|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Stoke City|
Saturday, 9th March 2019 Kick-off 15:00
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Friday, 8th Mar 2019 14:41 by Clive Whittingham
QPR are back in action on Saturday at home to Stoke City, as we prepare to bid a fond farewell to the league's CEO Shaun Harvey.
QPR (12-6-17, LLLLWL, 18th) v Stoke (10-14-11, LLDDDW, 16th)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday March 9, 2019 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Reasonably nice but windy >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Glory be to God, there was no midweek QPR fixture this week. I swear on the chunky thighs of Ilias Chair you have absolutely no idea how happy this has made me.
No game, no dash across town on rush hour Central Line, no money I don’t have spent on beer I don’t need, no realisation just how boring Championship football is when you have to watch it relatively sober, no crushing last minute disappointment or refereeing fuckwittery to go on top of the weekend’s crushing last minute disappointment or refereeing fuckwittery.
No cropping photographs of Tomer Hemed’s token efforts at two in the morning, no scrabbling around for topics for three match previews in seven days, nobody to tell you Luke Freeman was definitely a seven not a six, nobody rewarding you for the late nights and early mornings and ongoing slog by repeatedly telling everybody on Twitter what an attention seeking wanker you are.
It has been glorious. And I’ve done absolutely nothing with it. Just sat, very still, in my living room, with the television off, staring at one of the walls that doesn’t have a picture on it. I’ve tried to make myself as bored as possible so as to stretch out the time in which there was no QPR midweek game. The last thing I wanted was for it to pass too quickly because, guess what, there’s a QPR midweek game next week. It’s dragged beautifully.
Anyway in the absence of a game and for want of something better to do with their time the Football League decided to have one of its get togethers to sort out the various completely avoidable catastrophes it’s worked itself into over the past few months, and on this occasion to bid a fond fuck off to departing CEO and friend of the site Shaun Harvey. Now, if you don’t like it when we do Shaun Harvey, and you’re here for the QPR v Stoke stuff, then sorry about that but he’s leaving so it’s only right we bid our own farewell and if you scroll down there’s some vague references to the match lower down. If you do like it when we do Shaun Harvey, then I would say ‘strap yourself in’ if a former editor of mine hadn’t forbidden me from writing that because “we want people to be excited, but it’s not a fucking rollercoaster”. And if you don’t know what they hell we’re going on about then don’t worry, we’ll give you a quick crash course.
Shaun Harvey has been the CEO of the Football League since 2013 but prior to that spent the best part of ten years as the CEO at Leeds United, during which time the club went into administration and was relegated to League One. The administration occurred in May 2007 under chairman Ken Bates with the club in debt to the tune of £35m despite selling its stadium, training ground and best players for many millions of pounds. Bates was allowed to buy the club back from the administrators immediately, leaving a string of creditors - including many local businesses - in a queue for a tiny percentage of the pound owed. The club owed £7.7m to the taxman, £8,997 to the West Yorkshire Ambulance service and £165 to St John’s Ambulance – all of whom had to settle for a fraction. Harvey, and Bates, both denied publicly they knew who the club’s offshore owners were prior to Bates being handed the club back minus debt.
Later Harvey instructed the club’s in-house radio station to broadcast programmes about the whereabouts of former director Melvyn Levi, who Harvey said owed the club money, encouraging fans to track him down and report back. Ofcom ruled the broadcasts were “unjust and unfair” and amounted to “harassment” causing “distress and anxiety” to Levi and his wife. Levi also sued Ken Bates for libelling him in the club programme, and won £1.5m.
Prior to Leeds, Harvey had been managing director at nearby Bradford City. This was another ten-year stint which, again, included a relegation and a descent into administration after most of the club’s assets - including parachute payments, stadium and players – had been mortgaged to cover an obscene spending spree under chairman Geoffrey Richmond. The club went from the Premier League in 2001 to League Two by 2007. One of the creditors which went unpaid in Bradford’s second administration was, again, St John’s Ambulance, so heroic in the Valley Parade fire of 1985. Before that, Harvey filled a similar role at Scarborough, who you may remember were once a Football League club…
So that’s the bloke in charge, and what a jolly good job he’s done too. Well, we assume he has, after all his pay went up £61,000 last year to a total of £419,000 p/a (just imagine), but to be honest pinning down the achievements to justify this have been a little tough.
