After spending a good while reading match reports of last weekend’s draw with Torquay, I was struck by the emptiness of football as a surrogate purpose for our otherwise hollow lives. Even as escapism goes, kicking a heavily-branded synthetic air-filled sack around a sodden acre of earth, clad in insidious man-made fibres cobbled together at the expense of an entire planet’s natural resources, seems a little pointless.
Indeed one could argue that attending a game is the act of a slave of the oppressive human-imposed rigours of the market. We are but walking junkies, acting as a sponge for every piece of meaningless information and witness to every futile physical exertion pushed in front of us by the similarly shallow capitalist oppressors who burden our existence with falsehood.
The theatre of farce that is Loftus Road, all chemical imbalance and inflated importance, stands testament to centuries of mankind’s spiritual meandering. Unable to elucidate any true sense of meaning as a species, we flock as moths to a light around any fatuous, ill-conceived false prophet we can find. Football is therefore an excellent example of the empty wasteland of the human condition. Still, we’ll stuff the wankers in the replay, eh?
When Rangers played Sheffield United the other week, I was heroically following events at Loftus Road from a comfy armchair via the televisual miracle that is Ceefax. Forget mobile phones, the Internet and attendant technology - the real drama of following a game from afar is best conveyed by Ceefax’s creaking technology. This odd little box of poorly presented information is surely the true friend of the midweek-evening-and-Saturday-afternoon-in-front-of-the-telly-with-no-Sky-access sad person.
If your tragic lantern is equipped with the most advanced functions Ceefax has to offer (the selection of buttons on the remote control with mysterious and incomprehensible yellow symbols next to them), you can keep the scores page updating in the background without impinging on your general viewing pleasure.
This enables you to continue focusing your gaze on Alan Titchmarsh’s bra-less chest and a gang of hippies lugging sacks of soil around in an attempt to make someone’s perfectly functional back yard into a mock Babylonian water garden that will be the envy of the neighbours on Moss Side (where mock Babylonian water gardens are at a premium).
There is surely no more tension in football than when the little page number pops up again in the top left-hand corner of your screen, signalling that the scores page has updated in the background. It teases you to press that button with a yellow ‘X’ under it and bring up the scores.
“Go on,” the tantalising 305 in the corner of the screen seems to say, “press the button. There’s been a goal somewhere in the First Division… Have you got the bottle to look? It could be a late Rob Steiner goal… But it could equally be a last-minute fightback from the Blades… Push that button and find out... Or are you too scared?”
Is it just my telly, or does the text on Ceefax go all jellyhead every now and again, overlaying confusing sentences and numbers from other pages and matches, provoking much annoyance when trying to look at the results? After the Sheffield United game, for example, the scores page proudly declared something like: QPR $$%£$££3ddddddddddddd Sheff Utdpp11pcmkdf~~##333
Oh for the golden age of wireless.
A few weeks earlier, disruption from another page altogether confused me into thinking that “Dennis Bergkamp putttttt—=tvvvvk%kdd Rangers the lead on the half hour.” Indeed, it was only later in the pub, when I was explaining how Bergkamp might do a job for us against First Division centre-halves, that a friend pointed out the pothole in my information superhighway.
Anyway, half an hour after the Sheffield United game, the match report finally appeared on Ceefax. Clearly, more ridiculous inter-page juxtaposition had occurred. “I’m not falling for that again!” I said to myself as the following sentence appeared on my telly screen. “Queens Park Ran)))$ strolled to victory over S##~field U*&^£ in an embarrassingly one-sided encounter.” Absolutely preposterous.
But apart from the odd endearingly idiosyncratic blip, I think most people still love Ceefax - the little toy for those not yet up to micro-technology. I personally spend many, many, many (oh God, so many) sad and lonely hours checking out the football news (page 302) as well as cricket (340), television listings (600), national news (102), etc, etc. Knowing all the page numbers is like a badge of my love.
Many is the time I’ve been in someone else’s house shortly after a match and asked for a check of the scores. People rarely let guests use their remote control, so I am left to nervously watch the television owner struggle with it, tediously selecting the ‘fast text’ colour coded buttons that take you through the general sport pages first. Inevitably, the tension gets to me and I am compelled to shout out, “For Christ’s sake! It’s 302 for football, 305 for Division One scores! Sort it out, you infidel!” I have the vague notion that this is a very sad thing to do indeed.
Whilst on the subject of Ceefax and risking the fanzine equivalent of an embarrassing silence, does anyone else sit around and commentate on the scores as they update like I do? Whenever I’m bored and a score changes (interrupting Laurence Llewellyn Bowen as he turns the kitchen of a 1970s semi into a velvet-lined Bedouin tent), I’ll start my report:
“And now over to Arthur C Clarke, who has news of a goal at the Reebok... Yes, thanks Ant, Bolton have scored again here through Bo Hansen in the 33rd minute, completely against the run of play. Thirty-four minutes gone, it’s Bolton 2 Swindon 0...”
