Hoos brands UEFA, FIFA “complicit, liars” in racism row – Fans Forum
Tuesday, 12th Nov 2019 03:41 by Clive Whittingham
The annual QPR fans forum took place in Shepherd’s Bush this evening with a lot of the usual platitudes and talking points but a couple of interesting - and at one point explosive - moments on contentious issues.
Queens Park Rangers do seem to have become quite adept at the timing of these fans forums.
Abandoned for years while Gianni Paladini tried to hide his shambolic running of the club, and then while Flavio Briatore was running the show and openly admitted he cared not one bit what somebody who “turned up once a week and paid £20” thought of his management, they came back with a bang during the ruinous early years of Tony Fernandes’ ownership.
With Fernandes, PR and communication with the customer is everything, and he went out of his way in the early days to engage and dialogue with QPR fans at every possible opportunity. The forums returned, but when it turned out that his CEO Phil Beard had been ignoring multiple emails from supporters about a vast array of issues large and small, and the senders of those emails had taken the forum as a chance to convene and have each of those problems out with him in turn, the evening turned into a bear pit.
The last three prior to tonight have all been around this time of the year, with the team in reasonable touch, and featured managers Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway and Steve McClaren all being asked sincere, genuine questions about what happens if their good form was to translate into promotion. Imagine that, in hindsight. All three of them went to shit immediately afterwards.
Those early carve ups, and several subsequent forums where people with very specific grievances against the club took the opportunity to grandstand, has made the commercial team conscious/paranoid about the potential of these things to blow up on them. Attendance is now through a combination of invites and apparently “random selection” from those who filled in a form on the official website asking to come. Paul Morrissey announced this time it was: 5% fan sites, 30% highest loyalty point holders, 65% from the people who’d responded online asking to come. Full disclosure, LFW get a pass, which I take, so I can go and write this report of the event. If that makes you angry, then fair enough, because it also makes me uncomfortable. Particularly when I see posts on my message board from people who’ve applied a dozen times to attend this event and never had a ticket.
This year it took place is the Westford Sports Pub and Kitchen in the Westfield Shopping Centre and this was a vastly superior venue to when they try and host it in the W12 club at Loftus Road. A proper bar, with food, and space, and screens… hopefully after this test event the club will branch out and really make a night of it next time we’re here, with a lot more in attendance, because there was certainly space. The bar offers 15% off for QPR season ticket holders on production of cards at the bar, and is doing a special pizza this season from which 50% of all sales go to the Kiyan Prince Foundation.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the “same old faces” critics of the Fans Forum are the same people who mouth off about our team’s performances from the comfort of their home, telling David Scowen his son his shit via social media 40 minutes into a game they’re not even at. There is a very finite number of people who want to go to watch QPR away at Blackburn on a Tuesday, and attend events like this, and that’s why it’s the same people here every time, but when I read posts from people who I know are genuine, match-going QPR who never get a pass to this it does make me suck my teeth a bit. It’s not right. And this new venue could give the opportunity to change the admission policy and expand it out. Of course, having to rent a bar round the corner for your own fans forum is another bullet point in Lee Hoos’ often-stated case for a ground move.
(Update - only fair to add that this poster has been on the message board this morning and said he was able to attend after all having emailed the club about it, which tallies with what I've been told by other people previously and probably puts me back to my original opinion - if you really want to go to these things, they're not over subscribed or hard to get into.)
But that’s enough waffle, here are the key talking points divided as usual into on and off-field issues and the answers are from manager Mark Warburton (MW), director of football Les Ferdinand (LF) and CEO Lee Hoos (LH).
- On the summer activity LH said: “I think we’ve done a good job of creating the headroom we need. Ten years ago it would just have been a question of how much the board are going to spend but the advent of financial regulations make it much more complicated than that and you have to move players around to fit in players you want in the future, so we’re really pleased with it.”
- On the potential development of a new ground on the Linford Christie Stadium north of White City LH said: “It is a council project and they’re (London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council) running it. They’ve brought in consultants after a first round of consultation in which the vast majority of people said they wanted to see a major development there including a football pitch and football club. They’re looking at business plans and what that would actually mean. They think they’ll have something ready for the next round, somewhere around June. First thing is we have always said we want to remain in the borough, our spiritual home, if we possibly can. We will run this one right to the end to make sure we’ve done everything we possibly can to make sure we stay in the borough. In terms of secondary plans there aren’t a lot of plots out there that would be conducive to developing a modern stadium.”
