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Asleep at the wheel – Preview
Wednesday, 8th Jul 2020 11:44 by Clive Whittingham

Having snapped a run of three successive defeats with a win at Middlesbrough on Sunday, QPR are on the road again this evening visiting another of the EFL’s big success stories, Wigan Athletic.

Wigan (13-11-17, WDWWWL, 16th) v QPR (15-8-18, DWLLLW, 13th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday July 8, 2020 >>> Kick Off 18.00 >>> Weather – Grey and damp >>> DW Stadium, Wigan

We’re a funny lot.

Nine points away from the play-offs feels like from here to the moon, nine points away from the relegation zone and we’re packing our bags for Rochdale and Accrington next season.

Lose a couple of games in a row and the panic sets in immediately. We assume we’ll never win again, certainly never again this season, while a whole clutch of other clubs beneath us who’ve barely managed a point a game all campaign suddenly start stringing successive 4-0 wins together. The fact 50 points has been enough for safety in the Championship in 16 of the last 20 seasons is irrelevant because what about that time Blackburn went down with 52, or Peterborough with 54? The fact we’re third top scorers in the league doesn’t matter because we’ve also got the third leakiest defence.

A manager seen to be doing a very sound job not three weeks prior is suddenly no good. A squad we’d largely enjoyed watching for eight months is dismissed, bar one or two players, and we insist the entire roster must be torn up and replaced this summer – real easy to do that, of course. People start Tweeting online bookmakers asking for our relegation odds and when it comes back at 250/1 they back it. And oh my God Neil Warnock’s taken over one of the clubs below us (one of the 11), women and children into the lifeboats first.

And then we win a game, and the whole thing goes away again.

The panic isn’t totally without reason. Under both Ian Holloway and Steve McClaren QPR frequently turned promising performances, reasonable form and comfortable league positions into loooooong losing runs. Holloway endured three separate spells of six consecutive losses, McClaren’s team went from play-off contention at Christmas to one win in 16 matches. Change the players, change the managers, and yet we do seem to enjoy seeing how close we can push conventions like the 50 point safety mark. Holloway spoke about it repeatedly, how the whole club seemed to tense up in a "here we go, typical QPR" panic after a couple of losses.

We also have to aspire to better than getting to 50 points, finishing lower midtable, collapsing late season form once safe. But at the same time we’ve improved this season from last. We’ve won more games, scored more goals, played better football, are higher in the league. The Middlesbrough win was our seventh away from home, the best record since the 2013/14 promotion season. Relative to the pre-season expectations, when we had to completely tear the squad up and start again and lost several players like Luke Freeman and Mass Luongo who’d been very important to us, it’s been quite a successful season. Thankfully one scratchy win at Middlesbrough has allowed us all to draw breath and relax back into that point of view again. Until the next time.

Of course one of the reasons we were never really in as much trouble as the bed wetters would have you believe is the 12 point deduction due to be metered out to our opponents this evening Wigan Athletic. They had been the one team from the whirlpool at the bottom end of the table to string together an improbable run of results – eight wins and three draws from 12 games – and climb up to a 50 point safety mark that looked an ocean away for them at the turn of the year. Now they’re effectively back on 38 points, requiring snookers to escape for a second time. They may yet do it – we look like useful cannon fodder with no fit senior strikers tonight and they then play Hull, Charlton and Barnsley in successive games so don’t count them out yet. Although, you wonder how much motivation there will be in a squad that deferred three months of wages to get through the pandemic and then when it came to pay day last Friday when the money was due they, like the rest of the staff at the club, didn’t receive it.

Whether they do or don’t isn’t really the story here though, with staff being let go en masse and creditors in the small Lancashire town certain to lose out on what they’re owed.

Wigan is a club that has been through two takeovers by foreign investment companies in the last 18 months. Hong Kong-based International Entertainment Corporation, a hotel and casino specialist owned by professional poker player Stanley Choi, initially bought the club from Dave Whelan – he broke his leg in the cup final you know – for £16m having been introduced by former Everton manager Joe Royle, who has sat on the board ever since. Then in June this year it changed hands a second time to the Cayman Islands-based off-the-shelf company The Next Leader Fund, in which Choi was also the majority shareholder. Choi essentially handing the club from one company he owned that is subject to the scrutiny of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and passing it to another he owns that is not. Next Leader paid £17m for the loss making Latics, covering the original purchase price plus extra, and also apparently paid back the £24.6m International Entertainment had spent running the club in full. This latter sum has reportedly been covered by a loan, from International Entertainment, for which Wigan are liable with punitive interest payments. The majority shareholding in Next Leader then immediately switched from Choi to Au Yeung Wai Kay who placed the club into administration a week later. International Entertainment and Next Leader are both being represented by the same UK lawyers, according to The Athletic.

