8.30am – 18th August 2012
“I’m just going to try and enjoy the day, I’m not feeling too confident about the game to say the least” Matthew Harrison on the QPR v Swansea game before kick off.
5.00pm- 18th August 2012
“YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSS!” Matthew Harrison celebrating Swansea’s 5-0 victory over QPR whilst skipping down through the streets of Shepherd’s Bush.
Quite simply Saturday 18th August 2012 will go down as one of the finest days in my Swansea fandom and it will definitely go down in the pantheon of greatest away days I’ve had with the club.
Anyone that has read this blog over the past few weeks will know that I have fought against the summer months and the lack of football by attending a number of non-league friendlies, three Olympic games and one Welsh international. I have loved it. It was great just going to games that had no real significance to me (apart from the Welsh international) and it was great attending games and just enjoying the football on show. The fact that tickets were so cheap also helped. But ultimately, this was the day I had been waiting for: my team returning to competitive action in the best league in the world and with some new names and a new manager. I do love the preseason feeling of not knowing what is in store for your team and trying to come up with some sort of formula to work out what your team might be able to do in the coming season.
Opening games of the season have not been a happy hunting ground for Swansea for a long time and Swansea were going into the opening game of the season against QPR with the worst opening game record of the 92 football league teams (they had lost their last 7). When this statistic is partnered with the other ominous stat that Swansea never win at their ultimate bogey ground, Loftus Road, (they have literally never won there), this looked to be a very tough opening. The club’s last trip to the ground in the season previous had also been a catastrophe as Swansea were beaten 3-0, played awful and had to endure chants from the home fans of “Boring, Boring Swansea” in an attack on their supposed boring ‘tiki-taka’ football under Brendan Rodgers.
My best mate was kind enough to let me stay at his flat down Cardiff Bay, so I could get the early train to London from Cardiff Saturday morning. Friday night was spent in Lloyds bar watching Cardiff v Huddersfield in what was a bit of a yawn-fest.
The first challenge of the day was actually making it to Cardiff Central station – it probably wasn’t the wisest of ideas to make the 15 minute walk through Cardiff in my Swansea shirt! A few scathing looks aside, the walk was thankfully uneventful and I arrived at Cardiff Central ready for the 07:55 train to London Paddington where I met my friend Lynsey. I had planned to make the trip by myself after my friend Tom bailed on the idea of going to the QPR game, but Lynsey phoned me the day before and hastily put a plan in place to join me on the trip.
2 hours later, shortly after 10 o’clock, we alighted from the train into the glorious sunshine of London. It really was a scorcher in London! Clear blue skies and beaming sunshine, forced me to make a wardrobe change as I got rid of the hoody under my Swans shirt; I could really have done with some shorts as well. We decided to head straight from Paddington to Shepherd’s Bush, via Hammersmith station, where I knew the whole Jack Army were assembling. Shepherd’s Bush is an interesting part of London – Uxbridge Road is very vibrant and has a whole array of different takeaways and interesting looking shops. The area has the enormous Westfield shopping centre and also nearby are the BBC studios. With plenty of time to kill we decided to have a wander around the impressive, slick-looking Westfield. I had spent most of the morning squinting into the London sunshine after leaving my sunglasses back in South Wales, so I decided to have a nose around for a cheap pair that would survive the day; my search would end in Westfield’s H&M, where I found a suitably comical red pair for £1 that would do the job for the day – more on the sunglasses later.
After our wander around the extremely plush Westfield, we headed for Walkabout to convene with the Jack Army, but instead we were greeted by a bar full of supporters clad in different colours: the bar was rammed with New Zealand and Australian rugby fans with the clash between the two rugby union giants being a Saturday morning kick off. There were also very few Swansea fans around, so we had our pints and headed to O’Neills next door – but not before seeing the funniest thing I’ve perhaps ever seen.
On exiting Walkabout, a shaven-haired, sunglasses-wearing, topless drunken mess of a man was aggressively shaking the railings around the bar’s smoking area (I’m not sure why). He then mounted his bike before shouting some harsh words of abuse towards the Walkabout punters and bouncers – one bouncer did not take this lightly. As the drunken mess began to cycle away from the scene, the bouncer took revenge by delivering a devastating running drop kick to the front wheel of the bike, sending its rider flailing into the air and ending up in an angry heap on the floor to the rolling laughter of the big crowd around the scene. I was sure that this would be the highlight of my day.
