|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 2 Portsmouth|
Wednesday, 28th August 2019 Kick-off 19:45
House of cards - Preview
Wednesday, 28th Aug 2019 11:16 by Clive Whittingham
QPR and Portsmouth, two clubs that have flirted with going out of existence altogether, meet at Loftus Road tonight on the day that Bury have gone one further.
QPR v Portsmouth
Rumbelows Cup, second round >>> Wednesday August 28, 2019 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Slightly less melty face >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
It was always going to come to this. The actual death of an actual football club, played out live on Sky Sports News with Jim White yawping his self-indulgent drivel down the lens, standing in front of the obligatory giant countdown clock they usually wheel out when time is ticking down on where Alexis Sanchez is going to get his £500,000 a week from next.
I’d like to see a clock counting down to the day somebody shits in that guy’s mouth but, meantime, we’ve got ghouls dancing behind whichever Skybot it was who thought he might know where Gigg Lane is and was immediately dispatched to provide more coverage of League One in one afternoon than Sky, officially the league’s host broadcaster, has in five years.
It played out like a scene from Monkey Dust, all of it merely marking time before Sky felt confident they’d done it enough justice to turn away from the corpse and back to the real top story of the day – just who will take Manchester United’s next penalty? And, don’t forget, you can bet on who you think it will be on the omnipresent associated Sky Bet specials market.
When chucking out time came, the options had run out for Bury and they were shown the door. Expelled from the Football League after 134 years and two FA Cups at a little before midnight on Tuesday. They had no players, no money, they’d missed the first five matches of the season, and as of yesterday afternoon when the final interested party said it couldn’t proceed with a deal, no hope. We often joke, in our gallows humour way, about leaving QPR never to return, about doing other things with our Saturdays, about getting a life – but imagine if it was forced upon you. Imagine if there was no Saturday at 15.00, no Loftus Road, no QPR. That’s the life Bury loyalists are waking to this morning.
It could easily have been us, and our opponents in the League Cup this evening Portsmouth. We had the Chris Wright era of overspend and heavy consequences, a relegation into the third tier while in administration and with only six fit players on the books, a £10m loan at 10% interest from a dodgy company in Panama secured against our stadium, the Gianni Paladini era of haemorrhaging money rescued only by an unlikely takeover. We’ve been threatened with moves out towards Heathrow or, worse still, Milton Keynes – we were the sitting duck target for that move before Pete the Club Snatcher got his claws into Wimbledon. Death has stalked the corridors of Loftus Road more than once, and may yet again in the future. We could easily have been those supporters waking up to no football club at all.
Portsmouth have had it even worse. It started, as it so often does, with a ruinous chase of glory and Willie McKay clients under Harry Redknapp. There was a glorious promotion campaign, dramatic escapes from relegation, an FA Cup win, European football, and that Panorama episode where they filmed him talking about tapping up Blackburn defender Andy Todd. When the gross overspend caught up with Portsmouth, they became the first Premier League club ever to go into administration, and promptly crashed through four leagues, all the way to League Two, under a succession of chancer foreign owners, each looking to lick the final little bit of moisture from the rock before it slipped into the sea for good.
Both clubs got away with it, survived and recovered to varying degrees. Portsmouth were propped up by their large, vociferous support base; QPR by the ownership of a stadium on a prime bit of West London real estate. There was enough potential in both to tempt people to keep putting money in and giving it a shot – QPR with Briatore and Ecclestone, followed by Tony Fernandes and Tune; Portsmouth through a supporters’ trust, and later former Disney boss Michael Eisner. There have been countless other near misses up and down the Football League besides, at clubs large and small – at Bradford and Coventry and Leeds, Birmingham and Hull and Port Vale. Clubs flirt with death, come within a day of it sometimes, but get bailed out by a new, benevolent great white hope just in time.
Well, no more. Bury will not be the last, in fact Bolton may go the same way within a fortnight. The old joke about becoming a millionaire by first becoming a billionaire and then buying a football club was always true to one extent or another, but now it’s a stone cold fact. To own a British football club outside the Premier League now is to own a small, money chewing machine, into which you will continually feed cash for no return whatsoever other than occasional entertaining sights, sounds and emotions. It is extortionate enough just following these clubs around as a supporter, never mind being responsible for paying their bills. It is possible to run club’s sensibly and sustainably, as Accrington’s visionary owner Andy Holt does, but they and he are by far the exception, and he speaks on a daily basis about how impossible the sport, and those governing it, make it for him.
It used to be that you could develop local lads and sell them on to keep the club going. Then they introduced EPPP, a rule entirely skewed towards the top clubs in the Premier League, forced upon the Football League under threat of withdrawing the meagre scraps that get brushed down from the table. Anybody with a Category One academy can now take players from lower graded set ups with a minimum of fuss and payment, and throw them on the pile with the rest of the hoarded teens they never have any intention of using. Huddersfield, Wycombe, Brentford – well run clubs, forward thinking clubs – have all decided an academy isn’t worth having as a result, and closed theirs.
