Strikers, training ground, stadium and the same old faces - Fans forum
Friday, 17th Nov 2017 11:28 by Clive Whittingham
The latest QPR Fans Forum took place at Loftus Road on Thursday evening, with Ian Holloway, Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos speaking on a range of issues.
The umpteenth triannual QPR Fans Forum took place at Loftus Road on Thursday night, and if that sounds like a weary, sarcastic intro to the report on it then it’s certainly not meant to.
When the club had difficult questions to answer - after Gianni Paladini’s boardroom coup against Bill Power and Mark Devlin for instance, when the Italian owner was coming up with increasingly desperate, convoluted and often rule-breaking methods of keeping the club going from week to week while at the same time bringing in random rubbish players from various favoured agents – no forums took place for those to be asked.
Similarly, when the club was owned by billionaires who very openly admitted they didn’t care for the thoughts of “somebody who comes once a week and pays £20”, the idea that Flavio Briatore or Bernie Ecclestone might take an evening out to sit before us and answer questions from us mere mortals was fanciful.
Far from complaining that they take place too often, the value of these events is shown when they don’t take place often enough. The test case for this was the night then-CEO Philip Beard got hauled over the coals in an excruciating two-hour sandblasting from supporters tired of him not responding to emails, letters, phone calls or forum appearances while the club was being run appallingly. Speak to the supporters as openly as you can, as often as you can, and you’ll find the vitriol dials down, and a useful dialogue develops.
The club has realised that, and has gone from being a prime example of how not to talk to and engage with its support base to one of best practice for others to follow. But with that has come increasingly tame fans forum events, where it often becomes more of ‘an audience with’ sort of affair, particularly with a manager as verbose and charismatic as Ian Holloway.
These days the hard questions are often asked online of those in the audience. How did you get there, who invited you, why are you there? This perception that the fans forum is some sort of sham, conducted in controlled circumstances in a sterilised environment, in front of an audience of people specifically invited because they won’t cause trouble or ask any difficult questions prevails. The fact the bloke in front of me emailed them on Monday, didn’t give a reference number or anything other than a name but said he would like to come, and was immediately added to the guestlist, so delighted were QPR that somebody wanted to come and take part, is lost in what looks at first glance to be paranoia.
Except it’s not paranoia. It’s just Richard Littlejohn-style criticism i.e. it’s not my job to do anything about it or get involved and make it better, it’s my job to “sit at the back and throw bottles”. The sort of people who talk about “celebrity fans” and “attention seekers” and “same old people same old questions” and so on and so forth, who believe the fans forum is deliberately populated with club apologists and sycophants, quickly retreat into grunts and excuses when asked to show up themselves and do it differently.
The fact is, at a club that draws 12,000 to its home games when the team is playing well at home, there is a very finite number of people who want to come to Loftus Road on a Thursday night after work to an event like this. Paul Morrissey from the club’s media team said at the start that 45% of those in attendance were the club’s highest loyalty points holders (i.e. the ones who do all the away games) and 8% were from sites like this one (i.e. people that care so much we devote our lives to the thing, and qualify in the first group for a place anyway). The rest is people who register interest, and if anybody can show me an email of refusal from the club after requesting a ticket I’d love to see it.
That it’s the same people who want to do that each time is neither a surprise nor a conspiracy. There will be the same 450 of us at Derby next Tuesday as were at Barnsley last month, and that’s not at the club’s behest or say so either. Those die-hards deserve more respect than the sniping and backbiting online, insinuating or outright stating that they’re only there because they won’t ask anything troubling. Actually, they’re only there because they’re the most devoted and live in striking distance – and even then, one bloke came from the Isle of fucking Wight.
The ‘same old faces’ at these events like to pass the time at the back of the room playing a sort of ‘fans forum bingo’ where we guess how many of the favourite topics will come up, and how soon – the water pressure in the ladies’ toilets was an old classic. Playing the role of party pooper, CEO Lee Hoos (LH) scuppered the whole game by starting the evening with a ‘frequently asked questions’ section that took eight minutes and, in the process, hacked about an hour off the event’s usual running time.
