|Gorkss, Barton and the great ticket price crash|
Thu 25th Aug 2011 00:17 by Clive Whittingham
Another day packed full of news pouring out of Loftus Road has seen one popular player leave, a controversial one linked with a move in and the controversial ticket prices addressed.
Actions to go with words
By the end of this article I’ll be venturing the theory that our sudden high-speed move for Newcastle’s Joey Barton may be just a publicity stunt to persuade other more realistic targets we really do mean business and would be a good place for them to come Barton meanwhile gets a bargaining position to try and twist Newcastle’s arm with.
Maybe I should learn my lesson. It’s only a week since I was suggesting that Amit Bhatia hadn’t really resigned from the board in the summer over ticket prices at all – he merely said he did to strengthen his position with the QPR supporters and aid his own takeover bid. Well, six days after settling back into the club Bhatia has now had a hand in the ticket prices actually being reduced. The announcement was made today and met with almost universal acclaim. Thankfully, national journalists like David Conn and Henry Winter also picked up on the news having, rightly, given us an absolute pasting when the original prices were announced in the summer. QPR are bridge building with visiting fans as well as their own.
QPR are now just expensive, rather than extortionate.
That’s pretty unfair of me to be honest. It would have been very, very easy for our new board to assess the ticket prices over a number of weeks and conclude that it would be better to change them next summer than right away. They could have pointed to league rules about modifying ticket prices mid-season that we previously fell foul of prior to that match with Derby that Flavio Briatore suddenly decided he wanted to charge extortionate rates for before County complained and the league intervened. They could also have pointed to the huge strain the box office would be put under organising refunds for people who have already bought individual match tickets and season tickets for four different stands in four different price bands through cash, cheque, debit cards, credit cards and instalment finance packages.
None of this would have provoked an angry response if it had been delivered with a promise to reassess for next season. I dare say that’s what many people expected, along with maybe a club shop voucher.
But having concluded my takeover piece by saying actions speak louder and are a lot harder than words I cannot do anything other than doff a cap to Tony Fernandes today. In less than a week the ticket prices have been assessed, methods of refunding supporters drawn up, and decisive action taken. The walk up fees have been reduced ac cross the board so that for more than half the games tickets will be available for between £30 and £40 in most areas. For the bigger games it’s more, but not the £70 and £80 fees that were being planned by the previous incumbents for the visits of Chelsea and others.
A cynic may suggest the news was saved to bury the embarrassment of losing to Rochdale but whatever time this news came it would be welcome. Hopefully the supporters will repay this gesture by packing Loftus Road for the visit of Newcastle which is our next home match.
Farewell Ranier Wolfcastle
Was it just me who thought Kaspars Gorkss didn’t look quite as thrilled in his big unveiling picture as the associated text on the official Reading FC website suggested? It’s hard to feel sorry for modern day footballers, especially when they’ve just trousered what is sure to be another six figure signing on fee on Gorkss’ case, but my heart did go out to him a little bit today.
Gorkss, a multi-capped Latvian captain, came to this country, initially with Blackpool, stating his aim was to play in the Premiership. Blackpool seemed like just a stepping stone towards that when he arrived, a yo-yo club between the Championship and League One, and so when “big spending” QPR came along with a cash offer he wouldn’t have refused even had we had no chance of ever reaching the big time it was an obvious move to make. How galling must it have been for him to then see a former QPR manager turn up at Bloomfield Road and promote them to the top flight with Ian ‘Super Tanker’ Evatt in his position while we scratched around in the Championship going through managers at a frightening rate?
The answer, I suspect, is very. But there seemed to be some belated justice for Gorkss this summer when Blackpool came down and QPR went up – Gorkss played 43 times in QPR’s promotion winning campaign and would have been forgiven for thinking his chance of top flight football had finally arrived. Sadly he’s been denied again – sold back to the Championship today for an undisclosed fee with just one unused substitute appearance in the Premiership to his name. No wonder he looks pissed off.
For me this is a very strange move, but then I remember writing exactly the same thing just over a year ago when Neil Warnock allowed another first choice centre half, Damion Stewart, to head off down the M4 and that turned out alright in the end.
