Previously published in Hard Gras number 69
Now that everything is over and Flavio is no longer allowed to stay among the pit cats, I can be honest: Loftus Road was initially missing from our wish list. When you go to London with your son to watch a football match, you do not immediately think of a duel between two mid-riders from the Championship.
Well before our trip Maurice (10) had already said it during Match of the Day : “Look there! Two empty seats! And there are three more! ” “There” was on Stamford Bridge, on White Hart Lane or at the Emirates Stadium. How could that void be? I had no idea, because I had been angling in vain for tickets for a long time.
You used to pick up the phone if you wanted to visit an English club game. Nowadays, in order to win tickets for Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal, you must first become a paying member. Now I had a few bucks left for such a membership, but what was the chance then? Arsenal: “Difficult to say, we usually get through our cards quickly.” Chelsea: “Our memberships are sold out. In open sales you can forget two places next to each other. ” Tottenham: “The chance is quite high, but never 100%.”
I was able to live with that ‘reasonable’ and two weeks after my last call a One Hotspur Lilywhite Welcome Pack for father and son fell on the mat, complete with Spurs DVD, pins and a club card. We wanted to go to the game against West Ham United, but sales for that game didn’t start until a month later and I could use some assurance in the meantime – the flight had to be booked.
On an unexpected neuron path, I then met Stan Bowles in the blue-white of Queens Park Rangers. Draft slats like shoe brushes, paint on everything and a player of the team that once almost snatched Liverpool the league title. How would QPR go?
Through Google I saw that the club from West London now muddled at the second-highest professional level, but had to play at home against Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday. Tickets proved no problem: three days after the online payment, tickets for seats No. 85 and 86, Block C, row L had been received.
Maurice, born in southern Spain, was content: he went to an English football match, in an English stadium, with English grass, English audience and English weather.
Loftus Road. Suspicions about fuzzy laundromats and dark car dealers arise as we mole train on the Central Line to White City. In any case, I hope the QPR stands are not in such an ugly industrial area as ManUnited ‘s Theater of Dreams . Without stars on the field, my son’s fun could quickly evaporate.
A Bobby armed with a smile and pepper spray shows us the way to the stadium, which fortunately turns out to be in a quiet residential area. We are two hours early, but by no means too late: a few steps away from the main entrance, the sidewalk of bar The Springbok ( QPR home supporters only) is full of beer-drinking men. Men? These are real blokes : milky white, bald heads; tattoos as replacement outerwear; here and there a tight stomach or complete teeth.
For the first time this trip, Maurice is allowed to enter an English pub. After about five minutes he looks at me sadly and says that he thinks it’s boring. And why had that grandma on tap say darling to me?
Time for a tree with my neighbor. He introduces himself with a clenched right fist, on which, in faded tattoo blue, MIK E. “How come we play so low?” Mike repeats my question. “They let everything run smoothly, but when we were one and a half leg in the grave, those Formula I guests parked in front of the stadium. We were suddenly filthy rich – we thought… ”
The ‘Formula 1 guests’ are racing magnate Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore (the discoverer of Fernando Alonso). On 3 September 2007, at the end of the wettest British summer since time immemorial, the two announced that they would take over the club plagued by debts and scandals. Shortly thereafter, steel king Lakshmi Mittal joined them by buying a 20% stake. And so QPR suddenly had a triumvirate with an estimated wealth of £ 50 billion.
“Weird,” says Mike, smiling affably. “A few years earlier, someone put a gun to the head of the then chairman and now our eyes darted back and forth from Flavio’s models in the grandstand to the players on the field.” He hiccups and sighs: “Meanwhile, the fans are really fed up. Take Abramovich at Chelsea, who came and immediately spent £ 100 million. Our owners want to obtain their PhD as soon as possible, but keep their hands on the money. That cannot go well. Six trainers have worn them out in 18 months. Six! Paulo Sousa was not a bad one, but he also had to make the case. ”
Sousa gone? I had made Maurice nice with that: “Okay, we don’t know the players, but Paulo Sousa used to win the Champions League with Juventus and Borussia Dortmund.”