- Credit card payments and booking fees at the box office. The reasons the booking fee exists will be added to a FAQ section on the club website as it has been answered previously at fans forums. Basically, it’s to meet charges imposed by banks, and help pay the wages of the people in the box office who handle the orders.
- The Family Stand. LH said he’d included figures and video evidence in an interview with the official website that showed the Lower Loft was not a packed hive of activity in the years before the Family Stand was introduced, apart from the Neil Warnock promotion season when the team went through its first 19 matches of the season unbeaten. The Lower Loft remains the only practical place in the ground to have a family section, which the club sees as a crucial part of attracting the next generation of supporters. LH said the under 8s and u17s attendance is up on several years ago. LH added: “You used to follow who your family followed, now we cannot compete with the clubs that get the mass media exposure. Arsenal, City, Liverpool are on TV all the time, the kids see them there and on their PlayStation, how do we compete? The only way we can get to them is make it personal and make it fun, and we only have until the age of about nine to get into them because after that they have their team. When somebody at school says I saw Chelsea on TV last night we need kids to be able to say they actually met a QPR player – that’s where we need to get them.”
- Away coaches. In response to criticism about a lack of away coach places LH said he’d monitored the standby list for recent away games. There were four people on standby for Middlesbrough away (three of which were subsequently accommodated after drop outs), for Bolton there were two looking for seats together who couldn’t be accommodated and for Derby this Tuesday there was one person who has subsequently been found a place. “If this list was really long, we’d say we need to have more coaches, as it’s so short we feel we’re about where we need to be. If you can’t get on the coach, make sure you leave your name because chances are you’ll get on and if not and we need another coach we’ll book one” – LH. LH reiterated the club loses money running coaches to away games.
- Stan Bowles. LH said: “We had a great event over the summer, not just in respect of the money we made but the reaction from Stan coming out onto the pitch and the therapeutic effect was fantastic. I’m proud of what we did. He’s in a good position now and I think most fans are happy with what we did. I still get messages from supporters asking what we’re doing for Stan at the Brentford game and so on. As a club we’re doing a lot for Stan, and though it won’t be as big as it was before he has an open invitation and will always be welcomed back. It’s also about what the family want and what’s best for Stan. We always invite him to games near where he lives, Bolton he couldn’t make it but we always invite him because it’s good for him to get out there and it gives Andrea a break as well. We still do things, we’re trying to act in his best interests, we don’t always PR what we’re doing because that’s not what it’s about. We won’t be doing official things every time we play a team he was associated with in the past. The GoFundMe account is still open so if fans want to organise their own fundraising for him I would encourage that.”
On the pitch
- The first question of the evening read as follows: “It’s blatantly obvious to all QPR fans that we need an out and out striker, why do we keep looking for midfielders when the final third of the pitch wins games?”
Now, to ask this question not only ignores the club’s current financial status, its previous FFP breach, its current attempts to squeeze within the present FFP regulations, the size of the squad and the size of the wage bill and the desperate need to reduce both quickly, but also the present transfer market and how much even very mediocre strikers cost at this level at the moment. You could return the question with one of your own, specifically ‘name me a striker who cost less than Idrissa Sylla who has a better goals per game record at this level in the last 18 months?’ Answer – there isn’t one.
Put more bluntly, does anybody out there really believe QPR can afford strikers of Championship calibre but are choosing not to buy them? Do you actually think that Ian Holloway and Les Ferdinand have got the money they need to buy Championship-level strikers but look at our squad and think we don’t need to?
Anyway, Ian Holloway (IH) went with: “The middle three in our team are picking themselves: Scowen on a free transfer turned down Premier League clubs to come here and Luongo has been pretty sensational alongside Freeman. Gary Penrice is here to find us value for money, something that hasn’t gone together with this club.
