Welsh Premier League or premier league? Only one leads to stickers.

8 11 2012
West Brom 3 QPR 2
That sponsored premier league pantomime

Today was my annual trip to a premier league match with a ticket budget of between £20 and £25, this year’s destination was The Hawthorns. As my Alma Mater, Wolverhampton, is also in the West Midlands the trip represented a chance to get lost in reverie as well.

At first the years melted away, the newsagent in the station was exactly the same, the station booking hall was exactly the same, the station’s outside doors were exactly the same. As I walked towards town everything felt the same, smelled the same, well apart from the new bus station. The reverie was intoxicating. Then I noticed that The Varsity, a venue that Half Man Half Biscuit once played, had closed. After I’d passed St. Peter’s Cathedral Molineux’s new out of sync outline sharply ended the reverie.

My sense of dislocation was deepened by my Alma Mater’s new entrance; glass and steel had replaced brick and concrete. I felt a little relief after passing through the showy entrance thanks to a familiar corridor, I could even see my old block of lecture rooms in the distance. It was only the briefest whiff of relief because some idiot had turned the student union’s corridor into a disconcertingly shiny passage. I blinked my way to the end of the corridor in the hope of finding the union bars.

At the corridor’s end I found minimalist chic and a forest of computers instead of the union bars. I asked the person behind the giant information desk what had happened; “Oh there’s no call for a Student bar any more. The students said they didn’t want one”. The reply was uttered as if it were a normal collection of words.

I stared at the shiny computers and massive plasma-screen televisions in disbelief. Call me an old sentimentalist but this student’s union wasn’t just a couple of rooms filled by drunken students, it was my link to the town. This was the place where I won a trip to Amsterdam, the place where I saw the Sneaker Pimps and Chris Addison perform, the place where I met one of the founders of the Socialist Workers’ Party, the place where I felt superior to the xenophobes in the university’s football team. This once vibrant place is now little more than an information desk. “Flipping heck, what kind of students don’t like drinking?” I enquired. The woman assured me that there were plenty of student nights in town, you know as if that’s ok.

I tried to find the exit to Stafford Street but they’d remodelled that area too. When I was finally on Stafford Street I looked up to see “The Spider’s Web”, I liked that lovely grotty upstairs rock club! All I could see were gentrified flats.

I started the day hoping for a joyfully whimsical trip of reminiscence; I ended up making a grim discovery; The Man has obliterated my past. It’s a numbing realisation when your yesterdays appear so far away.

When I remembered I was going to The Hawthorns I perked up. I may have once lived in the shadow of Molineux but I still had a soft spot for the Baggies. There was something about the image of Cyrille Regis wearing a kit with a no smoking symbol on the front.

I never used the tram between Wolverhampton and Birmingham when I was living in Wolves, the train suited me better, so today would be the ideal opportunity to make up for lost time, especially as The Hawthorns has a stop on the line. After a crowded few hours in Birmingham city centre I timed my walk back to Snow Hill station perfectly; the tram was pulling away. The tram that I managed to catch was full of self-deprecating / irritating (Delete according to taste) QPR fans.

Visiting new grounds can be fraught with danger so I follow two golden rules; i) Follow the road signs or crowds. ii) If you can’t follow one follow the other. I still have a look on google maps for a general idea of where I’m going, well you never know when you’ll find yourself in the middle of a group of moody geezers heading for a meet.

After picking up my ticket and buying a fridge magnet I had a lovely walk amongst the throng. It was nice to see the Jeff Astle gates but they made me think of Fantasy Football, thankfully seeing the Bob Taylor entrance stopped me thinking of David Baddiel’s class tourism period. I wondered if the Bob Taylor entrance was exclusively for people called Bob Taylor. I saw a bloke going through it; I hope he was called Bob Taylor.

Some things in the West Midlands may have changed but thankfully the smell of pork products around football grounds has remained. Today young men in white jackets were selling fresh “West Midlands” pork scratchings. Just after I left the turnstile I noticed that the floor was covered by laminate flooring. In all my years of matchgoing this was the first time that I’d never seen laminate flooring beneath a stand. I must say that standing on it is a much nicer experience than standing on bare concrete as it lends a homely feel to the surroundings.

As I waited for kick off I felt a discernible buzz in the ground. This was to be anticipated, West Brom were near the top of the league and more good things were expected. Good things did happen; a 2-0 lead was constructed thanks to West Brom’s incisiveness. Other chances were also created. On an unrelated point. the people sitting around me seemed pleasant enough.

A discernible buzz wasn’t the only noise emanating from the crowd, there was also a mixed bag of a song anthology. On the one hand there was the usual fayre and a charming little song based on “The Lord is my Shepherd”. On the other hand Anton Ferdinand was booed, “ill-advised” would probably be the politest description, and a chorus of “… sacked in the morning” when WBA went 2-0 up. This hilarity was obviously directed towards Mark Hughes. I’m not Sparky’s biggest fan but I wouldn’t wish destitution on him but that’s obviously just me. I wasn’t aware that Mark Hughes, or QPR, could arouse that much hostility in this area.