Could it be, perhaps, the decision to hand the keys to the castle over to Sky Sports exclusively for the next five years for £590m just as the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and others are about to plunge into the sports rights game and throw the amount of money paid for live football, and live English football in particular, into the stratosphere? A move so well received by the league’s member clubs that a bulk of them threatened to breakaway from the EFL altogether in November?
Or his one man wrecking ball mission on the league’s midweek fixture calendar perhaps? This, you may recall, started with his comments to BBC Five Live that football fans prefer their longest trips of the year to be on a Tuesday so that more of them can go to the local derbies on the Saturday, and that the fixture list is deliberately designed with this in mind. This has seen QPR travelling to Rotherham, Blackburn, Leeds, Sheffield, Sunderland and elsewhere, repeatedly, on Tuesday nights in recent years to the fury of those of us who endure such trips. It has now developed into his deal with Sky that all Championship midweek fixtures are now available via the satcaster’s red button service, or for a small payment on the clubs’ official websites. Now who would have thought that giving the fans the choice between spending £150 and taking two days off work to travel 400 miles to a Championship match in the middle of December, or paying £5 to watch it in their living room, would lead to a steep decline in attendances? Not Shaun, who responded to The Times’ findings earlier this season that midweek crowds were down almost 10% year on year as inconclusive and possibly related to other factors, including the weather. ““We recognise that there could be an impact, but finding an exact comparison is very difficult due to a wide range of factors including differences in the opposition, team form and even the weather,” he said. Because if you’re planning to go to Rotherham v QPR from London on a working weekday Tuesday night in late November you make and abandon those sorts of plans on the day if it’s spitting a bit.
Could it be the complete destruction of the Football League Trophy, which is now fought over in front of crowds rarely bigger than the number of players on the pitch by a mixture of lower league teams and Premier League youth teams? This was ostensibly to give the Premier League’s precious hoards of excellent young boys some sort of competitive football (if only there was some other way?) but has laughably seen the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Charlie Adam, Kenedy, Leonardo Ulloa, Kelechi Iheanacho, James Collins, Jack Rodwell, Saido Berahino, Alex McCarthy and Ryan Shotton turn out for the Premier League “U23” teams. Football League team using the competition to play their graduates from their own academies, who often win their matches, have been fined.
Or mayhaps it was the ridiculous ongoing devaluation of the League Cup which, at the behest of the sort of sugar-laden Far Eastern energy drink sponsor this week linked to strokes, has been turned into high farce. There was the first round draw held in Bangkok, shown live on a Facebook feed with no sound, which featured Charlton Athletic and Forest Green being drawn twice, Oxford not getting a game at all and Wimbledon pulling Swindon despite them both being unseeded. Then there was the second round draw which instead of just being drawn normally had to be seeded, and instead of being seeded normally had to involve a third pot of coloured balls to decide whether you were at home or away. QPR v Brentford, Watford v Bristol City, Palace v Ipswich and Norwich v Charlton were all originally announced as the other way around by John Salako who misunderstood what the red ball with HOME written on it meant. And then there was the 53-minute third round draw which was held at 4am UK time in Beijing, something Harvey said would “give the competition maximum exposure in the UK (!!), China and the South East Asian market” which is “not only an important factor for the EFL, but also our sponsors Carabao” but went onto admit “the draw itself will not be televised in the UK, or anywhere else.”
Hard to be sure isn’t it? So we went looking down the talking points for Shaun’s leaving do for further evidence of his administrational wizardry and found lots to go on.
Among the small talk for the shindig was the current situation at Blackpool. Harvey’s Football League had previously done nothing while Owen Oyston, a convicted rapist, deliberately ran the club into the ground, stripping all the money from their Premier League promotion (including an £11m ‘salary’ paid to him during the year in the top flight) while the club went on training on little more than a council pitch and with a temporary stand down one side of its stadium. Blackpool have been run down from the Premier League in 2011 to League Two by 2016 amidst a hail of asset stripping and games that couldn’t be played to a conclusion because of fan protest - the league did nothing about any of this, though the FA did fine Blackpool £50,000 for that pitch invasion. The High Court recently placed the club into receivership over a £25m debt owed to previous investor Valeri Beloken, who the league says doesn’t pass its “fit and proper” owner test while Oyston does, which means it is finally out of the clutches of the Oyston family. More than 14,000 fans will return to Bloomfield Road this weekend after a prolonged boycott in celebration at the development. Harvey wanted to debate whether to dock them 12 points for the receivership.
