QPR are third in the league – Fans forum
Friday, 3rd Dec 2021 03:56 by Clive Whittingham
A third win in a row for QPR, on Monday night at Derby, lifted Mark Warburton’s team to third in the Championship, not that you’d ever know it from the tone and topics of the latest, chaotic, fans forum at Loftus Road.
I’ve been covering the Fans Forums at Loftus Road for a long time, and in the more recent years I’ve often started the summary be reflecting on the convenient timing of the event. These things have to be booked months in advance, matching an ever-changing fixture list with the diaries of the speakers and the staffing of the ground for the night, so it’s never a case of ‘we’ve won a couple of games, quick let’s have a forum on Thursday’. Nevertheless, even in seasons that have gone badly awry in recent times, the forum has often seemed to fall in a period of relative calm and optimism. Recall, for instance, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink being cajoled to talk up his team’s play-off chances and the plan for the team and signings if/when we were to achieve promotion, and then barely a week later losing 6-0 at home to Newcastle and starting to chew into a run of results that would see him lose his job.
With three wins on the spin, arguably the best performance of the season against Huddersfield last time out at Loftus Road, and sitting third in the Championship table, it looked like Thursday’s gathering in W12 would be more of the same. I’ve been at one of these where Les Ferdinand was literally asked whether he saw much of Clive Wilson these days, and after Andre Gray’s spectacular last minute winner at Pride Park I didn’t expect the questions to get a great deal tougher or the atmosphere much darker than that. How wrong I was there. Had I taken a neutral party to this, without knowledge of league tables or context, and asked them, based on the tone of the evening and topics of conversation, how they thought QPR were doing at the moment, I’d wager they’d have placed us somewhere two thirds of the way down League Two, having fallen on hard times, with one relegation recently banked, and the public that remain starting to fear another descent into non-league. I actually checked the league table at one point to make sure it wasn’t some sort of fever dream I’d had.
Mark Warburton and Les Ferdinand actually left the room and went home before the end. A forum first. So few questions had been sent their way, so little focus was on them, that there was no point in them staying. I guess when football fans aren't having a go at you, you're doing your job well, but it felt like a shame. I wanted to hear more from Mark about his team, Les about recruitment and retention, Yoann Barbet's contract, Mac Bonne's recall... Les had to sit there for many years having people repeatedly asking what exactly it is that he does, and had a whole slew of online trolls talking about the fascination with Spurs and "Les' black agenda", with memes they'd taken the time to make up for bantz. Where are those people now? Les couldn't buy a question now it's all going well.
Now, the forum has never been a great arena for calm perspective. Observe last year’s farce where, in the raging height of a global pandemic and with the club just trying to work out how it survived from one month to the next, tone deaf questions about ruling out player sales and sorting out toilet taps came rolling in regardless. I got a bit of a flea in my ear in the comment section last time for describing wilfully stupid and questions as wilfully stupid, so it’s probably a good point for me to say: obviously there’s no point in people just trundling along to these things to ask Warbs Warburton where he gets all his great ideas from; of course I recognise that what I may consider an important issue may not matter one jot to another QPR fan and vice versa; and I am in the very privileged position of getting to go to all of these events on a press pass and also having this platform to spout off about our club and ask questions of the people that run it to my heart’s content, so who really am I to tell anybody their question is valid or otherwise?
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be true to myself or honest to both regular readers if I didn’t say, hand on heart, that I thought tonight, even by the standards of the QPR Fans Forum, was, in the second half at least, a little bit mad.
CEO Lee Hoos – LH; director of football Les Ferdinand – LF; manager Mark Warburton – MW; head of operations, Josh Scott - JS
On The Pitch
- Asked if he felt he’d achieved his stated goal of making QPR a more feared opponent MW said: “I hope so. We speak to the players regularly about the perception of QPR. The rivalry with Brentford is well known, you listen to the television last year the commentators would list fixtures and say ‘and then they’re playing Brentford’ as if they were playing Manchester City. They built that perception of what it’s like to play a certain team in our division. We have to improve the perception of QPR. I’m not saying teams are fearful but teams know that if they don’t prepare well and do their jobs against QPR they can get hurt. The job for us is to keep improving that perception. League standing helps, away results help, more TV games where they see what QPR are doing help. These aspects all help build the reputation of the club.”
