QPR Report Twitter Feed

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Fanzine Perspective of The New QPR

Nick Gordon Brown - Goalfood.com--
cash from chaos: surreal times in london W12

“Oh, how Richard Keys would chastise me if he read this. Deluded flights of fancy from a grumpy old sod. Next you’ll be telling us that a disgraced former Thai Prime Minister and an Icelandic biscuit magnate are competing with a shady Russian oil baron to be the most powerful man in English football…”

So concluded my rant on these pages last summer about modern football’s obsession with money. Or, to be more accurate, modern English football. Or, even more accurately, the Premiership and its attendant throng of hangers on.

I felt out of step with the modern game, and argued millions of others felt likewise. Are we just getting old, I asked (rhetorically, natch)…after all, to younger fans, the modern way IS football. If you’re old enough to have fathered half the Prem’s current crop, then it’s your problem not ours – get with the times daddio.

Then it happened. I was going to say “then the inevitable happened”…only I can’t think of anything less inevitable. My own club, one of those I’d pitied for being forever locked outside the Premiership playground, was taken over. Allegedly only hours before a second stint of administration this decade, at a time when a 10 point deduction would have consigned us to a certain relegation from which we might never have recovered.

However, not only were we taken over, we were taken over by two very rich, very high profile men with a track record of success in the business of sport that is second to none. They’d never even been to our ground before (though one of them admitted it was regularly on his helicopter’s flight path). We were available on the cheap, and they fancied a flutter.

Welcome to Queen’s Park Rangers FC of Shepherd’s Bush, London W12. For the first 85 years of it’s history, nothing more than a foot note in the rich tapestry of the game. Think “Third Division South”. A maverick owner and a succession of (mostly) inspired managerial appointments then led to a period of relatively sustained success. Thirty odd years spent knocking around the top flight or just below. An above average number of flair players, a unique kit (back then it was Reading FC of Elm Park and English football’s fourth tier, and Mr Madjeski was still flogging second hand motors), and an improbable amount of BBC airtime thanks to our location meant we actually became, if not famous, then certainly quite well known.

Then in 1996, just as the Prem gravy train began to go full steam ahead, we fell off. And never really looked like getting back on, despite bizarre managerial choice Stewart Houston (currently residing in the “where are they now?” file) telling terminally unhip music biz mogul and celebrity chairman wannabe Chris Wright, “get me Mike Sheron and I’ll get you back in the Premiership.”

“You’re not famous anymore”, Peterborough fans told us. Harsh but true. “You’re not quite well known anymore” didn’t scan so well.

This season’s events took a further bizarre twist when the two very rich men sold on 20% of the club’s shares to a man who is even richer than them. Richer, too, than Roman Abramovich. 4th or 5th richest in the world, depending on which of those tiresome lists you read.

As I surmised in the pre-season article, fan reaction to such a takeover at any club is to a great extent dictated by your age. Those Rangers fans who grew up in the early 90s with Les Ferdinand and regular top half Prem finishes (often above Arsenal & Chelsea) see it as the return of a footballing birth right, and the cash injection will simply take us back to our rightful place in football’s hierarchy. For even younger fans, like my own kids, it’s simply football as they know it. The Rs have been crap for as long as they can remember, but rich foreign blokes are always buying football clubs and throwing money at them, and now it’s our turn – and mum and dad always say everyone should get a turn.

However, for many Rs fans, one of the big talking points of the season has been how do we as fans react to our new found wealth? “Not like that lot down the road” appears to be the consensus. Chelsea may be happy to be the Premiership equivalent of Millwall (no one likes us, we don’t care), but over the years, we’ve been used to being quite liked by most – or at least not especially disliked. “A kindly aunt”, Danny Baker once called us.

Fans of other clubs liked Stan Bowles, they liked Les Ferdinand. Many liked our kit. And despite its limitations (lack of leg room in and poor views from the away end among them), many liked our tight knit stadium, where you’re right on top of the players, and a crowd of 12,000+ can create a great atmosphere.

Much of that goodwill has evaporated overnight. In this internet age, it’s easy to find out what others think of your own club, and the venom directed towards W12 has not been the sole preserve of rival fans’ messageboards. The pre-match previews in the regional media frequently talk of our opponents taking on “money bags QPR”. We as fans have done nothing to provoke that reaction. Such matters are now beyond our control.

Many of us have even sensed the envy from friends who support clubs outside of the big 4. “Why not us?” is the understandable refrain. There are dozens of clubs, not just in the Championship but also many in the Premiership and some in League One, who would consider themselves to be “bigger” (fanbase, history, however you want to judge that most subjective of issues) than “bloody QPR!”.