This has sparked a whole torrent of rumour and counter rumour about exactly what is going on. Why would you buy a football club, take out a huge loan to finance it, only to then chuck straight into administration and relegate it? Wigan’s administrators are appealing against the point deduction under ‘force majeure’ because of the pandemic, but the pandemic was very much known about and front of centre of mind when the club changed hands barely a month ago. They’re unlikely to succeed in that, less other clubs get the idea of taking a quick dip into admin to clear debts without the chance of a relegation and start next season in the same league with a clean financial slate. Nor, it seems, do Wigan’s Far Eastern owners actually want them to – the suggestion is the former Premier League club that could be a Premier League club again they thought they’d bought turning out to be a heavily loss-making black hole soon to be relegated to League One wasn’t quite what they signed up for and they’d tried to cover the losses it was making by placing a sizeable bet on relegation through their gaming companies, which also sponsor Wigan’s shirt. No sooner had they done that than Paul Cook’s men set off on a Championship winning run of form, spooking the owner and requiring the emergency administration move to knock 12 points off and get the bet to pay out. The EFL’s own chairman Rick Parry was caught on camera confirming as much by a Wigan fan out walking his dog last week.

Regular readers, hello to both, will know exactly where this is going. We said the same after Bury, Blackpool and Coventry; Charlton, Birmingham and Sheffield Wednesday; Derby, Hull and Portsmouth; Bolton, Southend and Macclesfield. The sheer number of examples tells you everything you need to know. Firstly the Football League is fundamentally flawed, because just about every club in it loses money hand over fist and they do that by paying extortionate player wages. The pandemic may yet bring an end to that folly, but I wouldn’t bet on it, because that’s exactly what it encourages club owners to do - bet. Let’s just spend that bit extra, buy that one more player, pay that bit more in salary than that other team does, and then maybe we’ll get promoted into the Premier League, and take home £150m basic television and prize money each year, and then we’ll be laughing. Reading currently pay out 207% of their annual income in salaries. When these bets fail, it’s supporters and communities left holding the shattered remains of their clubs.

Secondly, that giant footballing casino is abysmally, shamefully run and governed by the EFL. They put out the standard mealy-mouthed statement last night defending themselves, riddled with legal jargon about how their hands are tied because they can only follows the law of the land and the rules of the league as voted upon by the member clubs. This is their default position. When the shit gets real they basically like to paint themselves as little more than a glorified secretary, churning out fixtures and running cup competitions. It’s a capitalist economy, and they’re powerless to stop businesses changing hands, or remove negligent and malicious owners from their position. Don’t look at us mate, we just print the fixtures out and devalue the cup competitions with embarrassing gimmicks – a job for which the previous CEO, friend of the site Shaun Harvey, paid himself a salary rising from £357k p/a to £418k p/a to £495k p/a and ended with a nice £500k lump sum payment when he finally fucked the fuck off.

And yet… what they apparently feel they can do within that capitalist economy, is try and restrict what the business owners spend. The EFL has embroiled itself in enormously drawn out legal battles with Queens Park Rangers, Birmingham City, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County about breaches of the Financial Fair Play regulations. This has so far ended in one large fine, one meaningless points deduction which moved Birmingham from one part of midtable to another part, and two ongoing legal messes in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. So you can own Blackpool as a convicted rapist, asset strip it, relegate it through four divisions and leave it to rot, and that’s ok because it’s a capitalist economy and the EFL can’t dictate what owners do. You can get the hump with Hull City Council for not selling you the stadium and run Hull City into the ground, selling off hundreds of millions of pounds worth of players that doesn’t go back into the club, antagonise the local community, relegate the club through two divisions, and that’s ok because the EFL is bound by its legal framework. A hedgefund can take Coventry City on a whistlestop tour of the Midlands, you can lay waste to Bolton Wanderers, you can take Bury FC out of actual existence and that’s ok because capitalist economy, legal framework yadda yadda. But lose more than £39m over three seasons, even if it’s your money and you want to spend it trying to get your club to the Premier League, oooh no, then the hired goons come around.

