Kalisz: My Day with The Sentinel
First and foremost, what a disappointing result against The Hoops. Did I care? Not particularly on this occasion, which is rare for me as it usually takes hours for me to peel myself away from the darkest corner of my room. What balanced out the misery of yet another defeat was the incredible experience I had in following Mike Baggaley and Martin Spinks of The Sentinel. I shadowed them to learn the tricks of the trade so that I can one day, maybe, just maybe, be slightly famous myself.
My usual attire of Stoke shirt, tracksuit, and cap obviously wasn`t quite the acceptable clothing for the prawn sandwich stand, so a suit was what I donned for the day. Whatever I was wearing though, waiting outside the Media office for Mike wasn`t the best spots to be, especially when the notorious wind was whistling away. With that, I decided to head inside and wait for him there.
The two women at the front of the media office were really nice, perhaps it because of pity as I was slight shade of blue and the only conversation I could strike up at the time was about the cold weather and how I hated it. They told me to grab myself a cupper upstairs in the Press Conference Area and with no hesitation whatsoever, I left them to it.
When I entered, my first impressions were pretty high. I have to say that this place was immaculate and very up market, something that I`m not very used to in all honesty, but it was a welcomed change. Reporters were dotted everywhere, furiously typing away on their laptops as news of the starting eleven had just filtered through, Sky Sports news was playing in the background on two flat screen TVs, and the tea and coffees were flying off the kitchen worktop. Everyone was doing something, so I happily stood by the door and waited for Mike. Sure enough, Mike came in, although the problem was we didn`t know what each other looked like, so we stood next to each other, nodded to each other in a sort of half-arsed greeting and then stood there for a couple of minutes in silence. The thought did eventually cross my mind that this gentleman that I have never seen before might be waiting for someone he had never seen before, so I asked if he was actually Mike. With a sudden realisation, followed by apologies, we both shook hands and went to grab ourselves a cupper.
We sat up at the top tier of the Q-Railing Stand at desks, which I first thought were red railings in front of the seats upon first glance from my season ticket seat. These desks were nicely equipped with replay screens that proved to be extremely helpful during the course of the game for criticising everything the referee did. Well I had to at the end of the day, I didn`t think he made many correct decisions, not least the third shout for a penalty when Robert Huth was blatantly tugged from behind and pulled down in the area. He had a good view of it, being only a couple of yards away, but he wasn`t daring enough to make the call that would have most likely cost QPR 2 points at least. It was a tough game for him to control though as there were a number of incidents he had to deal with, but that merely produced more of a spectacle, especially for those neutral fans that firmly wedge the fence between their buttocks. It was certainly a game to get the fans in full voice, which as I said to Mike, was nice to hear once more. I`ve felt of late that our atmosphere has been rather flat, and not like the typical bellowing intimidating welcome we give to those who travel to the Potteries. Is it because our run of form has been equally flat, or is it that expectations have now reached a level beyond the level the team is at in reality? Who knows, but was it to be expected that at some point we would not have the same passion as we did in the first year in the Premier League? Mike seemed to think it was. That game was a loud one, but because of my surroundings and the likes of Radio Stoke and Signal 1 doing live coverage in my vicinity, my usual roaring, bellowing and ferocious fan deep inside me had to be caged and muted, which is surprisingly harder than you think. Nevertheless, I managed to keep my motor mouth out of gear and I behaved.
It was a tight game, but one that could have seen us through with at least a point had it not been for defensive errors on our part, or even the referee accidentally leaving his guide dog in the car. One thing was for sure, we played much better than we did against Newcastle and Bolton. The passing was more accurate and not so much up in the air, and the drive to get forward and whip in the ball to the box was more evident. Mathew Etherington was voted official sponsor`s Man of the Match and I have to agree because he was tearing up the pitch with pace and trickery that emulated the old Etherington from early last season. A very encouraging sight from the left flank, but from the right it wasn`t quite the same story; Pennant didn`t control too much of the game and I didn`t think he properly got into it. Hopefully that will be just the odd average performance from the talented winger out of however many he plays this season. Huth back in his favoured position in the centre of defence, partnering captainRyan Shawcross, was one that many have been calling for. In a shakeup in defence following a string of goals being conceded, Pulis reverted back to the back four that has been so solid in the past, but with Danny Higginbotham recently returning from a long-term injury and this set of players not playing all together since last year, things were slightly rusty, hence the defendable goals conceded during the game. Getting back to basics is the key, and most of that had been done over the international break, but the defence needs a little fine tuning before we take on Blackburn.
The end of the game saw a 3-2 victory with an almost full comeback from Stoke. Fans left disappointed, but I wasn`t going anywhere just yet, there was still work to do. Me and Mike headed down to the pitch in a cordoned off area for the press in which I met Martin Spinks. This area we stood in was more or less like a pen for sheep, which did make it slightly harder for us to call over a Stoke player as the team wandered back into the tunnel. While our lads were reluctant to talk because they were licking their wounds, former Potter Clint Hill had no problems making his way over for a bold, but friendly handshake and chat. He said it was a well fought game, but he felt that he needed to prove something to his previous club and he felt that he did that on the day. Fair play to the man, any player would.
With no luck on collaring a Stoke player, me and Spinksy went upstairs into the Press Conference Area in which we witnessed a rather bemused Tony Pulis answer his questions. The most obvious question to pop up was one that asked for his opinion on the referee`s performance, especially as he has recently been fined by the FA for his outspoken attitude after the Carling Cup match against Liverpool. He declined to comment, obviously, however did joke: "keep me away from referees for a while". His sense of humour never dies. After the general questions, the reporters for newspapers followed him into the corridor for a privet interview, which is where I stood to the bald messier himself. Rory Delap`s children ran through at the later stage of the interview with Pulis swiftly remarking: "oh and here`s Rory`s kids causing havoc again". It broke up the tension slightly as you could tell that Pulis was desperately disappointed yet slightly annoyed as well. Following on from Pulis was the unmissable Neil Warnock who walked into the corridor after his press conference. I say unmissable because you could literally smell the overpowering aftershave from a mile off! He was in good spirits which was no surprise and relished cracking a joke or two within his answers, which I quite liked. Not many do like Warnock, for whatever reason, but credit to him, he seems to have put together a well-jelled squad that know their place and their role.
I came out of that corridor with Spinksy and back into the Press Conference Area where we caught up with Mike who had just got back from the pitch. Unfortunately I missed Kenwyne Jones, but no matter, I had a wonderful and brilliant experience, not to rub it in or anything... well... maybe a tad.
Big thanks to Mike Baggaley and Martin Spinks for letting me shadow them, and I wish them the best for the future.