- Is there a plan B for when 3-5-2 isn’t working? MW: “I think the first 16 months we were here we played 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 and variations within that. We changed to four at the back against Barnsley when we had to at 2-0 down. Absolutely you have to tweek it but if you’ve found a system that’s successful for you and your squad, you try and improve that formation as your first choice. There has to be a fall back if there are injuries and suspension.”
- On that point, Lee Wallace’s status will be clearer by tomorrow morning’s medical meeting. MW: “There have been a few derogatory comments about me repeatedly referencing the league programme demands. When the players are playing seven games in 21 days, international break, seven games in 22 days, international break, then seven in 21 again… players will break. Look around the division, we played Huddersfield they had loads of injuries, Stoke on Sunday have suffered loads of injuries. At the highest level Tierney and Robertson, Arsenal and Liverpool, breaking down with injuries. Read Marcelo Bielsa’s comments earlier in the week about the game changing because of the scheduling, more demands on players, calls for a World Cup every two years, all that’s going to happen is the players will break, the end product will dilute in quality, and the supporters will watch a reduced game.
“The new norm is definitely changing, what happens with the Qatar World Cup and how that impacts fixtures. Progress in cups makes it more difficult with scheduling, players have to be more robust.”
- January transfer window. LF: “I’m not sure we’ll be buying players in January. We’d love to add to the squad if we could, if we can strengthen we always want to do that, but the finances have to be there and January is notoriously not a good window to buy in. If there is anything done I imagine it will be loans. I saw a graphic that showed how much Fulham, Bournemouth and West Brom had spent and how much we’d spent and that tells you in itself. It’s always been about trying to recruit for less money while trying to improve what comes through the door. I think we’ve done that pretty well and Mark and the team have done an exceptional job with the players we’ve brought in, we’ve improved them and we have good assets for the team. That’s how we move forwards.”
MW: “As a club we have to add quality and value where we can. If the right player becomes available who works for Les and the board in terms of the financial side then we’d be foolish not to move. But it has to add value. There’s lots of shouts about player A, B or C but if they’re not better than what we’ve got what are we doing? They’ve got to be good enough to make QPR better and help achieve our goals. If the right player is available in the market we move, if the young players coming through are good enough we move, but they have to add value to what we do.”
- Fans forum staple – can we keep hold of our prized assets. Added bonus question – what is Les’ valuation of them. I’m saying nothing. LF: “Obviously we want to keep our prized assets, but when offers come into the club it’s obviously something I have to put to the board. I don’t want to sell them, I didn’t want to sell Eze because I felt with Eze in this team this season we’d have a better chance of getting promoted but the money was too good for us to turn down. The situation is if the right offer comes in for a player we have to sell, but it has to be the right offer. Sometimes when a player gets his head turned by an offer and an amount of money, that can effect a situation as well. It’s not just about us wanting to keep them, if they get their head turned that can make it difficult. We’re always trying to build and get a squad capable of challenging, if you get there and it doesn’t quite work out you hope to go again the following year. I’d put that question to Lee and the board, we got this close, can we go again? We’re always trying to build and strengthen and make the team as good as it can be.”
LH: “We’re still looking at FFP and profit and sustainability – if this money comes in for Eze what does that give us the leeway to do for other players? Sign Chris Willock, extend Ilias Chair’s contract, so on and so forth. It’s about how you use that money that comes in.”
- Players out of contract. This was a rare great point raised from the floor, not really dug into or followed up quite as rigorously as I would have liked. Yoann Barbet, in particular, is on 80 consecutive league appearances in which he’s played every minute, and whenever we talk about why we switched to a back three and why it works the Frenchman is front and centre of that discussion (Barbet’s Diags™). He is out of contract this summer, and can talk to clubs abroad (i.e. errr France) four weeks from now. LF’s answer, far from seeking to reassure, suggested don’t get too attached. LF: “One thing we did this season was say we’d look at everything come the end of the season, see where we were, what we’re doing, and what to do moving forwards. The players understand where we are as a football club. Much as we’d like to do it now we felt it right to wait to negotiate until the end of the season and see where we are.”
