Training grounds, stadiums, financial fair play and food poisoning - Fans forum
Saturday, 14th Nov 2015 09:22 by Clive Whittingham
A Fans Forum shorn of its two main panellists by a sacking and ill-health took place at Loftus Road on Thursday evening. Luckily, CEO Lee Hoos had brought his conversation hat.
QPR are currently in one of those phases they like to go through every now and again where it's actually quite scary to wake up every morning for fear of what's coming next.
With Chris Ramsey gone, the search for a new manager or head coach appears even more fraught and farcical than normal. Director of football Les Ferdinand, chief executive Lee Hoos and, oddly, Neil Warnock all seem to be involved in the process – Warnock with the added prejudice of chasing some sort of role for himself, Ferdinand trying to hang onto the one he's already got, Hoos with the track record.
With all this going on, a pre-arranged Fans Forum originally booked with Ramsey and Ferdinand as the star panellists, would have been about as welcome around the club as that strain of super gonorrhoea the good people of Leeds are currently shovelling around. Paul Morrissey stood at the front and smiled, but then Paul Morrissey always smiles – how is he doing it? He's had 15 years of this. One day he'll snap and go on the rampage.
A cynic may say Ferdinand’s food poisoning, picked up in Malaysia while meeting with the board about the new manager, was rather convenient. But the club insist he is ill, and in fact Lee Hoos told the audience Les also had to cancel his re-arranged flight on Thursday evening because he still wasn’t well enough to travel.
To worry about what could be achieved without Ferdinand on the panel reckoned without Hoos. The American, hired from Burnley in the summer, has impressed supporters at various consultation meetings since his arrival and can't fail to have done likewise to the wider support base here. Positive and upbeat, often prone to business buzz words, but nevertheless straight talking, seemingly very open and honest, and keen to listen to the point where the forum ran considerably over because he wanted to make sure everybody who had a question had a chance to ask it. That despite him flying in from Malaysia on the overnight flight Wednesday and coming straight into work from the airport.
One couldn't help but cast a mind back to his predecessor Phil Beard's first attempt at one of these where all pre-match briefings from the media team were blown totally out of the water when it became clear that Beard hadn't responded to any of the multitude of e-mails he'd been sent since taking the post, giving scores of people no choice – in their eyes – but to bring their individual grievances about botched season ticket seat moves and players attendance at school events to a public forum and let Beard have them from both barrels.
Chalk and cheese. We've seemingly made a rare brilliant hire in Hoos, and what follows should provide plenty of encouragement.
Managerial situation Lee Hoos (LH) said he is having input into the process and has had good results with the way he does things at Fulham, Leicester and Burnley (Nigel Pearson, Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe all appointed on his watch). LH wants to establish what competency level and strengths we’re looking for first and foremost – he says some clubs are guilty of appointing managers simply because they think they might be able to secure them bigger name players or loans from top clubs. Big fan of the Swansea model, where the philosophy is written down and managers are appointed according to it. LH has "set piece interview questions" he asks every candidate, with some things weighted more heavily than others. Currently cutting a long list down a short list, followed by interviews first with LH and Les Ferdinand (LF) and then a round of second interviews with the final four or five candidates, LH, LF and "the others" – presumably the board – and from that will come an appointment. No definite timeline, looking for a long term appointment and need to get it right. LH: "Urgency, not haste. We don't want to go hell for leather and overlook the right choice." Want the best man for the job so will consider people in employment.
LH said he was thankful for Neil Warnock being here to help as a safe pair of hands. Wants to be involved and help the club out but doesn't want the job permanently. He has a "firm commitment" until the end of this month and "where it goes after that depends where we are in the process". On the Kevin Blackwell appointment, LH says he wouldn't "second guess" or refuse Warnock permission to do something he feels will help him help QPR. Discussions with Chris Ramsey about future involvement at the club are ongoing.
Debt to Equity transfer LH: "Best news for sometime. Ruben simply said it was the right thing to do. CEOs love equity, hate debt. Makes the balance sheet much stronger. Now that its equity it's part of the club's capital make up. Demonstrates the commitment moving forwards. One of the purposes of FFP is to make clubs more sustainable, look how sustainable we've made it we've eliminated the debt."
