Let John Fist start with a disclaimer: this was a Carabao Cup first round game in which the majority of Loftus Road was empty. There were no songs, about two chants and only a few more people. I’m fully aware this doesn’t reflect a full-capacity match day.
Still — this Tuesday evening in the South Africa Road Stand of Loftus Road was one of the most unpleasant stadium experiences, on an existential level, John Fist has ever had, not least because it led to a startling discovery about the future of London football.
Alighting the train at Shepherds Bush, John Fist passed a summer fun fair on Shepherds Bush Green. Yes, this was summer, August in fact. The sky was a deep grey and people were wearing coats. The fun fair hissed and rattled in all the ways that draw the proles like magnets, myself included.
I’m as working class as of flaxseed and chia bagels with a shade grown Colombian coffee, so it was hard to resist a grinding, spinning fun fair ride that was both thrilling and potentially fatal.
But as Dad always told me as a child; in a moment where you must choose between what it is you love, and fulfilling your obligated duty, never choose what makes you happy. You’ll only end up resenting yourself for cracking that door ajar.
So, I spurned the fun fair and made my way down Wood Lane.
There’s an almost tangible line on that road where the gentrification begins. Within a matter of yards, knock-off chicken joints and arrogant Kebab shops give way to a ginormous Westfield shopping complex and the old BBC Television Centre. Since they moved operations up to Salford, this classic old building is being converted into flats that politicians in their second homes no doubt think qualify as affordable housing.
One bedroom flats start at £750,000, if you’re keen.
From the outside, the South Africa Stand of Loftus Road looks like a Brutalist 1960s office block with a few blue Lego bricks thrown on the end. As this was a Tuesday night fixture, I didn’t have time to take in much else. I just wanted to get to my seat.
The old clattering turnstiles and clunking metallic stairwells raised my hopes, but Dad was eventually proved right. Now, I’m a man of exactly six-feet and zero inches, and a rather normal build; but it was impossible to sit down in my designated seat in anything approaching a normal stance. The leg room on offer made Ryanair look like Business Class.
Out of stubbornness, I tried to force myself into position, but the firm edge of the seat in front dug into the space beneath my patella, threatening to cut off the blood supply to my lower extremities. For the first half, then, I sat with my body tilted askew as the seat beside me was empty.
To compound matters, and my spine, further, the game was a drab affair. Northampton started brightly, but QPR offered nothing going forward. So I sat, longing for any reason to jump to my feet. I lost sensation in the middle of my back around the twenty-minute mark.
Fortunately, Yeni Ngbakoto put Rangers in front in the 36th minute. There wasn’t so much a raucous cheer, more a smattering of people rising slowly to their feet, groaning in delight as their bodies realigned and the blood rushed back to their feet. Some poor souls sat and clapped, presumably wedged into their seat so tightly they simply couldn’t stand.
It was during the second half that the existential dread set in. Presumably, someone else in the row must have arrived at half-time because the seat beside me was no longer vacant. I was forced into an upright position, then. My back was perfectly straight, but I had to jam my feet beneath my seat, my toes arched at a wild angle to my raised heels. Naturally, my knees were given the full force of the plastic mere inches before me.
My feet started to shake involuntarily, small cramps pulsed in my calf. No one was singing — with the exception of the away end — and people were being reasonable. The ref wasn’t always a wanker. When Northampton’s Barnett was sent off, he was waved at, yes, but not called every name under the sun.
What was this?
A young player by the name of Ilias Chair came on for QPR. It was his debut. His name on the big screen appeared as I. Chair.
It hit me.
The tendrils of gentrification had reached Loftus Road. The old fans were being forced out. Apple had wormed their way in — iChair. That’s what the new flats in Television Centre would have, isn’t it? They have those iChairs in that there London, don’t they? Chairs with apps that tell you other things you could have been doing instead of sitting down.
Even London’s football clubs are succumbing to the city’s whoring out to corporate greed. Players aren’t sponsored by Dave and Nora Smethwick, or Micky Wilson’s Tyres and MOTs anymore, oh no. Now it’s multinationals buying players for advertising.
Number thirty-three, iChair!
Number thirty-five, on loan for a limited time only, Arizona Nacho Grande!
Number thirty-seven Dyson Airblade!
Speaking of which, the toilets didn’t have a Dyson Airblade hand dryer. I left immediately.