Mike: “Fired three days ago. He would have leaked information, but the board has long passed the sieve in terms of leaks. Sousa was simply pissed that they rented out his top scorer to competitor Nottingham Forest. Would you hire your top scorer in the middle of the season? ”
After this rhetorical question, MIKE lands on my son’s shoulder and the owner wishes us a nice match. “Oh yes, if that Flavio has balls and appears today with that nice official woman of his, he can get a warm welcome… Why? He says he thinks it is ‘sexy’ to start at the bottom and take us to the Premier League, but he just wants to be in the front row for a tip… ”
A little dizzy from speech waterfall Mike we walk into a nearby snack bar. In a dense baking cloud there are four silent, heavily clouded men busy serving greasy bites. Aside from a miniscule QPR flag on the wall, this could have been a treat in Liverpool, Newcastle or Glasgow.
“Look,” I say outside again. “With such wooden forks, Dad used to prick war at NEC.”
Maurice shrugs. He thinks the fries are too fat, not to eat the ketchup. I already want to give a DatzoudenzeinAfrikamomorenh sermon, but smell the red stuff he is right.
At the neighbors, gambling tent William Hill, you can win £ 250 with 10 pounds if QPR wins 3-2 today. I prefer to spend something in the club shop and so we walk to the Loft Store near the stadium. The blue and white are also plenty of football merchandising, but there is not much interesting in between. Yes, in a fitting room hangs an original poster of the FA Cup-Final QPR – Spurs, which ended in a 1-1 draw on May 22, 1982 (QPR would lose the replay 0-1). A program then cost 80 pence, but the poster now has to yield £ 15.99 and even framed the quintuple.
QPR may have had a bad season, but the home and away shirts have been sold out for months. We can order a shirt for the next season (this time without the Arabic translation of main sponsor Gulf Air), but delivery will take another three months. With the QPR slogan on the clothing labels ( Keep the faith) in mind, we trudge along the shelves. In the end, Maurice opts for a Rangers hat and says that he is sickly sick.
Back in the fresh air we score the program magazine A Kick up the R ‘s with an alternative dressed teenage girl and with a boy in QPR-kit the glossy looking Hoops – The Official Matchday Program 2008/2009. Quite a mouthful, but on page 5 Paulo Sousa welcomes us as if nothing is wrong. Hoops does anyway licked. The inside of the cover features the Gulf Air Family (smiling pilots, flight attendants, a cook, a cleaning lady) and the contemplation of other, better QPR times. There is also a honeyed piece about the two club chaplains: “ on hand to offer pastoral and spirited support to anyone connected to the R’s, of all faiths and none“. No matter what happens today, we don’t have to worry: “ Win, lose or draw, do not fear / Bob and Cameron, the chaplains are here. ”
A Kick up the R’s looks more rebellious, with its ‘independent view of QPR’. This magazine also had a deadline, but in the preface it is almost certain that Sousa will be fired. Here no pictures of cheerful air waitresses, but harsh language for the management, especially because of hiring Dexter Blackstock, the top scorer, at a time when two other strikers were injured for a long time.
Mike was still quite demure, compared to the angry letter writers in this magazine. I pick a bunch: in the past year so many different players have been lined up that no one can list them all yet; the R’s have played 0-0 ten times this season; in 18 months, technical director Gianni Paladini (the gun-to-sleep man) has bought 12 midfielders and just 3 attackers. And, last but not least : after the arrival of Briatore cs, ticket prices for the 2008/2009 season rose by more than 50%. In fact, a QPR season ticket costs £ 200 more than Premier Club Aston Villa!
That Briatore has teamed up with an airline becomes very understandable when you take a seat on the stands on South Africa Road. You can see it: Flavio has had enough of the umpteenth spectacle position of the season and stares from his bobo seat to the sky above the blue tin roof across the street. There, in the distance to the left, an airplane appears every minute that slowly descends the length of the roof towards Heathrow. Sometimes the money is on the street, sometimes it flies through the air. Ecco.
Loftus Road is just as cozy as De Vijverberg, but slightly larger. Once, in 1974, the unhealthy number of 35,353 spectators must have watched a match against Leeds United here. After the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, this stadium also became an ‘ all-seater ‘ and now 19,148 football fans officially fit in. Despite all the millions in the stands, the playing field does not look like an average British lawn. It is bumpy and there are even loose grass clumps here and there. And to think that the warm-up of both teams is not even finished yet …
Two middle-aged gentlemen sit down next to us. They are called Warner and Griffiths. Not that they have their name tattooed on a body part, it’s on the backs of their seats – a nice thing from the club for season ticket holders. Mr. Warner is pleasantly surprised with the foreign visit. He was born near the stadium, but now lives eighty kilometers from London. Still, he comes to Loftus Road every two weeks. “Usually to suffer,” he explains. “But that’s just part of this club. Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs used to be our rivals, now we have to make do with Watford, Charlton and Reading …”
I ask him if ‘we’ are going to win today, but Mr. Griffiths is ahead of him: ‘We are planning to do that, but whether those guys on the field think the same way?’
