COME FRIENDLY BOMBS, FALL ON SHEPHERD'S BUSH
Mickey Blue Eyes
Saturday, up at 6 a.m. Queens Park Rangers, away, west London.
At this time of year the light always seems better, more intense, more evocative. This is best in the hour before sunrise when you get that unmatchable combination of dark blue through lightening blue. Then again, I'm as colour biased as the next citizen. I have never liked red, not even on fellow socialists. On the journey down you began to feel you would rather be in suburban Damascus than in sadly misnamed Shepherd's Bush. It was overcast and slightly raining, but hoho we made a laugh of it anyway......as we always do. And, oh joy, winter temperatures continue to fade, Spring upon us. A continuing resurgent Everton would be nice too.
By the time we arrived the weather had cleared to a bright and gloriously sunny day despite London's notorious carbon monoxide emissions and traditional lack of friendly faces. It doesn't do to expect much from locals there, then you won't be disappointed. It has always been a curiously disconnected place with little social warmth or welcome; there's a scarcity of decent bars in Shepherd's Bush too. After a fifteen minute walk we ended up in a dark and dingy overcrowded Walkabout where it cost £11-odd for three pints of lager that tasted like a compound of parrot droppings and yak piss. Of course the place was packed with Evertonians at ground floor and first floor levels cheering at a large screen showing the pinkies lose to Arsenal. After the usual round of comedy footy chat I couldn't wait to get out into the fresh carbon monoxide.
But footy can be a cruel hobby, as we all know. In this case the fixture revived uncomfortable memories of an infamous display at home on the first day of this season when we lost wretchedly but deservedly to the same modest opponents. Nor was the prospect helped much by the thought of their latest manager, Mark Hughes, a fractious figure much disliked by Evertonians since his devious rôle in the Joleon Lescott transfer. The last time I was at the same ground was a losing Cup replay with Fulham which had featured us running in circles and an unearned last minute equaliser by The Ears. The omens weren't good.
Since last August QPR are nominally owned by somebody named Tony Fernandes, the latest in a quick-shuffling line of foreign philanthropic (did you see what I did there?) millionaire proprietors since administration in 2001. A series of mysterious or seedy background figures flitted in and out of the club in succeeding years, each hailed as a "saviour," each gone as quickly as he arrived. Nevertheless, they finally managed promotion last season under Neil Warnock - then sacked him in January. Mark Hughes succeeded him, the most recent of ten managers since 2007. Their supporters, bedrock of the game, must suffer badly from tennis neck after all that lateral movement.
Oddly enough, Hoops (for it is they) fans haven't joined the small but frantic queue of ubiquitous footy marchers able only to try change through loathing. Maybe they realise the sport's problems run at a much deeper level than sterile hate or paranoid fear of a bad result or a trophyless season. Or maybe they just don't want to look and sound like big-mouthed thugs with too much spare time. If so, all praise to them. To their great credit ten years ago they formed a first rate, articulate independent supporters trust in response to club financial difficulties. Since then they've had to contend with huge hikes in ticket prices to add to all the other woes: we all live in "interesting" football times. And we pay through the nose for it. In this case, ticket prices way in excess of ours at the Old Lady. Loftus Road Stadium has eighteen corporate boxes. Goodison Park has ten. I show you the times.
In fact - and there's really no other way to say this - Loftus Road Stadium is a shit hole, inside and out. It doesn't help when it's overlooked by several blocks of old tenaments the likes of which were demolished in Liverpool a generation ago (think Gerrard Gardens). Or that the immediate area is dominated by BBC White City, a grey metallic building so badly covered in brise soleil and general ugliness you are tempted to think it must have been designed by a Brit or German structural engineer, not an architect. Like ours the stadium is coated in ugly cheap industrial wrinkly tin cladding.
Inside, in the upper tier goal stand where we were, the concourse is lethally narrow, the toilets horrible and without wash basins or hand dryers, the seats knee-space is plainly formed for dwarfs, and the sight-lines are execrable. If you think the Old Lady obstructed views are bad, they're nothing compared to this lot. In our case a steel crowd control barrier was right across the sight line to the goal, where, just to add to necessary gymnastics, two stewards were stationed despite requests to 'Scuse Me La, Please Fuck Off Will Yer, I Can't See, Yer Daft Cunt. Needless to say this resulted in sudden appearance of the Met's Finest, but nobody offered them brown envelopes. Times is hard, like, and none of us work for the Murdochs.