Next up was where exactly Coventry City are going to be playing their home games next season. I mean, quite apart from the fact that Tottenham Hotspur don’t know where they’re going to be playing their home games this season, the Coventry situation is another that has been allowed to happen, develop and fester in clear plain sight of the EFL who have done absolutely nothing about it while hedge fund SISU has run a former top flight mainstay into League Two and, for one season and who knows maybe again, a set of home games at Northampton Town. As far back as 2012 a judge was finding that the club had “fallen into a parlous state as a result of mismanagement” and still no action from the league. Now it turns out those same owners haven’t got a rental agreement in place for the loathsome Ricoh Arena next year, having previously tried to sue the local council and the stadium management company, it’s suddenly occurred to the EFL that they might have a homeless club on its hands.
Actually, never mind that, also up for discussion was where Bolton Wanderers were going to be playing their home game this weekend. Once again, a situation a long time in the making, under an owner who apparently passes the league’s tests and was allowed to just take over the keys to one of the sport’s more historical names, and a valuable community asset, barely 18 months ago with money borrowed on a short term loan at a punitive interest rate. The Bolton players went on strike during pre-season over unpaid wages, the PFA was asked to step in and meet salaries in November, and a number of players signed at the end of the summer transfer window on a promise of permanent moves and transfer fees in January had to return to their parent clubs over Christmas when it transpired no money to complete the deals was actually available. Now, again, as February becomes March, it turns out that the players, and the everyday members of staff at the club, did not receive the payroll they were due. The league has done absolutely nothing about this and just let it happen, until this week when the council said it would revoke the ground’s safety certificate if payments to police and stewards weren’t made prior to Saturday’s home game with Millwall. Honest, hard working people behind the scenes at Bolton trying to meet mortgage payments at a club that pays them whenever it feels like is fine in Shaun Harvey’s EFL, a poxy Championship match with Millwall potentially not taking place is not.
Then there’s Birmingham, who flagrantly breached the league’s nonsense FFP rules with a Harry Redknapp trolley dash getting on for two years ago now. Having previously punished QPR to the tune of £20m under rules the league itself admitted were unworkable and subsequently tore up, this is seen as a big test case of exactly how the replacement regulations will work and what the punishment is for breaching them. Everybody knew Birmingham were breaching FFP when Redknapp did what Redknapp does, signing 14 players including an eye-watering one year loan deal for Sam Gallagher from Southampton which topped £4m in payments, the summer before last. The league has known since this time last year when City had to put an advance statement of its accounts in, and they showed they were spending 198% of their income on wages. It immediately imposed a transfer embargo on the club, which it ignored and signed Kristian Pedersen from Union Berlin for £2.3m anyway. The hearing into all this was scheduled for last week, 18 months after the breach, and was promptly postponed because somebody on the panel turned out to have a conflict of interest. It’s now due next week and will likely result in a 12 point deduction.
But nobody knows that for sure, nor when it will be announced, nor when it will apply – there will only be eight games of the current season left when the hearing is finally held. No word either on Sheff Wed, whose own chairman recently admitted at a fans’ forum that they had breached FFP by “a lot, eight figures”. Meanwhile Wolves’s accounts reveal they basically ignored the rules altogether to get to the Premier League. A set of rules difficult to understand, which some teams try to comply with and others deliberately choose not to, applied secretively, in an unspecified time, with unspecified punishments.
