Fans forum minutes – Column
Friday, 17th Mar 2017 17:20 by Clive Whittingham
The latest fans forum was held at Loftus Road on Thursday night with updates on the new stadium, training ground and Ravel Morrison interspersed with some long Ian Holloway rambles.
As remarked upon last time we had one of these, timing is everything. Back at the start of September QPR had won three league games at the start of the season and one of the questions was even about why Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was only on a one year rolling contract - “still rolling” he said, big smile, big laughs.
Within a fortnight we’d lost 6-0 at home to Newcastle, within a month he’d been featured in the Daily Telegraph’s bent football investigation and within two months he’d been sacked with supporters complaining bitterly about boring, attritional football.
Ian Holloway took to the stage on Thursday with QPR boasting four wins and a draw from their last six, the form team in the Championship. That, and Holloway’s shtick at such events, was always likely to turn this into more of a sportsman’s dinner-type occasion and sure enough we basically got a very enjoyable Evening with Ian Holloway rather than a forum. Mercifully, no aggro and confrontation this time, but also only minor bits of genuinely interesting stuff.
The crowd was made up 27% based on loyalty points, 12% of reps from sites like this one, and 61% people who got in touch with the club and asked to come. LFW’s Twitter moderator and curry house ambassador (not a salaried position) Andy Hillman emailed them the week before the event and got a ticket no problem so anybody who cracks on with the “same old faces, there for their free beer tokens” bullshit… drop them an e-mail next time, come and have a free beer with us.
Following the recent decision to reject a judicial review into Ealing Council’s decision to grant planning permission for the new QPR training ground at Warren Farm, a potential timescale for the work beginning was raised.
Hoos: It’s not the last thing, the good thing is we’ve won every legal battle so far. On the judicial review, they still could appeal that but only on a point of law which would be extremely difficult. There is a public inquiry into an application to declare a public footpath across Warren Farm which is coming up in September. We’re a resilient club and it’s about being resilient, if you keep serving them up I’m going to keep knocking them down. It’s important to remember that this will be a community facility, it’s not like we’re taking the land to build houses on it, there will be a lot of community pitches that are included, it’s where the kids who live round there can play, there are loads of benefits to the people who live there. I wish I had the money that’s been spent on legal fees on this so far, it would probably pay for the artificial pitches. It feels like a simple thing, I can’t believe it’s taken two years already, that’s the complexity of planning law. I can’t put a timescale on it, we’ll see what happens in September, I’m confident. As people are aware we’ll have to level a lot of land to make it suitable for the development which is quite a feat. The licence for that is pretty much there.
The first question on this asked that, given the timescale involved in moving to Old Oak Common, the Linford Christie Stadium or elsewhere, is it not possible/advisable to try and develop Loftus Road in the meantime.
Hoos: This site is less than five acres which is prohibitively small. The sites we’re looking at for a new ground, nine or ten acres would be considered a tight site. You just can’t get enough people on here, you couldn’t get them in and out. If you tried to get planning permission for this stadium today you wouldn’t get it. Even if you build up, the concourses aren’t going to get any bigger. You can’t put a pint into a quart jar, no matter how hard we try we can’t do much here. It’s next to impossible to make a business case for this stadium.
We’d like to try and get something over the line at Old Oak Common, that’s looking increasingly difficult. The Linford Christie site is very, very early days. At the moment we’re just looking at the feasibility. Instead of coming up with an idea and saying ‘this is what we’re going to do here what do you think?’ we’re going to talk to people first – see what the issues are, genuine consultation, talk to people.
On the old favourite of the family stand being moved, potentially to the Paddocks…
Hoos: We’ve looked at this a number of times. With the Paddocks, firstly there’s a number of season ticket holders there who would probably have something to say. Secondly, we don’t want kids sitting out there exposed to the rain where we can help it. Thirdly, on the atmosphere, it’s still pretty good when we’re doing well – Cardiff match, nothing wrong with the atmosphere there, Brighton second half last season rocking, Norwich this season… To blame the family stand for a loss of atmosphere is an over simplification. In a new stadium obviously you can plan the location of the family stand a bit better.
