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Thursday, February 15, 2007

"The Crazy World of QPR" and Other Press Stories

The crazy world of QPR: Loftus Road heads for meltdownAn assistant manager suspended over a brawl, claims of a gun in the boardroom and a fatal stabbing are just some of the incidents that have rocked a once-proud club
By Jasper Gerard
Published: 15 February 2007

If Wimbledon were the "Crazy Gang", what are Queen's Park Rangers? Try the maddest club in world football.

It has been a rather quiet week at Loftus Road. So far Richard Hill, the assistant manager, has been suspended by the club and arrested by the police on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm after a training-ground "friendly" against China's Olympic team was abandoned due to a mass brawl which left a player with a damaged eye socket. The Championship club's accounts have been queried and a goalkeeper, Lee Camp, has been hastily signed on loan from Derby County following one of the worst results in the club's history, a 5-0 thrashing by lowly Southend United. Oh well, it's only Thursday; plenty of time in the extraordinary world of QPR for something unusual to kick off.

Gianni Paladini, the QPR chairman, says there is "no place for violence". Actually, violence has found all too snug a nest in west London. Paladini, a former football agent, took the witness stand last year after alleging a gun was held to his head in the boardroom, though a group of men including a fellow director were later cleared of conspiracy to blackmail, false imprisonment and gun possession. One of QPR's brightest prospects, 15-year-old Kiyan Prince, was stabbed to death last year. Another player left the club after being accused by team-mates of theft, sparking a fight down South Africa Road. Oh, and if the right hook Hill is alleged to have thrown looked silkier than Rangers' footwork of late, he is a former trainer to Lennox Lewis.

But shocking though this might sound, violence is incidental to the decline of a club once swashbuckling in a different way. Having written frequently about my traumatic love affair with QPR, I was invited two years ago to sit on a new executive board, so have observed the running first-hand; boy, has it been sobering. Happily ignorant of what goes on behind the scenes of a football club, I have sat slack-jawed hearing of earlier mismanagement. It has been called a soap opera, but have you ever seen a soap opera this gripping? The frightening bit is that while the theatricals and thuggery are all QPR, I now suspect tangled financial problems are rife throughout football.

As a fan it is hard to believe QPR are in such a plight. A little over a decade ago Rangers were one of the capital's top clubs. From David Seaman in goal to Les Ferdinand up front, they made their old rivals Chelsea look ordinary.

I fell in love with QPR in 1976, when Stan Bowles jinked them to within half an hour of the championship. Bowles, who sometimes spent kick-off in the bookies, calls this the most skilful team never to win a major honour. Then Terry Venables installed an artificial pitch, but the football became as authentically brilliant as anything you might see in Italy. Rangers oozed flair through Glenn Roeder, Simon Stainrod and Tony Currie, whose long passes were unequalled.

Even Venables could never expunge the side's most enduring habit: Rangers could hit the woodwork half-a-dozen times and end up losing to a bunch of car mechanics - literally in recent years, against Vauxhall Motors in the FA Cup in 2002.

Yet however shocking performances on the pitch, nothing has rivalled the drama of late in the boardroom. Like so many of the burnt-out Premiership volcanoes scarring the Championship, the root of Rangers' sorrow - and predicament - is financial.

QPR have never recovered from falling out of the top flight in 1996 under the disastrous reign of Ray Wilkins. Chris Wright, chairman of Chrysalis, "invested" £30m; he may as well have hurled the cash off the Westway. QPR went into administration and even fell down into the third division.

Rangers are back - for now - in the Championship, but saddled with debt. The club is owned by a Monaco consortium that has struggled to pay even modest bills. Plans to sell the ground and move further west have not progressed.

Fans criticise Paladini, yet few have rushed to take over. I have sat with Paladini and shared his frustration when he has found money to pay £3,000 or £5,000 a week to a player who turns out to be a drifter.

Hanging over the club has been a £10m loan taken out by the previous board from a mysterious Panamanian outfit called ABC. Paladini cannot even establish the people behind ABC, who charge QPR a crippling rate of interest. After Paladini questioned the deal, Dave Morris, a rival director close to the previous chairman, Bill Power, queried a transfer Paladini negotiated. Then, Paladini alleges, a gun was drawn to his head and he was ordered to sign a letter of resignation before he escaped. Last June Morris and six other men were cleared of the offence at Blackfriars Crown Court.

