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What's in a badge? Preview
Friday, 6th May 2016 18:56 by Clive Whittingham
QPR bring their season to a close with a home game against Bristol City on Saturday. LFW reflects on the campaign, and the unveiling of today's new badge.
Queens Park Rangers (13th) v Bristol City (18th)
The Championship >>> Saturday May 7, 2016 >>> Kick Off 12.30 >>> Weather – Scorchio >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
There was a chap, whose logic we don't have the requisite time and space to question fully here, who decided to complete last week's London Marathon carrying a washing machine on his back. Tomorrow, in the sunshine at Loftus Road, the footballing equivalent staggers over the line.
As if a season of 49 games in nine months immediately after a dire relegation wasn't tough enough, QPR have had to complete it and compete in it while slashing costs right across the board. The club's whole way of doing things has had to change which has meant proven – therefore expensive – signings haven't been possible and almost without exception every incomer has had an excuse for taking some time to settle down and start performing, be that a change of country, a move up the divisions, a move from somebody else's reserve team, uprooting a young family etc etc. A group of what, on paper at least, look like the best players in the squad have had to be actively moved on, even if only on loan. The team's talismanic centre forward, who'd been carrying his team mates for two and a half seasons, was sold in January. The manager was changed, and then changed again.
And all this has been taking place amidst a fixture list that throws three matches a week at the team more often than not, and this year placed all of the team's longest journeys bar Preston and Bolton away on midweek dates with all the travel, hotel accommodation and time away from the training ground that requires. QPR haven't just been carrying a standard washing machine on their back, they've been carrying a washing machine that's still plugged into the wall, and switched on, and full of bricks. And no they haven't won the marathon, but they haven't dropped dead either, and that's some achievement this season.
On the field, it has been less than exciting, though probably not quite as dull as it's seemed. This is the first time since 2009/10 that Rangers haven't been fighting for a promotion or against a relegation, and even that year included the moment we stepped through the tear in the fabric of reality and looked like we were going to take the whole division by storm under Jim Magilton – if only for a fortnight.
Bobbing around with not much to play for at the end of the season is not something we've been used to and when you consider the highlights of the season it really does feel like QPR have put the mediocre into mid-table mediocrity. There was a purple patch of home form including a 3-0 thrashing of Brentford; some eye catching goals from Tjaronn Chery, Junior Hoilett and others; the emergence of Grant Hall from unheralded beginnings; and everything Alex Smithies has said and done, but apart from that…
When your main memories of a campaign include your goalkeeper repeatedly finding creative ways to allow the ball to end up in his own net and that Blackburn player catching the ball and carrying it over the deadball line and the referee awarding a goal kick, it's not been great has it? I'll take some persuading that Seb Polter running up behind Joey Barton and deliberately hacking him down in the third minute of last week's game at Burnley wasn't the highlight of the whole season. If his career in football doesn't work out (all do your own line about his first touch) then a life in PR surely he awaits – he knows what people like, and he knows how to give it to them.
But it is a season the football club needed to go through.
I've seen critics say that with the players QPR have had at their disposal this season, promotion should have been the minimum aim and therefore this has been a failure. Indeed, the club's co-owner said "promotion means everything to me" back in the autumn when the likes of Leroy Fer, Sandro, Rob Green and Charlie Austin were all still kicking around the first team. I've seen message board posters castigate those who want to see the club run sensibly because, at the end of the day, it's not our money and we should only be bothered about winning games and promotions, leaving the financials and long term planning to others. "Our supporters are more bothered about the club's bank balance than results on the pitch," a typical comment.
The Tune Group certainly isn't short of a bob or two, despite QPR chucking a quarter of a billion quid at nothing very much over the last five years. They could, financially, have done as they did two years ago – hold onto expensive players, spend big money on some of the Championship's best, and supplement all that with big name, big earning loan signings whenever anybody looked like they might miss more than a couple of games with injury. They'd ignored Financial Fair Play once, and given that the club is challenging the legality of those rules, could have done so again. What's not to like about last minute winners in play-off finals at Wembley? Nothing. It was the best day of many of our lives.
But, put simply, it wasn't working. Even if Financial Fair Play didn't exist, even if Tune's resources were absolutely infinite, even if they were happy to shoulder a ridiculous £80m wage bill in the Championship whenever we ended up here, even though we did end up promoted at Wembley in glorious circumstances… it wasn't working.
QPR's two most recent Premier League seasons were embarrassing, with the enjoyable games counted on the fingers of one hand. Rangers won just 12 matches in two years in the top flight – just four out of 38 away matches, where fans were forking out upwards of £50 once a fortnight for a ticket to a game they knew their team wasn't good enough or committed enough to do anything other than surrender. For comparison, newly promoted Bournemouth and Watford have won 11 and 12 games this season alone respectively, and both have won six times on the road. In one season.