Financial Fair Play LH: "It's ongoing, it will be ongoing for a while. I do know specific dates when the earliest a Financial Dispute Commission can meet, but there's a confidentiality agreement with the Football League and I don't want to breach that with something innocuous like a date. It's an emotive subject, both sides think they're right. The discussions are constructive, no finger-pointing. We want it resolved without resorting to an FDC, but both sides feel they have good arguments and we will wait and see how it pans out. There are dates a committee could meet, then it's going through the evidence, going through the arguments, them sitting… it could go on for a while.
"We need to get back producing our own players. On our revenue streams we're not going to be able to compete without somebody writing a big fat cheque every year.
Warren Farm LH: "Head squarely on the chopping block, if I do nothing else for this club I want to deliver better training facilities. Absolutely critical. Major hurdles already overcome, the latest one when it was referred to the National Planning Policy has been ticked off. Still an application to put a public pathway across it, and it can still be called in by the Secretary of State. Badgering and pushing as long and hard as I can. Won't put a date on it, not being evasive. This thing needs to be viable, I've done it at other clubs."
A concern was raised from the audience about the cost of the development, £60m was quoted. LH said it was "nowhere near that" and added "based on what we pay in rent right now if we did a 20 year bond we'd repay the training ground cost. It's a doable scheme for considerably less than that."
Old Oak Common: LH: "Getting more and more involved with that. Complicated. Four different local authorities involved - three and the GLA. I've dealt with planning issues before but never with four different entities. There’s a competing landowner, they think they can make more money without a stadium, he's put through his masterplan this week without a stadium. It’s a continuing saga. Like poker, you don't want to play a hand too soon, there are things in place, we do have a strategy, we are pushing it forwards. It will take a little while. Mayoral election in May could put a new spin on it all."
Scouting: This came up a couple of times in the conversation. LH said there were scouting procedures put in place as part of his quest to minimise risk and make sure we don't "blow our brains out financially". LH: “I don't know what makes a good player, but we have put a scouting system in place that says we have to look at a player a certain number of times home and away, then if the scouts are uniform in their opinion of the player somebody (higher up) will go and watch him. It mitigates the risk."
A supporter made a point that a lot of the summer signings aren't currently in the side, and Ben Gladwin has been loaned back out to the club we bought him from. AS said it was a great point and added: "As we move forward it's an area we have to look at. The club has high hopes for some of the younger ones, Darnell for instance, but possibly in this transitional period it's not right to throw them in. It's an area we have to scrutinise and get better at."
An issue we’ve heard far too often before was raised from the floor – complete lack of QPR scouts in the local area. Coaches of local teams and schools spoke out and said Fulham, Chelsea, Reading, Southampton, Charlton, West Ham and Brentford were regularly watching their games, but QPR are never seen. LH said: “Under EPPP it’s difficult if not impossible to stop the best players going to the best clubs. The best way to combat it is establish a top notch academy with a path to the first team.”
AS said: “Perry (Suckling, academy manager) has identified that only 36% of our youth team kids are from the West London area. They are in the process of hiring more scouts, getting more local people into the club. Won’t happen overnight, will take time. It’s not good enough. We’ve gone from something like six to 30 scouts. We’re watching the lads who are out on loan every game, and people are sitting with them and going through their performances. The forward vision of the club is having a third of our squad as home-grown players.”
Expectations LH: "We still have some big hitters with Premier League experience. If those players don't go, you don't have the influx of a lot of cash coming in, that little beast that will come up down the road, FFP, we're trying to get ready for that. We have a squad we feel is perfectly capable of getting promoted, this is the best shot we'll have at it because the resources are there, the biggest part of the parachute payment is there, the players are there.
"The Premier League money makes a tremendous amount of difference. Next year's money is through the roof. If we're fortunate enough to be there again, I'd want to see more investment in the infrastructure of the club."
"Just because you spend a lot of money, it's no guarantee. We haven't performed to the level of the salaries we've paid. There is a general correlation in the Premier League between salary paid and league position, that correlation is much weaker in the Championship."
AS: "The players realise there is a responsibility to perform better than they are doing – should be in the top six, but there are good teams out there and if you're not at it in every game you come unstuck.