It would be fair to say that despite 43 appearances last season as part of the league’s best defence Gorkss did, at times, look a little shakier than he had done in previous years. When he arrived from Blackpool he was a powerful, commanding centre back with a reputation as a prolific goalscorer from attacking set pieces. He started out that way at QPR as well and quickly won many plaudits but last season the nerves of the situation seemed to get to him and Matt Connolly more than most. The pair of them often struggled against pace and particularly powerful opponents and we’ll be facing plenty of those this season at a much higher level. It’s hard to think of Gorkss, who is rarely seen with some hideous facial wound or other, being a little indecisive and reticent but at times last season I felt he maybe was.
But personally I’m not convinced football reasons lay behind this move..QPR have started this season with Fitz Hall and Danny Gabbidon at centre half who were both impressive at Everton on Saturday, and played well for an hour against Bolton before collapsing. Despite these early good impressions it is surely only a matter of time before one or both of them get injured – their recent histories make it a certainty. We saw against Rochdale on Tuesday night that the immediate replacements Bruno Perone and Danny Shittu are not up to much, Matt Connolly is currently otherwise engaged at full back and Peter Ramage isn’t exactly setting the world alight at Crystal Palace by all accounts. Gorkss is the best all round centre half we have so to sell him to Reading seems a bit odd.
It could be that Gorkss is our best all round centre half is exactly the reason he has gone. QPR have tried, several times, to offload Fitz Hall but his fitness record and wage packet mean nobody will ever be as stupid as we were again. We’ve added Gabbidon and Perone to the wage bill and bizarrely extended Shittu and Ramage’s contracts when presumably Warnock was panicked by the budget presented to him by Flavio Briatore and quickly moved to at least hold what he had and none of that will have come for free. A saving needs to be made on the balance sheet and Gorkss is the only one fit enough, good enough and available at a sensible price so off he goes.
I think it’s a shame. In an age of mercenary footballers Gorkss, while clearly drawn to QPR for the money in the first place hence the messy departure from Blackpool, seemed to be a genuine football person who just wanted to play at the highest level possible. He was a very good Championship defender as well, in my opinion a good deal better than almost all of the other centre halves we have left on our books now. Why have we signed up Ramage and Perone but let Gorkss go? Perhaps it’s his lack of pace we’re concerned about but Ramage and Perone are hardly going to have Mo Farrah waking up in a cold sweat are they? In Warnock we trust but I don’t understand it.
Reading must be wondering what on earth is going on with QPR popping down the road bearing gifts all the time. The Royals absolutely loved Mikele Leigertwood last season but in my opinion he will regress to the infuriating, inconsistent blob of frustration he eventually became at Loftus Road now he has his lengthy permanent contract in place in Berkshire. Gorkss on the other hand is a tremendous signing for them at a good price.
It’s beyond me, I’m afraid, to want the nickname thieves to succeed this season but I do hope Gorkss gets his shot at the Premiership one day because he deserves it. I personally think it’s a real shame he won’t be playing for us this season and wish him all the very best.
To rub salt into Gorkss’ wound his departure from QPR after three very happy years got somewhat lost in the announcement about the ticket price reductions and then this afternoon’s revelation that we have been given permission to discuss terms with Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton.
Now you may have heard of Joey Barton before. A Man City trainee who burst onto the scene during Kevin Keegan’s time at the club he missed a chance for a full debut when he was summoned from the bench during a game with Middlesbrough only to find he’d lost his shirt. Later he was sent off in the tunnel at half time of a game at Spurs for abusing old QPR favourite referee Rob Styles – City were 3-0 down at the time but won 4-3.
In April 2004 he stormed out of City’s Eastlands ground after being left out of the team for a game with Southampton, then in the summer he sparked a mass brawl with an ugly challenge in a friendly game at Doncaster and by the end of the year he was facing club disciplinary action for stubbing out a cigar in youth teamer Jamie Tandy’s eye at the club Christmas party after Tandy had tried to set fire to his shirt. In 2005, again under provocation, he attacked a 15-year-old Everton supporter while on a tour of Thailand and was sent home and enrolled in anger management classes. Then in 2006 he responded to taunting from Everton fans at the end of a game at Goodison by walking off the field with his shorts pulled down, baring his arse in their direction – he was fined £2,000 by the FA.
