I have a trade union activist friend who was sacked once, in his youth, for having his haircut in the canteen during working hours. The company sought an injunction to stop the resulting strike which was contested on grounds that the shop steward’s sacking was trumped up.
At the High Court, the judge asked the man why he thought it was ok to have a haircut on company time. “It grew on company time” he answered.
“Come, come, my good man it didn’t all grow on the company time.” said the judge.
“But I wasn’t getting it all cut.”
The case was settled and he went back to work. There are times when you just know you’re not going to win; the company understood that inevitability with the confidence of his opposition. I wonder if Derby picked up a similar vibe on Saturday when Hill went off instead of Hoilett? It wasn’t just tactical it was a statement of intent.
When they’ve thrown everything at you without success, the opposition may begin to lose the self-belief that they can win. Last time round we won the Championship at a canter while this time we scraped through in the last minute of the play-off final and yet this felt so much better.
Back in April, I posted a sheepish question on the Irish R’s thread: “Anyone thinking of booking flights for the play-off final?” Marian’s response summed up how we all felt; “Don’t want to jinx us by booking.” After we lost the next two games, I booked flights and two twin rooms in a small hotel on the Uxbridge Road.
At the end of the second semi-final, in Lotts Bar, the smallest bar in Dublin, I was like a travel agent, on the smart-phone booking flights and changing one of our hotel rooms to a quadruple. I also booked for Paul Connolly and his family, St. Pat’s fans as well as R’s. Paul’s dad was born in Acton, lives in Ireland and remains an R’s season ticket holder in his eighties.
Since the meet-up in Kilkenny I’d been toying with the idea of an Irish R’s flag and now it was needed. So I ordered it for collection on Friday. When I rang on Friday morning the person I’d spoken to was missing and the order had been overlooked. I could tell the person I was dealing with had good interpersonal skills; she felt my pain and understood hysteria at the other end of the phone. It was like talking to the Samaritans, I was talked down from high dudgeon or wherever my distress was assailing her from. Four o’clock she promised and so it was, but my nerves were not the better of it!
It’s amazing the amount of paperwork you have to print now to travel anywhere; boarding passes (2), hotel vouchers (3), match ticket references (3), Stansted Express tickets (3). So you need ink but none of us had any ink, we obviously live in an inkless society. But if it ever happens to you I have the solution; take out the cartridges and bang them around a bit to shake up the last traces of ink. It worked, but with the state of my nerves at that stage I reckon the cartridges were afraid not to co-operate!
I’m normally a great sleeper but I tossed and turned all Friday night and got up before the alarm rang. I shared a taxi with son-in-laws Ken and Stephane (almost) but half-way to the airport there was a loud “Merd” from the back. Our French ‘R’ had taken the wrong passport, my daughter’s, and that wasn’t going to work for him. The taxi man offered to go back but their Southend flight was later than mine and it was every ‘R’ for himself on a day like this. So Stephane stepped out into the rainy morning, to head back home, and we wondered if we’d ever see him again?
At the airport I met up with John22 and Brian, our other companion, and there were little knots of R’s fans including FinglasR (Eamonn), moving around to flights to every London airport. The plane journey was not uneventful; we were entertained by John22, who produced smoked turkey sandwiches from his new Healthy Options Summer Range.
One of the great things about travelling with John is that the stories never stop. We met some R’s fans from Louth, as well as Dermott from Monaghan with his son, on the Express and although everyone was nervous about the game, John kept us rattling along with tales of past adventures.
At Liverpool Street, we decided to head for the Club Shop before the hotel, looking for Dennis the Menace shirts. This put us under time pressure so we started moving at a fair pace to catch the tube, but John doesn’t move fast. Or at least he doesn’t move fast well. A bit like a big oil tanker, he can move fast enough, he just needs a bigger turning circle when he’s moving at speed.
This is a disadvantage in a crowded Underground station. From a distance you could see it happening, a blind man with a white stick was moving towards us and John was hurtling in his general direction. In fairness to John when he saw the impact coming up he tried very hard to change direction, but it was not the blind man’s stick that cut him down. There was a brief coming together, the blind man pushed him out of the way and John went down. John appealed but the officials were not interested.
As he fell, John called “sorry” to the man, but the man shouted back: “you’re not sorry!” as he moved to avoid some other people coming towards him.
“Wait a minute, you’re not blind!” shouted the fallen one, but the man had speeded up and slid silkily through the crowd. We were looking for a replay of the incident but the big screens never replay anything controversial so they were only showing the train times.
The visit to Loftus Road was spiritually uplifting, but it was a waste of time because they had no Dennis the Menace shirts in large, extra-large or medium. But there were tons of shirts in small sizes.
Every shirt you could want was available but only in small. So what’s the story there? Do small people refuse to support QPR? Or do we have a huge number of small fans, judging by the lack of leg-room in the seats, this may be the answer, and does the Club have to order a much bigger number of small jerseys as a result? Either way we bought a hat between us and left for the hotel.