“Look at who came on for England the other night, Chelsea players who’ve been loaned out. It’s very difficult. I think young Smyth from Northern Ireland, David Wheeler at 27 can potentially go up there. But it’s about getting the things how I want them first. Working hard, chasing, not giving in, training right, caring about the team, being solid. How many one on ones with Alex Smithies did we end up with last year after having our own attacking set piece? We’ve come through a lot of things. Now I’m trying to focus on the main thing which is how are we going to get some crosses in and make it blend. We cannot afford those strikers, at the moment. I don’t believe we need to spend millions and millions on strikers, I believe we can help the ones we’ve got get better and better. They’ve got the right attitude and I believe it’s starting to happen.
“It’s not just about us buying a mass of midfield players, but if you find one and he’s right, and a good age and he’s free… Last year without Hally we couldn’t win a game, this year Scowen has taken us to a new level and when Hall comes back he can go centre half where he probably should play.
“We haven’t missed one striker, we were in for all of them. But can we afford them? It takes time and patience. When Chery and Charlie Austin left our goal tally was looking quite dangerous. I know we need to score more goals but I feel we’re on the right lines. Bit of patience, bit of understanding, one or two of the youngsters coming in who might excite you with the flair they’ve got, hopefully you’ll be very proud of the team.
“We don’t want to put pressure on the owners to go and sign this big wig and go down that road again. That would be a terrible mistake at this point in my opinion, go and pay over the odds to a centre forward who might just be picking his money up.”
Les Ferdinand (LF) added: “We’ve gone to some of the bigger clubs and asked to take their strikers on loan but the figures being quoted just to loan a player, and pay his full wages, takes us to where we can’t go.
“I remember doing a forum a while ago when somebody asked are we looking down the leagues for the next Jamie Vardy, we tried with Conor and with Sylla who we knew weren’t the finished articles but were players we could work with. That’s where we are at the moment, we have to try and develop and make better. Paul Smyth is absolutely delighted to be here, we’re excited watching him train. He went on international duty we said he could have a few days off and see his family in Ireland, he said he wanted to be back here to train and was straight back in on Monday morning. That’s what you want, those are the kinds of people who will change your football club."
- Holloway said he was excited by the current progression of the U23s, who are top of their league. He said it would be unfair to single individual players out, though he did name drop Illias Chair as being “absolutely outstanding” recently. He said all the players at that level were showing a great attitude this year.
On that, LF added: “We have got some talent in the U23s, they need an opportunity to play. Eze is out on loan doing well, Illias is playing well, we’ve got a young defender Giles Phillips coming through. They need an opportunity.
“Football changes very quickly. Ryan Manning six months ago was probably leaving the club. Ian came in, saw something he liked and he’s now a fixture in the first team squad. The players in the U23s now get an opportunity to train with the first team and that chance is there for them as well, whereas when I came here the boys in the U23s had absolutely no chance of ever being in the first team. They were going through the motions, wanted to get away, had no future at the football club.”
- LF then made the point that we’ve made a time or three on this website that QPR still has the biggest squad in the Championship. This is often dismissed when people look at the back of the programme and say that one of the squad numbers is for Stan Bowles, another for Ray Jones, but the fact remains you will not find a bigger squad list in the division this season than QPR’s – including the relegated Premier League teams and the big spenders like Wolves and Villa.
We stick up for LF a lot on LFW, believe he’s doing a good job and wish we’d had him or somebody like him here in the director of football role between the manager and the chairman when Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp were ruining the club for decades to come using Tony Fernandes’ blank cheques. But it is a failing of his tenure, and a product of the ongoing thirst (all too regularly quenched) for managerial change, that we’re still in a position of needing to be rid of a dozen professional players to get us down to a manageable Championship level.
