I’m looking at this dudes face, he’s only about twelve inches away from my face and we are close together. He is uncomfortable because I’m uncomfortable at our proximity to each other and I think he’s trying not to look me in the eye and I’m trying to ease myself into the idea….I’m two hundred foot underground on a hurtling fast underground train that stinks of many people, It’s hot. He’s picking up that screaming claustrophobic vibe I’m giving off and he’s not happy but he can’t move any where. I’m smiling like a lunatic because I don’t know what else to do with my face. I can’t do the blank London look, disinterested and slack, emotionless. Horace says all the skin and hair that collects on the rails is cleaned every night so conductivity on the rails is maximised. Skin and hair. Nobody speaks. Everybody is locked into some sort of London silence. The train is rocking from side to side and I look out of the window instead of this dudes face and all I see is mine, yellow tungsten, ghostly, smiling and sick. Trepidation. A young woman walks past me and all she has on is a pair of black knickers and fishnet stockings but there’s a place for that and in my football addled mind that place was not here.
Fucking London. The thing is…it was bound to happen wasn’t it? Of course the hangover from Manchester was a pumper, one of those bone deep hurting ones and it was accompanied by that Cider Gollum of the West Country Ian Holloway himself, a man that epitomises the tight knot in your shoelaces you can’t tease apart. It hurts your fingernails, frustration, complication, exasperation. The train screams and squeaks to a halt at Shepherds Bush tube station and I imagine for a moment that’s exactly what the toilet in the Holloway household sounds like when he’s having a shit. His team today played the same way, they set the teeth on edge. They played with no breath, they played like a grumbling chest infection. Hemorrhoid Holloway is sitting on my chest at that moment like a Limestone Gargoyle all dripping tongue and heavy, eyes like pissholes in the snow, his little bald head nodding. Ugh, plop, Holloway evacuates a bitter little turd into the bowl, another QPR goal.
I would love to say that they played the same strange bitter football as the Cardiffs and the Prestons but it wasn’t like that at all. QPR were a poor team and it was obvious that they deserved (in part) their mid table groove. They were a rag tag bunch of weirdos for sure. A number nine that had a fatter arse than the one that pressed into my face a few times on the tube as it rocked around. Some massive tool they lumped on at half time who looked eight foot tall. Well he wasn’t going to jink around the pitch like a beautiful footballer was he? Boom. The ball was incessantly lumped towards his head at every opportunity. QPRs ideas weren’t stronger than ours today they were louder. The contrast between the two sides was dysfunction in our team, an off day, a day off, a Sunday morning kick about. I think instead of the beauty of Neves and the grit of Saiss (who had a right mardy face most of the match) I suspect a pairing of N’Diaye and Price might have been more effective. It was a snotty game they would have excelled in for sure (maybe). One scans the mind for answers as we watch and the songs get quieter and the shuffling of feet is a thing.
QPR definitely rocked and creaked like those underground trains. They rocked of course our team who were in some sort of netherworld between Manchester and Cardiff. We were trapped. We were trapped in the idea of our ethos, trapped in a ground so strange I was amazed. The tube, the ground, the vibe was tight and cramped. Our team was inherently so affected by this environment their football mimicked the pyschogeography of the whole Shepherds Bush and London thing. It was edgy and dysfunctional, not massively cool and trendy. Fumbleball on many occasions. The play erupted in a game of head ping pong again and I could hear the ‘bleep bleep’ of the Atari every time it happened. I kept shuffling my feet and closing my eyes trying to ‘will’ a game of football to happen, but alas, again.
Did we not expect this? Certainly on the train down as I watched the countryside whizz past there was a feeling I admit, of trepidation. I knew two halves of a team would be glued together today.The histrionics of the dynamic gritty ‘put a shift in’ hero team from the Eat-Ya-Head stadium hastily welded to the bread and butter pudding sexiness of Neves and Jota et al. But I wondered whether it would come off. Yes, our ideas were definitely stronger than QPR’s today but the ‘Idea’ was in fact a number of ideas. It was a Venn diagram that was just random circles scrawled on the paper. Nothing overlapped. All separate and all brilliant in their own way but individual skills on the pitch were lone voices and had words that just fell to their feet like the carcass of a dead pigeon. Like the emotionless stares of the cops in contrast to the happy smiling ground staff at the QPR ground.
