|This Week - Hunting for Ferdinands on mean streets of Harrow|
Thu 17th Feb 2011 00:10 by Clive Whittingham
Harrow Borough manager Dave Howell talks to LFW about trialist Troy Hewitt a player who, even if he doesn’t sign for QPR, bodes very well for our future.
Diamonds in the rough
How lazy would it be to start an article about QPR picking up top non-league talent by recounting the story of Les Ferdinand’s transition from Hayes to Loftus Road, England, Newcastle and beyond?
Very, is the answer to that, but as far as players plucked from local football go Sir Les was the gold standard mark against which all future such acquisitions have been judged. There have been other successes - admittedly not 25 goal a season (not including penalties) England striking successes but successes all the same. Ferdinand was supplied for a number of years by Andy Impey who enjoyed a decent top flight career having initially signed for Rangers from Yeading. Then later Gerry Francis built a reasonable mid table First Division side on a shoe string budget with Stewart Wardley bagging 14 goals from midfield after arriving from Saffron Walden and Jermaine Darlington impressing as an attacking full back after arriving from Ayelsbury.
Having a history like this shows players on the non-league circuit that QPR is a club that will come and watch you if you’re playing well, and will give you a chance in the first team if you’re good enough. But it also puts extra pressure on players who do arrive down that route. We’ve uttered the words “new Les Ferdinand” more than the Geordies have worshipped Messiahs, often with laughable consequences. Anybody that was there for any of Ross Weare’s five substitute appearances for QPR – where he looked like, and to be fair probably was, a nightclub bouncer thrust into high octane First Division action – will appreciate that we have perhaps been too quick to delight in the arrival of non-league ‘talent’ in times gone by and too swift in comparing lads obviously not good enough to past greats.
And to start comparing trialist Troy Hewitt to anybody would be premature even by the standards that saw us hoping Weare would be the answer to the Rob Steiner injury when we picked him up from East Ham. Hewitt has been on trial with QPR for a few weeks now, but only really came to the attention of supporters this week when he scored twice for the reserves against Crystal Palace on Tuesday.
The reserve set up generally in football at the moment is a bit of a farce – Rangers were playing one league game, usually against Aldershot, every six weeks when they withdrew from the farcical Combination Division in the summer and now play friendly games behind closed doors against whoever they can find in the Greater London area. Earlier this season Rangers turned up for one such game with Spurs two men short, and had to be loaned a couple of Tottenham trainee centre backs so that the match could take place. The final score was 8-3. Like I say, a farce.
So it would be unwise to place too much stock in reserve team results, performances, goals scored or anything else. Reserve games currently exist primarily for us to give Heidar Helguson, Akos Buzsaky and Lee Cook some game time following whatever knock, bump or bruise they have picked up.
Still, two goals against Palace on Tuesday and some rave reviews for his performances in the Ryman League where he has 14 goals this season, 20 in 30 in all competitions, sent us scurrying off to friend of the site Dave Howell – Hewitt’s manager at Harrow Borough. Howell signed Hewitt in the summer and found the former Blackpool and Yeovil trainee in decent touch after scoring 13 goals in 37 appearances for Ilford in the division below the season before. He hit the ground running this season with a goal against QPR in pre-season.
Howell told LFW: “He joined me in the summer in the hope of emulating Albert Adomah to become a professional footballer. Troy has improved so much in the last six months from the player who scored an equalising goal in the 1-1 draw at Earlsmead against QPR back in August. “I was at both reserve matches when QPR played at Tottenham and at your training ground against Crystal Palace. In the match at Spurs Troy played for around 20 minutes of the second half but it was difficult for anyone to really judge his performance. However he continued to train at QPR and with him becoming more comfortable he played a full 90 minutes against Crystal Palace, scoring two goals with the first goal being an exceptional strike, which showed you exactly what Troy Hewitt is about.
"He takes opportunities early and can explode anywhere around the box as he did for his first goal yesterday. He also has an awareness that is normally found in a more experienced and seasoned players. He has great movement and is very bright and strikes the ball comfortably with either foot and often surprises bigger defenders with his fantastic timing in the air. He is a likeable and popular player at Harrow and has scored and set up some amazing goals. This season he has scored 20 goals in 30 matches and has 14 league goals and is only two behind the league's leading scorer.
"We have some serious interest for Troy from Swindon, Barnet, Peterborough, Charlton, Crystal Palace, Preston North End, Colchester, Bristol City, Scunthorpe and Wycombe Wanderers along with many others who would either like to sign him or invite him down to show off their respective clubs. He definitely has a strong all round game and is adored by our fans. A genuine well mannered, nice and talented young person."