Please somebody tell me I’m not the only one who does this. Otherwise I’ll have to go to the big house again and see that man who gives me those weird tasting sweeties that make me feel all warm and happy. But having arrived on the subject of personal commentaries, here’s a question for anyone who ever played football when they were little - where did that crowd noise thing come from?
When you were young and playing football either with mates or on your own (jumpers for goalposts et al), you must surely have used the International Standard Internal Crowd Noise (ISICN)? It involved simply blowing air out of your open mouth. You know the sound I mean - it sounds like a packed Wembley Stadium inside your own head, but more like a borderline asthmatic to anyone else within earshot.
Who the hell discovered that noise? And given that its place as the official FIFA-approved small boys’ crowd noise seems to be fixed without any discussion, how is it passed on from generation to generation? When I was growing up and playing football in the garden, our next door neighbour, Mrs Ryan, was convinced for ages that I had terrible bronchial problems, when in fact I was leading Rangers to an unlikely 3-2 win over Derby County in an FA Cup semi-final at Highbury.
Our garden was perfectly constructed for football. We had a garage wall down one side and a privet hedge on the other (which provided a perfect ‘net’ backdrop). As every schoolboy knows, the privet is an ideal football goal hedge, as it tends to be thick near the top but thinner at its base (enabling one to stoop down to collect the ball from out of the ‘goal’ as appropriate). In addition, the privet tends to grow naturally to something around goal height and has strong, wiry branches and heavy, resilient leaves. The true footballer’s choice of hedge, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Anyway, this set-up enabled me to play on my own and be both teams, the crowd, referee, linesmen, stewards, etc. Kicking the ball against the garage wall denoted the ball crossing the halfway line. Simple. In this way, I was able to develop the skill of using my right leg (as defending team) to tackle myself (as attacking team), whilst I was carrying the ball down the wing with my left. I would then fall sprawling to the ground (as attacking team) over my own misjudged tackle (as defending team) and vociferously claim a penalty from myself (as referee) for such blatant foul play. I (as crowd) would be baying for blood and I (as stewards and police) would be forced to wade into myself (as crowd) in order to calm things down.
I (as referee) rarely gave penalties to away sides to be honest, unless they were playing at Stamford Bridge. If this were the case then following the decision to award a penalty, I (in the guise of someone like Mickey Droy) would push myself (in the guise of Stan Bowles) to the floor - leading to me (in the guise of referee Clive Thomas) sending myself (in the guise of Mickey Droy) from the field. The packed crowd would bay and howl (or reach for an inhaler, depending on your listening position).
When I was not on my own, my opponent/team-mate/other section of crowd was Neil Walker, whose family originated from just east of Manchester. Neil’s home team loyalties presented us with myriad problems of player and team assumption. Typically, we would play an FA Cup competition from quarter-final stage onwards, with one of us in goal for both sides and the other being both outfield teams. Whoever was in goal could influence the score by letting in goals/making outstanding saves as appropriate.
Obviously, both Rangers and Neil’s team would gain an automatic quarter-final place. The problem was that Neil was a Stalybridge Celtic fan, which I felt sort of devalued our cup competitions in a reverse-Manchester United sort of way. Rangers would still be heavily involved of course - typically drawn away to league champions Liverpool in the quarters but somehow winning an amazing game 6-5 (after being 5-0 down).
All perfectly plausible, until thanks to my poor finishing (in the guise of West Ham’s Alan Taylor) combined with a string of magnificent saves from Neil (in the guise of whoever the hell was Stalybridge’s goalkeeper in the mid to late 70s), the R’s would face an improbable semi-final against the Northern League outfit at a neutral Villa Park. A whole cup competition ruined by one joke fixture.
And there we have it. Football as escapism for two small boys, rendered pointless by dogmatic insistence on a particular semi-final line-up. Which is where I came in - the pointlessness of football and the emptiness of the human condition. Well, as Franz Kafka once said: “I may be an impolite observer of the poison of the human condition through bleak existentialism, but at least I’m not a fucking Chelsea fan.” Or something.
While top-flight football is suspended for the foreseeable future, you are cordially invited to visit this page in order to get a small fix of QPR. Each day, we will post a random article from our archives - and with over 15 million words making it in to print over the years, we can sit out this one for as long as it takes! Underneath each new daily article, we’ll provide a link to previous postings, so you won’t miss out. Of course, if you like what you read and decide to subscribe or to take advantage of our special 2019/20 season bundle offer, that’s what will really keep us going through this! So settle down and enjoy your free daily fix of QPR... on us.
Previous Daily Fixes