The QPR fans were also gloating by half time. Tarrabt scored for QPR so  “Tarrabt’s too good for you, Tarrabt’s too good for you” was delivered in the style of “La donna é mobile”. The QPR fans were lost in a reverie of their own. You could argue that gloating was logically consistent with topping the Championship of 2011 this was the premier league of October 2012 and QPR were bottom of it.

Rather irritatingly some maladjusted morons believe that gloating is de rigeur in football, they’re the sort of people that think everybody should be on the banter bus. Unfortunately these twats are some of the loudest people in football grounds. Their approach is beyond sad. Why is the prospect of unemployment for an unconnected and transitory opponent something to be celebrated? Why do fans gloat when most of their targets won’t be able to hear what they’re chanting clearly? Would the people at the other end have heard the QPR fans? Why make such an effort to try and wind up opposition fans anyway? When did merely supporting your own side become an out of date idea? Mass gloating is a depressing symptom of our slowly homogenising football culture..

At half time I fancied a bit of fresher air and a stretch of my legs so I went outside. The air outside was clogged by cigarette smoke, it’s funny how quickly you forget the look of cigarette smoke in public. I went back to my seat to wait for the second half and luckily I didn’t have too long to wait.

During the second half the discernible buzz was replaced by a tangible tension that  increased incrementally. With every wasted attack and every misplaced pass the grumbling became more audible. Considering two facts; West Brom were winning so still near the top of the league and this is West Brom we’re talking about here, I would have expected a bit more exuberance – when was the last time West Brom were in this position? – but there wasn’t much optimism around me. They may have conceded a goal but they were still winning. Did they know something? Was it the destiny of West Brom to fuck it up? A pressing question entered my mind, does tension in the stand transmit itself to the players?

Towards the end of the second half a second pressing question entered my mind; “IS THIS FUCKING IT?” This question popped in to my mind because the display in front of me showed the premier league’s conceit for what it actually is; hollow PR bullshit.. Today I’d paid three times the amount that I had paid last night (for a Welsh Premier League match) simply because the market dictates the price, yet there were no obvious signs that the match was three times better.  In other words I’d come to the “WORLD’S MOST EXCITING LEAGUE” directly from the “one of the most embarrassing leagues in the world” and there was precious little difference in the value of each “product”. If anything there was actually more excitement and free-flowing football last night

The fact premier league side would marmalise a WPL side if ever they met is immaterial. On their own merits the two matches can be judged equally. The basics are the same; two teams, two goals, size 5 footballs, pitch sizes, corner flags. Both matches are unscripted blank canvasses, both matches are capable of creating any situation or outcome that the rules permit. Both matches should have equal billing in people’s minds. People should see the intrinsic value in any football match but most people don’t seem to, they seem to believe what they’re told by the self-serving media.

Instead of seeing “amazing premier league quality” I saw two teams going through well- rehearsed moves, moves that created identical patterns;

The ball starts at the feet of one team’s defence……. The ball travels to the middle of the pitch………… The ball ping pongs between every midfielder…………. The ball eventually goes out to the wing………………. The Winger tries to cut in but gets tackled …….. The ball is at the feet of the other side’s defence ……………..The ball travels to the middle of the pitch ………

Although “to be fair Clive” there was a little variation; the ball was launched up front sometimes. I longed for a bit of cutting, thrusting and feinting. There was precious little poetry to stir the soul, only two teams scared into playing efficient-ish football. Mind you I can’t be too harsh, unless superstars like Messi, Cristiano or Crouch feature most matches are basically the same; There are two teams trying to win. Murdoch’s farrago creates the problem. They say you can’t polish a turd but Murdoch’s farrago will make an advert that tells us how exciting the process of polishing is.

It’s always interesting to compare experiences, while mine was underwhelming I wasn’t a fan of either club and I can’t abide premier league hype (why did I go? Good question!!) Baring in mind that West Brom were winning 3-1 when I left, therefore still near the top of the premier league, I thought their  fans would have tolerated, if not liked, what they had seen, especially as most fans tend to overlook shortcomings in the glow of victory.

I overheard two West Brom fans chatting about the game. There was no joy over a victory, or happiness at retaining a place in the top four, there was just the repetition of the phrase “complete shambles in the second half”.  Maybe I wasn’t the only one hacked off with my experience of the “GREATEST LEAGUE IN THE WORLD!!!” or feeling short-changed, or maybe I just stumbled into the wrong West Brom fans on the platform. Maybe I’d found the only West Brom fans that had succumbed to another symptom of our slowly homogenising football culture; “GLORY EXPECTATION SYNDROME”. a third thought of the hour entered my mind; what the hell is wrong with some fans?