- On the economic need for a new ground LH said: “It’s always a possibility [that we could move out of the borough]. The club needs to move on if it’s to survive. We can’t keep relying on external shareholder funding to keep this thing moving. If you look at the financial results for this club over 25 years there was one year where a profit was made – when we divested Wasps they made £360,000 and I’m sure that was a goodwill payment having divested Wasps. Every year it makes a loss. We’ve been into administration once, we’ve been on the verge of it again. When you look at 25 years of results and you haven’t made a profit you realise you have to do something else to make this sustainable. Forget making a profit, I’d settle for a small loss or break even. At the moment it requires a lot of cash to keep this thing going.”
- It’s a contentious issue whether QPR, who’ve kept the wolf from the door in hard times past by owning Loftus Road and borrowing against that, would own or rent any new stadium. On that LH said: “The ideal solution would absolutely be we own the freehold of the stadium. Would we consider a rental? We’d consider it but it has to be the right deal for the club. I don’t mean a Coventry-type deal, which was absolutely the wrong deal for the club. It would have to be something where the fans and club felt comfortable. It would have to be a 100-200-year lease, something like that. A 20-year lease wouldn’t cut it. First and foremost everybody would want a freehold rather than a leasehold.”
- In the Q and A section a man after my own heart raised the spectre of us rattling around in a 35,000-40,000 new stadium, such as the one that was mentioned in one of the HFBC models. LH said: “I wouldn’t be supportive of a 35,000 seater stadium. I think the magic number is somewhere between 28,000-30,000. When you look at Southampton and Leicester, they were getting lower crowds than us before they moved. If you’re in the Premier League you’ll fill 35,000, but Championship you may get it initially because of the new stadium factor, but it will dwindle away when the novelty wears off. You should get 20,000-23,000 which in a 30,000 stadium can look good and get a good atmosphere, but once you got 35,000 with 14,000 empty seats it’s not conducive to atmosphere and then you get lesser crowds.” LH reiterated it was the council’s project, which we’ve put a submission to, and they will analyse further. “If they go through all this and come up with a 40,000 seater stadium, we don’t think that suits us, who else you going to have there?”
- Cards very close to the chest on the Warren Farm Training Ground which has been mired in legal challenges for years but is now, in theory, good to go after judicial challenges up to the High Court were defeated and a further delay over the summer due to nesting skylarks was waited out. LH, cagey while also casually dropping an opposition name into the frame, said: “Good news. A week ago last Friday the last pre-commencement conditions were okayed by the council. That took longer than I thought it would to get over the line. The reason we haven’t said too much is the opposition group is still very, very active. Richard Buxton Solicitors out of Cambridge came back to us on a couple of things, representing a client but won’t tell us who the client is… My philosophy is now not to give up any information. So far, touch wood, we’ve been going very well. We’ve got to where we need to be, I don’t want to accidentally give anything to these guys. The training ground is the number one strategic priority for this club. Love a better stadium… but the sooner I can get a better training ground the better off this club will be. Look at what we’ve done so far with players coming through the system, we had a board meeting today talking about four players from our development team in the starting 11 on Saturday. We want to go to back to our roots of bringing players up though the ranks, the better facilities we have for these guys the more we’ll have coming up through the ranks.”
- MW added that training facilities can be key in attracting new signings to the club. “The stadium gets used once every two weeks. The players come to work every day at the training ground. You look at Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, with these magnificent training grounds, it attracts players. The player pool is getting ever smaller at all levels and it’s harder to get players through the door. The training facilities are a huge part of their decision.”
- LF added to that: “Imagine if everybody is on the same site. You’ve got an 18-year-old or a 16-year-old seeing Eze every day, seeing Ilias Chair, and thinking ‘I’ve got a chance of achieving that’. That’s the environment we want. At the moment we’re on separate sites, they don’t really get to see that. They see the headlines, but they don’t see the life of those players every day, and that’s important.”
- On the historic FFP fine for the flagrant breaches in the Redknapp promotion season, LH reiterated that was being paid in instalments, is seperate from the club’s budget and doesn’t count against our ongoing FFP calculations.
- Inadvertently through persistent pestering about whether we’d be selling players, conversation got round to Championship clubs (notably Sheff Wed and Derby) who have sold their stadiums to their owners to comply with FFP while continuing to spend money on transfer fees and, more pressingly, wages. LH said: “We’ve made no bones about it that a cornerstone of our business plan is to take the rough diamonds, polish them up and sell them on at a profit. The good news is we’re not the only club financial regulations apply to, everybody is trying to do the same thing. There are some clubs that have found ways to get around the system but I don’t advocate what they’re doing at all. To sell your stadium and do a leaseback… your stadium is the only tangible asset you have. The players are not tangible assets – they can get injured, they can run a contract down. For a club to sell a stadium and lease it back, with the best intentions, is very short term. You only do that one time, what do you do after that? And also what if whoever you sold that stadium to develops some kind of financial problems and they have to then sell it to somebody else? Then your only tangible asset is divorced from the fanbase altogether. I don’t like that. I don’t like that plan at all.”
