This is a difficult write-up today. I've had a chance to calm down from yesterday, but the feeling of injustice and anger is still there, still fresh in the memory.
You can only ask for a few things on the opening day of the season; nice weather, a good atmosphere, a buzz surrounding the game, these are the sort of things that make a good away day great.
QPR had all these things yesterday, and yet the game was totally ruined by a referee who had no intention of being consistent for both teams, and only wanted one thing; his name in the headlines, his brief moment of fame. He got that, whilst the rest of us, who spent a lot of money and energy travelling to Loftus Road, were shafted.
It was a brilliant day all the way up to the game. We arrived in Shepherds Bush in plenty of time somehow (I'm not fantastic with those bloody Tube lines), and were sat in O'Neills for 1:00. And the atmosphere built and built as the afternoon went on. The pub was full of Barnsley fans, singing and enjoying the occasion. It began to feel like maybe we could do something this time around, that it could be our year.
It was the first time I'd been to QPR and I've got to say, as far as away games go, I enjoyed the whole pre-match build up. I had been gutted when we got these away on the opening day, I was hoping for an away game a bit closer to home. But in all honesty, after experiencing the day out, I'd be glad to come back, and if our two sides are competing in the same division next year, I'll definitely be making this one in again.
By the time we set off for the ground, I was beginning to believe we were gonna do it. We never win at Loftus Road, we all know this by now, but eventually that record will have to change, and why not this time? Optimism is high, there's a feeling around this team that we're ready to make a step up in this division and show a few people up. Pundits have written us of, as have opposition fans, but why should that bother us? Maybe it was just the beer talking, but I was convinced we were gonna win this game.
We arrived at the ground with plenty of time to spare. It's a strange ground, looking a bit like a shoebox, the stands are almost exactly the same height all the way around. And it's steep too, with little leg room. But I liked it, it is a nice ground, traditional and with a low roof meaning a real atmosphere can be created by the away fans. It certainly was yesterday, we sang right from the start and only stopped when it became clear we were witnessing something bizarre unfold before our eyes.
The game kicked off, us lining up with Gray alone up front as expected, and it became obvious early on that we had a bit of a clown in charge of the game. The early signs were there; whistling for every little niggling challenge, not allowing the game to flow at all. He gave a free kick inside the QPR half after a stunning tackle by Doyle, the midfielder clearly playing the ball, and Doyle was rightly furious with the decision, spending a good five minutes harassing the referee, way after play had continued. They were the warning signs, and sure enough the referee got his moment just before half time.
I missed the first penalty incident. I had nipped into the concourse and was replying to a message from the missus asking how it was going. I texted her back saying 'Still 0-0, referee is useless though'. The moment I pressed send, a cheer went up from the home crowd, not the sort of cheer a goal would bring, but a cheer nonetheless. It was obviously a penalty, and sure enough, as I rushed back up to my seat, Helguson was stood over the ball on the spot, and calmly rolled it into the net for 1-0. The folk around me insisted it wasn't a penalty, but I've still not seen it so won't pass judgement just yet. What I would say is, the referee was always gonna give them a decision like that. I'm told he couldn't get to his whistle quick enough.
What a kick in the teeth. We were playing ok, not our best, not the brilliant passing football we'd seen in pre-season, but we were growing into the game. But goals can change that, and it was now a case of how we'd react to being behind.
We could have nicked ourselves level right before the half time whistle, when new QPR keeper Kenny made a hash of a clearance and Colace hit a screamer from a long way out. Sitting behind this as it happened, it looked like it was sailing into the top corner, with Kenny nowhere in sight, before swerving onto the woodwork and away. At this point, it was already feeling like it wasn't gonna go in for us.
At half time, the players surrounded the referee to protest, but obviously it was in vain. The crowd seemed a bit subdued now, like we knew that going in at half time could have been the moment which changed the game.
But we came out after half time with renewed vigour, and could have levelled after some good work from Lovre and half time sub Hume teed up Hammill, who saw his shot hit the post. It looked for all the world like it was going into the back of the net, but again, luck deserted us at the crucial time.
Barnsley fans. The ref, who was already the pantomime villain, became much more than that with his failure to award us a clear penalty of our own, when Fitz Hall threw his hand high into the air and punched a Steve Foster header. Loftus Road fell silent, and the home fans knew. Colin knew on the touchline. And we all knew behind the goal. The only two people who didn't know were the referee and his linesman, who didn't give the protest a second glance.
The feeling high in the Loftus Road stand was one of disbelief. People shouted, screamed, jumped up and down like mad men. But the referee turned his back and jogged away, leaving the wrath behind him. It was the big moment in the game, and he'd blatantly ignored it had even happened.
Of course, minutes later QPR went up the other end and scored the second, to rub salt into a very raw wound. Paddy Kenny, who had been getting abuse from the away crowd (as usual) turned and leapt into the air, clenching his fists with delight. This was all it took to further antagonize an already tense away crowd, and objects began to shower out of the sky towards the keeper. Bottles of Carlsberg, lighters and coins littered the pitch. It's disappointing to see, and something which could well land us in trouble. Anyone who has stood and sung about his wife (I did it) should be able to take a bit of stick back when it comes your way, that's part of the game.
Anyway, it was 2-0, and the game was over as a contest, the referee had made sure of that. At this point, our heads went down, and QPR took control. From this moment on, there was only gonna be more goals for the home side.
And so it proved, although the referee continued his bizarre afternoon for the third goal, another penalty, although this time he disallowed a QPR goal to bring play back. It didn't matter, since they scored anyway, but it kept in tone with the rest of his performance.
By the end, QPR had scored again to make it 4-0, and it could have been 6 or 7. But it was harsh on the players because up until the second goal, they'd been more than in the game, and it's such a shame to see all their hard work from pre-season, and all their confidence, gone in the space of ninety minutes.
As the full time whistle approached, the away end was looking more and more empty, but we stayed until the end just to see what would happen next. Those who stayed seemed to have saved most of their anger and frustration for the referee, rather than the players, which is fair enough since we didn't perform as badly as the scoreline suggests.
Neil Warnock and his players were immediately over to the officials on full time, shaking hands and putting arms around each other, congratulatory arms round for a job well done. Paddy Kenny continued to pick up objects which were still being thrown at him by the crowd. It had descended into chaos by this point, so we made our move back to O'Neills to drown our sorrows.
Walking through the throngs of home fans was difficult, listening to their analysis of the game. It's hard to remember sometimes that they, like us, have no control over what will happen in the match. They don't know if the ref will treat them kindly, or simply pretend they aren't on the pitch. Next week, they could be feeling just like we do now. We ended up talking to a couple in the pub who were really nice, and offered us some sympathy for what we'd just seen. It was a good end to the day, which had been spoiled by what had happened on the pitch.
We got the train home and fell straight to sleep, the stress of the day finally catching up with us. My voice was going last night, and has all but gone today from the shouting and screaming. And the feeling of injustice is still there, although writing this has been somewhat therapeutic.
Up next is Rochdale, but nobody really cares about the Carling Cup. We're looking to another London club next week, Crystal Palace, knowing that the pressure to get the first win is really on. It's horrible to look at the table and see us bottom again, knowing that those who've predicted our demise without so much as doing any research into who we've signed or how we've performed over the summer are sitting, looking smugly at the table and saying 'told you so'. But it's early days, it means nothing at this stage. Look at Norwich last season, or Burnley the year before. Lots can change. Sadly, in terms of the standard of refereeing in our games, some things never do.
Thanks for reading.