Hoos added that from the start of next season nets will be up in front of the Lower Loft during the warm up to remove the hazard of stray balls striking youngsters when Massimo Luongo is practising his shooting. And on the subject of more free tickets for schools, possibly at poorly attended cup games…
Hoos: For cup games the FA or Football League give you an allocation of how many freebies you’re allowed, and it’s not that many. In a league game if I give a ticket away my only cost is an opportunity cost, in cup games from every ticket 45% of the money comes to us, 45% goes to the other team and 10% to the league. If I give a ticket away I still have to pay the opponent 45% of the ticket and the league 10% of the ticket. That’s why most clubs don’t include cup games in season tickets, because even if you don’t turn up that counts as giving the ticket away and we have to pay.
And on the subject of a potential athletics track around the pitch if we do end up at Linford Christie…
Hoos: No that wouldn’t happen. The athletics track would have to operate independently of the football stadium. That’s very important. Thames Valley Harriers are a very good team, previous European Champions, and anybody who’s been there would think surely European Champions deserve better facilities than they have there. We want to work in tandem with them. A stadium is not something that should just be for matchdays, especially at a club like this. One of the main things I love about this club is it is the bedrock of its community. We’ve seen in recent months, the piece that Victoria Derbyshire did, that’s what this club is about. It’s a community asset. So if we do something somewhere I don’t want people to say we don’t like the stadium there, I want people to be proud of having the stadium there and all the things that it does.
There were a number of fairly naïve questions about who Holloway wants to sign in the summer (as if he’s going to risk upsetting players he currently has in those positions, or tip opponents off on our targets) and even how much we’ll have to spend in the next transfer window (again, as if the club is going to divulge that publicly so all clubs, players and agents know exactly what cards we’re holding). Ollie, as he did with most of the questions put to him, set off on a prolonged ramble that included him calling Alexis Sanchez a selfish pig, the key points of which were…
Ollie: It’s more about building the togetherness of the group and building it into what we need. We had a fantastic January, players who didn’t want to be here left – I would have kept some of them if I could have got them thinking the right way. It’s about the atmosphere of the group, what they give when they come into work. I’m genuinely excited about what I have here now, some of them you haven’t seen yet, some of the young lads are really buying into what we’re doing, we’re all playing the same way so they’re able to step straight in. I’m really pleased with the way things are going.
Characters are the biggest thing, are they worthy as a person to come into this place? That’s what I feel we’ve been getting wrong over the last six years. I would have fallen out with your favourite player, because you have to be a good person first and respect the group. We like a little bit of flair here, but you have to balance it with heart. There will be some changes because we’re still a bit over where we need to be.
We had a problem here because there was Charlie Austin and Tjaronn Chery and beyond that nobody scored. You’ve got to share the goals around.
We’ve still got some balancing to do in the summer. We can’t afford expensive mistakes. When I paid £6m for Dwight Gayle I was worried, you do worry, you want to get them right. I’m more than confident in the way the owners, Les and Lee are helping me.
At the moment a lot of what we’re doing is opposition based, frankly because it wasn’t working before – we lost six in a row. At Leeds on Saturday we set up with a three at the back just to shackle Wood and Hernandez whose movement can catch you. Previously we couldn’t change shape, now we’ve got a bit of confidence, and we’ve got Smithy up there who we can go to and get support around.
It was a big ask to try and replace what we lost with foreign lads who hadn’t been here before. Anthony Konckaert has been here before. Sylla hasn’t, Pawel hasn’t, Yeni hasn’t. It’s very, very tough. Two of them don’t speak a lot of English.
There was a lot of chat from Holloway about the scouting set up which is currently being expanded, West London Sport says Gary Penrice is set to return as chief scout assisted by former Stoke, Swansea, Wigan and Everton spotter Kevin Reeves. Holloway didn’t confirm names but spoke at great length about his keenness to get this part of the club right.
