Tuesday, 7 June 2011

why I might be falling out of love with QPR

I recently summarised the twists and turns in my long relationship with Queens Park Rangers F.C., trying to convey how I came to develop a love for the club and say a little about what it has meant to me at different times of life.

I was gratified to find that posting a link to that piece on the WeAreTheRangersBoys.com site resulted in several hundred QPR fans at least looking at the article if not reading the whole thing. Several of them were kind enough to praise it, either on the WATRB forum or via the comments box here at this is my england. All of this is certainly a much stronger response than I get when this blog serves its more usual purpose, which is just to be an outlet for my creative urge to jot down the odd short story, dash off a little bit of poesy or share the sort of photographs it pleases me to take.

While it's pretty clear that the vast majority of people who have read the recent article are fellow QPR supporters, I did try to write it in such a way that it would make sense to the readers for whom the club's history is relatively unknown. I was thinking, for example, of a good American friend of mine who looks at this blog pretty regularly and who probably wouldn't even have heard of the R's were it not for me. So I'll continue in that vein in this second part to the story of my feelings for the football club. I will not assume an intimate knowledge of the people, personalities, trials and tribulations of QPR. Readers for whom the Shepherds Bush club's inner workings are a matter of daily preoccupation will find themselves reading a lot of old news, I'm afraid, should they choose to give this second piece their attention.

That first article about what the club means to me did not conclude on a positive note. I had to finish by writing that my love for the Rangers is now really being tested like never before. I conceded that this might seem strange given that the R's have just been promoted to the Premier League after a fifteen year absence. Now, why would I say that?

Here goes.

In September 2007, with the football season barely underway, it was announced that Formula 1 bigwigs Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone were taking over the club, with the incumbent Chairman Gianni Paladini set to continue in his role.

I was among those who were delighted by this news, not least because I knew enough about the club's parlous financial state and uncertain future prospects to have been extremely concerned about whether it would continue to exist. At the time, my son was not yet two years old. Having first been taken to QPR matches myself as a six year-old, and with QPR having been such a big part of my spending important time together with my own father for many years, it was a terrible thing to have to contemplate a future that did not include taking the little lad to Loftus Road and infecting him with the madness of the tribe that gathers there.

I'll never know to what extent my fears about the club's actual continued existence were truly well-grounded. What I do know is that during 2007, the whispers I was hearing were becoming more and more alarming. What's more, it's a matter of public record that in January of that year the club narrowly avoided a date in the High Court with the St. John Ambulance service, having failed to settle a bill thought to be around £17-18,000. Every right-thinking Englishman's favourite newspaper, The Daily Mail, pointed out at the time that this sum was the equivalent for a day's wages for the captain of the club's near neighbours Chelsea F.C.

Kevin Eason of The Times argued that QPR supporters were 'a little like a Christmas shopaholic facing up to depressing new year debts' and stated that meetings with Mr. Paladini had not eased fans' groups' worries that the club had cash flow problems. By way of making it clear for how long QPR had been in terrible shape financially, Eason wrote that many supporters blamed 'hefty repayments on the £10 million high-interested loan with the Panama-registered ABC Corporation, which helped the club to stagger out of administration five years [earlier].'

So there you have it. Even when my club was clambering from English football's third tier up to the second layer of our league system, and even when a certain Mr Ian Holloway was doing a stirling job building a spirited and successful team, all of that was against a background of seemingly never-ending uncertainty around the underlying financial structures. For anyone who could bear to look even slightly closely at the running of the club, it surely felt as though QPR was living on borrowed time. I remember the ABC loan being spoken of as a ticking time bomb. How far it was true I don't know for sure, but I recall people being convinced that the club was struggling simply to make payments on the interest and that the sum borrowed was never getting closer to being paid off. The commonly expressed fear seemed to be that whoever the ABC Corporation really were, they would at some stage become the owners of a locked and deserted football stadium, keen to maximise the value of their new asset by flogging a valuable chunk of west London real estate to whichever property developer fancied it most.

Was QPR F.C. to become homeless? Would the club cease to exist?

