Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Boxing Day outing to Loftus Road

Staying in Bethnal Green over Christmas, and hosted by a Leyton Orient fan who had decided that a 1pm away kick-off in Brighton (at the unappealing Withdean Stadium) was too much for Boxing Day, we instead found ourselves proceeding down the Central Line in search of alternative football entertainment. White City it was, then: the nearest tube stop to Queen's Park Rangers' famous Loftus Road ground. The assignment was a Championship match pitting QPR against Bristol City (also poised tantalisingly outside the play-off zone, with both sides eyeing the ultimate prize: a Premier League spot).

The ground itself is pleasantly comfortable, if archetypally boxy. A not-insubstantial thirty quid purchased seats with a great site-line at the corner of the ground. The tea was the best I've tasted at a football match for some time -- though the cheese and onion pasty is better passed over. Unusually, the PA system was crystal clear (if a bit deafening when music was booming out of the speakers), and the ground also boasts video replay screens. Not one for hard-line puritans and purists, I guess; but, for me, a welcome bonus.

To the game itself. The first fifteen minutes were tentative and lacking in shape and quality. Then things took off, with both sides making penetrating runs and developing a fast passing game. On the half hour QPR took the lead after Fitz Hall (who rejoices in the nickname 'One Size') crossed in for Jay Simpson to score with a sweet strike after an uncertain first touch. The home side were in the ascendancy now, and nine minutes letter added a second goal from Mikele Leigertwood, with a well curved twenty yarder.

Following the break, QPR started to lose the plot. Some 12 minutes into the second period Bristol City's Nicky Maynard pulled one back for the visitors with a stunning strike -- surely the goal of the day. Gratifyingly, the Rangers fans around me responded with generous applause. Who says good grace has gone out of the game altogether? City had now found their pace and continued to torment their opponents until QPR's new manager Paul Hart (this was his first home game) decided to shut up shop, bringing on two left backs and throwing six across the back.

The home fans reacted with fury, throwing "You don't know what you're doing" and "We're supposed to be at home" back at the gaffer. The last quarter of an hour was full of tension, as the Robins pressed forward and QPR looked uneasy on the back foot. After a torrid time at Premier League basement side Portsmouth, and inheriting a Rangers team with big ambitions but no wins in five games, it seems that Hart was desperate for victory. And that he achieved, if only to leave the field with louder boos than cheers ringing in his ears. Queens Park Rangers fans want positive football as well as positive results, it seems. (However, their subsequent attempt to combine both ended up with a 3-0 thumping at Ipswich, so they may have to adjust their expectations).

Altogether this was a good, if not cheap, day out for the neutral observer. For me it was also the second time I'd watched a side with "Queens" and "Park" in their name inside ten days. One for the curiosity file, that.

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