- Although the defensive record has improved markedly in the last dozen games, it was second only to Peterborough in the goals conceded stakes through the first half of the season. MW: “We work hard on the training pitch every day in terms of cohesion, defending as a unit, we defend as a team from the front and attack from the back. We ask our defenders to play, get the ball, take the ball in tight areas and make quick decisions. If they do that, and they look superb doing that, and they’re also outstanding defensively, they wouldn’t be in the Championship, they’d cost £50m and they’d be John Stones. Our defenders are asked to be really brave, get on the ball, play the game in an attractive way. We could put ten behind the ball, be hard to break down, and try to nick a goal from a set piece, but I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it and I’m sure you wouldn’t either. I hope very much over the course of the season the record will improve.”
Off The Pitch
- LH said right from the off the club had faced challenges off the field since the return of fans. “Football is not immune from what’s going on in the real world and with issues we’ve had going on around staffing and everything else, it’s been difficult. The biggest thing I need to stress tonight… is the safety of our fans and the safety of our players is the main thing. It’s such a strange time, you look back three years to how we were doing things and look now, above all else you guys need to remain safe.” He then produced an old-school army style tin helmet from underneath his seat to wear as a steady, ceaseless stream of off field issues came his way.
- Given the rather pathetic gates for the recent midweekers with Blackburn and Huddersfield, would it not make sense to drop ticket prices for the night matches by a fiver with the extra crowds that would create, plus more food and merchandise sales, making up the shortfall? LH he say: “In classic economics that’s what works, but football is nothing like classic economics. Midweek games are a lot more about who you’re playing against, case in point being Sunderland in the quarter final of the League Cup – we had them here in that competition a few years ago when they were Premier League and got a thousand people less charging £6 for a ticket than we had here for the recent game even though we were charging four times the amount. The price can be a driver if it’s a massive amount, but the reality is you won’t get that many extra people in – a fiver will not dictate somebody’s behaviour and whether they come to a football game or not. Logic tells you every pound you drop adds more people, it just doesn’t work that way.”
- There was a question about when we could expect a reliable online ticketing system which I took to mean the TicketMaster-hosted website we use to buy tickets that looks and operates like the product of a badly executed plan from an early round of The Apprentice, but LH seemed to think the question was about the buggy digital turnstiles at the ground which he said had been tested as much as possible during the pandemic, worked fine for the limited crowd matches last season, dealt well with the Leicester and Man Utd friendlies, but then struggled with the early league fixtures. LH: “I would like to have had more staff out there if I could, any change people need guidance to help them do it. I couldn’t say it at the time, but with both Millwall and Barnsley we were lucky to get the doors open because we were really, really short on stewards. I didn’t want that out there at the time, we’ll talk about issues around fan behaviour later and I didn’t want to encourage bad behaviour, but for the Barnsley game we even tried recruiting non-stewards to be out there helping with this and approached temp agencies saying ‘all we need is people to help guide supporters through this process’ but even then we couldn’t find anybody interested. Now we’re back to the levels we were before this access system… A lot of it was a learning curve.” Some technical changes have been made to the system, increasing the size of QR codes, making the gates less sensitive to a double-tap, and the feeling is the issues are largely resolved.
- On Ticketmaster LH said clubs that have tried to move away from them have regretted it. LH: “There aren’t that many alternatives, the ones there are I’m reluctant to move to because it’s better to work with a partner you know and they are experienced. When I first started in football I wanted to know why you couldn’t just have your own system, but when Manchester United and Liverpool don’t do their own system and rely on people like Ticketmaster it shows you the complexity of putting something out there.”