Now it’s all about signings. Signings, signings, signings. Twice a year, against that fucking countdown clock, and amidst a barrage of honked demands from online mouth breathers to “#announceRavel/Austin/Pele/Maradona”. If you’re not signing players you’re not doing it right. If you’re not signing players, you’re lacking ambition, you’re definitely going to be relegated, you’re a tightarse who doesn’t care about the club. Sign a fucking striker, sign one for God’s sake, anyone will do, never mind the quality feel the width. Said striker will be given five games before being written off, and then it’s time to sign another one. Kid you got from Millwall’s academy and tried to develop? Fuck that mate, seen him a bit and he’s lazy, 30 games is plenty to judge him by. Signings. Signings all the time. More money, more wages, more signing on fees, more Sky Sports news, more hashtags, more blood. Chew it up, spit it out, sign something else to replace it. And all of that costs money.
It used to be that you could get your little club promoted to the Premier League, and coin the riches in there, and you’d be set for life. That is still possible, just about, for some. Burnley have done it expertly, Sheffield United are giving it a good crack – albeit with a Sheikh quietly litigating for ownership in the background. There are, in theory, FFP rules in place to stop one or two clubs simply blitzing the division with a £100m spend and cantering up to the Premier League on the back of a rich owner, as Fulham did under Mohammed Al Fayed. But, increasingly, those rules are slack and ignored. Middlesbrough, attempting to play by the rules and return to the top flight, have become frustrated by Derby, who are trying every trick in the book to spend more money than they should be allowed – including selling their own stadium, something UEFA’s FFP rules preclude but the EFL’s explicitly allow and encourage thanks to a change in the wording 18 months ago under the guidance of then CEO Shaun Harvey. We are now actively encouraging clubs to sell their stadium to fund more signings. That’s where we are.
So you can’t develop your own players, you’re under constant pressure to spend more money on more footballers, and even if you are (unlike Bury) a club that might one day solve it all with a Premier League promotion you’re competing against clubs that circumnavigate the rules that you have to obey damaging your chances of getting there. Who in their right mind buys football clubs in that situation? Well a mixture of nobody, which is why when clubs like Bury arrive at death’s door now they’re not going to find anybody there waiting to lead them away any more, or chancers looking to pick the pocket or change the will of an old, dying man.
Again, there are league rules to prevent shitehawks buying up historic community assets and running them into the ground. Again, under Shaun Harvey, they’ve been eroded and ignored. Bolton’s Ken Anderson, despite numerous previous bankruptcies, was allowed to takeover the club with “proof of funds” that boiled down to one loan, taken under punitive interest, that was due for repayment 12 months’ later. Both clear violations of the league’s own Fit and Proper Owner tests. In the meantime he was allowed to pay himself a salary of £500,000+ p/a and his son a £125,000 a year consultancy fee. His reason for getting involved in a club with £200m of historic debt with a short term loan of £4m entirely transparent, and yet waved through. Steve Dale, the malevolent owner at Bury, had been involved in liquidations at 43 of his previous 51 companies, and provided no proof of funds whatsoever, but was still handed the keys to Bury and allowed to build a promotion winning team the club couldn’t afford before casting it adrift this summer. Bury’s previous owner had been allowed to stack up debt leveraged against the ground, something else the league could stop but doesn’t. Players and staff at both clubs have been evicted from homes, and sought salvation from food banks, while all this has been going on.
The league, as it always does, mentioned the “integrity of the competition” in its final statement on Bury last night. By this it means fulfilling fixtures. League table looks a bit dodgy if one team has played six games and another hasn’t started yet. Actual integrity, as you and I understand it, doesn’t matter at all, otherwise men like Anderson and Dale wouldn’t have been allowed within a thousand yards of it. When pushed on this point the EFL likes to retrench to a position of basically being the competition organiser. Nothing to do with me guv, I just print the fixtures out, discipline Joel Lynch for his silly yellow cards, completely destroy the two cup competitions with Premier League U21 sides in one and farcical Facebook draws in Beijing at four in the morning for the other… that sort of thing. Even that, you would think, should require rules forcing clubs to file an audited set of accounts, on time, publicly, but no. For what he likened to, when put under pressure, a glorified secretarial role, Shaun Harvey’s salary went from £150,000 a year to £400,000 a year in just under four years in the job. A job that, really, he should never have been allowed in the first place, having himself led two clubs into three separate stints in admin when working as their CEO.
That cunt’s legacy will be the death of Bury, and others like them. It could easily have been us, and could easily be so again – QPR still loses money hand over fist and is still reliant on a rich owner to cover that.
Less a Football League pyramid than a shaky house of cards.
Links >>> Summer upheaval – Interview >>> Another newb – Referee >>> Portsmouth Official website >>> The News – Local Paper >>> Fratton Focus – Blog >>> True Blue Army – Message Board >>> Pompey Chimes – Message Board
Geoff Cameron Facts No.62 in the series – While captaining the Galveston Glencampbells as a youngster, Geoff arranged a team-building bowling night where he bowled a perfect game using only a marble.