After England’s poor 2006 World Cup campaign he was openly critical of squad members who returned home and immediately released books on the experience. When he was subsequently called up for a match with Spain at Old Trafford Frank Lampard, author of one of the monotonous tomes which had attracted Barton’s ire, openly stated his disapproval at Barton’s comments. When Barton arrived for a team breakfast Lampard moved away from him to sit at another table to which Barton apparently responded: “Don’t worry, I wans’t going to steal your breakfast you fat prick.”
In May 2008 he was cleared of assault and criminal damage after a row with a Liverpool taxi driver dating back to March 2007. In summer 2007 he described some of his fellow City players as ‘substandard’ and subsequently headbutted Ousmane Dabo during a training session. Dabo pressed charges and Barton was given a four month suspended sentence and fine after pleading guilty. He was also banned for six matches and fined £25,000 by the FA.
In December 2007, after moving to Newcastle, he was arrested again for an assault in a McDonalds in Liverpool at 5.30am one morning. CCTV images showed him punching one man 20 times and breaking the teeth of another. He was sentenced to six months in prison and served 77 days. On his return he said he wanted to be a role model but after a sending off in a game at Liverpool and subsequent dressing room row with then manager Alan Shearer he was suspended by Newcastle for the rest of the season.
At the start of last season he was seen to punch Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pederson in the chest resulting in another three game ban and this summer he was told he could leave Newcastle for nothing and made to train with the stiffs after criticising the running of the club on his prolific Twitter account.
So, like I say, you may be familiar with Joey Barton.
Barton is now said, again, to be a reformed character. He engages with journalists and supporters on Twitter and uses the micro blogging site to discuss politics and quote philosophers. He is the patron of the Tamsin Gulvin Fund which helps addicts who have no financial support, he is involved with Tony Adams’ Sporting Chance clinic which assisted him in becoming tee-total, and he is part of a campaign to get children vulnerable to gang and drug culture into fishing instead.
It’s easy to forget with all that going on that Barton is actually a very fine footballer. The problem is you have to weigh that against so much else that’s going on with him. I’m not sure I buy this “isn’t it wonderful” attitude to his Tweeting – it’s done in an unhinged way and can be slightly unsettling at times, like that crazy man at the bus station who prophesises about the end of the world. Still, at least Barton doesn’t thump people in McDonalds at 5.30am any more.
He’s currently being turfed out of Newcastle for using Twitter to slate the club’s owners and while he’s exactly right in what he says slagging off your boss and then whinging when he kicks you out is naïve. It’s all a bit like sending AA Gill to review the food at Greggs the Baker anyway – it isn’t anything people don’t already know so it seems like a wasted effort. And he didn’t look very reformed last weekend when he dragged Arsenal’s Gervinho off the floor by the throat and then hit the deck theatrically himself when Gervinho responded with a small slap. Gervinho had dived, so once again Barton was right but his response was all wrong.
Barton claimed last season he was the best English midfielder in the Premiership and his excellent performances at Newcastle back him up. It says something for the risk he poses any potential employer that he is potentially going to be signing for us rather than anybody else. Whoever takes him on is taking a massive risk.
I do hope it’s us. Shoot me down if you like but a player of his undoubted quality would make an astonishing difference to our team. This makes me a hypocrite, because I said I would stop going to QPR if we ever signed Marlon King. Without wishing to get into a debate about the difference between hitting a bloke in a McDonalds at 5.30am and punching a woman in a nightclub because she won’t suck on your cock, I’m comfortable with my hypocrisy. Barton has shown remorse and a desire to better himself – King showed an arrogance that he was wrongly convicted (he wasn’t) and that football owed him a living when he got back out (it doesn’t).
My head is telling me that everything I’ve said before about the Kings and Lee Hughes of this world means I should be dead set against this but I’m just not because he’s so good and exactly what we need.
Part of me thinks this is all smoke and mirrors. Barton needs a bargaining position to get a contract extension out of Newcastle, QPR need to be showing they mean business in an effort to attract more realistic targets before the end of the transfer window. Announcing Barton might be about to sign for Rangers could work for both parties without him ever actually doing so. Which would solve an ethical dilemma were it true.
But then this time last week I said Amit Bhatia’s decision to resign over ticket price rises was all a gimmick as well. Stick with me kids. Tweet @loftforwords