- A question was raised, largely based on what happened at the Reading away game, about QPR giving the whole of the School End to teams that don’t provide anywhere near that many tickets to our fans in the corresponding fixture. LH: “That’s a very emotional response. Reading are a little short on experience, they did something where they cut the away allocation because they had fans groups telling them if they had a singing section right next to the away fans it would improve the atmosphere. Somebody a little new to football listened to that and fell for it. Sometimes you have to think about the implications. They made a big mistake doing that because all they did was cut their revenue streams, it was counter productive. At a time when you’re trying to get as much money as you can into a club taking money from the away fans is even more fun. You’re trying to get money in, create headroom in the FFP rules, buy new players, it’s really counterproductive to cut revenue streams. If I could sell those tickets to home fans I would but the way the stadium is configured and the access points, and the demand for Championship football, that’s not doable right now.”
- Loyalty points being weighted against younger fans – again, a hot topic from around the time of Reading and Bournemouth away. LH: “We had a discussion about that at the supporters’ consultation committee and it is something we want to look at and think there are better ways to do it. Somebody from the committee did make a very, very good point that it should be reviewed but with the ticketing system and everything else coming back from the lockdown there has been a lot of change and are the fans are ready for another change right now? I thought that seemed perfectly legitimate but I agree it does need a revamp and we will look at it because otherwise how does a younger fan ever get to the Fulham away match? It’s impossible for them. We need to do something, there are good ideas out there, we will find something workable that’s fair to the people who’ve been coming a long time but also opens up a segment of tickets to younger supporters.”
- Will rising costs and inflation generally affect ticket prices at QPR? LH: “A really astute observation and good question to ask. We haven’t had a ticket price rise here for ages. It was discussed at the last board meeting, costs are starting to go up and up and up and up, and I don’t see them going down. We’ve got new minimum wage laws coming in. We’re competing - there was a match a couple of months ago where Tottenham were 40 chefs short, so what they’ve done is just paid to make sure they’ve got enough but then that puts pressure on everybody else who has to do that. Labour costs are rising tremendously. There is, at some point, we will have to review that. I said to the Football Supporters Federation around the “twenty’s plenty” campaign, how can you gauge what’s enough when you don’t know what it costs to put something on? Right now costs are rising tremendously.
- Pushing the OAP discounts from 60 to 65, according to LH, brought us in line with most of the rest of the division, at a time when people are working later into life.
- Catering. Lots of the usual criticisms about under staffed kiosks, huge queues and poor service depriving supporters of a chance to give the club more money. LH: “We’ve had tremendous problems with staff shortages. There was a game a few weeks ago where we were 23 people short, which is literally one person short per kiosk as there are 24 kiosks. Public catering is a problem and presents challenges.” Now at this point LH started calling surprise witnesses, each more surprising than the last. Nothing does the trick like an imposing and well-spoken Scottish man, and here came Craig Stewart who the LinkedIn tells me is “regional managing director for stadia, universities and concessions at Elior UK” who do our food (apparently). He say…
“First of all I won’t hide behind where we are right now as an industry, particularly in football stadiums. We absolutely have struggled to deliver matchdays. There are a number of reasons for that and the reasons Lee has already given for problems with people, stewarding… everything comes together and catering staff are no different. To put things in perspective currently we’re having to bus people in from as far away as Birmingham to facilitate games at the stadium here just now. Whilst we come back into stadiums after the pandemic, purchasing patterns are completely different to what they used to be – people are spending a lot more, eating a lot more, drinking a lot more. Currently we’re serving 20% more than we did pre-pandemic levels. One of our main points is supply chain, we’ve had tremendous problems in the background trying to get food to the stadium. There’s a crisis now around Bovril, there’s no Bovril in the UK and we can’t supply the demand. We absolutely understand the frustrations, standing in a queue watching staff serve slowly, potentially missing parts of the game. We don’t want any customer to come here and their experience be impacted by poor service. If we look at pre-pandemic levels, we’ve had 20% of our staff returning. We lost 80% of the staff. The catering industry in general, more importantly within London, 80% of people working in that industry were from overseas and looking at that 80% the majority of those people went home and we’re lucky if 10% of those have returned so there is a huge shortage. We were in a position where we just going match by match hoping to be able to facilitate the service. We’re at the point now, hopefully, by January that will quickly change, a lot of people working in retail will come off short term contracts. The facts are, we offer 23 days work a year and five-hour shifts. We’re working hard with the club to try and attract people to come here and using us as a company that operates worldwide to bring them in and offer them careers. We have listened to the feedback, we haven’t been able to react to it as quickly as we possibly can and for that I’m genuinely really sorry but I’ve got to be really honest and say we’re trying to facilitate what we can. Moving forwards we’re absolutely looking at what we’re doing. We’re speaking to the club just now about bringing to life the food operation here. There is investment required, it’s no secret it’s an old stadium and the kiosks are the same. We want to bring different food options into the stadium and in the new year we want to organise steering groups for people to have input on what we want to do. There’s a huge debate about the quality of lager, cans or bottles, the facts are we’ve been promised plastic bottles would be coming back in September, then October, November, and now we’re being told they might not be coming back. We’re looking at bringing a substitute product to Carlsberg, or something to sit alongside it, and we’re close to announcing that. We’re also looking at EPOS systems and going cashless in the stadium which will speed up the process. We know where we are, we know where we need to get to, bear with us, we’re here tonight to speak to you, we want to make it better, but it is a difficult time like everybody else.”