I don't know, but I was not alone in entertaining this horrible possibility and, as mentioned in the first part of this two-part ramble, I thought I might be able to do something. So I was trying something with a couple of fellow supporters in the summer of 2007 and was mightily relieved when it quickly became apparent that there was no need. Bernie and Flavio had come to the rescue, closely followed by an additional investor in the form of the incredibly wealthy steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.

Briatore said at the time: 'Bernie and I were delighted to receive a recommendation from the Board of QPR for our bid for the Club and we look forward to working alongside Gianni Paladini and his team. We are fully aware of the history of QPR and the loyal fan base that it has; we are therefore totally committed to bringing future success back to the Club.'

The times that followed were very strange, I think.

It was weird, for one thing, suddenly to read and hear references to QPR as a 'rich' club. I quickly found it distasteful to realise that some supporters imagined the club would rocket effortlessly into the Premier League, build a giant new stadium and knock the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United from their positions at the top of the English game.

This sort of assumption and what I took to be its underlying arrogance did not sit comfortably for me, not least because of what I'd learned from Chelsea-supporting acquaintances who'd seen their club's sudden transformation from poorly-funded makeweights to perennial title contenders. One old friend told me that she'd enjoyed Chelsea's title-winning campaign of 2004-05 far more than the following season when her team successfully defended that title. She'd prefer to see Chelsea winning than losing, of course, but she reports that over time the constant jibes from supporters of other teams about how her club have 'bought' titles gets more than a bit irritating. She also talks about the sorts of new fan that have jumped on the Chelsea bandwagon since Roman  Abramovich started pumping vast sums into the club. She tells me about newcomers with no sense of Chelsea's fairly turbulent history and whose expectations are set very high. These are people who are 'gutted' if their side 'only' beats a mid-table opponent by a one goal margin or 'disgusted' if their club does not manage to sign whoever is currently being described as the best player in the world.

It seems, too, that it's not only more recently converted Chelsea supporters who think like this. People who have followed that club for decades can come to adopt a similar mindset. My wife's stepbrother is a good example. I've had the misfortune on a number of occasions to be in the room when he's watching a Chelsea match on TV. I've seen him storm out of the room, thoroughly pissed off by a game which his side has actually won. Why? Failure to demolish 'inferior' opposition by a margin of several goals. I find this approach to following a team to be joyless and horrible - the foot-stamping and whining of a spoiled child.

I've never wanted any part of that at QPR.

To be fair (as football pundits never tire of saying), in the years that followed the injection of new money into QPR, it soon became apparent that something like that probably wasn't on the cards. While some money was spent on tarting up parts of the ageing stadium, the sums spent on players were not astronomical. We didn't see a rush to sign large numbers of expensive, high quality additions to the squad.

Well, I could live with the idea of the club simply being adequately funded, well run and, over time  perhaps improving the squad to the point where a well-organised promotion campaign might be put together. I didn't 'demand' or 'expect' to see QPR playing at the top level again, or feel that my happiness depended on it. In fact, to my mind, in the long years since the Rangers were relegated from the Premier League, the top division had been evolving into something that isn't necessarily all that wonderful. For one thing, its outcome always seems quite predictable, which is in fairly stark contrast with the Championship which tends to feel much more like a genuinely open contest with numerous contenders jockeying for the promotion spots over the course of a season. Further, I just find it hard to stomach that the most ordinary squad players with the most mediocre top flight teams now command salaries that would have been thought unimaginably generous only a decade a go. If the sums bandied around are about right, and if my maths is not too bad, it seems to be the case that a Premier League team's second choice goalkeeper could sit on his backside for the duration of a number of seasons, maybe getting to test his reflexes in the odd reserve fixture or League Cup match, and then retire comfortably with a bundle of savings and property that should forever obviate the need for him to get a proper job. This doesn't feel right to me.

