28/9/21 Queens Park Rangers v Blues, Dean Lark Dangers.

I fully intended grabbing as much sleep as I could after coming off the first 12 hour shift of the week. Not only had it been a 12 hour shift, but it had been a physically demanding 12 hour shift. I’m not getting any younger and however much you’d like your body to react like it did when you were 20, it doesn’t. I’d got home and gone straight to bed. The mind is a different matter. My body might’ve been more than ready for sleep, but my mind had other ideas and instead of shutting down, proceeded to switch to overdrive. I gave up, and got up. I consoled myself that at least I’d rested and would have an hours kip on the train. I love days off from work, but then, who doesn’t? You’re not fighting the clock as much. You can take things at your own pace. I even had enough time for a quick half in the Welly before getting the train. Having eaten the sandwich I’d bought for the train, I settled down and shut my eyes. Nope, sleep was having none of it and continued to evade me. The train down to London Euston was one of those rare ones that doesn’t bother stopping after Coventry. I like those sort of trains. Getting off at Euston, I met Daryl in the Tap. The Tap would prove to be the best choice and the best beer, but we weren’t really to know that at the time.

“Don’t worry, I refrained from licking it.”

Daryl had compiled an itinerary for the afternoon and we headed back into Euston station to embark on it. Getting off at Kilburn, we went to a pub that has a certain amount of notoriety about it, and one that both me and Daryl had wanted to do since first hearing about it. Not that you’d know to look at the outside of it, but the Carlton Tavern has been completely rebuilt. The story goes, that whilst under consideration to become a listed building, due to it being the only building in the entire road to survive being bombed during the Second World war, it was demolished without the necessary planning permission by CLTX, an Israeli property developer. In 2015 the Westminster City council then issued an, at the time, unprecedented enforcement notice, ordering CLTX to rebuild the building within 18 months, ‘brick by brick.’ Although CLTX attempted appealing the enforcement, their appeals were unsurprisingly unsuccessful. The pub was rebuilt. Due to the protracted legal wrangling and also the Coronavirus pandemic, it finally opened its doors in April of this year. Definitely ‘one in the eye’ for the unscrupulous property developer.

“I could’ve and probably should’ve taken more photos”

So the pub itself? Well it’s not a drinkers pub, though the beer I had was excellent, as was Daryl’s choice apparently. The food smelt absolutely gorgeous and judging by the menu, you could understand why. It did though, give you the feeling of a place you’d treat your Mom to a Mother’s Day meal at. Even with my own Mom now no longer here, I wouldn’t object to visiting the place again though. It was back on the Tube at Maida Vale. I’m ever so sorry, but I’m going to bore you even more. I’m a bit of a ‘history geek’, and find anything to do with the London Underground enthralling. Obviously that includes any television programmes. Recently, Yesterday channel showed ‘Secrets of the London Underground’, with presenters, Tim Dunn and Siddy Holloway. I’ve been using the Tube system for close to 35 years now, but the programme gave me a real appreciation of it. I’m not embarrassed to say that I view the architecture and decor a lot more closely.

“I don’t suppose it helps that it’s Art Deco either”

Getting of at Warwick Road, I was confronted by this little curiosity

“Taxi!”

Not used now, it was common ‘knowledge’, this was used by Hackney cab drivers for years. It is, in itself, a listed building, and unless you’re an Israeli property developer, you can’t fail to find yourself looking at it and wondering how it’s survived, but glad it has. Right, that’s the history bit over. Don’t panic, double Maths followed by French, is tomorrow morning. It’s PE this afternoon. We walked through the plush surroundings of ‘Little Venice’ to the Bridge House. I’m not going to lie, I was completely out of my comfort zone, yet was thoroughly enjoying the relaxation of the afternoon. Even Daryl had slowed down to appreciate our surroundings. Unfortunately, the pub had only Doombar on cask. In normal times, it would’ve had another two choices. I’m not a huge fan of carbonated craft keg, it’s the main reason why I don’t go in Digbrew as much, as they tend to concentrate on that side of the brewery. I had a pint of one of the Beavertown’s they had on, and wished I hadn’t. Steve found us, but he wasn’t the only one Blues fan to come in while we were there. I recognised a few faces in one group, and a group of unconnected women also came in. One noted Steve’s ball/world emblem screensaver and exclaimed ‘Zulu’ after remarking it being a great team. Although welcome, it seemed bizarre given how far off the beaten track we were. The next was a fair walk and the plush surroundings were replaced by buildings and businesses much more down market as we got to the Champion. I’d been in the place before, and remember the beer selection being a great deal better. That was two places in a row that that had obviously been hit by supply issues. We carried on along the Bayswater road before veering off and passed Churchill’s which was on Daryl’s itinerary. The Elephant and Castle is a Nicholson’s place, and unfortunately, it was another place that was having supply issues. That was 3 in a row and I felt sorry for Daryl. Had it been 24 months ago, it would’ve been a decent trail, but we live in times where life is only now, gradually returning to how it should be. I’m not double vaccinated, and I’ve no intention of getting done. I’ve got this far and the only measures I take are having to wear a disposable mask for around half an hour in the morning at work, just because it’s mandatory, and I’ve procured an ‘exempt’ card and lanyard to wear on the Tube system. I’m not exempt, there’s nothing wrong with me (Despite opinions to the contrary.) Unless something was to happen to me, like an aeroplane landing on top of me, or maybe worse, an ex-girlfriend catching up with me, I’m going to be fine. Yes, the virus is bad, no, I ain’t going to get it. If I do and die, then so be it. I’m not going to hide from it, there’s no point trying. We went back to Churchill’s. I won’t say Daryl had excelled himself with the place, but he’d redeemed himself in Steve’s eyes a little. A Fuller’s pub, it’s a fantastic and welcome assault on the visual senses.