All our disparate ideas were infinitely better than Hollowayball. All much better on paper but there were too many and not one strong theme throughout the team today. Ideas flowed everywhere of course. They were sublime and intensely sexual passes we have come to admire and wax lyrical over. There was a fucking basket full of them from all members of our team. I dare say they were all great dynamic ideas…but every one of our team today had their own personal ones. Eleven great fucking ideas when there should have been one unifying theme. I suspect minds were left in Manchester a few times. Those ideas as strong as they were failed to weld with technique and intent, failed to connect with each other. Bonatini scores from a forensic display of clockwork beautiful play. Click, click boom. The sky opens out, there is beauty there is hope, there is a breath of wind after that goal and I breathe deep, my lungs open up, it’s inhaler time, the vapours of the Bonatini skill set opening those closed air passages for a moment, before it’s snatched away again
Even Jota on a few occasions seemed cramped. His football was stifled by the closeness of the QPR body that was assigned to be his nemesis today. He got away a few times, made some fine chances but he knew that this match today was going to be one of them. Tube train match. Close and warm. Echoed by the strange ground which was close and small. Nuno paced the ‘technical area’ as big as a toilet on a train. Every time he wanted to physically display his frustration at the team he was penned in by the press of bodies around him. That dashed line around our dugout was too small to allow him space to breathe. Nuno had a straitjacket on.No more the air and freshness of Molineux, this place was a tomb. The light that fell on the ground was close and yellow, there was no wind, no freedom and no real intent. I suspect he knew we were lost before a ball was kicked. And there’s the idea of the day. We were crushed by expectation I suppose. Crushed by the negative potentials of the Holloway vibe and a QPR team that were quite happy to play their world cup game against us. Every ball they played fell in just the right place. Every knocked on ball fell at the feet of a QPR body. Just the right foot to place a weird eccentric pass that would fall perfectly at the feet of their player who, in shock, would place it at the foot of another player before the ball once again flew into the air for ten minutes of ping pong football. We look to the football Gods who have smiled on Holloway today and say is this what you wish? Is this what is rewarded? This itchy groin football, this erratic tumbling dysfunction? Is this what you want? Have we not suffered enough?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Holloway said get that ball in the air a lot. We had no real answer to the pinging of the ball through the air. A pass that erupted into the air as it bypassed our midfield was given 2-1 odds that it would fall to a QPR player for a chance of another pass and another chance for them. We played the ball at our feet where we like it, where we know the strengths of our team lie but their idea as glaring and discordant as it is, was a lot fucking louder than ours. It was scruffy horrible crap. The Holloway doctrine of piece by piece A4 photocopied sheets of football tactics 101 were blowing around the pitch like confetti and we had no real answer to any of it. Matt Doherty at one point looked dumbfounded by it all, confused maybe but definitely pissed off. The very name Holloway reverberated around my mind as I stood in the stand watching. Hollow Way. Yes. Definitely that. Cavaleiro jumped into the air from a tackle that never was trying to get a penalty. As he sat in the box arms outstretched to the Ref in disbelief I reckoned the drama was to be a sad one.
Definitely one of those games when it failed to spark for us. The pitch and ground was small, like Holloways head. It impinged into the consciousness for sure. It was intense and negative, asthmatic at times, stuffy, wrong coat football for sure. Of course when we do get the idea right and the team do lock into some sort of comradely skill set we would have done them all day. Again we fall to a team that have all the imagination of a filthy subway wall and how many times has that happened this season? It’s not that we aren’t exotic and dynamic, it’s that again the psychology of the drudgeball tactic epitomised by Holloway and his ilk is one which we have no real answer for. Play football and we can win against any body, we just played Manchester City one of the best teams in Europe, had them on the back foot, we were dynamic and beautiful but today that beauty was stifled once again. We can’t beat teams with no ideas. We have no answer to the negativity of the Sam Scrotum school of skirmishing football and that bothers me more than watching us play brilliantly and losing. Our ideas are stronger, our ideas are loftier, our ideas are forged in beautiful football. But when faced with this ungainly football with tactics with as much depth and gravity as a fart on a hot tube train we have little answer.
Before the game me and Horace stood for a while on the opposite side of the road to the QPR mobs favourite pub. We watched as their fellas stood outside with their beers looking menacing and angry. Phones pressed to their ears. Expensive coats, expensive drinks, inexpensive violent ideas. I half felt like just running in and throwing stuff about, even thought about just going in and ordering a drink, turning around at the bar and smiling at the ugly faces that would of course be looking straight back at you.I would have raised my glass and winked at the ugliest among them. Of course we never did. We just laughed and annoyed them a little.
Today, QPR did just that. Annoyed us a bit, winked, and we fucked off back to Wolvo grumbling and moaning. Holloway would go back to his perch on some Cathedral ledge, settling himself down amongst the pigeon shit, looking down at the people below cackling at doing us over again.
Our ideas are stronger, our team is stronger, our Coach is stronger but sometimes the numbness does bite and effect. The whole environment today was one of numbness, it was a hangover. A limpid display of idea in it’s most abstract form when it failed to ignite from the simple words and names on a team sheet to a coherent and dynamic display on the day. We will have them in the future of course. These games will come and go as we plough on through the season. It’s trench warfare, hand to hand combat sometimes. It’s cleaning a drain out, it’s getting the limescale off the toilet enamel. Our team have to realise that sometimes we have to be louder than the other team, we have to impress our ideas with volume and intent. We have to stop letting other teams scar the beautiful landscape of our football with negativity and depression.
Kwan is all powerful, but it needs room to flow and this closeness and lack of air that permeates London was an anathema to Kwan. The negativity of Londoness was too powerful for the flow to erupt onto this particular stage and yes the Kwan was stifled by skin and hair on tracks, hooligans in their pub, me and Horace wishing we had a tin of old school gas to throw in and our laughter about this fell on to the dirty pavements. On the tube back I was numb but captivated by a very beautiful woman next to me but letting the key moments of the game play through my mind. Norwich next, Nuno will have answers to this conundrum and he will address them in a quiet thoughtful manner as befitting a great coach. It was not the worst of days. Are we not a pragmatic bunch? Are we not ever hopeful? We go on. Norwich next.