It seems right and proper that people with a rare level of talent, playing a sport that people are prepared to pay to watch, should be able to take advantage of the scarcity of the special magic they have to offer. That a few exceptional individuals in this position could become very wealthy seems fine. But transferring millions into the accounts of journeymen cloggers seems crazy. That money will not be reinvested in the future of the game. It gets spent on cars, houses, holidays and bling. Meanwhile, we are to understand that our country lags behind many others in terms of the pipeline of young talent that might one day produce a decent national team. Meanwhile, despite the dizzying sums of money sloshing around the game of football, we learn that hardly any of our professional clubs, including those in the top division, are run as properly solvent and self-sufficient businesses. How many bubbles are set to burst?

Taking all of this into account, I've not spent the last few years thinking of the Premier League as a fabled land of milk and honey or honour and glory. That said, there is probably nothing more satisfying than a successful promotion campaign, so of course I always wanted to see the Rangers prevail thus over the course of a gruelling 46-game Championship season.

Elevation to the Premier League, as every QPR fan knows, was finally achieved right at the end of the 2010-11 term. For the most part, and until strange and bad news emerged in March (of which more later), it was wonderfully enjoyable.

I'm prepared to admit that the outcome came as a pleasant surprise to me. I remember my response when asked at the beginning of the season to predict QPR's final position. I went for 8th, i.e. a couple of spots below the playoff zone. Why? Well, I felt that the addition of what seemed liked a few solid journeymen (the likes of Shaun Derry, Clint Hill and Bradley Orr) to what was probably a pretty average squad would not be enough to make a huge difference. I wondered where the goals were going to come from.

Well, of course I'd reckoned without manager Neil Warnock's special talent for getting the most out of a gritty, committed group of players and his proven track record of securing promotions in the past. I'd also not bargained for Warnock being able to get the best out of the extravagantly talented but visibly temperamental Adel Taarabt, whose play was mostly exceptional as the season unfolded. The Rangers rarely looked like blowing their lead at the top of the table, racking up useful results home and away, and often offering very decent entertainment as well as taking care of the basic business of getting the points.

Having been beside myself with joy when QPR were last promoted (into the Championship from the third tier in the 2003-04 season), you would think that the pleasure of making the jump up to the next level would be sweeter still for me. Not so, I'm afraid. A very strange set of circumstances arose, meaning that while I did feel relief when promotion was finally secured, I can't describe the emotion I felt as genuine elation. The taste of it had been soured horribly.

Some QPR fans, perhaps most of them, can put last season's peculiar madness firmly to one side and take as much pleasure in the successful outcome as they would have done had the peculiar nature of its conclusion not been a factor. I just can't.

So what could have gone so wrong during what was, after all, a wonderfully successful season on the pitch?

Well, during the month of March, news broke that QPR were accused of some irregularities around the 2009 signing of their very useful Argentinean midfielder Alejandro Faurlin. The media loves a big story and the big story was that a significant deduction of league points might result. On Saturday 12th of March, I was at Loftus Road with my son, watching the Rangers deal fairly efficiently with relegation-threatened Crystal Palace. The visiting fans enjoyed raising this possibility of a points deduction, singing about it fairly steadily at times.

This was to become something of a theme. Keyboard warriors everywhere - particularly those supporting clubs that could have had automatic promotion handed to them were the Rangers to be docked points - weighed in with their accusations of cheating and their assumptions that our club's guilt and severe punishment were a done deal. The newspapers continued to write copy laced with the same sort of assumption - that a points deduction was a strong possibility. Logic told me that this was all a mix of sensationalism, guesswork and (on the part of some other clubs' fans) wishful thinking because, after all, the independent panel that was to sit in judgement had not even met. But all of this coverage and speculation made for a nervous last few weeks of what should have been just a wonderful season.

Then, despite faltering form, QPR had, in theory, done enough to clinch promotion with a good result at Watford. But celebrations remained on hold because of the pending investigation. It was with incredulity that I greeted the news that the matter would only be sorted out one way or another on the day before the final game of the season, a home fixture with Leeds United. It was torture. Madness.

In the end, we did not even know on the morning of the final day of the season whether QPR were guilty of any misdemeanour. The torment continued, the Champagne still on ice.