Even if QPR had been bringing in the right sort of player, at the right sort of price, on sensible wages, at sensible ages, and been planning long term, and invested in infrastructure, and developed the academy, and improved the training ground… the results on the field during those two Premier League seasons still weren't good enough, and Rangers finished last both times. In fact they did none of those things. The approach to 2011/12, 2012/13, 2014/15 and yes, even though we were promoted in glorious fashion, 2013/14, wasn't working. There's only so many 4-0 away defeats you can sit through, only so much money the board can burn, only so much loathsome behaviour from the players you can sit through and say "well we'll always have Wembley".
The house needed to be put in order, and Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos look to have done a very decent job of doing exactly that during the last 12 months. No, it doesn't guarantee a return to the Premier League – in fact some people believe it does the opposite because given the size of the club and its support it surely needs a degree of financial doping to get there. That rather ignores Burnley, who have been promoted this season while declaring a £30m profit with lower ticket prices than us and an average attendance that would fit inside Loftus Road with 2,000 seats to spare.
Nor does it guarantee that next season will be any better. It might not be, it might be worse. That won't mean that this season wasn't necessary, or not the right way to go. It absolutely was, and we seem to have done it reasonably well – pending a look at the accounts.
The unveiling of a new badge today feels perfectly timed. The previous monstrosity, draped in Flavio Briatore's hair, was conceived at the height of a ten year period in which QPR actively moved away from what it was and the people who supported it. In fact, it went out of its way to push those most loyal to it out, either through the divide and rule politics of Gianni Paladini, or the vile "boutique football" ideal of Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone and their collection of vacuous hangers on.
I remember the day it was unveiled at Loftus Road, at the final game of the 2007/08 season against West Brom. Ali Russell, the newly appointed CEO at the time, met me after the match that day and asked me what I'd thought. I proceeded to tell him that we'd been well in the game against a very good side until Martin Rowlands' sending off after 37 minutes but going down to ten men was always likely to be difficult against a promoted team and 2-0 was about fair. "Ah yeh, that's great, the match and everything, but I was talking about the unveiling," he said. A fortnight later came the colossal hike in ticket prices and introduction of banding which still, to this day, means I pay £100 more a season than the person sitting five feet to my left.
Despite the Twitter feed, the occasional appearances in Shepherd's Bush pubs, the sitting in the Lower Loft and the Uncle Tony routine, Tony Fernandes' efforts to build those bridges have never quite rung true either. Coming, as they did, at the same time people like Joey Barton, Jose Bosingwa and Ji-Sung Park were being shovelled through the entrance door to represent our club in their own special ways.
The new badge is beautiful. Not only because it is beautiful, but also because it signifies a hope that this era is over. A(nother) false hope perhaps – we know a Messiah when we see one, God knows we've followed a few – but some potential that better is to come all the same. Rarely have so many supporters not only had so much access to the people running the club, but also been listened to quite so much. The CEO and media team in particular are going out of their way to involve as wide a cross section as possible in as many decisions as possible, and reaping the rewards with the almost universal approval of today's badge launch a prime example. Hell, the 'days since a PR disaster' sign is in danger of needing space added for three digits.
Small things, but the club has also won the league's Programme of the Year award, with its extensive coverage of the club's history, and willingness to give supporters from all over the world (and one mouthy git in Barnet) column inches in an official club publication. Congratulations to editor Matt Webb on his personal Editor of the Year prize as well.
It may all yet go to shit. It so often does. It's who we are. But it's nice to go to Loftus Road and feel like you're part of it again, to look at a team and know they're all trying their best, to look at younger players being given an opportunity, to not groan and wonder what on earth they've done now every time the phone bleeps. And it'll be bloody nice to see a QPR team walk out with a proper QPR badge on their chests next season, rather than something that looks like it belongs on a billionaire's nightwear.
To finish, as we so often have during the last ten years, with a Simpsons quote: "I know what I hate, and I don't hate this."
So ten years and counting then, LFW will finish the season with the usual End of Term report when I get round to writing it and then return for 2016/17 (Christ on a bike) assuming my attempts to drink myself into an early grave on a prolonged summer tour of Italy don't succeed. Thank you, both of you, for reading this nonsense regularly, and for the comments beneath the articles which are almost entirely well thought through and considered even when I don't agree with them. Thank you also to the message board regulars who are the lifeblood of the site – although one more thread about Neil Warnock and I am going to start executing hostages.
Thank you to Gerry, Catherine, Jake, Hurley and the staff at the Crown and Sceptre who are ridiculously good to us every other week – albeit in exchange for all the money in our bank accounts. I'll miss that Sunday morning "I've been hacked" internet banking experience until August.