Ollie: The best teams are ahead of the game. We need to know we’ve got eyes out there and a network out there and that’s what we’re doing. We want to find the likes of N’golo Kante, look at him v Pogba the other day and how much he cost. We’re not able to throw it around like we used to, and that didn’t do us any good anyway.
Next year we want to be better than this year, push towards the top half, if not the play-offs, if not promoted. Spreading the network is a good place to start, because we want good players. The scouting set up when I was a player here was absolutely magnificent. Look at Brentford recently, they’ve done very well, I think it was Mark Warburton that put that in place, so well done to them. Hopefully the future is bright for us.
We’re bringing a guy in who’s got years of experience, we’ve worked together before, he’s never given me a bad character. We’re going to get in France, and Portugal, and Spain and have people there who will know the players. We want to know anybody anywhere, and in this country down to all sorts of levels. We don’t want to miss one anywhere, unless we didn’t want him because his character wasn’t right. That’s where your investment has to be, luckily for me the board have put that in place.
This guy has already got me Luke Freeman. He knew he was out of contract at Bristol City, he knew all about him, he suggested very strongly we should pay the £500,000 to get him now. We know his character inside out, what kind of footballer he is, I think he’s a fantastic addition.
If he told me to sign somebody I wouldn’t have to watch him. He’d know what he has for breakfast, what type of player he is, what he reacts to, what doesn’t he like, he’ll guarantee me if I don’t pick him he’ll just train harder and play harder. We’re on it, he’s on it, I’ve never felt so confident in my entire life.
If you look at the Italian family behind Watford they own four football clubs and spend £2m a year on wages for scouts. Benatia, at Juventus, they brought him through at Udinese, they paid £400,000 for him when I wanted him at Blackpool. The Blackpool chairman wouldn’t pay his wages, which were about £4,000 a week. He’s been sold for £25m since. Everytime he plays for Bayern or Juventus I phone Mr Oyston and say “have you seen who’s playing? For God’s sake man.” The same scout who’s coming here recommended him to me, he worked for the company that got Kante and Mahrez to Leicester.
On the subject of the decision to bring the Burton game forward to a spare Saturday – a seemingly sensible move at a time when we’d gone three months without a Saturday 3pm in the league at home – only to then rest players for the game and lose in embarrassing fashion…
Ollie: That was my fault. If I’d have looked at the overall situation, I’d have had a better, stronger team with more choices further down the line so it was a mistake to move the game. We lost, so what, we move forward. Would we lose that game if it was played now? I’m not so sure. It’s better to just admit I was wrong there. I take full responsibility. Sometimes it makes you stronger and I hope we show that on Saturday, because I don’t want to lose to Rotherham again. I don’t want complacency bleeding into my team, I don’t want the fans just sitting there thinking ‘oh we’ll beat them’.
The recent accounts, while still posting an £11m loss, were in much better shape than they have been for a number of years and stand testament to the work Lee Hoos has done in two years since arriving from Burnley. Losses are down to £11m from £46m the season before, despite revenues declining £44m through a loss of Premier League and TV money. It's the least amount of money QPR have lost for eight years. Hoos and Ferdinand have overseen a cut to the wage bill from £63m per season to £36m – the average salary at QPR has come down from £446k a year to £246k. More than £12m was made in player sales. Rangers, despite the state that Ferdinand and Hoos inherited from Phil Beard, Harry Redknapp and the owners, were FFP compliant last season.
Hoos: It’s the first time an £11m loss has been seen as a positive. No bones about it, we’ve got a hard job ahead of us. It was tough enough to get it down from £44m to £11m but in the future it’s more difficult because next season our parachute payment halves and two seasons from that we lose the parachute payments. Even to keep that level of loss will be more difficult. We’ve got to be faster than people, smarter than people and work harder than people. The scouting has to be spot on, other teams can afford to make mistakes and we can’t now, we have to be right as near to 100% of the time as we can which is nearly impossible.
January was one of the best transfer windows I’ve ever been involved in. We’ve got things under control, the players we brought in have laid a good foundation so we’re now not in a position where we need to go out and buy another five or six players. We can look, buy the players that are right for us if we need to tweak things. Looking back at January, that was a really good month.
