I stayed up all night and watched them and was part of a glorious liveblogging team on MostlyFilm. That meant that I got to see John Travolta balls it up live, which will keep me warm after Vladimir Putin has reduced the planet to rubble and we are all living in caves. “No, I have no food or water, I haven’t met another human being in months but, ha. Adele Dazim! Travolta! That was great,” I will tell my new friend, Wally the cave wall. Cheers John.
As it was the first day of the season it was of course incredibly hot so extra credit to the Wednesday fan who had turned up in a Sheffield Wednesday onesie. Less credit to the toilets in the away end, which had given up the good fight before kick off and so set us the challenge of wading across a river of piss behind the stand on our way to our seats. It was a pretty strong current as well. There were Wednesday fans washed up against the corrugated iron back of the stand, where they presumably stayed until someone came to rescue them, probably after the game.
It was nice and shady under the roof of the stand but it looked pretty warm out there on the pitch. Despite the heat doubtless getting Andy Johnson’s brain up to a rolling boil inside his big bald head inside the first five minutes he had far too much wit for the Wednesday defenders, who knew where he was approximately 8% of the time. For the rest it was like watching someone new in town eagerly playing find the lady and shovelling fistfuls of cash over to the man behind the table so they could have another go. Is he there? No! There? No! Has he gone back to the changing rooms for a cup of tea? No, he’s in on goal! Got us again! Add to that Junior Hoilettt regularly showing off his ability to take the ball from one side of the pitch to the other and back again without a defender getting near enough to pass the time of day and the time the Rangers midfield had to have a good long think about what they fancied doing not just right then but also that evening and it was pretty clear that there was a gap in quality.
The Rangers team wasn’t really star-studded but it was at least familiar-face-studded. One to eleven, or whatever numbers they had on, were people everybody has seen on telly. The Wednesday team’s relative anonymity was reflected in the fact that only once did their cheerily noisy fans actually sing a song about a particular player, and that was substitute Gary Madine, who they confidently declared to be a goal machine. On this day the goal machine did not turn out a goal and he might better have been described as a make a nuisance of himself machine, as he spent most of his time on the pitch bouncing into QPR defenders, sometimes ricocheting from one to the next like a wholehearted pinball. The player that really got the Wednesday fans going was Jermaine Johnson, or JJ, who was given roars of encouragement whenever he got the ball and those roars kept building right up to the moment he lost the ball, which he always did , often in what seemed a state of confusion. It seemed that there only two things that were going to happen whenever JJ got the ball: either he would score the goal of the season or he would lose the ball. That he took the latter option every time did nothing to dampen the fans’ enthusiasm. You might say the definition of a Wednesday fan’s madness is watching JJ run with the ball and expecting a different result. But presumably there are times when he does wriggle his way all the way through and score and that makes it all worthwhile.
Bobby Zamora was playing but I don’t think he understood the rules.
Despite the class difference, Wednesday made a really strong showing and took the lead when their new, enormous, centre forward, Atdhe Nuihui decided the best thing to do would be to go on a little dribble and then knock the ball confidently past Rob Green in QPR’s goal. So he did that. One nil up and the new man on the scoresheet, it was going extremely well, and the Wednesday fans made the most of it by explaining some of the basic problems with Sheffield United and pointing out that if you don’t fucking bounce then you, sir, are a Blade. I bounced. No Blade, I! The antipathy towards Sheffield United was where I really felt at one with the fans around me, although I sung all the songs with plenty of vigour. The Sheffield Wednesday fans were in great form, none more than a man somewhere to my left, who in his desperation that Rob Green should hear his views on his goalkeeping (they centred on him being wank) found his voice breaking up and taking on an unearthly, demonic tone. Probably the high point of the game was after the Wednesday fans went with the time-honoured build up to the opposition goalkeeper kicking the ball of “Whoooooaaaaaahhaaaaahahhh!!!” and the ball had sailed off up the field, silence fell for a few restful, contemplative seconds and then the demonic voice commented on Green in the following manner: “Prick.” The timing was such that it might have been Eric Morecambe over there, were he a Wednesdayite.
QPR scored two quick goals just before half-time, which dampened the mood for a bit. The first was a consequence of the defence forgetting to defend people near their goal and the second involved Andy Johnson finding himself in plenty of space to knock in a volley after the excellent Chris Kirkland had saved an effort from Joey Barton. Andy Johnson finding himself in plenty of space is a bit like saying Adrian Moorhouse used to find himself a bit wet when he had a go at the Olympics but this time the ball fell to him and so he did what he’s meant to do and scored. It all seemed quite simple. Sadly for Wednesday fans, Michail Antonio was not able to do the same when given a chance on a plate by Jermaine Johnson, giving the lie to what I’d claimed earlier, rolled it across the penalty area for Antonio to knock in. He knocked it over instead and to be fair to him he did seem extremely disappointed to have done so.
That was Wednesday’s best chance, other than two penalty claims which were impossible for me to see clearly from up near the back behind the goal, which is probably why the referee never stands there. The big centre forward who had looked so promising to me in the first half was, under the closer inspection afforded by him being down our end in the second half, an appalling sight. He lumbered, he flailed, he jumped mere inches off the ground and landed with a thud, and then capped it all by falling over. He was withdrawn to applause after about 70 minutes and his manager subsequently said he wasn’t match fit. I would say he wasn’t even life fit. Hopefully he can improve because Wednesday need a bit of focus to their attack.
QPR will challenge for the title and Wednesday will be fine. If they can find a striker and someone to knit the team together a bit more then they may even make a playoff run. I hope they do.
He’s a funny one, Alan Smith. The shame-faced exit from Sky Sports of the nightmarish vision of men gone wrong Richard Keys and Andy Gray was about the best thing that could have happened to football on telly short of Andy Townsend blowing his head clean off halfway through one of his penetrating monologues pointlessly delivered at the side of the pitch but it has had one devastating side-effect: Alan Smith is loose. At first blush, Alan Smith seems fine. There he is, opining away, as he is paid to do, and you might think him harmless. But no, he is far from that. He is a danger to the public and this is why.
Imagine, if you possibly can, that Theo Walcott is having a good game. Now, you are the co-commentator. You might decide the public would like to know that you think Theo Walcott is having a good game. After all, that is what you’re paid to do and who knows, some people listening might not be able to make up their own mind. So you press the microphone to your lips and earn your money. What do you say? Perhaps, “Theo Walcott’s having a good game,” and having said it you sit back in your chair, take a sip of the tea provided by some assistant or other, and feel quite pleased that life has worked out as well as it has. Easy. Martin Tyler has the reins and you are cruising. You are the co-commentator. You used to play professionally and so are qualified to speak. People attend to your every word. You are a god.
That does not satisfy Alan Smith. What does Alan Smith say? Alan Smith says this: “He’s having a good game, Theo Walcott.”
He’s having a good game, Theo Walcott. For no acceptable reason whatsoever he puts the name at the end of the sentence. Ok, you say, so? It’s a fairly standard rhetorical device. It happens. So?! He does it once, you might say ok. He then does it again, perhaps with a seemingly unassuming, “His final ball has been disappointing today for me, Gervinho,” and you begin to twitch a bit. Then moments later he returns with, “He’s not the quickest, Mertesacker” and it stings like a whip. By half-time your mind is recoiling violently whenever he speaks, fearful that he’s going to do it again. And he does. And again. He never stops.
The self-assured, clipped way he dispatches his gobbets of wisdom, switching the sentence structure like that to make it sound like a much wiser pronouncement than the bland observation it actually is, drives me mad. And he knows it. He’s a menace, Alan Smith.