- Regarding January transfer window, LF said: “We have a thing in this country since the transfer windows have been introduced that every time a window opens you have to bring somebody in. Where we are right now I think we need to work with what we’ve got. We need to trim the squad a little bit, I know that’s not going to excite people because people want to see new players coming in. Over my time here we’ve had so many changes we haven’t had a manager who’s had time to work with the squad and get it where it needs to be. We need to trim the squad and then look at it in the summer, that’s my opinion.”
IH added: “Last summer I had Karl Henry and Jamie Mackie out of contract, I let Karl go and kept Jamie. This summer is a bit different. We have nine out of contract. We can make changes, they have to earn the right to play for us and continue here. Our scouting plan is to identify people who are out of contract next summer, that’s how we got Scowen and Luke Freeman. We’re constantly trying to get ahead of the game. We want to create famous people, not buy them. We’ve got to implement change, I believe there’s already been a lot of change, if it isn’t pleasing you I would say your expectation at the moment is a bit old school. You might not agree with me, I’m sorry, I like what I’m seeing.”
- IH said he was keen to keep the home form going and thanked the fans for their support at Loftus Road. Away from home he spoke about changing the formation to sit a little bit deeper and counter attack, as the team did effectively at Reading away last season. Rather optimistically he said he didn’t want the pack to get away and wanted to be in touch with the play-offs in January.
- Asked for a five year plan going forwards LF said he felt the club was making great strides but needed to aim for the Premier League and that’s where he hoped to be come 2022. IH said five years was pretty optimistic for any football manager and first and foremost he hoped to just still be alive. He added that they were looking at the Burnley model and Sean Dyche as something to aspire to.
- On scouting LF said: “When I came here I knew there’d be a lot of pain. We were used to spending a lot of money and seeing well known people come through the door, that had to change. When you go from spending a lot of money to not spending a lot of money people want to know why. There had to be changes. It’s been tough, seeing people here just picking up their wages, and admittedly going out there and saying ‘I came to QPR for the money’. Hearing that, there’s many times I’ve had to lock myself in my office and keep my cool. All we’re trying to do is give you players that are committed to the club.
“Implementing a scouting structure for instance, when I came here there were ad hoc people, remnants of previous regimes, doing their own thing and getting paid, I was thinking what’s going on? Getting Gary Penrice in we’ve already seen a couple of players from that already, Scowen and Freeman. Bright Samuel I think we’ll see the benefits of him, and Smyth. That structure will take the club forward.”
- On injuries IH said Nedum Onuoha and James Perch are training again – Onuoha five weeks ahead of schedule – but they were still having trouble with Grant Hall. West London Sport reports today that Hall could in fact miss the whole season. “The training is right, the injuries are all occurring in matches not in training so we know we’ve got that right. Nedum actually tore his hamstring off after five minutes, it ripped off the bone. He said it was a bit sore, I will carry on but I don’t think I can sprint. It ripped off because he’s so strong, the muscle should actually have torn. The bloke’s almost a freak of nature. He was almost too big at one time. I’ll be delighted to have him back.”
IH added: “I picked him once and he suffered from hyper-tension. He was only 18, and we went 1-0 down. He was let go by Millwall, we think they’ve made a mistake. He needs to learn what to do without the ball. Gareth Ainsworth is very good at helping young kids, simplifying the job they have to do. I’m very optimistic, I really like his talent. Bright Samuel is his best mate, they went to school together and I’m sure one day you’ll see those two as part of a front three for us and you’ll be absolutely loving it.”
Off the pitch
- LH (still applauded onto the stage after 2.5 years as CEO, a new record) was, as expected, very limited on what he could say on the financial fair play (FFP) breach and penalty – outlined in more detail here.
He reiterated the club would be appealing the penalty, reported at north of £40m. But in the meantime, under the new three-year rolling FFP regulations, the club would continue to operate as it has done for the last two and a half seasons. “We challenged the original one-year reporting system and the time we had to comply, we’re now working to the three-year period which works to the business plan we have now. The club has to be self-sustaining going forwards.