The accounts did, however, show that shareholder Ruben Gnanalingham is charging interest on his loans to the club amounting to £380,000 a month and £4.5m a year, nearly 10% of the club’s income. One question was raised to begin with, and then Steve Sayce from Indy R’s pressed the issue during the Q and A, basically asking why now, when the club is harder up than it was, would the shareholders start charging interest on loans.
Knowing Steve Sayce, if he had £1bn in the bank he probably would shove a chunk of that into QPR. Just because he doesn’t doesn’t mean he can’t ask questions about the behaviour of the owners. Are we not allowed to criticise Conor Washington now, because we couldn’t do any better ourselves? Interest rates are historically low at the moment, Ruben is charging a high percentage on his loans at a time when the club is trying to slice costs across the board. It was a reasonable question that didn’t deserve such a flippant response. There it is, minor criticism.
Hoos: It’s open to anybody else who wants to contribute money and convert them into shares as Ruben is doing. Once the interest is accrued then it turns into shareholding. If you want to put up the money we’ll give you the same deal.
And on the £10m bank loan…
Hoos: I think it’s August when that’s up and done.
Hoos: I would expect that to be resolved before the start of the new season. It’s moving along very quickly now. The CEO reminded clubs at a meeting last week that there is a legal protocol in place and he was limited in what he could say, and I’m limited in what I can say, so I’ll leave it there but it’s going at pace now.
A point was made that the fans are often kept in the dark about injured players, leading to criticism of apparently odd team selections.
Ollie: Things aren’t always clear cut. Jordan Cousins was almost ready to play then he complained of something and it turns out he’s torn the muscle completely off the bone so he’s just had that fixed. You do get some strange scenarios. Jack Robinson has extra issues because of an old injury that swells up, we’re constantly trying to find a training regime that makes his life easier. I do understand what the man is saying, but we also don’t want to tell the opposition who will be fit and who won’t be. The good thing at the moment is I can pick different shapes and people and they can play as they have done over the last few weeks. Maybe it would be better to get the physio to tell you, sometimes I get it wrong – Lua Lua will be out on the grass in the next couple of days and we thought he’d be out for four weeks.
Hoos was asked if the club could start subsidising rail travel to away games instead of running coaches, which are less comfortable and getting prohibitively expensive.
Hoos: We’ll book as many coaches as there is demand for. We make a loss on those so if anybody wants to take it away from us get in touch. Between 2001 and 2007 the rail companies did offer subsidised tickets to football clubs based in London but they stopped doing that. Everything is about breaking even – any money made in pre-season is about paying for the pre-season. With things like coach travel, we just want it to wash its face, we’re not trying to make money on it we’re trying to balance it against costs.
Forum question classic #356 in the series – can we have red and black hoops away from home next season, why don’t we ever wear the light blue away strip this season.
Hoos: We won’t have the Dennis the Menace strip every year, we will have it periodically. Interestingly everybody loved the kits this year, last year everybody hated it because the hoops didn’t go all the way around, as it stands we sold 2,000 more shirts last year than this. I’m scratching my head on that one.
Despite it being explained clearly at the last three fans forums, despite it being explained in interviews on the official site, and on here, and in the programme, and on the Open All R’s podcast, and on the Loftcast podcast, and in an interview in AKUTR’s… it is apparently “still a source of much debate on the forums” about exactly what Les Ferdinand’s role is as director football.
Bear with me, I’m going to select a club from the bag and tee off on this one for a moment if I may.
Even though this has been explained countless times already, it shouldn’t have even needed doing once - you should just be able to open your eyes and see with them. The average age of the squad is down (by 18 months in just two years), the wage bill has been cut by half, agents fees have reduced to a minimum from a point where we paid more than anybody else, the academy has been properly staffed, two youth team players are now first team regulars after ten years without one, the scouting set up is properly staffed with two more hires this week, players are now being sold at a profit as opposed to being given away, paid off or sitting out their deals. When was the last time we had a player melting down on social media? That used to be a weekly thing when Lord Joey of Cuntsville and co were here, Les wrote the code of conduct and apart from Caulker (who we'll get rid of shortly) the behaviour of the squad has improved immeasurably.