Warner smiles at the curl and says apologetically, “Actually, everyone is disappointed with the new management. The Premier League is far from in sight… ”
And there they are again: the ten draws, the rental of the top scorer, the dismissal of Sousa, the very expensive tickets… The gentlemen only come to a halt when there is a lot of screaming around us. On the left, about twenty meters, a sleazy old man with a ravishingly beautiful lady descends to the lowest part of the grandstand.
“That’s him! Briatore!” roept Warner.
The turnout of the pair turns out to be well-timed: barely 30 seconds later, both teams enter the field in battle uniform and the stadium speaker announces a minute of applause to the recently deceased Mike Keen, the only QPR captain to ever hold the League Cup (in 1967 ). The applause takes place at the request of his children and it turns out to be a golden choice. Everyone, even the Sheffield supporters behind the right goal, get together. I had never heard of him, but just have to swallow a lump in my throat. Maurice, in turn, stares wide-eyed at the cheering Keen on the stadium screen.
And claps. Increasingly harder.
It will be a crazy game. We see a ball flying out of the stadium. A cup of cups over twelve discs. The Rangers miss chance. Sheffield Wednesday came to 0-1 via an own goal from R-player Mahon and even later via a penalty to 0-2. Exited SW supporters massage their bare gym ball bellies. Latvian R-defender Kaspars Gorkšs is hit by a blow near the referee without yellow or red consequences for the offender from Sheffield.
Meanwhile, the cheering towards Briatore is increasing. But he still holds back, the volcano only simmers behind his blue glasses.
Warner could easily figure in the adventures of Sjakie Meulemans and his Wondersloffen. No coarse verbal guns for him, let alone the widely used F * ck word here, but:
“That’s a good shot, Rowan!”
“Oewwww, what a pity!”
Just as a hairdresser likes to communicate the most important gossip through the mirror, I often use the panorama of a football game to give my son something for later. “Listen to our neighbor. Good for your English. ”
“These guys play incredibly shitty,” sighs Maurice.
I look sideways at Briatore, who is arguing wildly against the arbitrator’s decision. His wife half gets up and shouts something unintelligible to the bald whistler. That passion elicits another wisdom from me: “You should never give up as long as you have a chance. Headwinds will automatically recede, on the football field and beyond. ”
Right now, Sheffield Wednesday misses a dot of a 0-3 chance.
“Well, Daddy, today they can shake it. ”
But dad is right. With a result with which he could have won 250 pounds around the corner, that is… After a nice attack over the right flank, the R’s score 1-2, shortly after that captain Mahon corrects his mistake with the equalizer (interim coach Gareth Ainsworth rewards him with a kiss on the head) and two minutes before the end Damion Stewart heads the 3-2 home.
Warner flies around my neck, strokes Maurice’s head and starts a joy dance with Griffiths in the narrow aisle. When he has come to his senses again, he yells at the referee that he must whistle immediately. Flavio Briatore appears to be sitting calmly on his chair, but his wife screams into the players’ courage and keeps pointing at her watch.
For a moment Warner seems to want to sing along with the ‘ Two-nill and you f * cked it up !’ Echoing from three stadium corners , but when he sees my son, he shakes his head and says apologetically: ” Disgusting language … “
Then, finally, the whistle sounds and a short ovation follows for the blue and white. Flavio shakes hands, Mrs. Briatore arranges her chestnut hair and smiles seductively at anyone who wants to see her smile seductively.
We say goodbye to our neighbors and pledge to come back.
“Gladly!” Griffiths says. “You bring good luck!”
On the sidewalk in front of the VIP entrance there is a black SUV with driver to fine dust. First the players of both teams trickle out. Strangely enough, losers and winners all look equally indifferent. Only Kaspars Gorkšs, the man of the blow to the head, looks cheerful. He has to take the street with an impressive white turban, but is not too vain to refuse a photo (later in the day, 30 stitches will be needed in the hospital to put his scalp back in order).