LH made the point that anybody with teenage kids, nieces and nephews, students, looking for part time work, opportunities abound at QPR in catering and other areas so get in touch for application forms. ScotBot 2.0 say “we’re not fussy at the moment” to rapturous applause.
- Developing Loftus Road. Superhappyfuntime. LH: “The truth is we’ve never stopped looking at developing Loftus Road we just haven’t found a way to actually do it and make it pay, or make sense. The first priority is to stay within the borough. I think by now everybody knows the difficulties of this stadium and it really not being fit for purpose. Why can’t we do more draught beer? We don’t have cellars. There are a tonne of issues like that here. Why is the water pressure so poor in Ellerslie Road? To do anything about it we have to dig up the whole street. The concourses are full at half time but when you look at the stadium bowl it’s still half full, so the concourses are full with only 50% of the people. We really need, to survive, a modern stadium, that still maintains the character of this stadium and the closeness to the pitch which is the good thing about this place. You want amenities, and to use it on non-matchday to drive revenue to compete against other clubs that can do the same. We’ve had a lot of people come up to us and say ‘do this, do that’ but we haven’t found anything that wouldn’t cost so much money it wouldn’t give return on investment, or require surrounding land. We continue to look and explore.”
- Cleaning up Loftus Road a bit. A reader writes: “It is clear the stadium has been in a neglected state for a considerable length of time, issues like the catering and Ellerslie Road toilets have been talked about for so long they have now turned into a running joke among the fans because nothing is ever done. The current issue surrounds the floodlights which LH concedes are below standard and could create compliance issues were the club promoted. The overriding feeling is of the stadium being virtually mothballed pending a possible move to a new site which is five or ten years off at best. Could LH comment on his own performance in relation to the very poor stadium upkeep and the club’s apparent lack of interest in enhancing or even maintaining its appearance, facilities and infrastructure.”
LH thanked his mother for the question and added that he did his best to address issues that are brought his way, such as the fence between the Loft and Ellerslie Road. LH: “The bathrooms aren’t up to par, I can’t afford to bring in masses of labour to hit up all of the bathrooms at the same time. At the start of 16/17 we have been giving facelifts to everything. Has anybody noticed we have all new toilets in Ellerslie Road? All the toilets and tiles have been replaced. The water pressure is a different story, unless we dig up that road and lay a new main, a major piece of infrastructure that affects not only us but all the houses along there as well… Every year, since 16/17, we’ve done a little bit at a time. Last year we stopped, behind closed doors, and this year even in May when we launched season tickets we weren’t sure whether we would have 50%, 100%, 0%, capacity. Next year we will resume again. Unless, of course, we get promoted – then there’s a big budget. Floodlights, I have never said they’re below standard, last year they fell below but there was a lot of work done on them over the summer and now they exceed the Championship standards. They may not reach Premier League standards, that’s another matter, the standards they have with high definition and LUX values are way higher, but in the Premier League you get that money to spend and they expect you to spend it on upgrading things like that. We are are trying to get a better balance, there’s something about using spotlights as opposed to like Derby on Monday where it’s lights all around the stadium which is a much better way of doing it. Every area of the pitch is brighter than it was last year, but some are brighter than others.”