- On early release and deadlines for season tickets LH said: “I want to go out early because I want to know what’s coming in so we can start setting budgets. It all comes down to how much we’re generating. Gone are the days where clubs can just rely on shareholders writing whatever kind of cheque they want. They write a cheque to keep us going, but we can’t go over these FFP regulations.”
- Right, now, this was interesting. I wrote this piece a few years back when Sky’s meddling, and gimmick “ten games in ten days” in the lead up to Christmas, had left QPR without a home Saturday fixture from the first week of October right the way through to February. Sky’s argument is they pay a big chunk up front for the rights (which include League One and League Two, which they never use) and they can not only do as they please (mostly showing Leeds), but also pay a “compensation” fee on top for every home game you get shifted. Now, in theory, that makes up for lost ticket sales, merchandising, food and beverage sales, hospitality packages for the home club, though doesn’t compensate the pubs and businesses that rely on their local club playing at home on a Saturday. LH this evening said that the extra Sky money on top doesn’t even stop the club making a loss either. LH said: “I’m not sure if I can tell you. I know the answer but I want to check with the league tomorrow to see if I’m breaching any confidentiality agreements by disclosing what we make every time we’re on TV. I can tell you we keep a very close track on where we stand game by game, year on year. For the West Brom and Brentford matches, a like for like comparison with those games last year, we’re actually down £10,000 even with the payment from Sky because of the moving of the dates. What we got paid by Sky was £10,000 less than we made from those two teams here last season. If I’m not breaching any confidentiality in the Sky contract I’ll happily make that available tomorrow.” A further question was raised about the Boxing Day game at Reading being punted back to 19.30 by Sky, to which LH said: “We have absolutely no say. It used to be that even in the Premier League you could say we have this issue from a health and safety stand point, now it’s just all about the contractual obligation to the broadcaster, they pay the money you have to adhere to the contract. The Fulham game is another example – a Friday night, after an international weekend, when we have players coming back from duty in Bermuda and everywhere else, you couldn’t ask for a worse situation. From a playing standpoint, and a fans point of view, it doesn’t matter, that’s the commitment.”
- Legendary Mark Prince was in the audience tonight and I’m not sure whether that tempered the questions or not but some considerable time was spent tip-toeing around whether the ground had been renamed for one year, whether it would be a different charity next year, and whether this was just softening the ground for a commercial name-rights sale. Another amalgamation of answers from LH here into one quote… “I thought you guys were magnificent, Mark and the family were very appreciative, I cannot think of a worthier cause it could have gone to. It’s about helping that man who has solutions to problems that politicians don’t seem able to solve. It’s a major problem, there’s a guy who has solutions, let’s do everything we can to help him out.” Later during the Q and A from the floor Hoos was pushed on whether the naming rights was open ended and added: “We’re doing it and we’ll evaluate as we go along. We don’t know how it will work for the charity, if it works well for Mark… the issue doesn’t need awareness raising but the solution does and there may come a time when he’s got as much value out of it as he could and we move on. We need to evaluate if it’s working for everybody. It would depend if it would work for another charity, is it worth doing, how they would use it and would it be worthwhile, or should we put it back to Loftus Road? It was a novel thing to do and we’re in unchartered water right now. A lot of people, it’s funny, said you’ve done it to soften us up to sell it commercially. No. If I could sell it commercially I’d sell it commercially, I don’t need to soften you up for that, any asset I can do that for I’m going to do. In this instance I think Mark Prince is getting much more value out of it than the market would give us in terms of naming rights.”
- There were several questions about low attendances and empty seats at Loftus Road, particularly in midweek games. LH said: “From 2011 onwards we were up and down between the Premier League and the Championship. Before that we had sustained runs through the Championship and attendances averaged between 12,000 and 14,000. Whenever you have a relegation from the Premier League you have a slide, unless your football starts doing some talking. In that respect attendances are actually probably a little bit higher than where I would have projected. I think that’s because of the style of football. Before I got here I wanted to know how many first time visitors we got to Loftus Road each year. We actually get quite a few, but the retention rate with them is awful and when we follow up it’s about facilities. I thought it would be about lack of toilets or standing in a queue at half time trying to get served but the number one reason was leg room. When you’re trying to market to the modern day supporter who demands a lot more, can watch on TV, can go somewhere else, has a lot of ways to spend their money… it’s difficult.”
