The football terraces. By virtue of the forthcoming implementation of Lord Justice Taylor’s recommendations, soon to be a thing of the past. Personally speaking, I’ve long considered the football terrace an anachronism - a relic of the flat cap working class boom years, when admission was affordably cheap for a game which almost always seemed to guarantee a high level of excitement and entertainment. I don’t think anyone can seriously argue this to be the case on either count now, given rapidly-escalating admission prices - due in no small part, of course, to much of the financial burden for the requirements of the Taylor Report being placed on the long-suffering supporters - and the tedious fare that is all too frequently set before us.
To gauge how admission prices to football terraces have soared in the last 20-odd years or so, compare them with the admission prices of another popular form of entertainment - cinema. Time was when the price of terrace admission was very much on a par with a trip to the local fleapit. Nowadays prices have polarised, with admission to your local Canon working out at roughly half that of a place on the terraces. It could also be argued that you have a reasonable idea of what to expect for your 90 minutes or so at the cinema; the counter argument being, of course, that it is in its sheer unpredictability that much of football’s appeal lies.
It can hardly be said that conditions on the terraces have improved as admission priced have continued to rise. I finally abandoned QPR’s terraces about 10 years ago, after suffering the frustration of the vastly inferior view afforded by the far too shallow new terracing on all the standing areas in the ground, whereby you needed to be about 6’ 6” to get even a half decent view. So thereafter a place in the stand it had to be.
I, for one, shall not lament the demise of the terraces, because the terrace supporter has suffered the insultingly primitive conditions and attendant indignities for far too long. It is high time the decent, equal facilities were made available to all supporters at a reasonable price (wherein lies the main sticking point). Enlightened progress is how I perceive it. I realise I’m probably in a minority here, as many terrace supporters remain fiercely opposed to the idea of all-seater stadia - and who I am to say they are wrong? Public will should not be lightly dismissed.
Recently, though, the pragmatic problem of poverty has prompted my return to the (comparatively) cheaper terraces on a number of occasions. It was strange to stand to watch a game regularly again after such a long time. I felt somewhat akin to one of those earnest social anthropologists amidst a strange tribe. It didn’t take me long to appreciate what I had and hadn’t missed.
The terraces nowadays seem to be overwhelmingly populated by teenagers and those in their early 20s (that probably accounts for my slight feeling of alienation). It was not ever thus, though. To stand on the Loft terrace in the mid-to-late 1970s was to be surrounded by a real cross-section of society - or ‘motley crews’ as my own ensemble used to call them. By way of paying tribute, then, to football’s soon-to-be-lost way of life, I thought it would be fitting to present a portrait of just a few of the characters to be found in the Loft circa 1975-1979.
“We’re the right side, we’re the right side, we’re the right side of the Loft!” - so we habituees of the side adjacent to South Africa Road might well have chorused, only that particular song wasn’t in currency then.
Three particular groups remain etched in the memory from those Loft days of yore. Invariably, they would all congregate in the same spots week in, week out, with me and my cronies in a central position to them all. To our right were the ‘Masson Men’ - a collection of feather-cuts, shag-hairs and lank-heads in their late teens and early 20s. Why did we dub them thus? Well, the slagging-off of the unfortunate midfielder for the duration of the match seemed to be their entire raison d’etre. They slagged Masson long before it became fashionable to do so, even when his intelligent distribution and delightful touch almost guided us to the league title. Totally irrational, but there you are.
Curiously, the Masson Men used to deal only in derogatory terms of insult for females as in, “Masson! You tart! Whore! Slag!” What set them apart from your ten-a-penny boo-boys, though, was that they took turns in delivering their insults in an innovative, rhythmic style that I can best describe as a sort of rap, each chiming in with his own abuse, just as the abuse emanating from his fellow stick-merchant tailed off. Timing was everything. I’m sure they must have got together during the week to practice their decidedly idiosyncratic verbal routines.
I don’t think these precursors of rap ever really recovered from the sale of the beloved Masson. They dished out stick to all and sundry afterwards, but they lacked that essential focal point for their vitriol. What was it about Masson that brought this out in people? Funny really, he was one of my heroes.