To be honest, many of us are thinking along similar lines. “Why us?” It’s all as confusing as it is exciting, and we still can’t quite believe it. All we asked Santa for was a minor millionaire or two who could ensure we could compete on a Palace / Charlton kind of a level, and didn’t have to return to derby games with Brentford. Not only did we get three big cheeses, but there appear to be no human rights skeletons in closets…and whilst I’m not an F1 fan myself, it’s a damn sight cooler than American Football or, indeed, biscuits.

When Jack Walker bankrolled Blackburn to the title in the early days of the Premiership, the neutrals were split. Some applauded a lifelong fan for putting his riches into his hometown team and breaking the monopoly of the big clubs. Others derided the setting of a precedent whereby a club could live beyond its relatively meagre means due only to its sugar daddy. Although times have changed greatly since then, and a latter day Walker couldn’t repeat that trick (just ask Steve Gibson), it’s probably the closest comparison that can be found (not that there is anything approaching a lifelong fan involved).

Walker’s legacy is impressive. Prior to his investment, what odds would you have got on Blackburn in 2008 being where they are? However, the new men at the Bush, for all their relatively cautious talk, don’t seem the sort to settle for Prem consolidation and the odd tilt at the UEFA Cup.

They always refer to what they’re doing at QPR as “the project”. So does the canny Italian manager they employed. Put them in front of a derelict building that still has a few visible traces of former grandeur but that is going for a song, and imagine Grand Designs’ Kevin McLoud interviewing them, and you’ll get the picture. Had they bought, say, Tottenham, not only would it have cost 20 times what it cost to purchase lil’ ol’ QPR, but also they would have spent months & millions ripping out and replacing much of what the previous owners had put in place. This lot would rather start from scratch and, to use another one of their already well worn phrases, “do it our way”.

This approach has thus far struck the right chord with the majority of fans. The “1-0 to the billionaires” song, funny the first time but very quickly embarrassing, has died a quiet death after its author ran a poll on a fans’ website about it and a whopping 90% gave it the thumbs down. (That’s not to say that our new found riches haven’t led to some off the cuff terrace classics, such as chanting “we won’t be signing you” to Shaun Wright Philips after he characteristically blazed high and wide in the cup tie at Stamford Bridge…or serenading Bramall Lane with a chorus of “we’ve got more steel than you” in honour of our richest investor and the business that earned him his billions).

More and more, as the ‘project managers’ allow a few more very minor details of their plans to seep out, it is clear that location is paramount. Chris Wright often talked of moving us out to “the M4 corridor” (where we’d probably have been about as welcome as Terminal 5 – and about as well planned too, given Wright’s track record at the helm). Not these guys. Whilst the Bush and White City may not be amongst the more salubrious parts of town, we’re still the closest London club to the West End (and, coincidentally, Wembley). The urban regenerators are chucking plenty of money at the area, and it’s clearly seen as a good base for the planned international operation in a way that, say, Southampton, Nottingham or Sunderland are not.

The London factor cannot be undervalued, for all that it already has five clubs (albeit it likely to be four soon) in the Premiership. A huge population; culturally diverse and full of second, third and fourth generation immigrants from all the world’s football mad countries; always in the glare of the world’s media…outside of Liverpool and Manchester United with their awe-inspiring footballing heritage, no other English clubs can hope to compete with a well-managed London-based club.

Fans of the likes of Aston Villa and Manchester City, or one club cities like Newcastle and Leeds, would no doubt like to argue the toss about this, but it’s what QPR’s owners are banking on. At the heart of their vision for ‘the project’ is a London location that money could buy…and just about enough of a fanbase / history to start building from.

On the surface, this appears to be a takeover like no other. Shinawatra, Lerner, DIC, Ashley…all these names now trip off the football fan’s tongue readily, but the words tripping off the tongues of the QPR board appear to be different from the rest. Not necessarily better or worse, it’s far too early to judge – but certainly different.

QPR fans can expect an interesting ride. And as hopes and dreams turn into expectations and demands (from fans and owners alike), there’s the potential for it all to get very messy. The aim appears to be to build phoenix-like a London-based football superpower from the ashes of a modest but once much respected club…to do it shrewdly and with business savvy remaining intact…and playing attractive football. It seems an awful lot to ask. However, after a decade that has seen administration, two relegations, the tragic deaths of two of our brightest young prospects, the mass brawl with the Chinese Olympic team, our main fanzine editor threatened with legal action by our Chairman, and the same Chairman being the central figure in an embarrassing court case about alleged guns in the boardroom…well, I for one aim to enjoy that ride. Goalfood

Blog Archive