Our entrance into O’Neills coincided with Swansea’s official coaches arriving in Shepherd’s Bush and soon the pub was brimming with the black and white (and the red/green/white of our new away kit) of the Jack Army. The O’Neills was a great place for prematch festivities with quick service, reasonably priced drinks (for London) and screens around the pub showing the early kick-off. It was also great to see so many familiar faces and catch up with people after a Swansea-less summer. Most of our time in O’Neills was spent with Medwyn, his wife Caroline and their young Swansea-loving children, Iestyn and Sophie. I’d briefly met the family on the London Underground en route to White Hart Lane a couple of months ago and they were great company along with several others Jacks I chatted with including my friend Matt, who I’d shared prematch drinks with on a few occasions now, and my mates Jordan (who is selling me his season ticket for the West Ham game Saturday, which is very much appreciated) and Ashley. Whilst pointing out the large Jack contingent around us, Medwyn said to me: “It doesn’t get any better than this does it?” I said it really doesn’t – and that was before a ball had even been kicked! Perhaps the most surreal aspect of the day, was the several people that approached me asking was I the ‘@mophead_88’ behind Lost Boyos; when I replied in the affirmative, these people were very complimentary about the blog – it was really nice to meet people that actually read our stuff and who enjoy it. Thanks for your kind words. The power of blogging eh?
We were approaching 14:30 and we decided to begin the 10-15 minute walk down Uxbridge Road. We weaved our way through the streets and eventually arrived at the back of the School End. Loftus Road is one of those great grounds that is almost squeezed into the streets that surround it and for a decent-sized ground, it is actually quite well-hidden behind the houses that envelope it. In through the lower tier entrance to the School Stand and I was into Loftus Road.
Loftus Road was built in 1904 and it was originally home to Shepherd’s Bush FC before becoming the home of QPR in 1917. The club have had three separate stints at Loftus Road. The three spells at the famous ground were divided by two experimental seasons at the nearby White City Stadium, first in 1931-1933 and for the second time in the 1962/63 season before moving back to Loftus Road the season after. The club have actually called almost 20 different stadias their home, which is a league record, but Loftus Road has easily been their most constant home. The ground is now the smallest in the Premiership with a capacity of around 18,500, but the joy of the ground comes in how compact it is; I’ve not visited a ground where you feel more on top of the pitch. The ground also has the unique feature of all four stands being almost the same size, something you see very rarely, if anywhere, at other league grounds in the country. The one downfall of the ground’s compactness is the concourse – if it can be called that. Walking through the concourse is more like walking through a narrow stone corridor with the odd door leading into the toilets – there was probably much more room in the toilets than the concourse.
With just over 5 minutes to kick off, I decided not to get a drink at the ground and I headed straight for my seat in the fifth row behind the goal. Whilst basking in the London sunshine, I received a tweet from my brother asking about my ‘stupid sunglasses’ – he was watching the game in South Korea (thanks largely to South Korea’s captain now wearing the captain’s armband of QPR) and apparently I made South Korean TV.
The teams came out and excitement shot through me – the proper football season was back! After the usual prematch rituals of shaking hands and tossing coins, Robert Green, QPR’s new goalie, ran towards the goal right in front of us: cue the start of some verbal abuse being launched his way, which became a running theme in the first half. The game started at a good pace, although the play was quite sloppy at times as both teams were trying to find their feet.
8 minutes in after a Routledge dribble, the ball fell to Swansea’s new signing Michu, who from 20 yards out smashed a first time left footed shot into the bottom corner. It was a great hit, but Green really should have done better as the Jack Army let him know. Large parts of the first half were spent chanting abuse at Rob Green: chants of “England’s number one!” “England’s number 5” “Dodgy Keeper!” and “USA! USA!”, an ode to his 2010 World Cup blunder against the Americans, were all aimed towards the very shaken-looking Green.
The goal appeared to wake up QPR and Swansea found themselves under the cosh as QPR tried to probe their way through the Swans defence. Unlike QPR’s Green, Swansea fans have very little worries about their own number one, Michel Vorm, who made some outstanding stops to keep Swansea in the game, most impressively from a point blank shot from the busy Jamie Mackie. It has to be said as well, Vorm aside, that Swansea’s defence were playing superbly. I had seen both Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor put in very dodgy displays for Wales 3 days before, but both were brilliant for the whole 90 minutes today. However, the star of the defence for me was new acquisition Chico Flores.
Having seen Gylfi Sigurdsson and Joe Allen leave the club (as well as my idol Ferrie Bodde being released after several injury-plagued years) the title of being my favourite player at the club was up for grabs; Chico may well have got it. When someone like Angel Rangel describes him as a ‘character’ you know you are in for a treat. He was immense. He made numerous blocks and interceptions with his feet and head, repeatedly stole the ball from the opposition and he certainly showed that he likes a good tackle as well. He even hit the crossbar with a header. Every goal that went in, Chico celebrated them as if they were the winners in Champions League finals. Throw in his beard and his strange hairstyle and the man is surely destined to become a cult hero at the club. I just hope he keeps performing this way.
At half-time I was more than happy to be at 1-0 as I thought QPR had looked dangerous at times, although the Swansea defence, plus the relentless Leon Britton, had performed brilliantly. On the other hand, Swansea had hit the bar twice, so I guess I should have been lamenting the fact that we were not 3-0 up. As the whistle to kick off the second half blew, I did not realise that it would be the sound that would beckon in dreamland.
