progress comes change. But will we like all the changes?

Keeping schtum

Courtesy of someone who does a bit of work for Spurs, I will be among the home fans at White Hart Lane tomorrow, hoping for another unexpectedly good result for the R’s but wondering how I’ll manage to keep quiet if things do go our way. To do so would be imperative, not least because of events I observed on my last visit to Tottenham’s ground. 

Trailing behind QPR in distant second place, another football club has a place in my heart - Wisła Kraków was the side I used to watch fairly often during a longish stint working in Poland back in the nineties. Just over three years ago, the Kraków outfit played a UEFA Cup tie at White Hart Lane. I kept quiet when Wisła scored – and I was glad I did. In addition to the noisy Polish contingent belting out Jak Długo Na Wawelu in the away fans’ section, many more Poles were scattered around the north London ground. A small group near me leapt up when the visiting team got their goal. A handful of upset Spurs fans weighed in boots and fists, causing considerable damage to one particular young Pole. Stewards stood by, let it happen and then ejected the little group of Wisła fans, allowing the offending home supporters to get away with some fairly serious acts of violence. 

Forewarned, then, I think I am forearmed with the good sense to stay in stealth mode tomorrow, avoiding the kind of bravado that ChelseaMick123 was promising when he claimed to be heading behind enemy lines. It’ll be hard to take it easy if the Rangers pull off another famous victory, though. But that would be a nice kind of problem to have.


1 comment:

  1. Nice one! A good read. Stay away from wattb though. ;)