- Fans forum staple #365, the family stand, and the Lower Loft, and the atmosphere at the ground. Baby, I'm back. And right away I have come to you, to see if the love that we knew before has past the test of time. Time, could change almost everything, sometimes it all seems the better side are the feelings we once shared. So baby, let's go 'round again, maybe we’ll turn back the hands of time. LH, actually, this time, didn’t give it the full straight bat and amongst other comments said he was talking with supporters and fans groups about options. LH said: “Having monitored it, I think we have diluted it [the atmosphere] by taking some of the people from Q and R block and having them in X and Y block. The main part of the atmosphere does still come from Q and R block. I would much rather have a concentration of fans. We’ve come up with some ideas, and spoke about it at the board meeting today, and on top of those ideas something a bit more major has come to the fore and the board have said to run with it. I’m not a fan of telling people ‘this is what we’re going to do’, I believe in talking to the fans so we’ll consult on a couple of ideas to move things around and see what feedback we get.”
- Ticket prices came up, and the prospect of discounts for midweek games to try and boost the flagging Tuesday night crowds. LH said: “There’s very little correlation between price and attendance. We played Sunderland here in the League Cup, we charged £6.70 adults, £5 concessions, kids were free, we still only sold 14,000. Premier League opposition, but it was a weeknight, it was the League Cup. If we were in the Premier League and we played Man Utd here on a Wednesday we’d sell it regardless. In the Championship people buy season tickets knowing they’ll miss games. The good news this year is the number of no-shows is a lot lower than it has been previously. When I first game here, you usually average 15-20% no shows and QPR were averaging 30% no shows. This year they’re way down. That’s credit to Mark and the football we’re playing. People want to be there because they like what they’re seeing.”
- Right, here we go, rare moment in a fans forum, the panel teed off on something. Following the recent incidents at Bulgaria v England and Harringay Borough v Yeovil, a question was raised about what response QPR had received from FIFA, UEFA or the Andalusian FA after Paul Furlong’s U18 side walked out of a summer pre-season friendly because of racist abuse of the young boys from opponents and the crowd. LH picked a club from the bag and went with: “This whole situation is an international disgrace. Absolutely no bones about it. Football is one thing, I believe in the power of football, it unites a hell of a lot more than it divides. What disturbs me most is the absolute lack or urgency and care the governing body has shown. When the report first surfaced we put out a press release and LF said this is exactly the right thing, exactly what we should have done, well done to the players. The next morning the first thing I got from UEFA was an email saying ‘this is outside our jurisdiction, nothing to do with UEFA, please change that press release’. Would have been nice, even if it’s not in your jurisdiction, to say ‘these things cannot be condoned in any way shape, or form, it’s terrible your players had to go through this, but you need to talk to…’ Nah. First thing they did was drop ‘nothing to do with me’. I find that kind of despicable. I went to FIFA. Seven weeks later, chasing emails, I went to Greg Clarke at the FA and asked him to help with these people who won’t respond to us. FIFA said ‘it’s not us, it’s a UEFA competition, you need to speak to UEFA’. Back to UEFA. They then handed it back to the football authority in Andalusia where the game took place. Ok. I know long grass when I see it. The Andalusians had, in fairness, started an investigation with a couple of emails to us which I didn’t get. When I did get them - we weren’t sure if they were legit or not and had to make sure they weren’t phishing – bang we sent all the information straight back to them. That went by the wayside for sometime. I went off on one a couple of weeks ago and dumped everybody in it and the Andalusian FA after that published a response on their website – I don’t know if anybody saw that? They said the delay was our fault, we never responded to their emails, they didn’t hear back from us until September 24, 2019. They took the unprecedented step of sending a representative here to meet with me and I owe them an apology. They have since confirmed privately - when I asked who they’d sent here to meet with me and when did this meeting take place, because I didn’t meet with anybody – that they didn’t send anybody to meet with me, but they were thinking about doing it. I gave them a little bit of time to correct that… nothing. I also had an email from UEFA dated October 10 saying the Andalusian FA have heard nothing from you, when the Andalusian FA had put out a press release saying that on September 24 they had all the information. In addition to being complicit in racism, they are liars. You put that on your God damn website. They are fricking liars. I’m not going to have it. They want a fight, I’ll give them a fight. They’re a bunch of liars. Here we are in November, still nothing has been done. We have to go and speak to those young men at the training ground and say ‘really sorry, you must be wondering what’s gong on’. Does anybody really care? These are kids, abusing other kids. Surely you must use this as an educational moment. If you don’t get to the kids, when will you ever break this? Sorry, I’ve gone off on one again.”