Was I the only one awake when Hughes, Joorabchian and Fernandes spaffed £150m up the wall building the most loathsome bunch of pricks I've ever seen in Hoops? Was I the only one awake when 'Arry turned up and did exactly the same? Everybody said "we need a football man, preferably a QPR man, between the manager and the board to stop managers and Fernandes doing this” and they were right. And now it's happened. And everything is quite clearly and obviously getting better.
And yet we’re still getting planks from Facepaint groups wanting an explanation of Les Ferdinand's role. I honestly think we should be a lot stricter about allowing these people out of the house by themselves.
Ahem. Anyway, the official answers were…
Hoos: Les is the director of football which means different things at different places but here it means he brings all of the football departments together, overseeing the integration between the academy, under 23s and first team. He deals with agents once players are identified. It’s about bringing the team together which we do very well. Les is a gem.
Ollie: Management is changing. The managers used to do everything, we did the contracts, we did the signings and the chairman trusted you with it. But the size of the businesses, the amounts of money, you can’t possibly do that yourself. My 18 months with Sky, I learnt so much about how an organisation should look, everybody had a job, everybody had a clear role. Without Les I wouldn’t have wanted to come back. The part of management that is uncontrollable is dealing with agents, trying to do deals, trying to get the players, I wouldn’t have time to do the bulk of what I want to do – educate them, work with them. Les is invaluable to me. He’s absolutely vital to allowing me to concentrate on galvanising my group. When it comes to the business side it helps to keep me out of it, go and talk about your contract over there I just want to talk about football. A vital part of us, how we’re going to do this, he’s got a massive role. I can trust Les, the owners trust him, Les wants to be a success and he wants the club to be a success. I’d like to get Les on the grass if I can, we’ve got a lot of strikers here who would benefit from just half an hour with him, I can’t do that yet but I will.
Stan Bowles Benefit Match
Hoos: There is a Go Fund Me page which has raised £27,000 and about £8,000 has been used so in total we’ve helped facilitate about £35,000. The question is, what’s the objective of the match? Is it financial? Is it acknowledgment? Is it therapeutic? Everything we’ve done, we’ve had an aim. The Stan Bowles Day raised money, and was very good for Stan, and provided acknowledgment. I don’t think the original group quite knew what their aim was other than ‘let’s have a game’. When I do things I like to do things right, you start with your aim and then you work back to try and find the best way to get it over the line.
The initial decision was to handle it like testimonial, perhaps not here but at a smaller venue which you know you’re going to fill. Testimonials and benefit games are notoriously poorly attended. They said ‘no, we’re having it here’. Ok, it’s your gig, do what you want to do, I’ll help as much as I can. A committee was formed and the best way to put it is they didn’t really gel. In December I asked for people with experience of putting games like this on to come forward, best decision I’ve made. We now have experienced people involved who are addressing tax implications, the best way to go about this. The committee has suggested going through the QPR in the Community Trust, fighting illness and improving life are charitable causes and if it is a bona fide charitable event it’s VAT exempt. Best idea yet.
That’s the sort of input I was looking for. I know people like to sit there and talk about what I should be doing during the day but I work 60-70 hours a week, there’s only so much I can get in. I’m still married, for now. I will help out as much as I can.
Great, we have a structure now. Dates. I hope we can come up with a date in the next ten to 14 days. These people know what they’re doing. I’m not going to apologise to anybody who says Mr Hoos, Stan Bowles was my hero and you should be sorting something out. I will help as much as I can but I just don’t have the capacity.
On the successful recent 1967 reunion evening Hoos said the club were keen to do more, but were keen to pitch it right.
Hoos: Do it too much and it goes from being special, to ordinary, to something people don’t attend.
Hoos: We’ve sold 800 now which is about 220% up on this time last year. There are 78 new season ticket holders for next season already, last year we had three. Of those, 47 have no previous affiliation with QPR, not a lapsed season ticket holder. I think the interest free direct debit scheme is encouraging people.