The dugout this last year has scarcely been more serene, QPR changing managers like models change gowns. Ian Holloway's press conferences - he once likened an ugly win to "scoring" with an unattractive woman - were more diverting than his agricultural team. So last season Paladini sacked him, believing a return to silky ball-playing could gain that elusive promotion. But Gary Waddock presided over a team devoid of steel. QPR were in freefall, so in September Paladini fired Waddock and appointed another old boy, John Gregory.

A stalwart from Venables' day, Gregory found the manager's office had not enjoyed a lick of paint since then, but the team soon looked brighter. He has some sparkling attacking players, notably winger Lee Cook. Astutely - if humiliatingly - he has taken Chelsea youngsters on loan. However, all season the defence has left gaps wider than the Grand Canyon.

Rangers say they are too gifted to go down; but Rangers always say that. Even Kevin Gallen, who has hung around Loftus Road like a pair of comfy old slippers as the side pinged between three divisions, has finally had enough and departed. Is Gregory safe? Well, could the club afford to pay off yet another manager?

Commentators love describing clubs as "big". Perhaps Queen's Park Rangers was never quite that. But the game would have been a lot less beautiful without those blue and white hoops. I do not know the source of the madness gripping Rangers. But I do know it's a footballing tragedy.

Hoops history: How League runners-up and Wembley winners fell on hard times

Honours: Div 1 runners-up 1975-76; Div 2 champions 1982-83; Div 3 champions 1967-68; Div 3 South champions 1947-48; FA Cup r-up 1982; League Cup winners 1967, runners-up 1986.

Most Capped Player: Alan McDonald (52, N Ireland).

Most League Appearances: Tony Ingham, 519 (1950-63).

Record Transfer Fees:

Paid £2.75m Mike Sheron from Stoke City, July 1997. Received £6m Les Ferdinand to Newcastle United, June 1995.

League Record: 1920 Original Members of Div 3; 1921-48 Div 3 South; 1948-52 Div 2; 1952- 58 Div 3 South; 1958-67 Div 3; 1967-68 Div 2; 1968-69 Div 1; 1969-73 Div 2; 1973-79 Div 1; 1979-83 Div 2;1983-92 Div 1; 1992-96 Premier League; 1996-2001 Div 1; 2001-04 Div 2; 2004- Championship.

Most recent managers: Ray Wilkins (1994-96); Stewart Houston (1996-97); Ray Harford (1997-98); Gerry Francis (1998-2001); Ian Holloway (2001-06); Gary Waddock (Feb-Sept 2006); John Gregory (Sept 2006-). Independent

THE TIMES - FA will use Hartson case in forming QPR charge - Aidan Magee
The FA will use John Hartson’s assault on Eyal Berkovic eight years ago as the precedent to bring charges against Queens Park Rangers after their brawl with the China Olympic team.
Rangers face censure from the governing body after a China player suffered a fractured jaw as the friendly at the club’s Harlington training ground descended into chaos and was abandoned last week. Soho Square officials say that they will look at the case of Hartson, who was suspended and fined £20,000 for a training ground altercation with Berkovic in 1998 caught on a fan’s video camera. Hartson kicked Berkovic in the head.
The FA is waiting until police conclude their investigation over possible criminal charges against QPR, after the club’s decision to suspend Richard Hill, the coach, in the wake of his arrest last weekend. QPR also face an outstanding charge of failing to control their players during an FA Cup defeat by Luton Town last month. The Times

Hartson case will influence great brawl of China outcome

The FA will use John Hartson's infamous training-ground assault on Eyal Berkovic eight years ago as the precedent to bring charges against Queens Park Rangers following their 50-man brawl with the China Olympic team.

Hartson was suspended and fined £20,000 for kicking West Ham team-mate Berkovic in the head after it was caught on a fan's video camera.

