My winter with Ollie - Column
Thursday, 17th Nov 2016 21:46 by Lewis Jones
QPR fan, former LFW writer and current Sky Sports journo Lewis Jones has been Ian Holloway’s right-hand man throughout his time as the satcaster’s main Championship pundit. Here he offers his unique insight on the second coming of Ollie.
Friday December 11, 2015. One of the more surreal days in my career so far.
Not unusual from the outset: swipe my staff card on the gate at Sky Sports' Isleworth HQ to make my way to the digital media department and begin my duties for the day as a digital sports journalist within Sky Studios. But there are two things waiting for outside the building that have engulfed me with anxiety: a big tour bus; and Ian Holloway.
For this isn’t your normal day at the office. I’m about to embark on a journey of ten days straight living on a tour bus - supposedly once used by One Direction - with Holloway, his wife Kim and two drivers.
We’ve all got football heroes from our childhood and Holloway is mine. I’d ghost-written a few columns for him but this potential day-to-day interaction is on another level. The reason for this journey? Sky Sports is planning to show ten live Football League matches in 10 days in a television first, and Holloway is travelling across the country undertaking punditry duties at each game.
Unfortunately for him and his wife, my editor had this idea: “Lewis, we want you to follow this journey and bring it to life on our digital platforms.” Someone told me once, getting into sports journalism could take you to places you never dreamed you’d go.
Caravan of love
So, here we are in the present day and Holloway has jumped from the Sky Sports ship and is the new QPR manager. Those ten days on the road along with the ghost-writing and the play-off experiences with him last summer have given me memories I’ll cherish.
The Holloway-era at QPR completely and utterly defined me as a person. I was in my early teens and QPR was my life. That team he put together full of passion, skill and togetherness made me love football – I’m sure people of my era feel the same. Every weekend I played with my R’s shirt proudly under my top and pretended I was Martin Rowlands or Richard Langley, but without the footballing ability. My parents always encouraged me to carve out a career in something I enjoyed and at the time when I needed to stumble upon a career path nothing got my pulse racing like football – QPR in particular. I also enjoyed writing, so I combined the two and decided to see where it would take me.
To think that road led to working with Holloway - the man whose team kick-started my love affair - is mind-blowing.
Enough of the “This is Your Life”, I’m here to try and provide some insight into what it was like working with the returning QPR manager and spending ten days living in each other’s pockets.
There’s been a huge response to his passionate opening interview with QPR Player and his final column for Sky, which I had the pleasure of putting together. In these days of managers, players and club officials spewing out the same plastic, PR-ridden lines, his honesty is refreshing. Every word about the club is genuine. Was I surprised? Absolutely not.
I’ve heard it nearly every week for the past year when I’ve sat down to ghost-write his prediction column. I’d usually set aside about 30-45 minutes to chat to him where we’d go through a dozen EFL games. We’d always overrun. The reason? QPR.
It would end up like two fans chatting down the pub. He loved Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin at Swindon; he’s a fan of Michael Doughty, who now finds himself on loan at the County Ground. His assessment of the QPR squad was, on the whole, positive. He understood Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s logic of trying to play the game through Tjaronn Chery but felt the Dutchman wasn’t being given good enough ball in good enough positions to hurt teams. He often said Glenn Murray, currently tearing it up for Brighton but previously with Ollie in his Palace promotion side, would be the perfect lead for Chery at ten.
He spoke highly of the improvement in Seb Polter’s game since he came to the UK, but overall wanted more men around him, and more men in the opposition penalty area. Let’s hope he puts that into practice over the coming weeks.
We’d reminisce, ponder where it’s all gone wrong over the years and then he’d predict QPR wouldn’t lose - no matter who they were playing. Even if Rangers were due to take on the Brazil team of 1970, Ollie would have gone for a 1-1. Heart over head every time.
So, if anyone thinks this early act of emotion and passionately thumping the badge is some sort of fabricated bullshit to solely get people on his side. It’s not. As he said: “He cares.”
One of my favourite memories in his company was at Hillsborough for the play-off semi-final between Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton. Ironically, it was the 10-year anniversary of QPR's memorable promotion party in Sheffield. Before we headed over to the studio, I played him the video of the scenes at full-time from that glorious day that was published on the official QPR Facebook page. He was being carried on the shoulders of the players with 7,000 R's fans signing his name. You all know it.
His reaction was pure theatre for me to witness. The bouncy, jovial character that was buzzing around the production truck just seconds earlier was reduced to a statue. His eyes were transfixed on the screen and a beaming smile stretched across his face. You could see a huge part of his life flashed before him. It was like a surge of QPR had been injected into him. It emotionally crippled him.
A proud man like him wouldn’t admit it, but the bottom lip was going.