“And that’s just the outside”
“The queue going left, was out of the door and down towards the BBC. The queue for the right? There wasn’t one.”

I’ve got to say, it was a bit of a contradiction. Whilst heavily influenced by the pubs name, with plenty of Second World war references and memorabilia, there was more than a cursory nod to an Irish influence.

“Jack Charlton, the Republic of Ireland’s greatest manager, next to Gordon Banks”

With the recent death of Roger Hunt, the chances of any of this great team still being alive if England win the World Cup again, are becoming increasingly slimmer. With the passing of Jimmy Greaves just before Roger Hunt, the squad is getting just as depleted. Although the selection was better, it still wasn’t as good as it had been in the past. It was back on the Tube for the last leg to the ground. Approaching the shoebox that is QPR’s ground, it was like we’d been transported back to the Second World war and occupied France. Plenty of the SS guard were acting as bodyguards for the Gestapo. It had been exactly 1 day less than 19 months since I had last visited Loftus road. With what’s gone on in life since, and my own particular clamour to get back to watching Blues and football, my dislike of the way stewarding is conducted at that tiny little bit of London, had dissipated somewhat. The first dressed in a long leather mac held his hand out. “Paperz” I showed my ticket. Duly satisfied, he pushed on his walking stick towards the next Blues fan. Not 2 yards later, another loud voice wanted to see my ticket again. Bemused, I looked at him and back towards the wooden barriers, with barbed wire coiled round. “Schnell, schnell” again, I showed him. He had an expression of someone with a sweet tooth sucking on a gooseberry. I managed to get through the turnstile without being vaporized. Loftus road is one of those grounds, in fact, it’s probably the only ground where you have to sit in the seat indicated on your ticket as an away fan. Knowing I was in the right section, I made a beeline for the Gestapo at the top of the staircase. “HALTEN” I looked back down at the steward in his long black leather mac. “Paperz” I’d had enough and waved the ticket so he could see. “There. Happy now?” I was exasperated to say the least. I was accused of being aggressive by him. At the top of the stairs, I calmly asked the final Gestapo officer to tell his mate that I wasn’t being aggressive. I took my place in the West London shoebox and vowed to not do this again. Blues can do without my attendance next time.

After all the hassle of getting in, I settled down as best I could, to watch the game. Although we’d beaten Derby, it hadn’t been that fluid. I didn’t watch the 4:1 defeat against Fulham, and the less said about Peterborough away, the better. Preston was slightly better, but hadn’t been anywhere near to what we have played like. As the play unfolded, the flowing football returned. This was more like it. One thing I wasn’t expecting this season, was how well Sarkic’s replaced Etheridge. I caught myself thinking that I’d be happy if the move was to be made permanent, and Etheridge was to be moved on. As is life watching Blues, you are forever waiting for that sucker punch to happen. After being on top for the first half hour, it happened. Had we been even half as clinical as we should’ve been, QPR’s goal would’ve been an equaliser and not the lead. Charlie Austin in his celebration, deliberately lashed the ball as hard as he could, into the top tier where us away fans were held. Had it been a Saturday game, he could’ve easily have injured a child or an old person who can’t make an evening kickoff. It was behaviour that was wrong for many different reasons. You can point at sour grapes if you want, but it really isn’t. Halftime, and the heavens opened. The heavens had been saving it up too.

“The photos don’t do it justice”

The cardboard slowly turned to paper mache. As the second half continued, it was clear that the referee was one of those that favours the home side. Had it been at St Andrews, we’d have got the decisions going our way. Other than they enjoy the hospitality and are thus, feeling guilty, or they worry that if they antagonize the home support, then they won’t make it back to their cars, I don’t understand referees who are like that. What happened to fairness and neutrality? A lot is made of the bribery of players and club officials, but it’s the match officials who are the most vulnerable and susceptible to it. Instead of trying to hold on to just losing 1:0 like Karanka would’ve done, Lee Bowyer tries to win a game. Blues pressed higher and chances were increasing. Trouble was, we weren’t clinical enough again, and a mistake by Dean, led to an exploited gap. 2:0. It’s not quite clicking with Blues. It’s not lack of spirit or effort, but it’s individual errors. We’ve had a purple patch, and we’re now going through a smelly, sticky brown patch. More practice? Yes. The more the practice, the more things will relax. You can see that the team is desperately trying to get back to how it was playing 3 weeks ago. The conference has been knocked sideways. Momentum in football breeds confidence. A win could be all it takes. Even a late equaliser that feels like a winner, could be that catalyst. The only thing I see wrong is patience. We need some.

By the time I’d walked the short distance to the Tube, I was soaked. I made it back to Euston and joined Steve and Daryl in the George. More supply issues. Being Green King owned, you can usually see a couple from the Portobello brewery on the bar. Yet again, nothing that exotic. Steve had lodged an official complaint against Charlie Austin over his celebration. He’d been closer to being hit, and understandably, wasn’t happy. Steve went off back into the centre of London, his hotel and his wife Gaye. Me and Daryl got the train back to Brum, but not before I’d got something to eat from the only place that was still open, and Daryl had used his work connections to secure us seats in first class. I don’t remember how we got onto the subject, but I revealed some of the abuse that Mandie had inflicted on me. It feels like it happened to someone else now. I haven’t deliberately squashed the memories, and I don’t keep talking about that time to play the victim, but over time, the details have faded. I was still able to describe enough to shock Daryl. His wide eyed expression indicated that. I then made use of the comfort and slept. Touching down back in Brum, Daryl went off to get a taxi home, I decided to walk, getting through the door just after 3 in the morning.

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