- LF was then asked to contribute to this and it transpired that he’d said the original press release was a “waste of time” but then got involved three months later when LH called out UEFA and FIFA because he knew it would get to this stage. LF said: “It’s tough because I could go off on one as well. My reply to FIFA and UEFA [after Bulgaria v England] is you might as well have stood on the terraces with the supporters doing Nazi salutes and monkey chants. Tyrone Mings, a couple of years ago looked like he wouldn’t play football again with bad injuries, makes his debut for England, why should his parents have to sit in the stand and listen to that? Why should Raheem Sterling’s parents stay away from the game because they don’t want to listen to that? UEFA think they’re doing something by giving a game ban and a 12 month suspended sentence. The problem is in society. When they come up with their ideas of what the punishment should be, none of those organisations have got anybody of colour who can do anything about this. I watched Sky a couple of weeks ago, with all due respect, the panel was Graeme Souness, Roy Keane, Jose Mourinho, and I think Gary Neville. They asked them about the situation, you can empathise, unless you’ve been racially abused, you know nothing about it.”
- Finally on off the pitch matters, LF said the disgraceful EPPP rule that enables category one academy clubs to basically come and have who they like from lower graded youth set ups with minimal compensation and no intention of ever using them in their first teams was still causing us a headache. Even at Warren Farm, QPR would still inly be a category two academy according to LH’s interview with us last season. LF said: “We’ve had to do it in a roundabout way, taking players who were released from clubs with experience of youth team football who hadn’t made it. We’re trying to take those players and polish them up. The way EPPP works, unfortunately, players we’ve got in our 14s and 13s who we believe could play for our first team won’t make it there because they’ll get snapped up by bigger clubs before we get chance. So far doing it in a different way has been good for us, with Ilias and Eze, and we’re going to have to do that a little bit more before we can sort out this EPPP system.”
- MW said he was enjoying life here so far and was interested how a completely new look squad was adapting and making its way through the season. He also repeatedly (at least three times on the night) made reference to the reception the players got after losing 3-1 at home to Swansea. “That meant a lot to the players, individually and collectively, and to the staff. It’s very genuine, the support means an awful lot to us.”
- A question was raised on the chances of us retaining the on loan players (Jordan Hugill, Nahki Wells, Matt Smith, Luke Amos, Jan Mlakar) which I took to mean ‘what are the chances of us signing them permanently?’ but LF interpreted as ‘what are the chances of us keeping them for the whole of this season?’ To that LF said: “It’s a discussion ongoing, that we’re having all the time, about who we want to keep. They all have clauses in their contract that mean they can be called back in January but the good news is all of them want to stay and want to be part of what we’re doing at the moment so that’s a positive. If there is a decision to be made it’s going to be more from our side about whether a player is going back.”
- Asked about the recent Sun story on Birmingham offering Burnley £6m for Nahki Wells in January even though they can have him for free next summer when his contract expires (not sure whose voicemail that cum rag hacked to pick that “scoop” up) LF tried to refer it to Amit Bhatia in the audience (dressed like a demigod) but then added: “The good news for us with Nahki is he wants to be at the club. He’s doing well at the moment and there will be offers for him. We just have to hope the offers aren’t good enough to sway him and take him away. He said he’s come here to do a job, he’s started that job and he wants to finish it.” MW added: “Strikers are selfish. They want to look after themselves and score goals, it’s part of their personality. He has to do the right thing for Nahki. But there’s a real link to the club, a bond to the club, he’s enjoying being here, he’s working hard and scoring goals. Right now he’s in a good place. If he scores another five or six goals by Christmas and Nahki has 15-16 goals in the Championship halfway through the season he’s a sought after commodity, simple as that. We have to face the fact that the risk is always there. Having said that, if he’s on 15 goals by December I’ll be a very happy man. It works both ways.”