Ollie: He just wants to play. His training isn’t always what it should be. His time keeping isn’t always what it should be. There’s no doubting where he is but he’s got to get there for us, he’s got to earn the players’ respect and work as hard as them. That wouldn’t have been that hard a few months ago but now we’ve got Ryan Manning running 14k, 1,800 of that is flat out, and Pawel beats that – Ravel’s got something to catch up with. I realise his game isn’t all about running, but we have to be able to keep the ball for him to be effective in games. It’s about him earning a role with us, with Les, with the boys. He’s coming. I looked into his eyes and I thought I could help him and that’s what I’m trying to do. He’s still got a contract at Lazio for two years, we have a clause to take him if we want to, it’s all about him proving to us that he wants to do what he says he will do. I’m sure he will do, lots of other people were sure about him and they were wrong. I don’t think he’s ever worked quite so hard, we’ve got him in at 8.30, he’s training three times a day and he hasn’t let us down in the last three or four days. The only player I couldn’t help was Clarke Carlisle, and I tried so hard. Ravel might be in and around it on Saturday.
Ollie: Two of the youngsters, Darnell and Ryan Manning, have been absolutely sensational for us. I’ve sorted Darnell’s dad out, I’ve sorted him out, I want to be around here to sort his son out who he hasn’t had yet. I’ve let Mide Shodipo out on loan, I care about him and want him to make some mistakes defensively for somebody else and come through it like Furlong and Doughty have. He’s got a serious chance. Reece Grego Cox I really like the look of if we can get him fully fit again. Petrasso is impressing in training. Doughty has all sorts of ability but it’s finding a position for him, he’s a cross between two or three. Joe Lumley, out on loan, absolutely outstanding for Bristol Rovers, they’re waxing lyrical about him.
The attitude of the boys is so worthy of praise. People working so hard behind the scenes – Hall, Impey, Chris Ramsey – it’s fantastic. The attitude of the boys coming through is really pleasing. I’m really excited about some of them coming through, there are others I really like the look of as well who aren’t quite physically right yet but ability and brain wise are very exciting.
Hoos: I don’t think you’d find an employer in the world that would discuss publicly a disciplinary process which is ongoing. We can’t comment any further on that.
Ollie: We won some games at the start of the season when Steven Caulker was fit. He had a fantastic start to the season. I haven’t had him yet, I’d love to have him play. His problems start when he isn’t fit to play.
Ollie: There’s a desire to get around the place and get hold of things. We did a drill when I played where you had to run 20 yards and back, 40 yards and back, 60 yards and back, 80 yards and back, 100 yards and back, then 80, 60, 40, 20. When I did that here I was shocked. Pawel got back in the team because when he did it it was the best I’d ever seen. When we brought the young kids up to do it, Ryan did the second best I’d ever seen so he came into my squad. You need to be able to run, we were playing counter attacking football with people who couldn’t run or didn’t want to run – couldn’t run in Sandro’s case, he hadn’t done it for so long. It’s about the intensity, I think Jimmy did a lot of longer stuff. Luke Freeman blitzes those drills so we’ve got a team that can run. They go to Matt a bit too much at the moment, but they know they can and there will be that challenge. Sylla, we don’t quite know what he’s going to do, but he’s exceptional as well.
Yeni was overweight. I found out what weight he was, through the fella who’s coming in as a scout who knew his manager at Metz. I said ‘you don’t weigh that now what’s your problem?’ He’s lost 5kg. He had a very difficult start here, he lost his father. He missed the first flight to see him and by the time he got there his father had passed away. I knew his body fat wasn’t right when I got here, I showed him a picture of himself on the Metz calendar and said ‘look at you on there? Is that your twin brother? Did you eat all his cakes?’ He agreed with me, he’s come with us.
The balance on the staff wasn’t right until Curtis Fleming came. He’s the opposite to me. Got to be regimented, got to write everything down. Birch is too much like me, although I’m doing myself a disservice there actually.
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