“Does this mean we’re a selling club? Yes, I have no problem with saying that it’s not a dirty word. When people say that means you’re selling our best players, I say if anybody wanted to buy the bad players I’d sell them. Going forwards somebody may come in for one of our favourite players and if the offer is right we’ll take it, and then reinvest that money.
- LH remains adamant that the club will be pressing ahead with its training ground development and new stadium search despite the set back in the FFP case. “Going forwards we have to have a training ground to develop these players. Much as we love Loftus Road, it’s not conducive to a sustainable club. We’re pushing forwards on all those fronts, to become self sustainable we need to,” LH. Asked where he saw the club in five years, LH said in a new training ground but probably still at Loftus Road with players coming through the academy.
- On Warren Farm LH said the latest judicial review was going ahead and it would take a few months to get that decision back. This is the second to last obstacle that can be put in the way of the development, “touch wood” it goes our way and we move one step closer to that. “There could potentially be one more appeal but I’m hoping that at some stage people say why are we wasting all this money on this and put the money into a community group, form a club or something like that. It’s not the most pristine site in the world at the moment, it needs work, it needs help and there’s provision in our development for community pitches,” LH.
- There was a decent question asked about the level of debt at the club, and the interest charged on it. Several clickbait countdown lists have been published recently listing QPR as the most indebted club in Europe, with borrowings of more than £200m, while at the last forum a question about why shareholder loans were now accruing steep interest was rather crassly brushed aside with a flippant “well if you want to loan in £40m interest free then be my guest”.
LH said: “I have no idea where those £200m debt reports are coming from. The balance sheet is public knowledge, go to Companies House and look at it. The only debt we have right now is shareholder loans in the region of £40m, the Barclays debt has been paid off. The interest on shareholder debt is not taken out in cash, it gets converted into share capital – stock.”
- On the new stadium LH said they hadn’t discounted any locations and the key thing was to remain in the borough. We continue to look at the Linford Christie Stadium but it’s a very long term project that requires proper consultation. “It needs to be right from our usage, and how it fits in with the community.” A question on whether we’d own the ground and the freehold wasn’t really answered, freehold is the preferred option but a 999 year leasehold (for example) would be as good.
- There was a question from QPR Report about the housing development taking place at Oaklands, near Old Oak Common, in which QPR apparently have an interest – Tony Fernandes was pictured there recently as work got underway. The crux of the question was whether profits, rental income, potential losses, on this project would go to the QPR owners, or QPR. LH said: “It’s QPR Holdings that have strategic holdings around there. QPR Holdings is our owners, they’re the ones doing the project. They’ve always said this is about getting the money we need to put towards a new stadium. Instead of a developer developing there, making a profit then going off and doing the same somewhere else they want to put the money back into a facility for the community, it’s a great model.”
- LF said the club continues to strive to improve its presence in local schools, getting “under the Westway so people are seeing our coaches and doing our Soccer Schools. We’re in a lot of schools and we have a lot of satellite clubs now who we get to come in and play games against our teams and if they’re good players we pick them up. I’ve had a list of players today from West London who’ve been at Norwich and clubs like that, we’re trying to get into them. After the Game for Grenfell I’ve spoken to people from that community who’d never been to QPR before but bring their kids now and are thinking about season tickets because it’s a nice family club. To hear that means we are doing something right.” LH reiterated there would be food bank collections at this weekend’s game against Villa and really encouraged supporters to read the website for what was needed – tinned goods mainly.
- On free tickets for schools LH said he wasn’t keen because if you give them away for free people don’t see value in them and a lot tend to go unused. Even charging a pound means people are more likely to use it. The Community Trust gets an allocation of several hundred tickets a game to try different things. The NFL promotion for the Burton game brought in 700 fans who’d never been to Loftus Road before – programme and shop sales were up that day.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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