- There were repeated questions about whether there is money to spend in January. These were asked in a variety of ways, coming at it from different angles, but essentially were asking the panel to show their hand for the forthcoming transfer window. Amalgamating LH’s answers he said: “It’s all about revenue coming in. Last forum I got asked if we were compliant with FFP and it’s silly to answer it because, while I know everybody wants clarity and to be transparent, sometimes it’s not in the best interests of the club. If I said we weren’t compliant it tells the whole rest of the league ‘holy fire sale at QPR, hot damn’. I can’t confirm or deny. Yes, we have headroom in the budget to do something, but you only do that and use it if the right thing comes along otherwise you keep it in your back pocket and use it in the summer instead. If our scouting system, director of football and manager come along with somebody who fits the bill and will take us forward, it fits right with the finances and we’re not in breach of regulations, then we’ll go ahead and do it.”
- Similarly, and if I may say so rather bone-headedly, there were several questions along the line of ‘can you guarantee our better players won’t be sold’ with boys like Eze and Manning being mentioned. Thankfully, LF gave a straight answer to this, rather than a PR one. That straight answer was: “I have to be honest, every player is for sale at the right price.” Come on people, don’t make me get the finger puppets out again. LF, generously, contextualising: “It would have to be the right price for QPR. We’re in a situation where we have to, at some stage, sell one of our best players to enable us to move forwards. We don’t want to, but it’s what we have to do. To say nobody is for sale, no I can’t sit here and do that. We try our best to keep all players and add to it if we can, but we have to be realistic about the situation we’re in. Amit and I were having a discussion on the way in about who might be bidding what for our players in January, as opposed to previously talking about who we might have to pay what to get out to make the place a better environment.”
- LH added on potential player sales: “The likelihood is based on the offer we receive. The lads we have, MW is doing a great job of enhancing their value. What people forget is if somebody puts a monster deal on the table for your player and you resist it, that monster deal is also a monster pick up for the player. You do your best to keep that player onside but if you turn it down and that player sees it as their big chance and their head goes, it doesn’t end well. It’s easy for me on the financial side, but Mark and Les have to manage these boys on a daily basis. Sometimes they have a temporary dip, and sometimes it’s not a temporary dip it takes a long time to get them back on track.”
- The classic fans forum number of who signs the player and what exactly LF does – which, incidentally, I did think was actually worth digging into this year after MW had been allowed to bring in Lee Wallace, Liam Kelly, Dom Ball and others he had a personal connection with – was rather brushed aside. LF said: “What I’ve learned here is if it’s a good player who comes through the door the manager has done a great job, if it’s a player who the supporters don’t like they want to know what the DOF is doing. It’s a combined effort, the scouts report back on players, we know some ourselves… most of the time the players coming through the door it’s a combination of all heads together.”
- Further to that, MW did give some insight that they were specifically looking for players who could play several positions. He said: “For supporters it’s easy to say ‘go and get player X, Y or Z’. The fact is they have to be the right quality on the field and character in the dressing room. Why didn’t we sign that centre forward? Because he’s a bad egg. He’s bad in the dressing room, he spoils the harmony and unity we have in the club. We have to choose wisely. So much information goes into it: playing record, off field behaviour, what positions can they play… We can’t afford to sign too many players who play one position. When you have Geoff [Cameron] who can play centre mid, centre half, or right of the three; or Dom Ball playing right back, centre back, defensive midfield, that’s great for us. The more players can be flexible will really help the club going forwards.”
- The £1.5m sale of Darnell Furlong was raised. Son of a QPR club legend, product of our youth academy, versatile player, now excelling in a team pushing for automatic promotion. Lovely boy, loves his mum. MW said: “I hope this comes across right… a price came in for Darnell that we thought was good value, and we replaced Darnell with a free transfer player. It made good business sense for the club. Every player in the world has a value, it could be Messi at £500m, or a guy at £5k, they’ve got a price on their head. It was a good move for the boy, it made financial sense for QPR, we replaced like with like. I wish Darnell well, great lad, but it was the right thing to do for QPR.” Later, on how we value players, LF said: “We could value somebody at £15m but if somebody has only got £5m to spend and there are a couple of teams offering £5m we have to decide whether to sell at that, or hold out and hold onto them. On the other side of the coin if a player gets wind of who wants them, it’s about how happy you keep them.” MW concluded: “They’re human. If I said to you the company over the road wants to take you and it’s five times your salary, then I say you’re staying put, what’s your reaction? You’d be peed off. Les has to deal with that. If you retain the player the agent will be on the phone the following day saying ‘I want to talk to you, we need to renegotiate his contract’.”