Across the way from us, a section of home fans included a guy dressed in what looked like Rupert the Bear fancy dress, waving - I shit you not - an old style revolving rattle. Of course he was a gift from the banter gods and was verbally slaughtered until in the end he removed the bear head to expose a flushed middle age face topped with grey hair. This again resulted in a squadron of stern faced bizzies who plainly took exception to the disgraceful repeated Evertonian yelled chorus of, "Peedo! Peedo! Peedoooo!." Later, someone behind me reacted to a surge of outrage among nearby home fans with the thoughtful observation, "They look like a cage of angry fluffy hamsters." Oh how we larfed.
Teams. For us: no Gibbo, out injured for a few weeks, Phil back to plug the gap at centre mid. For them: their only real threats, Bobby Zamora and Joey Barton from Huyton. They were in desperate relegation straits and we hadn't had a game for two weeks. Things might get hectic.
For the first ten minutes we gave them a right pasting possession-wise and Tim Cahill hit the bar with a first class left-foot hooked shot from the centre of the penalty area. We then fell back into the old routine of ineffectual possession football, our biggest threat being the magical combination of Pienaar and Bainsey down our left and Royston's unflinching, erratic charges at the enemy defence. Alas, Denis was almost anonymous throughout, though early on Felli got up front and helped out. Nevertheless, the enemy still plugged away and got some possession back, sometimes through our own comically bad passing. Clearly, Gibbo's steady contribution and forward construction were badly missed. Early on Rangers got a free kick through sloppy combo play from Felli and Johnny and a lousy, mistimed tackle from Sylvain, and Tim had to make a superb low right save from an excellent free kick from centre D. It was a warning ignored.
After twenty five minutes Royston raced through the middle in typical fashion and swung his left foot at the ball. It zoomed unerringly into the middle of the upper tier, the second such attempt. I said, "Christ, his next one is just as likely to scream in." Five minutes later Felli won a tackle in their half centre right mid and laid it slightly left to Pienaar - where the hell did he come from? - who promptly did the same for an eager Royston. There he was advancing quickly, twenty odd metres out, central. You knew what he was going to do, and he did it. Another left foot shot. This one got no more than waist high. As at Fulham, it swerved out-to-in, but this time bounced to deadly affect just before it reached their 'keeper and bulleted home. Royston promptly ran straight over to the dugout and right past Moyesy into the loving arms of the bench; uh oh, what's that all about? Storming goal, though.
Typically, five minutes after that we let in a stupid equaliser. They made an innocuous raid down our right and got a throw-in near the corner flag. From it, their man muddled the ball past Royston, back "defending," and our scorer needlessly dropped him for his pains. The free kick came swerving into the near post where Our Boys were noticeable only for their absence and Zamora butted it down and in from the edge of the goal area. Bad goal, but fairly squared the game. A few minutes later the Rangers 'keeper hoofed a kick down our right while everyone hurried back to defend. With no real option their man looped a hit-and-hope long, bouncing cross-shot to the far post, which it hit and came out, got scrambled to our right, got pulled back into the middle...where their man hit the other post from point blank range. Tough shit, but c'est la guerre. Or, as a nearby grinning Evertonian opined, "Thanks, knob head." It's a ruthless game is footy.
The second half didn't have much to commend it. Most of the play was in our half but the home side never looked likely, and of the two chances they had one was gifted by more sloppy play from our centre defence/mids. We obviously missed Gibbo a good deal more than this fan thought we would - his continued absence might prove decisive for the remainder of the season. In the end a draw was a fair result.
For us, greatest second half interest centred on our substitutions and returnees. Ozzy and Jelly came on for Royston and Tim Cahill on the hour mark, Seamus came on for Denis in the closing minutes. All of them did reasonably well in limited circumstances, but you couldn't judge Jelly on this one despite a couple of promising shimmies that almost got him clean through. We live in hope. I still think European qualification is beyond us and the FA Cup a distant dream. We'll see.