The FA are waiting until police conclude their investigation over possible criminal charges against QPR, but a spokesman said: "Although the game wasn't under the direct control of the FA, we are looking into the integrity and image of the game, and whether QPR have breached any rules in much the same way we looked at the Hartson-Berkovic incident." Mail

China Daily - [China Football Association] CFA under fire for mishandling QPR affair
By Chen Xiangfeng (China Daily) Updated: 2007-02-07

The China Football Association (CFA) came under increasing attack from local fans and media over the melee that broke out between the nation's Olympic team and Queen's Park Rangers in London last week.

QPR suspended their assistant manager Richard Hill on Tuesday following his arrest in connection with the brawl that marred the 'friendly' match with the English Championship side's reserve team.

But Chinese fans say the CFA failed in its responsibilities both during and after the fight, which left one Chinese player hospitalized with a fractured jaw and others injured.

Reports from Chinese newspaper Titan Sports said that when Chinese photographers were trying to record the on-pitch hostilities, national team officials obstructed them, resulting in a lack of evidence supporting claims that the Chinese players were surrounded and attacked.

One soccer fan summed up the ensuing confusion.

"We had no idea what exactly happened after reading the newspapers. Only after watching the videos from CCTV did I realize that the Chinese players were provoked by ugly tackles throughout the match. I think that was probably the main reason for the fight," said Li Bo from Beijing.

Defender Zheng Tao was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw during the fracas, which resulted in the February 7 match being abandoned.

Zheng and teammate Chen Tao, who left the pitch with a bloody nose, will collect evidence and plan to appeal to FIFA to sue QPR and the English FA, the Shanghai Evening Post reported yesterday.

With players and coaching staff from both teams involved, the CFA has also taken flak for its decision to offer an immediate and unilateral apology.

"We should all take responsibility for this second brawl," said the CFA, referencing an earlier tune up against Chelsea's reserves, that also turned violent.

"Chinese football has once again been marred in front of the fans.

"We apologize and we will work harder on disciplining and educating our players."

Critics claim the apology creates the misleading impression that China was fully responsible for the second fight, an impression already moulded by scenes of striker Gao Lin's emphatic flying kick on a QPR player.

Overseas media have used the apology in part to fuel analyses of the fight that present the Chinese side's involvement in a negative or, as some local media claim, unbalanced light.

The match was the penultimate tie in the Chinese Olympic team's ten-game European swing, aimed at providing some top-level competition ahead of next year's Beijing Olympic Games.

The final match was canceled.

As one of a set of punitive measures, the CFA sent Gao home the following day.

This also caused complications, as it meant the striker was not available to defend his actions when the British police launched their investigation into the affair.

Gao is believed to have triggered the brawl by lashing out at a player from the second division club, but he insisted he had been provoked.

"It is clear the CFA is trying to find a scapegoat for the incident," said former CCTV sports commentator Huang Jianxiang on his blog.

Huang's former colleague Duan Xuan also questioned the CFA's decision to play such an amateur squad, but said Gao should have shown greater professionalism.

"Gao Lin should tolerate the provocations if it is an official competition.

"However, what kind of match was this? Why were the opponents so aggressive and brutal? Why does a national team have to play against reserves? Why could not we fight back after being repeatedly provoked?"
Further investigation

Hill's suspension is believed to only mark the beginning of the investigation as police and the FA are continuing to collect evidence.

A statement from QPR read: "Following the incident at the training ground on February 7, and the subsequent police investigation of the matter, Queens Park Rangers Football Club have suspended assistant manager Richard Hill from his duties until further notice."

Hill was caught by a Titan photographer in the act of punching a Chinese player. The picture was later purchased by British media.

The 43-year-old was released on bail but will face further questioning and possible charges following the outcome of the ongoing police investigation.

The CFA will decide what penalties to mete out in strict accordance with FIFA rules after the investigation has wrapped up, senior officials there said.

"We will make a decision about whether to punish the players involved or not according to the FA's investigation," said Vice President Xie Yalong.

Zheng will need three months for his jaw to recover but he is expected to be match fit soon after.

Gao, who has been temporarily suspended from the Olympic team, vowed to focus on training and said he hopes to return to the national team.

"If I'm punished, I will accept the decision, hope to learn something from my mistakes and work harder," he said.

"I will try to prove myself and get back to the national team as soon as possible."
China Daily

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