In League One, Charlton Athletic, another club the league has sat idly by and allowed to be run into the ground by a malicious owner is also in strife. Roland Duchatelet initially bought the club so he could shuffle players of the calibre of Yohann Thuram-Ulien, Reza Ghoochanneijhad and Astrit Ajdarevic between Charlton and his clubs on the continent where fans had protested his ownership and methods long before the league waved him happily through the doors of a South London club recently held up as a model for others. Another club that has descended from Premier League to League One double lively, another club in which games have regularly been interrupted by fan protests, another ownership regime the league has done nothing about – even happily allowing the CEO Duchatelet had running the shitshow, Katrien Meire, to not only take up a similar post at Sheff Wed, but also join the FA Council as an EFL representative. Well those chickens have also come home to roost now, with Duchatelet saying the club is the league’s responsibility and they should buy it from him for £1, and then pay him rent for the training ground and stadium. The league rejected that idea, but in all these examples it is paying the price for sleeping on the job and allowing owners to destroy clubs.
Now I’m sorry for banging on a bit (plus ça change) but does this in any possible way look like a well-run, well-administered sporting competition to you? Is there really anything in the Football League at the moment – its rules, its broadcast deals, its ticketing, its refereeing, the financial state of its clubs, the precious "regulatory framework" it hides behind whenever any of these examples are raised – where you look and think, ‘ooooh, nice and ship shape’?
However, this is the UK in 2019, where people aren’t fired for incompetence as much as they’re rewarded, where we describe expert opinion as project fear but hang on every word of gobshites. We’re a country where the transport secretary can oversee a railway with no trains for two months in the height of summer, and can pay £33m to one company with no ferries to compensate for the botched award of a ferry contract to another company with no ferries, and still keep his job. We’ve lost our damn minds. And we’re apparently now about to make Shaun Harvey CEO of… The Football Association.
Ok, I’m done now. Both here, and in general. And if that wasn’t enough QPR v Stoke for you well then I’m sorry, but would you really want to spend your time writing about QPR v Stoke?
Geoff Cameron Facts #32 – Police in the Far East are predicting chaos on the streets the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Shaun Harvey decided to host the second round draw for the League Cup in Beijing at four in the morning when Geoff finally returns to action in the biggest global television event of the year against Rotherham on Wednesday night.
Team News: Ok go on then we’ll do a bit of QPR Stoke here for you. Geoff Cameron has been back in full training for a fortnight and is fit to return but, wouldn’t you just know it, we’re playing his parent club, so his return is delayed until Wednesday. Angel Rangel is also back out on the grass but his return is still a couple of weeks away. Highly likely, therefore, to be the same team that capitulated at Brentford a week ago then unless Schteve decides to rotate Hall/Lynch, Scowen/Cousins and/or Wells/Hemed. Matt Smith has injured his ankle and is out.
Stoke are being all secretive about their injury situation for this crucial clash between eighteenth and sixteenth, but we do know Peter Etebo has developed a fungal infection of his sense of direction and is out. Saido Berahino has been busy driving around pissed up and swearing at journalists who dare to report it so might be stood down.
Elsewhere: Alas, we’re once again reduced to glancing over our shoulders and wondering exactly how many points will be required for safety. Twas ever thus. For a while this week it looked like one of the relegation six pointers between second bottom Bolton (26 points) and fifth bottom Millwall (34) wouldn’t go ahead with the Wanderers once again failing to pay their staff and bills on time and the council threatening to withhold a safety certificate for the game until policing, stewarding and catering was confirmed. That happened yesterday so the game will now go ahead. Hard to envisage Bolton staying up in this state, but then we said that last year when they managed it by playing well for the last minute and 30 seconds of the season in which they scored twice to relegate Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion and their lovely town full of pubs. Bastards.
Two of the other strugglers play each other this weekend as well with Reading (fourth bottom, 33 points) hosting Wigan Warriors who are two places and three points north of them. Winners of those two games are likely to gain significant ground on the other teams around them with few points on offer for Ipswich Down (last place, 21 points) at West Brom and Rotherham (third bottom, 33 points) away at Sheffield Red Stripes in an early kick off. The Mad Chicken Farmers, one place and two points above us on a run of five defeats and a draw from six games, have a local derby at home to Preston Knob End who stuck four through them earlier this season at Deepdale. That one is also a lunchtime knock off.