Bangor City 1 Llanelli 2
Welsh Premier League

We all thought this would be easy. Llanelli were officially up shit creek. They’ve nearly been wound up twice in the past six months, their players haven’t been paid, their players haven’t trained.

When Chris Simm scored an early goal we all knew that Bangor would have another win. Then that fucking Andy Legg made Llanelli score two goals on the counter.

It’s funny how the wanker finds it easy to offer his hand when his side has won.

Port Talbot Town 1 Bangor City 1
Welsh Premier League

A great philosopher once said “It’s a five can minimum to Port Talbot lad” and who was I to argue with that noted urban philosopher of ill-repute. Some would say that I broke with convention by partaking refreshments before both the hour of nine o’clock and arrival at Shrewsbury station but who gives a toss about convention these days?

We arrived earlier in Port Talbot than we expected but we didn’t have to wait long for Nigel, Marc and Mark to join us in the Grand Hotel. They came bearing good vibes and beautifully designed stickers. It’s always rather charming to feel camaraderie in a league where the XXX XXX XXXXXX resides. Yes camaraderie is very welcome.

Camaraderie is not only welcome, it does wonderful things for football fans. For example I was able to deal with the following by adopting an enigmatic smile; the game was little more than a listless waste of time, Bangor’s goal was mainly due to a cock up by Port Talbot’s keeper, our goal was about the only highlight from our perspective and Bangor sat back for most of the second half so were suitably punished. On the plus side I saw ex-youngest ever Welsh international Ryan Green playing for Port Talbot.

The train ride home was rather pleasant. In short it was a great day spent with some lovely people, even if the match was a bit of a dog.

Connah’s Quay Nomads 2 Bangor City 6
Welsh Premier League

I’d been coming here for years but I hadn’t realised that Connah’s Quay’s ground was at the top of a small hill until tonight. It’s amazing what you notice when you walk the other way. Just after I noticed there was a slope up to the ground I saw Gareth and a quick pint swiftly followed.

We suffered a bitterly cold evening on top of the small hill but dealing with the biting wind wasn’t the only irritation. Some teenage Connah’s Quay fans had borrowed the Rhyl songbook and general approach; “WE HATE BANGOR, WE HATE BANGOR”. They not only constantly abused Simmo; “CHESTER REJECT, CHESTER REJECT” they also dipped into anti-traveller prejudice; “THE WHEELS ON YOUR HOUSE GO ROUND AND ROUND”. The last chant was odd to say the least. Is this how kids take the piss out of each other nowadays? It’s a bit worrying if it is.

The worst thing about the barrage of songs wasn’t the fact they happened it was the fact the teenage choir had no rhythm, timing or ability to hold a tune. They didn’t even appear to know the tunes that the songs were based upon. On the other hand it was nice to hear opposition fans singing for a change, as Geraint said.

When Connah’s Quay scored the sound from the irritating ones became worse, especially when it wasn’t obvious quite how Connah’s Quay had managed to score. For the ten or so minutes that Bangor were behind “CHESTER REJECT, CHESTER REJECT” rang out. Thankfully the Chester reject scored Bangor’s second goal. After Bangor scored their third goal the annoying songs became rather more sporadic. In the second half the songs were distant yet discernible.

Football fans are funny creatures, they can see their team play delightful football to go in to a 6-1 but still moan that their players weren’t taking chances.

Glan Conwy 5 Nefyn United 5 (2-2 when I left)
Welsh Alliance

Nefyn went in to a 2-0 lead with lovely attacking play and Glan Conwy levelled by half time. A combination of the biting cold and a pressing engagement meant I left early. Even though the clubhouse sold a delightfully decadent victoria sponge I wasn’t too sorry about going.

I don’t particularly want to be in close proximity to young north Walean males when they’re indulging in football / going out banter. Especially with their hands inside the waistbands on their Hollister tracksuit bottoms instead of the pockets.

And another thing when did scallies in Chuck Taylors? Have they even heard of the Ramones?

And one more thing, when did linesmen, both of ‘em!, start wearing gloves?

Bangor City 3 Newtown 0
Welsh Premier League

Bangor City were besieged by Norwegians before this match. 22 of them arrived in the clubhouse expecting beer, chips and scarves.

They were so impressed by the fact that Nev had been part of a side that had beaten a Norwegian side in 1985 they gave him a guard of honour when he entered the clubhouse. It turned out that our visitors were going to watch Crewe, Man United and Liverpool this weekend. After drinking the clubhouse dry they came and bought all the available hats and scarves from me.

The match was the proverbial, and factually correct, game of two halves. Bangor were fantastic in the first half and scored two good goals. Sion’s was particularly good, a great cross met by a great header. The second half was a listless three-quarters of a hour enlivened by a fantastic Bully goal.

But you’ll never hear me moaning about such things on message boards. A win is a win is a win, as Plato may have put it.



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