It may be a noble mission to try and reign in the spending, but it’s clear they’re unable to do it and it’s weird they think they can intervene in that way but not in applying rules with regards to who gets to buy and own clubs. They basically get hot and heavy when it suits them and wash their hands of clubs like Wigan when it doesn’t. Just like FFP regs, the league already has fit and proper owner tests for potential club owners and requires them to provide proof of funds and yet repeatedly we see owners – at Wigan, Sunderland, Charlton, Bolton – being waved through with short term, high cost loans. Community assets handed over to chancers. You have the chairman of the league freely admitting to a passer by he’s heard that Wigan are involved in some kind of relegation bet, not a month after his department signed off the takeover. Shouldn’t he be mortified? Shouldn’t he be resigning?

The EFL admitted in its latest statement the rules aren’t fit for purpose and the appetite to strengthen them has been increased “by the circumstances that led to the withdrawal of Bury FC from the League”. Bury was a fucking year ago. It transpires that a Wigan supporter wrote to the league twice in May saying the documents submitted did not add up, the funds were not there, the club was effectively being nailed to the wall for a £24m+ loan it couldn’t pay, and fit and proper owner test was therefore failed. The league acknowledged receipt of the first email, then told him to “take it up with the club” after the second one - as per The Athletic. Wigan’s administrator Gerald Krasner told Colin Murray on BBC Radio last night there is no evidence of the loan to pay for the running of the club ever changing hands or existing, meaning the league signed off on proof of funds when no such proof existed. Earlier this season it transpired that the latest botched Charlton Athletic takeover was completed without proof of funds ever being produced or the EFL signing off on it. The league wrote to the Addicks half a dozen times requesting it but never received it, and meanwhile Charlton’s new chairman and CEO sat in situ and the club continued to be allowed to play matches. When that ownership structure collapsed after barely three months the EFL described itself as “concerned”.

Within a week Adam Crafton at The Athletic and Wigan supporters @dylanharris, @marksparko and others have uncovered a litany of scandal, deceit and fraud, historic court cases in Canada, bankruptcies in Singapore and concerns in Hong Kong. Journalists, and supporters working off their own backs, uncovering in no time at all things which should have been discovered months ago by a competent governing body prior to the second Wigan takeover going through. But they didn't, they just waved it through, not bothering to apply the fit and proper person and proof of ownership rules but getting in there really quickly with the 12 points off for administration.

They’re asleep at the wheel, and Wigan won’t be the last club they run over in this state.

Links >>> High and dry – Interview >>> QPR’s first trip to Wigan – History >>> Eltringham in charge – Referee >>> Wigan Official Website >>> Pie at Night - Podcast >>> Cockney Latic - Forum >>> Vital Wigan - blog and forum

Geoff Cameron Facts No.98 In The Series - Geoff was placed into administration in 2014 after an addiction to Reese's Pieces decimated his finances.


Team News: Jordan Hugill killed himself to death scoring his goal of the season contender at Middlesbrough on Sunday. He was due to have a scan yesterday but is definitely out of this one and owing to the nature of hamstring injuries and there only being four matches and two weeks left after this one it’s unlikely he’ll play again for us this season, or indeed ever again unless a deal is done to bring him back next season. We’ll miss the hair, the ill-fitting shirts, the skied two yarders, and of course the very creditable, career-high total of 15 goals. Let the search for a striker recommence once more, both for tonight where Warbs Warburton must decide whether to trust Aramide Oteh with a start or cobble together a collection of attacking midfielders as he did when Hugill went off at the weekend. Lee Wallace is also hamstrung and unlikely to play, Marc Pugh and Grant Hall have left us early and Charlie Owens’ knee has exploded again. We’re now perilously close – maybe three or four more injuries – to being forced to give minutes to Jack Clarke.

Michael Jacobs went off injured in the 3-0 home win against Stoke last week and was replaced by Kal Naismith for a 3-0 reverse at Brentford at the weekend. Team news is hard to come by on the Wigan side other than that because focus is understandably elsewhere and the people who previously would have delivered it to us have shamefully lost their jobs.

Elsewhere: Lutown and Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare did each other few favours with a 1-1 draw at Kenilworth Road last night leaving them four and three points shy of safety respectively now with just four games left to play each. They’ll be praying for favours tonight from Bristol City, whose latest losing streak was one losing streak too many for Lee Johnson and have caretaker manager Dean Holden in charge for tonight’s home game with Allam Tigers, and Millwall, who could become the latest club to make Neil Warnock wonder whether a twelfth annual farewell tour was such a good idea after all.