Directly behind us was the motliest of the motley crews, consisting of a middle-aged gentleman, an elderly gentleman and a young couple. The former was a rather theatrical, hysterical type whose nerves were in shreds by about the third minute of every game. His looks and demeanour were ideally suited to evoke considerable pathos in a Shakespearian tragedy, but the Loft terrace was the stage on which he strutted his stuff. As he was much given loudly to declaiming, “Oh that was elementary, Givens! (or Gillard, or Clements, etc)” at every individual Rangers error, we didn’t have to look too hard for a nickname for him.
He inevitably became ‘Elementary’ and went on to enjoy (albeit unwittingly) a certain cult status amongst my friends and acquaintances. Sometimes we would keep count of how many times he uttered his immortal phrase. Elementary’s neurotic disposition was surely exacerbated by his curiously forlorn choice of companion, the aforementioned elderly gentleman. This self-appointed harbinger of doom combined the lugubrious physiognomy of an Alistair Sim, with the deeply pessimistic outlook of Dads Army’s Private Fraser. Here was a man who never - but never - would have entertained Eric Idle’s sardonic exhortation to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
This gentleman could never relax and bask in any Rangers success, because he always sensed that imminent disaster was just around the corner. Even if Rangers were 3-0 up with 10 minutes to go and laying siege to the opposition goal in search of a fourth, as soon as we lost possession, he would start up with his doleful expectation of an opposition goal by repeatedly proclaiming in a measured monotone, “Here it comes… here it comes” for the benefit of his tortured cohort, Elementary.
If his worst fears were indeed realised, he would then commence with the other stock phrase: “Told yah so! What’d I tell yah? Told yah so! What’d I tell yah?” He was like one of those intensely irritating dolls that robotically spout a severely limited number of phrases whenever you pull their string. Not without good reason did we christen this perennial pessimist ‘Doomwatch’.
The female half of the young couple who completed this particular ensemble would usually arrive first, a matter which was not in the least displeasing for my own little band of merry men. With her big blue eyes and everything just where it ought to be, this temptress of the terrace regularly induced collective heart failure by walking slowly along the oh-so-narrow step in front of us, looking deep into our eyes and offering us sweets. Why though, I wonder, were they were always of the mint-with-the-hole variety? Symbolic, huh?
Needless to say, her long suffering boyfriend - a.k.a. the ‘Latin Link-head’ - used to be less than enthused upon arrival to witness our extremely amicable relations with his young lady. His subsequent pique would find expression in the niggly football arguments he picked with us during the game, even though nine out of 10 times I’m sure he was really in accord with us. He needn’t have perturbed himself, as none of us had the nerve to act upon our enthusiastic interest.
The final group, standing to our left, was equally diverse in character. Des was suave, educated, immaculate of coiffure and dress. A man of equanimity and scrupulously fair in outlook, he was always prepared to try and see the best in a player, no matter how awful the player might be. Indeed, in contrast with WC Fields, Des’s motto could well have been, ‘Always give a sucker an even break.’
His sidekick, the ‘Beard’ (for obvious reasons), a perpetually sheepskin-clad spivvy character, who you could just picture concluding a dodgy deal with Arthur Daley, would surely have empathised with Fields’s cynicism, though. His delight was automatically to greet all opposition teams alike with a vigorous display of the wrist-flick. If today’s obscenity laws had been in force then, he’d have regularly been ejected from the ground before the kick-off. Making up the disparate trio was ‘Dai the Dye’, a somewhat taciturn character whose main claim to fame was his ever-changing hair colour - thus the moniker.
The curious thing about all of these groups was that they always used to stand in exactly the same positions around my own group of habitually early arrivers. For a hoot, we conducted an experiment a few times, by moving along the terrace by 10 yards or so to see if the same thing happened: to our considerable amusement it did. Out of this, my group acquired its very own self-styled title: ‘The Node Of All Orbits’.
As is the inevitable way when major rebuilding occurs, people are displaced and communities break up. So it was with our little community in the Loft when the club switched home ends at the end of the 70s, bringing an era to a close. Some of us can still be found scattered around the ground, thinner of hairline and thicker of waistline, youthful exuberance superseded by a seen-it-all scepticism and optimism. Of those who are no longer part of the QPR scene, some went forth and proliferated, others found God and lost Rangers. And as for Des, he’s probably a benign governor of Borneo by now - his last known whereabouts. Soon the terraces, too, will be no more. You know, I think I’m going to miss them, after all.
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