- There were a couple of softball questions about what system suits the current squad best, and then plenty of Football Manager enthusiasts keen to meet Warbs Warburton afterwards to try and make him promise not to play a back three ever again (just me that quite likes it then?). He batted the on record stuff away with: “Whatever suits the players who are available best. Grant Hall plays every minute then you lose Grant for four or five weeks; Yoann you lose for four or five weeks; then Toni… You have to play the formation that suits the players available. If it means Geoff dropping back into the back four, or Angel playing right centre back, or Dom Ball dropping back, you have to do it. Lee Wallace playing left centre back, you have to do it. You’ve seen we’ve favoured 4-2-3-1, we’ve gone to 3-5-2 as a fall back formation. We have to adapt to who is available.”
- There were some more pointed questions about homework done on opponents and how we adapt. MW, all night, refused to cede to any suggestion that we should compromise his values or embrace pragmatism in certain situations, despite what happened against Boro on Saturday. MW said: “It’s got to be about us. It’s got to be about QPR. That has to be the emphasis. How do we hurt the opposition? What do we do well, what can we do better? Today we looked at Fulham, how they play, the role of their full backs, the role of Mitrovic, we’ve done a 15 minute film for them on Fulham and that will carry on tomorrow. Then when the boys come back after the international break it will be about how we hurt them. How can we target x, y and z areas on the pitch. That will all be put into training drills. It will all be related to how we think we can hurt Fulham, how I hope we can hurt Fulham. We respect the opponent always, but it’s about us. We’re a good squad we want to hurt people.”
- Another absolute fans forum classic, scouting (or lack of it) on the island of Ireland came up, with Preston in particular making a repeated series of killings in the two top flights over there. LF said: “We have scouts in both areas, and Scotland. Our scouts also get information that says you need to go here and look at this. The teams in the north west tend to get them because traditionally that’s where most of them went – Man Utd got hold of a few, Man City, teams up north. We got Ryan Manning. We have scouts all over the place, we try to spread our net wide, we are restricted in how many scouts we have but we get a lot of information and we go wherever we can.” No mention, or questions raised about Gary Penrice’s status. Nor, really, how Preston are consistently competing at the top of this division on smaller gates, less ticket revenue, smaller hospitality income, and half our wage bill.
- Ryan Manning came up quite a bit. There was a question about why we haven’t shifted him into midfield and put Lee Wallace at left back, which MW seemed to take a bit of afront to. “Well he’s been so shocking at left back so far, I’m not sure he’d get in,” he said. “He’s done so well at LB so far keeping somebody like Lee out, we’ll have to put up with him. He’s a flexible player, he can play LWB, LB, he can play midfield defensively, or in the eight position. You have a young guy there, very talented and, touch wood, always available. He’s very robust, a great availability record. Right now he’s doing a great job keeping Lee Wallace out of the team, but wherever we choose to play him he’ll do a great job for the team. He’s seen Lee Wallace as a challenge and risen to that challenge rather than crumbled under it. The danger is these young players read the social media, and the papers, and all these clubs suddenly want him. Keep your head down, keep working hard, it’ll all fall into place. All credit to him for the work he’s done so far.” Manning’s versatility and endurance, being available for every game, training the house down in every session, became a regular theme of MW’s answers on the night.
- MW repeatedly said that the senior members of the squad – Angel Rangel, Marc Pugh, Lee Wallace, Geoff Cameron – were taking pride in mentoring the young players, even though they weren’t necessarily in the team themselves. Wallace has been working specifically with Manning, even though he has his place in the team, for instance. MW said: “Lee Wallace has played for Scotland, played in Old Firm games, and he is passing on that knowledge. Marc Pugh has been promoted from League One into the Championship, and then from the Championship to the Premier League, and you hope that Ilias and these young players are bleeding them dry for all their knowledge.”
- Great question. “If money was no object, which Championship player would you want for this team?” Hats off whoever asked that, because it gives a great insight into where the manager thinks we’re lacking and just when I assumed a goalkeeper or a centre back would be named MW played for time and went with: “Obviously centre halves at the moment and there are strikers but somebody like Romaine Sawyers or somebody of that ilk, a fantastic player who goes under the radar and does a fantastic job. Those types of players are hard to find and they’re very attractive.”