Team News: Other than an ongoing hip problem for Lee Wallace, and hamstring complaints for Luke Amos and Geoff Cameron which you would think preclude their involvement, it’s a case of your guess is as good as mine on what team Mark Warburton will field tonight. Liam Kelly is certain to start in goal, and given his lack of minutes so far and impressive cameo in the previous round I wonder if Jan Mlakar may get a first start up front.
Portsmouth are also likely to be much changed after blowing a 3-1 lead against nine-man Coventry last time out. Ellis Harrison and Brett Pitman are pushing for returns to the forward line and the return of James Bolton at right back after an ankle injury could see Rangers loanee Ross McCrorie pushed into midfield. Lee Brown is denied a return to the club he played for as a youngster by an Achilles injury. Oli Hawkins and Jack Whatmough are long termers.
Elsewhere: A whole clutch of second round games played last night with a couple of upsets among them. Borussia Norwich Reserves were beaten 1-0 at League Two side Gatwick Airport, while Crippled Alice Reserves lost at home to Colchester United on penalties. Spot kicks also did for the Champions of Europe at home to Poke – Jack Butland redeeming his latest howler during the game by taking the scoring the crucial penalty himself.
Elsewhere PSV Derby’s difficult start to the season didn’t get any easier with a 3-0 humping by their bitter local rivals Nottingham Florist and their cast of a thousand footballers. The Eleventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour is also at risk of turning into a bit of a damp squib, they lost 3-0 at home to Lutown. Millwall Scholars were 2-0 up at Oxford with two minutes to play but contrived to lose on penalties after drawing 2-2.
There was passage against underdogs for Reading at Plymouth (4-2), Watford at home to Coventry (3-0), West Ham at Newport (2-0), Southampton at Tarquin and Rupert (1-0), Brighton at Bristol Rovers (2-1) and Aston Villa at Crewe (6-1). Accelerating towards a third round tie with QPR at a rate of knots, MK Dons won 4-1 at Southend.
Grimsby's game with Macclesfield went the way of so many other August fixtures at Blundell Park down the years.
Seven games tonight then, including our own. Lincoln Imps’ barnstorming start to the season could claim a big televised scalp when Premier League Everton visit Sincil Bank. Despite Brentford being the best team they’d played all season, lowly Cambridge somehow squeezed through a first round tie at Griffin Park and travel to Swanselona as a reward in round two. There’s an all Premier League tie between Michael Ashley’s Sporting Goods Emporium and Leicester Foxes, and a former all top flight encounter between Burnley and Sunderland. Vegan Sausage Roll are away to Bournemouth.
Referee: Ross Joyce is in charge of QPR for the first time on Wednesday, our second newbie referee in as many home games, but he’s been in prolific card form since he joined the league list four seasons ago. Stats, and details of previous Pompey appointments, here. In charge of last season’s League Two play-off final.
QPR: This is the third cup meeting between these two sides in eight months, with QPR drawing at Fratton Park in the FA Cup fourth round last season 1-1 then winning the replay 2-0 at Loftus Road before losing 1-0 at home to Watford in round five. Nahki Wells scored in both meetings last season while Matt Smith got the other in the replay. In the League Cup last season Rangers defeated two League One opponents – Bristol Rovers and Peterborough – at Loftus Road before losing to a third – Blackpool – away from home in round three. They drew 3-3 with Championship side Bristol City in the first round this year before winning on penalties. So far in the league it’s two wins, two defeats and a draw for the R’s but nobody in the league has created more chances across their Championship matches so far than Rangers with 36.
Pompey: It’s been a real mixed bag of results for Portsmouth so far this season – two wins, two defeats and a farcical draw. The victories came in games you’d probably expect them to win – 2-0 at home to newly promoted Tranmere and a 3-0 cup success against a Birmingham reserve side in the first round of this comp. Of the defeats, Shrewsbury 1-0 away on day one perhaps raised eyebrows but after losing Matt Clarke and Jamal Lowe during the transfer window it perhaps wasn’t the biggest shock to see them slip to a narrow 2-1 at Sunderland. The one that rang real alarm bells was the draw with Coventry, where Pompey were 3-1 up and playing nine men but somehow contrived to finish up 3-3. They played a whole clutch of pre-season games, beating University College Dublin 11-0, Havant and Waterlooville 2-1, Bognor Regis 2-1, Stevenage 1-0, Crawley 2-1 and Woking 4-2 but also rather randomly losing 4-0 to Aldershot. This si the first time in four years they’ve been in the second round of the League Cup after losing 2-1 to Wimbledon last season, 2-1 to Cardiff the year before and 3-2 to Coventry in 2016/17.
No Prediction League for cup games of course but in the interests of completing the preview I’ll fill in for reigning champion WokingR and say we’ll win reasonably comfortably. There was enough pressure on Kenny Jackett and Portsmouth to get promoted last season and having missed out altogether having topped the league at Christmas that will be weighing even heavier on them this season. Jackett’s a bit of a cup master over his career, and QPR are biblically awful in knockouts, but Pompey’s priorities are elsewhere while our reasonable start in the league means we could have a crack at this if we wanted to.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Portsmouth. Scorer – Jan Mlakar
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