Up at the top end the game of the day is probably Bristol City at home to the Champions of Europe. Following injuries to both Frank Fielding and Niki Maenpaa in the last three games, Lee Johnson has been given special dispensation to sign New Zealand international keeper Stefan Marinovic on an emergency short term deal and he’s straight into the squad. Marcelo Bielsa has been peering through the new boy’s back fence all week taking notes. The Spy Who Loved Me is currently two points off league-leaders Borussia Norwich, although that could be five by the time they play tomorrow as Daniel Farke’s side have a very winnable looking home game this evening against Swanselona live on Sky Sports Leeds.
Of the other teams in the running and not yet mentioned, Pulisball have a near impossible task at home to Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow who despite winning only once away all season will almost certainly be the best team Boro have faced so far. Frank Lampard or no Frank Lampard, Frank Lampard’s Derby County are always prone to a complete meltdown at this point in the season and it looked to be in full swing with a draw and three defeats prior to the midweek 2-1 win at home to Wigan. A quirk of the fixture list and their rearranged fixtures has presented them with four successive home matches against Wigan, Sheffield Owls (tomorrow), Stoke on Tuesday and then Rotherham next weekend so if they can’t be sticking ten points on the board from that lot they may as well pack in. Which, funnily enough, is exactly what they usually do every March. Have another cigarette Ashley, calm your nerves son.
The teams eighth to eleventh all play each other. Nottingham Trees are at home to the Allam Tigers on Saturday afternoon, and then it’s rise and shine early on Sunday for the second city derby between Birmingham and Big Racist John and the Boys and the always entertaining spectacle of a collection of angry men trying to snap Ickle Jack Gwealish in half. Don’t be too rough boys, he doesn’t have to wear shin pads if he doesn’t want to even when he’s been out for three months with a shin injury and Dean Smith will squeam and squeam until he is sick if you breathe near the boy.
Ten games to go guys. Ten games. We’re nearly there.
Referee: If you’re starting to feel like we’ve been running the same five shit referees on a rotation basis since Christmas, well you might be onto something. For the third time in little over two months, it’s Gavin Ward.
QPR: Although a 1-0 win against Leeds in our last home game snapped a run of seven straight defeats in the league, the worst sequence since the 1995/96 relegation season, it was immediately followed by a fourth loss at Brentford in as many seasons so the R’s have now lost eight of their last nine games prior to this one. The run of defeats did coincide with a congested fixture calendar in which QPR played the teams currently 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th. In the remaining ten games they play 23rd, 22nd, 20th, 17th, 16th, 14th, 13th, 10th and 9th along with games against Norwich and Derby. Rangers have drawn the fewest games in the Championship this season with just six. That’s in stark contrast to opponents Stoke who have finished all square on 14 occasions this season – only Rotherham and Villa (15) have drawn more. QPR are also one of only two Championship teams yet to have a man sent off in the league this season along with Norwich. Bizarrely they have picked up 68 yellows though, which is a total only surpassed by Derby (75), Wigan (74), Bolton (70) and Forest (82).
Stoke: Goals have been a problem for Stoke this season. They’ve scored just 37 which is the worst total in the league bar Wigan (34), Bolton (22) and Ipswich (27) and of course the latter two prop up the table. The Potters come into this unbeaten in four, but three of those had been consecutive draws prior to last weekend’s 2-0 home win against Nottingham Forest. That was actually their first win in seven attempts following three draws and three defeats and only a second win in 14 games in all comps prior to this one. Stoke have only won twice away from home all season, both 1-0 at promotion chasers Norwich and Bristol City. But of the remaining 15 road trips, ten of them have been drawn with just five defeats. They come into this without a win away from home in ten attempts in all comps, which includes an FA Cup tie at League One strugglers Shrewsbury.
Prediction: A new leader of our Prediction League as the season end drawns near with KensalRiseR now atop the division. The winner of our Prediction League this year gets goodies from our generous sponsor Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Reigning champion Elliott said we’d win on Tuesday and tomorrow he reckons…
“After a full week’s training, and with Cameron and Rangel nearing a return, hopefully things will start to pick up. I think it’ll be a tight affair on Saturday. Stoke have underachieved massively this season and are still under transition with Jones now in charge. On their day they’d beat us comfortably but I think we’ll get something Saturday.”
Elliott’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Stoke City. Scorer – Nahki Wells
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Stoke City. Scorer – Antoine Freezman
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