New Badge LH: "The first set of designs have been shown to the Supporters Consultation Committee. The feedback was just because a survey says 'we like Hoops' doesn't necessarily mean it has to be in the badge. Trying to get down to four or five samples. We need to be careful, a horse designed by committee is a camel. For it to happen by next season we have to close the doors on it by January, the committee said it was too important to rush and they would rather deal with the current badge for another year and get it right. That's been taken back to the board."
Kit LH: "We recognise the importance of Hoops going all the way round. We're talking to the kit manufacturer. We'll show samples to the consultation committee in the New Year, we're pleased with the prototypes that are coming back at the moment."
- Les Ferdinand was due to fly back on Thursday night but had to cancel his ticket again because he still wasn't well enough. Lee and Les ate the same things in Malaysia, LH said LF just "can't handle it as well as I can". Cancelling the event was discussed, but with Christmas fast approaching they decided to go ahead and arrange another in the near future for more football-related points.
- LH has been impressed with the staff at QPR and lack of internal politics at the club. Staff who have left have not been replaced (Adam Hulme, media, for instance) as part of cost cutting but people are rising to the challenge of providing more and more with less and less.
- LH had been putting together a definitive vision and strategy statement about what QPR's values should be, and what success would look like for the club. This has been delayed by the current managerial situation but is being compiled after four months of meeting with fans officially and unofficially around the ground on matchday, as well as the staff. He pointed out that support, footfall, income over the last decade puts QPR about 31 out of the 92, similar to Watford, Charlton, Bolton and similar to where Barnsley, Huddersfield and Plymouth were ten years ago – to compete regularly in the top 20 would be over-achieving. Is success defined by being above the 30-mark, or being in the Premier League?
LH said he personally saw success, first and foremost, as the team going out and being competitive in every match. “If we lose but they’ve left everything on the pitch, they’re spent, people won’t complain. I won’t complain if we finish eighth but the group gave their all in every single game.”
- LH says he wants to hear from everybody, but just because he hears you doesn't mean he'll implement everything he's told as he has to weigh up the right decision. "I do care what you think, I don’t care what you think about me, I'll take success over popularity, if I have to irritate somebody in the best interests of the club I'll do that."
- On the policy of giving managers long, multi-year contracts only to sack them after a few months, LH pointed out they often have clauses in with a pay-off fee that is less than the length of the deal.
- A good ten minutes of the evening, in the questions from the floor section, was spent criticising the club for not doing enough for Stan Bowles following his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. The background being events such as evenings with Rodney Marsh and Glen Matlock have been planned by supporters off their own backs, but they feel the club has been obstructive/unwilling to get involved and, for instance, make the W12 club available without charging for security and waiting staff. LH knew little about this and took the criticism – which went on for some time – on board and said it would be dealt with.
Personally, without wishing to cause an argument, this felt a little bit like ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ QPR used to be absolutely abysmal when it came to treatment of its former players – each week a guest on the QPR Podcast would lament how they never heard from the club, never get invited back etc. Thanks to the hard work of the press and commercial teams at Loftus Road, as well as the Community Trust, and particularly Ian Taylor and Andy Evans that has been completely turned around.
The club has already arranged the Stan Bowles Day, and the 75/76 reunion, this season, with funds raised for the Alzheimer’s Society and the Bowles family through specially commissioned shirts and programmes. Stan has been on the pitch numerous times, his family have been put up in hospitality, his ex-team mates have been put up in hospitality. Ian Taylor, in particular, gave up his own personal time to work on these events and make them the success they were. I thought it was unfair to hammer the club for quite so long on this, particularly naming Andy and Ian personally after they’ve done so much.
- LH is looking into restarting the official supporters club and is encouraging it. Likewise an Ex Players’ Association.
- One supporter raised a point about the discounted match tickets and free coach travel that was often available last season hasn’t been continued this. LH said: “The Premier League give you £200,000 to do it. We’ve got FFP to think about, we’re trying to not only implement cost cutting measures but also a culture of cost cutting – we’re looking at every single thing. The little things all add up and we need to get in control of. Personally, £20 is plenty for an away ticket for somebody who has already shelled out on a season ticket. But this year, to get down to the FFP limit, we’re looking at every penny. I’m not a fan of supplemented travel, I’d rather see it come off the price of the ticket so it benefits people who drive and everybody shares the benefit.”
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images, QPR FC
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