Thank you to everybody who has contributed articles, or contributions to articles, for the site all season – particularly isawqpratwhitecity who has diligently fulfilled his obligations as Prediction League winner 49 times this season. Special effort that either DylanPressman or Matski (one point in it) will do well to follow next season
Thanks to Smithy and Murph and Glenn and Gary and Dave and Dawn and Seann and anybody else unfortunate enough to be within earshot of me at home games. I am mellowing, promise.
And thanks finally to varying combinations of Neil, Simmo, Colin, Andy, Jas, Tracey, Harriet, Bill, Arthur, Tom, Rob, Owain, Chris, Creative Chris, James and Lewis who have, at one point or another over the past nine months, made sure I wasn't that guy attending a QPR match by himself.
Oh and to Seb Polter as well for living my dream last week. Bit harder next time eh?"
Team News: As well as long term absentee Jamie Mackie QPR have doubts over Tjaronn Chery and Massimo Luongo. The former is expected to recover from a thigh strain and play, the latter is expected to spend the afternoon in the sun somewhere. Matt Ingram and Alex Smithies will draw straws for the goalkeeping position.
Player of the Year Aden Flint dislocated his knee last week but apparently it "popped straight back in" (matron) and has caused no lasting problems. He's likely to be rested all the same. Adam Matthews is hoping to overcome a hamstring problem in time to represent Wales at the Euros this summer.
Elsewhere: The final automatic promotion spot, the only prize left up for grabs as the Championship enters its 1,600th and final round of the season, will go to either Middlesbrough or Brighton who meet in the North East for what's certain to be inaccurately billed as a Winner Takes All clash – in fact, Middlesbrough can go up with a draw. Burnley can seal the title with a win or a draw at Already Relegated Charlton.
It's League One to look to if grown men crying and youths running onto the pitch at full time is your thing. Burton Albion are three points and three goals ahead of Walsall in the chase to join Wigan as automatically promoted to the Championship – Burton are at Already Relegated Doncaster while Walsall, who looked superb against Fleetwood last week, are at near neighbours Port Vale.
The final play-off spot is also up for grabs with Scunthorpe coming home with a wet sail – five wins from five – and now level on 71 points with Barnsley who have themselves recovered from relegation trouble at Christmas to roar up the league table. Scunny are taking 2,500 fans to Sheff Utd for their last game while Barnsley go to champions Wigan. Millwall and Bradford are secure in the top six.
At the bottom, Blackpool can escape a second consecutive relegation with a win at Peteroborugh if local rivals Fleetwood lose at home to the division's bottom-placed whipping boys Crewe.
In League Two it's two from three to join Northampton in the automatic promotion spots: Accrington (84 points, +26 goal difference) are second and at home to Stevenage despite having the lowest budget and average attendance in the division; Oxford (83 points, +40 gd) are third and at home to Wycombe; Bristol Rovers (82 points, +30 gd) wait for a slip at home to Already Relegated Dagenham. Portsmouth, Plymouth and Wimbledon are the other play-off teams.
Referee: The referee this Saturday is Jeremy Simpson, who was one of the poor unfortunate souls thrown into the teeth of the storm at Bolton in February when the R's drew 1-1. Details here.
QPR: QPR have only lost four times at Loftus Road this season – a record bettered only by the top seven in the division. Adding a few of the nine draws to the nine wins column would be a help for next season but it's away from home that has cost the R's this season. Just four wins on the road, and nine draws, is nowhere near good enough from 23 games. Everybody north of Fulham in twenty first has won more road games this season. Nedum Onouha has played every minute of QPR's league campaign so far. Rangers have lost 27 points from winning positions this season, the worst record in the division.
Bristol City: City's away record is half decent, with six wins on the road better than five of the teams above them including seventh placed Cardiff. Tha vast majority of their wins, home or away, have come in the second half of the season following the dismissal of Steve Cotterill as manager. City have won eight and drawn four of their last 16 games to climb clear of relegation trouble. They've been scoring regularly as well – 4-1 against Sheff Wed, 6-0 against Bolton, and 4-0 against Huddersfield all in the last eight games, though all at Ashton Gate.
Predictions: For the final time this season, with DylanPressman and Matski neck and neck in their attempts to take the crown this term, we welcome the 2014/15 Prediction League champion isawqpratwhitecity…
"I'd like to say I've enjoyed my season as Prediction League Champion, but I'd be a bloody liar to do so. Looking back over my dismal year, I do regret predicting only one match 100% correctly all season, but only on the basis that it spoiled an otherwise perfect consistency. Bristol have been pretty reasonable away this year, with a 6-6-10 record, so ordinarily I'd go for a tight 2-1 win, or the near ubiquitous one-all draw, but these are desperate times and I need to back a long-shot. It can't be less likely than Leicester winning the Premier, surely?"
Jim's Prediction: QPR 31-4 Bristol City. Scorer: Seb Polter
LFW's Prediction: St Helens 14 Hull FC 16. Scorer: Marc Sneyd
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