1st September 2007. I stood outside Loftus Road looking in silence at the memorial laid by fans for our young striker Ray Jones who had been tragically killed in a car crash. As I turned to enter the stadium a vehicle pulled up and from it emerged then Chairman Gianni Paladini along with the man about to buy the club, Flavio Briatore.
For years Rangers had been struggling with finances, seemingly always only days away from a second spell in administration (unlike most clubs, QPR emerged from an administration period worse off than when they went in). Now, just as the club had reached the lowest possible point with the death of a young striker, there was just a semblance of hope. As Briatore crossed the road the silence was broken by an ovation. No cheers, just clapping hands, a sign of thanks and appreciation.
For a while, things were actually pretty good as the club turned to an Italian none of us had heard of, Luigi De Canio. Along with a slew of signings including Fitz Hall, Matthew Connolly, Patrick Agyemang and most importantly the sublime Akos Buzsaky and the mercurial Rowan Vine, De Canio dragged us up the table pretty quickly. There was an annoying penchant for conceding late goals and the away form was shaky, but at Loftus Road fans were treated to the best football in years. Two 3-0 thrashings against promotion-chasing sides Stoke and Bristol City in particular were an absolute joy. We were rich. We were scoring goals. We loved the manager. All was right with the world.
But since April of 2008 very little has been right with the world. Buzsaky and Vine both became injured and between them have played less than five times in the last 12 months. The cultish De Canio left the club under uncertain circumstances, no one quite sure whether he was homesick, whether the players were frustrated by his lack of English or whether he was always only a stop-gap to stave off relegation.
In addition, despite boasting a Board worth billions of pounds, season ticket prices shot up – in some cases by as much as 50% when taking into account discounts for the previous season. There were grumbles, but fans conceded that if we wanted success and more good players then perhaps we should have to pay for it.
There were all kinds of rumours about who the next manager might be (the most outlandish being Zinedine Zidane) but in the end the man chosen was a decidedly unglamorous Iain Dowie.
In a blaze of publicity, QPR managed to sign Real Madrid starlet Daniel Parejo on a one year loan deal, a player Arsenal were rumoured to have offered £10m for only a few months earlier. There were concerns about the lack of a top class striker at the club, but otherwise hopes were high.
A decent start soon went sour. Emmanuel Ledesma, a loan signing from Italy, scored one of the most perfect hat-tricks I have ever seen against Carlisle in the League Cup, but soon lost form and never recovered. Parejo showed flashes of brilliance, but struggled to adapt to the English game. Both have since left the club early. Dowie’s initial expansive football quickly gave way to a more defensive game, causing rows with Briatore. By October he was gone.
Paulo Sousa’s time in charge has been mixed. Some excellent results – a scintillating 3-2 home win against Preston and a 3-0 destruction away at Blackpool – have been enjoyable, but with Buzsaky and Vine still injured, Agyemang joining them and new signing Heidar Helguson seemingly unsure of fitness from one week to the next, the problem of scoring goals has persisted, resulting in some very dull 0-0 draws.
About a month ago, the club trumpeted the return of the Early Bird Discount Scheme whereby existing season ticket holders and members could buy a season ticket for next season at the same price as last season as long as they bought it by mid-April. How the word ‘Discount’ was allowed to be in that offer has been discussed at length, because there was no discount. In fact, because of the VAT reduction, it was actually an increase on last year’s prices. Having sat through a fair amount of turgid football (although at least for once we have been top half for a whole season) fans were furious.
Revolution has been brewing for some time and the whole sorry mess regarding the sacking of Paulo Sousa for apparently revealing ‘secrets’ about the club to a fan has brought things to a head. Sousa may not have set the club alight, but he has had just six months. He is not responsible for buying players and Sporting Director Gianni Paladini has failed badly in this regard to acquire strikers of an ability to make us into a team worthy of promotion. He continues to appear to wield a disproportionate amount of power at the club despite being a former agent who has never coached, never managed and has been responsible for bringing a number of sub-standard players to the club on big contracts.
Indeed, it seems possible that Paladini’s signing of Gary Borrowdale in January precipitated the current crisis. Borrowdale was signed on loan in November with a permanent signing also agreed. Sousa was not impressed and Borrowdale never started a game and has been shipped out to Brighton on loan. In retrospect it appears possible that this may have caused something of a power struggle between the coach and the sporting director.
Sousa was an outstanding footballer and a man of honour. A few years ago QPR could never have dreamed of attracting a man of his standing to the club, and now it has booted him out on an embarrassing technicality. He deserves better.
The PR machine at QPR has quickly gone into overdrive, relegating the story of the sacking of the manager to the fifth item on its news page only hours after the initial announcement (where Sousa, bizarrely, was referred to as Paulo De Sousa) and proudly crowing about a 5% reduction in season ticket prices, as if that makes everything okay.
Of course, it makes nothing okay. QPR fans are in a terrible situation. We were desperate for a takeover, for someone with money to have faith in the club. Now we have it and the club is a circus, a shambles, an embarrassment. It is starting to make Newcastle look like a well-run ship.
And who is going to manage this club now? No one seems capable of lasting more than around six months in the job and even a minor run of poor results could mean the sack, as could a disagreement with Briatore or Paladini. Some people have mentioned Darren Ferguson or Gary Johnson but neither have any reason to risk their good names. At the QPR circus, the coach cannot be the Ringmaster, which usually makes him the clown.
I go to football for entertainment. On Monday when Rangers will undoubtedly lose to Sheffield Wednesday, I am dreading the ugly atmosphere that will flood the stands.
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