Finally, after more than half an hour, Mrs. Briatore appears. The evening sun gives her a golden glow and her beauty is enhanced by Flavio’s grumpy face, who comes running after her.
When she wants to get in the car, I ask her in my best Italian if my son can have her picture taken with her. That is allowed. Flavio, meanwhile, gives a signature to a mentally handicapped fan. In my most submissive Italian, I ask if he might want a picture too. He puts his blue glasses straight on his nose, puts an arm around Maurice and silently looks into my lens.
Until then, all bystanders (about forty) kept quiet. No cheers, no booing – just that one signature request. But now that Flavio is there in front of me, a QPR fan gathers courage and shouts, “You don’t care about the club, it’s all about the money!”
Infuriated, Flavio turns away from my son and asks, “Who said that? WHO SAID THAT?”
The verbal perpetrator, in his 50s in an R-shirt, resolutely raises his hand.
“What the hell does that comment mean?”
“Very simple: it’s all about your money, but it’s about my club.”
As if they are suddenly pumped up through their ears, some stewards make their way around the Italian.
A short discussion ensues, with Briatore repeatedly shouting that he is doing well with the club and the supporter is breaking out the now well-known complaint list, emphasizing that he had to pay a huge amount for a season ticket and now cannot even be the club top scorer to admire.
A small, somewhat older man in a suit meddles in the case. “Gentlemen, this is not a project for one or two years. A bright future is being built here, with the Premier League as the final destination. Then you cannot, Sir, signore Briatore to be a money wolf? “
“Paladini, the sporting director ,” whispers a fan when I ask who that male is. “Once had a gun to his temple, so you know …”
Flavio turns to his wife, who follows the spectacle fascinated from the SUV. As if he suddenly remembers an appointment, he says goodbye (“Wait, we’re going to a bright future!”), Sits down next to his driver and gestures to drive.
“Please understand Flavio,” says Paladini, as the moving bunker disappears from view. “We are Mediterranean people, emotional, but also very involved in what we do.”
“That was a spectacular dessert,” I say to Maurice. “And beautiful pictures too.”
” Cool … But what was it all about?”
While the male in suit tries to convince the fans with word and gesture of the good will of the club triumph virate, I translate what happened for my son. Then we listen to Paladini a bit, but when he says ‘ emotional ‘ for the fourth time , it is time to go.
“Hey Daddy, there you have Flavio again!”
Indeed: the black monster comes tearing up again and parks right in front of us on the sidewalk.
Briatore’s purplish-red face subtly colors with his blue lenses. Italian cooking, but without food.
“Where’s the guy in that shirt? WHERE IS THE VENT? ”
We look around. T-shirts everywhere, but the guy seems freaky.
Briatore lurks around, ready to smash the first best critic. Finally, his eyes rest on Paladini.
“If the guy doesn’t apologize, I will sell the club,” he grumbles, with consumption gilded by the low sunlight.
“Nothing! To sell! I will not be insulted with impunity! ”
A shudder passes through Paladini. The QPR Holdings Limited Chairman means it.
Some fans promptly start to stir. Why sell? It is not a toy! We are talking here about a club of over a hundred years!
When Briatore simultaneously begins four calls, Paladini raises his hands as if he felt a stengun in his lower back. But even in this attitude, no one has an eye for him. In fact, he suddenly looks at the broad back of an earpiece that stands next to Briatore. He, in turn, thinks he is being attacked by a fan and makes a striking move to the flight attendant.
A moment of reflection. Then Flavio looks back at his beautiful wife in his beautiful car. Maybe he really has an appointment. Maybe not either. The fact is that the Italian is sitting next to his driver with this excuse a minute and a half later and gestures to drive.
Paladini clears his throat to start the after-chat, but we already know enough: it was a special football afternoon.
PS: Through our Lilywhite memberships we also got tickets for the Spurs against West Ham United that week. We saw Luka Modric, Cruijff’s Croatian style cousin, glorify. Heurelio Gomez is again a perfect goalkeeper. Pavlochenko came in and scored the only goal. Ambulances with screaming sirens. Dozens of police horses. Hundreds of horse figs. Several thousand West Ham supporters stroll in a long, angry column to the nearest metro station.
We also saw milky white bald heads. Tattoos as replacement outerwear. Here and there a tight stomach or complete teeth. But one thing we know for sure: White Hart Lane is not Loftus Road.