We were now running later than planned, but we still hoped to make Hennessys in Kingsbury after collecting tickets at Wembley and meeting up with Kerrins and ESSEXURs. So a quick turn-around at the hotel and into a six-seater taxi, us and the Connolly family. Well five of us, John22 was still putting on his make-up in the room. Okay it was face paint but he is very particular about it and like a true artist he wasn’t being rushed. We nearly killed him, and he moaned all the way to the stadium because we’d ruined his image but like the rest of us it was just nerves.
I think the set-up in the hotel hadn’t helped any of our nerves because there were two double beds in the quadruple room and three of us were due to sleep in there. Despite our suave and worldly appearances we were prudish, repressed Irish blokes who don’t go in for naturism, manly-bonding or any of that class of thing. Anyway that would have to be sorted later. The senior Mr Connolly gave us the discerning local’s guide to every pub we passed.
John22 headed to Hennessys while we struggled to find the box office. Eventually met up with Kerrins, ESSEXURs and our two Southend voyagers and finally got the tickets with only a small hiccup. I hadn’t brought identity with me (other than the booking) but it was sorted because I had my name on the back of my shirt; just as well I hadn’t changed it for Dennis the Menace. Set out for Kingsbury but soon realised that time was against us.
And so Plan B; we headed back towards the Outdoor Bar area but suddenly realised we were walking against a strong flow of supporters coming in the opposite direction. In fact, we were the only ones heading away from the stadium and those moving against us were all Derby supporters.
We were pushing our way down the Derby up-ramp and that might have been a metaphor for the day because we made it safely and in fairness, without threat. At the Outdoor Bar the queues were so long it would have been half-time before we got served.
And so Plan C; badly in need of beer we headed back to the stadium, passing the senior Mr Connolly and his grand-daughter Nicole soaking in the atmosphere. We were entering through different gates so we arranged to meet at a bar inside. Myself and Brian got there first and ordered four beers but the guys never showed; their gate had brought them up-top while we were at ground level. In answer to the age-old question: “Who ate all the pies?” It was Brian and me, two pies and two pints each.
Once in our seats we found an area of fencing where we could hang the flag, thanks to a couple of disabled R’s fans who didn’t object to having it in front of them.
I won’t even try to describe the game; the match report will come from elsewhere, but the atmosphere in the stadium, the tension, the result and the manner of the win were just unforgettable. I thought that the ref was giving almost all of the 50/50 decisions to Derby but you couldn’t argue with the sending-off. From that point we were living on our nerves. We were withdrawing everybody deeper into our own half and leaving no outlet, bar Bobby Zamora, who looked isolated and slow but the team had found its heart in the last three games.
When Bobby Zamora scored, all of the nerves and fears exploded into unbridled celebration. And I know it was unbridled because a bloke beside me, who had obviously noted that two girls a couple of rows behind us were hotter than either myself or Brian, vaulted over the seats and embraced them rather than hugging us!
There have been magic days for the R’s, but they don’t come along often. I’ve missed many of them in the past but this one was just so special. And now we know how many R’s were there in Wemberly, 40,000!
Through all the singing and celebrations, the Derby team were a credit to their club, standing out on the pitch to salute the R’s when they were clearly distraught. Professional footballers are not all self-centred spoilt brats, hats off to them!
Met up outside the ground and headed back to the Bush via Willesden Junction for some food before hitting the Crown & Sceptre. The place was buzzing with a big Irish crew, including George, NavanQPR (Noel) and his sister Claire as well as a couple of Canadian R’s who’d travelled a lot further than us.
The Irish Indy R’s flag made its first appearance in the Crown & Sceptre, we planned a future Irish R’s meet-up, at the Guinness Store House and Noel’s sister Claire celebrated her winnings. Apparently around the 85th minute she checked Paddy Power for odds on an R’s win and it was 20/1. She took it for £10 and by that stage it had gone up to 22/1, she hadn’t realised it was to win within the 90 minutes….how good does it get?
When we got back to the hotel we were faced with an awkward silence, it was like a teenagers’ school dance, no one wanting to ask if anyone wanted to tango with them. Without a word about sleeping arrangements, John22 said: “I’m just going outside, I may be some time” and off he went, apparently to have a smoke and consider the alignment of the stars.
Brian, who was having none of this manly-closeness thing, threw a cover on the floor and settled down to an uncomfortable night. I slept well on my double bed. As far as I know John slept on the other one.
Next morning, leaving before the team homecoming, we had breakfast in a deserted Bush and headed home emotionally exhausted and our voices gone. We arrived at Dublin Airport and in respect for a couple of devastated Derby fans we decided against waving our R’s flags on the way through arrivals.
We also arrived home to the news that Ming is now invading Europe, having topped the poll in the European elections. Will there be no end to the power of the R’s in the years ahead?