8 minutes after the restart Wayne Routledge, who was having the best game of his Swansea career so far against one of his old clubs, dribbled forward and picked out Michu who was strolling through the centre of the pitch unmarked; the Spaniard opened his body up and sent a perfect curling effort from just inside the box flying into the net. The finish was a thing of technical beauty. Now the floodgates were officially open. QPR had now lost their heads and Swansea were swaggering. Once again, Routledge dribbled through the QPR team undisturbed before playing a great through ball to Nathan Dyer, who went one-on-one with Green and curled his shot around the goalie to make it 3-0.
I always claim that I am not superstitious, but nonetheless, as my friend Tom would tell you, I still get sucked into silly rituals. I know these silly rituals do not work or mean anything but I always get drawn into them. My rituals have included always going through turnstile 23 (my lucky number) of the Liberty Stadium, listening to a certain song before leaving for the game (last season’s song of choice was John Lennon’s “Just Like Starting Over” because it was the song that woke me up on my radio alarm clock on playoff final day), shaving the night before a game and relying on a variety of lucky charms, which have ranged from “lucky pay slips” to “lucky badges”. I decided for this season I was not indulging in any stupid superstitions or rituals. I did not even make a big deal about the fact that I was sitting in block 23 (my lucky number). But by the time Nathan Dyer was scoring Swansea’s 4th goal, after a superb pass by substitute Kemy Agustien, I found myself bouncing around the stand shouting the praises of a new lucky charm: “It’s the lucky sunglasses! “It’s the lucky sunglasses!” went my cries of joy as I waved my newly bought £1 sunglasses around my head. I’ve already promised myself that they won’t be coming to the Liberty with me for Saturday’s game against West Ham, but who knows what I’ll decide by Saturday morning.
Just when the Swansea fans were truly in “Let’s all have a disco!” mode, news spread around the stands that Brendan Rodgers’ new era at Liverpool was not getting off to the best of starts as they were 3-0 down to West Brom. Chants of “Who the fuck is Brendan Rodgers?” roared from the away end before the Jack Army moved onto venerating their new man on the touchline, Michael Laudrup. A long part of the second half was spent singing “Laudrup, give us a wave! Laudrup, Laudrup, give us a wave!” Our calls were ignored by the Dane who was probably not used to such a request from fans. Eventually Alan Curtis (my new pal who I met in Merthyr) gave Laudrup a tap on the shoulder to explain the chant and Swansea’s new hero was soon waving towards the fans. His wave got just as big a cheer as any of the day’s goals.
The day was going perfectly and perhaps the only thing that spoilt it slightly was the boos that rung around the away end when Dyer was substituted for the wantaway Scott Sinclair. Anyone that read a recent article I wrote about Sinclair, knows I’m not his biggest fan as a Premier League footballer, but I refuse to boo any player that is on the pitch for our club – if they’ve got a Swansea badge on their shirt, I am right behind them until the badge on their shirt changes. I was chuffed to see Scotty shut up the dissenters by banging in the 5th goal. In all fairness, there were also large sections of the Jack Army that told the booing fans to shut up – I’m sure those booing were not there in the Championship when Scotty scored 20 plus goals for us and helped get us to the very stage we were now watching our great football club play on.
There was still time for Danny Graham to miss a good chance and laugh it off, but there was little else to report after the 5th goal. Final score: QPR 0-5 Swansea. Yes, we won at QPR. Yes, we won the first game of the season. And yes, we won by 5 goals.
All three new signings shone: Michu was brilliant and looks to be an absolute steal at £2m; Jonathan De Guzman was very tidy and looked lethal from set pieces and Chico….well I lauded him enough earlier. My man of the match though was probably an old favourite: Leon Britton – he was absolutely everywhere.
I walked out of the ground with the biggest of grins and my usual good sense of direction went missing in the euphoria as I led us away from our destination of Shepherd’s Bush Green. With my misdirection corrected, we were back in Walkabout watching the Newcastle v Spurs. I got chatting to an Irish QPR fan who had come over from Ireland especially for the match – I bet he wishes he chose another game. I haven’t really mentioned the QPR fans too much, but I must say that I chatted to several of their support both before and after the game and they were all very friendly. Even after watching their team go down to a 5-0 loss to us, they were all full of praise for our team and support. After another few drinks in O’Neills, I decided that I might not see Swansea win 5-0 away again for a long time, so I decided to buy some more cans to celebrate on the 19:45 train from Paddington back to Cardiff.
A truly brilliant day that I don’t think I will forget in a long time. Great company. Great ground. Great game. A great time. A Great Dane.
Highlights 5 goals! Enjoyed O’Neills and Walkabout before/after the game, great ground, QPR fans were friendly, the lucky sunglasses, Laudrup’s wave, a burgeoning love of Chico Flores and of course….the bouncer kicking the drunk off his bike. Truly magical.
Low Points: Fans booing Sinclair, concourse was claustrophobic.