He cared before Tony Fernandes came calling for his services and he cares now – that says a lot.
On the ten in ten trip, due to the living arrangements, I got a chance to see the Ian Holloway others don’t get to see. I would try and describe the bus, but the video below posted by Birmingham City paints the picture perfectly (check Lewis’ shirt – ed). Holloway the normal human being.
• He loves pork-pie, pickle and cheese and onion crisps dipped in tomato ketchup as an afternoon snack. Top tip from the man himself: “It's best to slice it open and then drizzle the pickle inside.”
• He has an addiction to clothes shopping – tweed jackets in particular. A QPR branded one could be the agenda.
• He’s a routine man when it comes to his toilet habits. We didn’t have a toilet that facilitated the use for No.2’s on the bus, hence we had to put our hand up like at school so the bus could stop. “I've never been more relieved to see an Asda,” was a classic 10in10 line.
• And yes, ladies, he sleeps naked.
However, there’s only one woman in his life - Kim. I discovered Mrs Holloway has a fetish for gnomes – their house is apparently full of them. “That’s why she married me,” Ollie admitted. Those that have read Ollie’s autobiography will know that the man lives for his family. I was the “adopted son” for those ten days.
Kim is an inspirational woman. Kind-hearted, funny, easy to talk to and refreshingly unassuming. The way they have brought up their children, three of whom were born deaf, is an example to all parents that overcoming adversity is possible with the right dedication, love and teamwork. The kids are all grown up now, thriving as people, and I’m sure they’re delighted that dad is a QPR man again as they spent many years of their childhood at the club.
The role of a footballer or manager’s wife has been glamourised and sexualised by the term WAG but in reality these women are a crucial cog in a professional sportsman’s ability to perform. Kim has a big part to play in the future success of QPR. She’s the one that will deal with disgruntled husband when the current fanfare dies down and QPR inevitably lose a game. She’ll be the one that will have to pick him back up. She’s the one that has allowed her man back into the mad world of football after a unique spell with him as a normal husband. She’ll be his sounding board, his rock. If you see her, wish her luck. And if Ollie’s gets more success here, then thank her. Kim’s nod of approval for her man to return to QPR is, undoubtedly, a good thing for football and more importantly for Ollie himself.
In my opinion, we’re talking about a man whose talents are best utilised when getting the best out of other people, not being the star of the show in a TV production no matter how engaging and on point his delivery is. My favourite pieces I produced with him over the past year were when he had to put his football manager hat back on rather than merely predicting a result or analysing a game or an incident.
My first insight to this was on the first night of ‘ten in ten’. Wolves had just been held at home by Nottingham Forest and me and Ollie were walking around the pitch at Molineux to get back on the bus. We bumped into Wolves centre-half Danny Batth and three of his teammates. Ollie could see their heads were down after a disappointing result and, although he didn’t have to, he stopped for five minutes in order to encourage them to pick their chins up. I took a step back to watch him in full flow. It was fascinating as from a media perspective you don’t normally get to see this side of a manger. He spoke to them with such enthusiasm and you could tell they were engaged in every word that bellowed out into the cold Molineux air. I’d be stunned if he doesn’t have the same short-term impact on the current QPR squad.
I also rang him one day for some insight about Tom Ince – a player I was writing a feature on and someone that Ollie got the best out of at Blackpool. Again, he switched from pundit to football manager mode and I was treated to 10-15 minutes of in-depth insight on what he did to get the best out of him. “When not in possession, in position,” he’d continuously drum into Ince, who had a habit of going missing in matches. Ollie was able to get into Ince’s head like no other manager could.
Whether you’re a footballer, journalist, fan or a bin man, he has a special way of communicating with all types of people. Whether that’s through laughter, a confidence boost or just being someone who listens, Ollie has a god-given gift for making a difference – even in tragic circumstances, as I found out.
My dad died suddenly this year. I was all over the place. Ollie got wind that I was off work due to the situation and rang me to offer up his condolences. I didn’t answer as I was in no fit state to chat but the voicemail he left made such a difference in how I coped with such a life-changing incident.
He didn’t need to do that – but he did. He didn’t need to have a 30-minute chat with me after the funeral to see how I was coping and offer up his advice - but he did.
He didn’t have to give me a huge bear hug in the newsroom on one of my first days back at work – but he did.
Little things like that meant the world to me and my family from someone we respect greatly.
Putting other people first, especially in such an egotistical world we live in these days, is a fading trait – but the current manager of QPR has that skill.
They say never meet your heroes. Well, whoever wrote that tripe picked the wrong hero.
Good luck Bus Wanker, we’re all right behind you.
The Twitter @_LJones_
Pictures – Action Images
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