I was on a Hammersmith & City Line train heading towards Wood Lane station when the good news began to filter through: no points deduction. NO POINTS DEDUCTION!! YES!!! WE WERE UP!!

So, it all turned out alright.

But the notes of the independent panel, when these became available on 25th May (18 days after promotion was finally rubber stamped) made for interesting reading. In a nutshell, Gianni Paladini, not acting, it seems, in a deliberately fraudulent manner, had buggered up some of the paperwork needed to demonstrate that the club was not in in breach of FA rules relating to the third party ownership of players. Here is the part I found most alarming: 

"Mr. Paladini, who was clearly mindful of the issue of third party investment... did not consider it necessary to consult with The FA and seek its approval for the course he was taking. He did not consult with the Club’s Solicitors... Instead, he took it upon himself to undertake what was a lawyer’s task of negotiating a suspension of a third party’s interest in the economic rights over a Player he was proposing to sign on behalf of the Club. Having taken the initial step of insisting upon the protection which he thought [a] Comfort Letter would provide, he then failed to take the essential further precautionary step of having the arrangement considered and approved by the Club’s lawyers and the FA...the course that he took was inadvisable and fraught with risks."

For the avoidance of all doubt, let me be very clear how I feel about Gianni Paladini: I loathe the man. I think he is poisonous and that trouble and farce follow him everywhere he goes. I am grateful for his role in attracting to our club the investors who have kept it alive and bankrolled some significant improvements. But I am mindful of how rashly and unwisely he has spoken on numerous occasions. I choose not to disbelieve numerous allegations circulated about his role in transfers of dubious value. I want him out, not least for his role in putting every QPR fan through weeks of doubt and worry this season.

For now, however, it seems that Paladini has survived. The club's name has been dragged through the mud for weeks on end and a fine of £875,000 has been imposed by the FA. But Teflon Gianni hangs on and on, like a piece of shit that cannot be shaken from the anus.

Clearly, this shady individual meets with the approval of Messrs. Briatore and Ecclestone, under whose watch the club has just rewarded the loyalty of QPR's long-suffering supporters with hefty rises in season ticket prices and what looks to be an astronomical hike in the price of single match tickets. The club has indicated what 'saving' is to be had by buying a season ticket (i.e. vs. the price of buying 19 tickets on a match-by-match basis). If this is not a false advert, I am to understand that the Ellerslie Road tickets I was buying for £30 last season will now be priced at around £58 - a 93.3% increase.

My gratitude to the people who bought QPR in 2007 has long been mixed with quite different feelings. I despaired as managers came and went and much-needed stability for the club remained elusive. I noticed with displeasure that while the corporate entertainment facilities at the ground were much improved, facilities for the plebs in Ellerslie Road remained woefully outdated and sub-standard. I wondered why it was necessary to replace the club's long-standing badge (a fairly simple, elegant design featuring the letters Q, P and R) with a ghastly quasi-heraldic confection that resembles a tasteless pub sign.

These matters were merely irritating in comparison with this most recent outrage - the scandalous rise in prices.

A chap who supports Manchester United and goes by the name of Andersred writes a very good blog about football finance. Today, he has crunched the numbers and analysed the QPR ticket price increases. He conludes: 

"the weighted average price increase per match is probably around 75%. In one season QPR are inflicting a larger ticket price increase on their fans than the Glazers have imposed at United over six years

All this means the club will take close to £4m in extra revenue next season... That’s a nice extra of course, but still only 10% of the TV cash coming QPR’s way and a mere 0.02% of the combined wealth of the club’s owners....."

I assume that this last bit about the combined wealth of the owners takes Lakshmi Mittal's incredible resources into account. To be fair to Mr Mittal, his son-in-law, Amit Bhatia, when recently resigning from the club's board, cited his disagreement with these incredible price increases as a major reason for his doing so.

I opened the first part of this long, long ramble by pointing out the QPR's fans appear to be, in the main, working class people. People who spend a lot of what money they have supporting this club - and doing so when the players, the results and standard of play have been pretty crap, let's remember. To ask these prices of them now is insulting.

