I sit a few seats along from AKUTR’s regular contributor Simon Dorset. In fact we used to sit next to each - but following Bolton’s last-minute equaliser a couple of seasons ago, when I ‘accidentally’ punched him on the shoulder, I am now exiled to an ‘out of reach’ seat further down. I read with interest Simon’s account of his trip to a rugby match at Twickenham, where he seemed to have had great fun but declared it not quite like going to QPR... probably due to the lack of inherent violence from the people he went with.
Recently, I sat out the trip to Barnsley - and instead got up early the following day to go to my first-ever cricket match. How would I rate this novel sporting experience? As background to this event, I should add that my father was Welsh - very Welsh. He watched and played rugby, tolerated football but despised cricket, which he described as “a game played and watched by over-privileged, upper class Englishmen” - ‘Englishmen’ being the swear word in that sentence. Dad liked sport, so when we didn’t go to London Welsh for the rugby, he would take me to see our local football team, QPR, with whom I fell in love from an early age.
Cricket was never spoken of in our house and even when we got a TV we never watched the Test Match coverage on BBC2. So with little interest but more a desire to get a tick on my bucket list, I accepted the offer of a free ticket to the One Day International versus the West Indies at the Oval. I duly did my homework. I watched the previous ODI at Bristol, working out that the star man who wore his face upside down, Moeen Ali, really could hit the ball - and the other star, a guy with red hair, called Ben Stokes, had just been accused of hitting out and would not now be gracing the Oval that afternoon.
We arrived at the Kia Oval at lunchtime. Is it only me that thinks of orange juice when confronted by the name Kia? Anyway, the Oval is a funny old stadium, one that appears to have been put together piecemeal with bits left over from other stadium kits. One side is dominated by the Mickey Stewart Pavilion - five steep stories of a gothic Transylvanian castle. Think Disney’s Tower of Terror ride, but glue seats on the front. These members seats were not well occupied; probably not enough crampons to go around! We, meanwhile, had the cheap seats in the traditional terracing, right on the boundary, one row from the front, directly behind three of my father’s favourite sort of Englishmen and their Harrods hamper.
The first thing I noticed was the quietness of the ground, with only a background buzz of mundane/inane conversations. At first no chants or singing; no “Walking in a Mackie wonderland” - just an occasional “Hit the ball” and “Jo Jo Joseph” (young West Indian fast bowler who took five wickets) all sang in a single loud West Indian voice. However, as the alcohol took a hold of the crowd, each and every action carried out by English favourite, Joe Root, was serenaded by a low slow boo, which I only later learned was actually “Rooo....t”.
Wickets were greeted with a mild cheering and polite clapping. None of the wild screaming, hugging and crying with relief that goes on in the Upper Loft when Rangers score. The fall of a wicket was a Pavlovian trigger for the spectators en masse to leave to get another drink. Unlike the sacred turf of Loftus Road, where alcohol must not be drunk in view of the pitch (Why? Will the pitch be jealous?), at the Oval all manner of alcohol was present for the pitch to view. Beer, real ale, wine, Prosecco at £27 a bottle decanted into plastic screw-top bottles, especially for you - and gin and tonics in real glasses! Food too was expansive and expensive: mini pork pies with pickles, award-winning piglet sausage rolls, stone-baked pizzas, pulled pork baps from award-winning pigs - and fish and chips at £11.50 a time. To think, Roy Keane made fun of prawn sandwiches at Old Trafford. This is not a cup of Bovril and a chocolate bar venue.
My other major observation involved the ladies toilets - not a central issue for AKUTR’s, I know. After drinking in full view of the pitch for a good while, I took the fall of an English wicket as an opportunity to use the facilities: a glorious 20-cubicle area, painted magnolia - not blue and white, and bereft of the life-enhancing quotes about ‘Kevin Gallen wearing a magic hat’ that adorn my usual de-watering hole. I was the sole occupant of this large room - and on both the other times I went to the ladies, I remained the only user. Where were the other women? Returning to my seat, I spent time counting the women in my field of view. Apart from a gaggle of West Indian ladies dancing in the aisles, I counted only five women in around 500 seats. Obviously the fact that rises from this observation is that women generally do not go to cricket matches. They certainly go to QPR, where women make up a significant minority of the fan-base. Perhaps my Dad was right all along in his assessment of cricket’s core audience.
Incidentally, the match itself was very exciting. Three West Indian wickets going in the first six overs, and then a 176 made by the diminutive Chris Lewis, before he retired badly hurt clutching his broken ankle. England, chasing a mammoth total, took command, lost command and then gained a dubious victory engineered by Moeen Ali, who started to smash the ball around the ground because the rain was coming. A magical incantation called the Duckworth-Lewis Spell, which changed by the second, swinging widely between all possible results, allowed England to win - with the final ball going for a four right in front of where we were sitting. One of the old chaps in front of us, who had slept soundly since the end of his second bottle of red wine, woke, put up his umbrella and promptly left.
What was my conclusion from this sporting treat, you’ll be asking, I am sure? A tick on my bucket list... done! Is it like going to Rangers? Absolutely not! Would I go again? Possibly. It was exciting! Well, I thought so, even if few people around me got as excited as I did. But even then, I didn’t get excited enough to punch anyone!
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.
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