Charlton remain in the mix on 46 points, two above the line, after blowing a one goal lead to lose 2-1 thanks to two late goals from Spartak Hounslow last night. Fair enough, they were almost certainly the best team Charlton have played all season. Stoke also have 46 points and look to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing in the Thursday tea time game away to the Champions of Europe, live on Sky Sports Leeds. Brentford are doing all they can to keep up the pressure on Marshmallow Bielsa’s team, and West Brom who face Wayne Rooney’s All Night Beer and Brass this evening, having won all five lockdown games played so far. Tarquin and Rupert are also keeping pace, having returned with a pair of defeats they’ve now won three in a row, all without their star man Aleksander Mitrovic. In fact, in the six league games they’ve played without their top scorer this season Fulham have won five, drawn one and are yet to lose.

The rest of the play-off picture is becoming a battle between teams trying to give it away. Cardiff lost 3-2 at home to Blackburn last night while Preston Knob End haven’t won in seven games now ahead of their game at Sheffield Owls tonight. Bristol City we’ve already covered, Swanselona kept in touch with a weekend win against Sheff Wed and tonight face Birmingham who really do seem to have just popped the cue on the wrack for the summer.

Reading 0-0 Huddersfield is the only thing we haven’t mentioned so far, and you can all do your own joke for that one.

Referee: You won’t find (m)any referees with the sort of average LFW rating that Geoff Eltringham boasts, which almost certainly means he’s in for a stinker here. Details.


Wigan: The Latics, along with Derby, were the form team in the division when the administration bombshell dropped last week. They’d won eight and drawn three of their previous 12 games to move from a position of likely doom to one of near certain safety on 50 points. Now effectively back on 38 points (the penalty will be applied at the end of the season unless they’d have been relegated anyway in which case it applies next season) they’re bottom and seven points adrift of safety. If they are to pull off a second great escape in the same season they couldn’t really have asked for better fixtures to do it – QPR H (13th), Barnsley A (23rd), Hull H (21st), Charlton A (19th), Fulham H (3rd). The victories they now need, if they come, will also see rival teams defeated. St home this season they’ve won eight, drawn six and lost six but are unbeaten in five on this ground (W3 D2) and haven’t conceded a goal at home in four matches. Earlier in the campaign it was late goals that hamstrung them – Derby, Stoke and Luton all scored injury time winners against Paul Cook’s side, Derby also scored an injury time equaliser in the corresponding fixture and they have conceded 14 goals beyond the eightieth minute so far.

QPR: Rangers’ win at Middlesbrough on Sunday was their seventh on the road this season making it their best campaign for away wins since they managed eight in the 2013/14 promotion season. It was also a rare clean sheet, just a sixth of the season and fourth away from Loftus Road. Jordan Hugill’s fifteenth goal came at some cost, but did mean it’s the first time since Gallen and Furlong in 2003/04 that QPR have had two players breach the 15 goal mark in a season. Ebere Eze needs three in the last five games to join them – his goal against Wigan in August was the first time Rangers had scored direct from a free kick since Yeni Ngbakaoto at Birmingham in February 2017, and they haven’t managed one since despite Ryan Manning’s best efforts at the weekend. The result puts QPR on 53 points, only Peterborough with 54 in 2013 have been relegated having accumulated that many since the split to form the Premier League in 1992/93, and that includes the 1994/95 season when four teams were relegated from this league.

Prediction: This year’s Prediction League is sponsored by The Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Our reigning champion WokingR tells us…

“Despite the unexpected bonus of an away win at Boro I think we will struggle at Wigan. Despite their problems off the pitch, they have actually been strong since the restart. Also think it will be too soon for us to see Hugill back on the pitch so, whatever the score, I think it will be to nil.”

Woking’s Prediction: Wigan 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Wigan 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

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francisbowles added 14:00 - Jul 8
Top article and preview, Clive. It's got everything! Thank you

TacticalR added 17:51 - Jul 8
Thanks for your preview.

What a total mess. I heard an interview about the Wigan situation with David Conn and he was saying that it's very hard to imagine how anyone could be making money if the Hong Kong owners are selling the club to themselves, so it's not surprising conspiracy theories are rife. Anyway, as you've said time and again, the whole system is broken.

As for today's game, isn't playing without strikers what Spain do?

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