What is to become of QPR? Do Briatore and Ecclestone and their bumbling henchman Paladini want to drive out the riffraff and replace them with a better class of person? Or do they just not understand sensible pricing?

As things stand, when I should be looking forward to seeing my beloved QPR play in the top flight for the first time in fifteen years, I actually feel disinclined to come to Loftus Road at all next season.

It's like the people who own the club are going out of their way to put off loyal supporters. They seem to be saying nothing more than 'fuck you, peasants.' Well, fuck you, Paladini. Fuck you, Ecclestone. Fuck you, Briatore.

I feel like I'm being mugged off and having the piss taken out of me. In no other walk to life do I allow that to happen. I vote with my feet and my wallet and get out of situations like that. I never thought it would come to this at QPR, but it seems that it has. My feet and my wallet seem to know which way to vote. Now I just need to make sure my heart doesn't come over all sentimental and try to overrule them.


  1. Really like the way you have written this article.

    What I don't like is that I agree with everything you say and am doing exactly the same and am really having trouble overruling my heart in buying a season ticket but feel like the life blood is slowly being sucked out of my team and at this moment in time cannot see a happy ending.

    I do hope I am completely wrong.

    Peter F

  2. Not reading all that. Summary?

  3. The trouble with football is you are made to feel guilty if you don't attend every match/buy every bit of merchandise etc. As if you aren't a true fan. Many fans buy into this which is exactly what the owners want. Then the clubs start to take this piss (just look at some of the merchandise clubs pump out, anything they can get a club crest on they'll try and flog to you). It's tough to try and break that psychological hold but you'll feel much better when you do (and your bank account will certainly sigh with relief!)
    Fans of all clubs need to get organised. It's our game not theirs, and as money is the only thing most of the owners are interested in, time to boycott games and stop buying their tat.

  4. Great article, it is exactly how I am feeling. I went to home games withy my son last year, sitting in Silver area cost £38.00 plus booking fee. This season it will be more like £87.00. I have to drive 260 miles, which is another £35.00 - so will cost about £ 125.00 a game. A might go once to say I've seen QPR in thePremier again, or go to a few away games as that maybe less expensive. But I am now going to but sky whioh I have rejected to do until now and become an armchair supporter. For live football it will be Exeter City as they make you feel welcome when you go there, and my son loves live football. Over 38 years of supporting QPR and I feel saddened now as much as anytime. And there have been plenty sad times!!

  5. Fantastic piece but fear not because Bernie will be gone soon.

  6. @Anonymous

    "fear not because Bernie will be gone soon."


  7. I have a connection very close to Bernie in another of his sporting business and have been assured that it is only a matter of time. He wouldn't say where from but I imagine it is an improved mittal bid.

    I don't like to deal in gossip but this connection has rarely been wrong before. (He told me about the original take over a month or so before it happened and I laughed him out of the room)

  8. Your source is lying.

  9. 'Well, I could live with the idea of the club simply being adequately funded, well run and, over time perhaps improving the squad to the point where a well-organised promotion campaign might be put together. I didn't 'demand' or 'expect' to see QPR playing at the top level again, or feel that my happiness depended on it. In fact, to my mind, in the long years since the Rangers were relegated from the Premier League, the top division had been evolving into something that isn't necessarily all that wonderful. For one thing, its outcome always seems quite predictable, which is in fairly stark contrast with the Championship which tends to feel much more like a genuinely open contest with numerous contenders jockeying for the promotion spots over the course of a season'. You know what big guy I had a feeling about half way through the season how distasteful the Premier League has become & how much more enjoyable it might be to be a relatively successful Championship team, say by having a good cup run & maybe achieving the playoffs. The undignified smash & grab style of Tango & Cash doesn't sit well with me, however remember that money goes to money & despite my antagonistic feelings towards them, they are trying to run a business (not a charity) & deserve some return on their investment. The best senario for me is for a Mittal takeover, I'm not sure that will mean a reduction in prices or better conditions, however at least they seem to share some passion with us supporters & are not the cold, calculating & disinterested face of the club.

  10. I hope something happens soon regarding a takeover from the deadly duo.