- The playing out from the back thing came up A LOT in the questions from the floor. It started with a submitted question that asked why we continuously sack managers, and have worked our way through 20 in as many years, which LH agreed was ridiculous and said they were trying to install an ethos and a style of play under MW but added: “When I hear you all gasp as we’re passing around at the back, it is the way forward. We have to go through the crucible on this, and we’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s about developing players who can play that way, bringing players through who can play that way, and by the way this is where you get value out of players because that’s the Premier League style and we need to produce players who can play in the Premier League. MW has been a fantastic addition to this club and he has absolutely set it on the right path.” MW added, on the crowd nervousness: “I have to be careful how I answer. What happened on Saturday turned a 2-1 comfortable into a 2-2 and two dropped home points. The only way you learn is by a mistake. We will play out this season, and in the coming games, and I’m telling you now we’ll make a mistake and concede. I hope not. I hope it doesn’t cost us points. But it will happen. And you can’t applaud a footballer for playing really good football, taking it and dealing with it in a tight area, playing through the units, getting out and clapping… then when he makes a mistake, berating him. The young ones coming through the academy, comfortable in that style, brave never reckless, will be in a good place. They’ll make mistakes, be it a goalkeeper whose mistakes are highlighted, or a striker who gets away with missing, they all make mistakes and we have to stick with them and Lee, Les and myself have to recruit players who can deal with those mistakes. Whatever job you do, you make a mistake, you feel bad about it – they make theirs in front of 20,000 people. Social media, pundits, Sky… you have to have a strong spine and thick skin to deal with it, those are the players we have to produce.”
- And on being the only team in the Football League without a clean sheet MW pointed to a goal we hadn’t conceded – Leeds’ Mateusz Klich volleying a sitter over the bar early in last week’s game at Elland Road. MW said: “I guarantee had he scored every supporter would have asked where the centre halves had gone, yet again. But we missed a two on one tackle in front of the dugouts, and then he ran off the back of the midfield. The blame lies elsewhere. The defenders are the easy ones to blame, but we defend as a team. We press up front, we look to close off the space and the avenues, then we work together to block them. I agree we’ve made stupid mistakes, five penalties given away, Nahki’s on Saturday we have to eradicate that, but don’t think it’s just a defender or the defensive unit. If we won every game 3-2 I’d happily take it, and I’m sure you would too.”
- The issue of refereeing, and the repeated written apologies QPR have had from the PGMOL for mistakes made in our games, was raised and batted around. The only real point of note was that LH had apparently lost it during a recent game with somebody in the SARS who he believed was the refereeing assessor for the day, only to be told afterwards they had nothing to do with any of it. “We get a lot of letters saying we made this mistake or that mistake, people say it evens itself out, we don’t feel like it is at the moment. Hopefully it will turn” LF said. MW added: “There’s no consequence for their actions. We get letters about penalties that weren’t penalties, players that dived, players that shouldn’t have been booked. But there’s no consequence. Players get dropped, managers get sacked, attendances go down, the margins are so fine – you move from second to eighth or eighth to third. There are huge implications on every decision. But you have to be honest with the players – hard done by there, don’t dwell on it let’s move on, hopefully it’s in the bank for later.”
- The water pressure in the ladies toilets is being monitored.
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Letters from Wiltshire #04 by wessex_exile
After last weeks’ solid point away against Bradford City, tipped by many to be strong promotion contenders, we now face another stern test against fallen giants Bolton Wanderers. Okay, giants may be stretching it a tad, but these guys have won the FA Cup four times, the League Cup twice, and the Charity Shield and Football League (Sherpa Van) Trophy once apiece. Christ, they were in the Premier League just eight years ago. But, they are where they are for a reason, and Saturday is all about 11 v 11, literally on a level playing field…
Letters from Wiltshire #03 by wessex_exile
So here we are, the drôle de guerre is over, the real battle is about to begin. Can we take any positives from the opening exchanges so far? I think so, the style is good, albeit Noah is right that the work in the final third needs considerable improvement if we are going to capitalise on our tippy-tappy triangles in midfield. But we’ve played some decent sides, far better sides than we should expect to face in League 2, and we haven’t been beaten out of sight yet, so let’s see what today brings against a side I think will be there or thereabouts come May next year.
Letters from Wiltshire #02 by wessex_exile
Three days on from our early Carabao Cup exit at the Madjeski, we prepare to start the next cup competition at Fratton Park – at least we can’t be out of this one by full-time – well, not tonight anyway. For those that gain perverse pleasure from such things, had we prevailed against Reading, only Luton Town would have stood between us and another match against Manchester United! Of course, we wouldn’t have done, because we’d be in a completely different strand of reality, and thus a completely different cup draw, but no harm in a bit of Whatiffery.
Letters from Wiltshire #01 by wessex_exile
Here we are then, at the start of a new season, curiously this time already well into September. I plan to continue (time permitting) writing blogs for each matchday, but with the season already considerably compressed, and matches as a result coming thick and fast, my apologies in advance if I don’t make it for every single game.
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