Neil Warnock told the Ealing Gazette: "I like the look of the lad. I can’t see him playing in the kind of 4-3-3 we’re tending to use now. He’d be better suited to a 4-4-2 and playing off the shoulder of a big man – but there’s no reason to say that can’t happen either. We’re going to sit down tomorrow late afternoon – and have a chat. I believe he’s at university – so that’s bound to come into the conversation.”
Hewitt is by no means the first non-league player invited down to Rangers and given a chance to showcase their talent this season. At the start of January 23-year-old striker Craig Hammond featured for the reserves as part of a week long trial from Cambridge City after QPR scouts had seen him against Hemel Hempstead and Swindon Supermarine. Then Halesowen Town winger Ruben Izquierdo spent time with the R’s at the end of January.
On the balance of probability we will never hear of any of these three players again. The best player I ever played with in an admittedly limited career of park kick arounds and five-a-side leagues was Ian Holmes who was the top scorer for the University of Sheffield in my last year there and once scored a famous winner at Bramall Lane for the Uni against rivals Hallam. Ian was, is, a lightening quick left footed striker with a terrific eye for goal. He was picked up by Unibond League side Matlock Town after leaving uni and after registering 34 goals in his first full season at Causeway Lane he was bought for a few thousand quid by then League Two outfit Mansfield Town. He scored three times for the Stags, including a winner against League One side Brighton in the FA Cup, but was released at the end of the year after they were relegated and now plays in the minor leagues.
I tell that story because to look at Ian play for our university side, and even for Matlock two divisions below the Football League at the same level as Harrow, you would think that he was destined for League Two football at the very least, possibly even higher. His first touch and pace made him such a threat. But despite being one of the lucky few to actually be spotted, picked up and given a chance it didn’t happen for him. The gulf is big, and the chances of players being able to move from playing Swindon Supermarine to Nottingham Forest is next to zero.
Then again there are notable success stories such as Jermaine Beckford and if you’re anything like me you’ll grind your teeth a little bit whenever he scores a goal. Partly that’s because Beckford comes across as a complete arsehole, firstly because of the “bad ass gansta” way in which he chooses to converse but also because he has a neck tattoo which, without wishing to cause any regular readers any offence, sets you out as a certain sort of person in my eyes. Mainly though it’s because when Beckford was the prized asset of non-league football, drawing scouts from far and wide, he was playing for Wealdstone which is spitting distance from Loftus Road and a QPR side at the time that was desperate for a quality striker but short on money. For a player like Beckford to go all the way up to Leeds from one of our local non-league clubs for a measly £45,000 while we were lashing out more on that in agents fees to bring in the likes of Marc Nygaard, Sammy Youssouff and Adam Czerkas in his position is a disgrace which our club has never really been grilled over in any great depth.
It has been a pet topic of LFW in recent years that QPR have never adequately replaced Mel Johnson – the tremendously hard working scout who arrived at Loftus Road along with Kenny Jackett from Watford at a time when we had eight players signed up and no money for any more. It was Johnson as much as manager Ian Holloway who rebuilt the QPR side and knew about the talents of Lee Cook, Danny Shittu, Lee Camp and Martin Rowlands through many gruelling hours of motorway travel and dire reserve team matches. He went on to be the European scout for Spurs while QPR settled into a slapdash habit of picking up whichever players had agents we liked to deal with, or played for clubs that were owned by friends of Flavio Briatore.
Occasionally some sort of announcement would be made about scouting - Martin Allen was used for a time, and Jim Magilton tried to put measures in place. I’m not for one moment suggesting that we haven’t been doing any scouting over the past few years, but to go from a time under Luigi De Canio and Paulo Sousa where it was questioned whether we even had anybody going to see our next opponents to a situation now where we’re impressed with a player we saw in a match between Cambridge City and Swindon Supermarine is a marked improvement.
Even if Hewitt doesn’t sign and the whole thing comes to nothing, the fact that we are now seeing his like coming to Harlington for our management to have a proper look at can only be a good thing. Neil Warnock and Mick Jones have been in the game for so long they must have a contacts book a yard thick – we’ve already seen this season the advantage of appointing an experienced English manager and letting him get on with the job. While promotion this season remains the priority it’s good to know they’re using their knowhow to keep an eye out for the next big thing in the medium term.