- How far would we look away from W12 for a new stadium if we can’t get one nearby? LH: “We haven't made any geographic area of how far we’d look to move because the first priority is stay here, the second would be as close to the borough as possible. We’re not moving to Milton Keynes. We’re trying to work with the council and have meetings coming up which is good. The council have a lot on their plate at the moment with Covid, potentially a new variant coming in and cases going up, so I think we take it one step at a time with the council.”
LH: “Quite simply if you don’t move, you will die. This club will absolutely die. Pre-pandemic we used to get between 6,000 and 8,000 new, first time visitors to Loftus Road every year. I was shocked, I didn’t think it would be that high, but it is. The retention rate on those people is less than 10%. Number one reason for not coming back – facilities. We sell out, even the night games, the unobstructed view tickets we have. There are more than 2,500 obstructed views in this stadium and it’s only 18,000 capacity. It’s the highest ratio I’ve worked with in any stadium I’ve had. What’s the percentage occupancy of unobstructed views? Very, very high. We can’t build a support base without better facilities, we joke about the water pressure but new people aren’t putting up with it. There’s a lot of other things competing. Look at how people like my son and his age group consume football now, one eye on the pitch, another on the phone. The way people consume it is changing, I can see it changing, you have to move with the times, in this stadium you can’t do it and God knows what happens 25-30 years down the road. I love football in this country, what football does on a social level here blows away anything I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. One of the big attractions for me moving to this club was what it does in the community, I love it, it’s really important. Keep that in mind. The facilities this club needs to survive. This club has been here since 1882, in 2082 I need to make sure I played my part in making sure it’s still around then.”
- Stan Bowles stand. LH: “The heroes, the talisman, people who you think of and they immediately make you think of that club, should be honoured and commemorated. What I don’t think is healthy is this seems to have gotten a bit personal with some people in terms of being on one side or the other. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who say they wouldn’t mind something for Stan, but what about Gerry Francis and a lot of names that have come up. I think we can come up with something together, that everybody will be happy with, that is not divisive, honours them appropriately and I think we can get that off the ground. This stuff should be unifying, it shouldn’t be dividing us. This is an open goal, we’re just not kicking the ball into it. I think we can get something done.”
- It seems attitudes on football fans being allowed to drink in their seats at the game are relaxing, having been banned for decades. While we wait excitedly for a time when we can all go home soaked in flat Carling because of some megabantz impromptu launching of beer into the air to celebrate a goal later ruled out by VAR official Keith Stroud, LH say: “Up until about a month ago I was very much in favour but the deterioration of the behaviour of some people makes me think I don’t know if I want you drinking the entire match. It’s a real issue for me. A month ago I’d have said it’s absolutely sensible if somebody wants to have a drink in view of the pitch, but I must confess I do have second thoughts right now.”
- Supporters’ ongoing torment at the hands of our Sky Overlords. LH: “The short answer is no we get no say. Timing, they tell us six weeks in advance until we get near the end of the season when the changes are made quicker. No team I have ever worked for has been picked this many times, we’re already up to 11 through to January. It’s disruptive for the fans, from a football standpoint, from a sport science stand point, we don’t like it at all, it’s completely over the top. That game that’s been moved from the 26th to the 27th against Bournemouth is a killer when it comes to AFCON. I’ve made my representations to the league, how am I supposed to engage young families if you move all my games to a time when young fans can’t come? The league are aware of our stance on it but we’re not the first club to have jumped up and down about it, Leeds a couple of years ago never had a Saturday 3pm kick off, complained, and didn’t fare very well. We’ll keep protesting. Every once in a while is one thing, but when you look at what we’ve had this season… wow.”
This point about AFCON is one we flagged on LFW a few weeks back. QPR lose Seny Dieng, Osman Kakay and Ilias Chair to that tournament and organisers are insisting on players being released after the Boxing Day games. Had Sky left our key game with Bournemouth in its original slot they could have played, now it’s moved to December 27 they can’t. I’m not sure this has registered with people yet, and it certainly brought no reaction or further questions or chat in the room. Some of the things we did have time for prolonged examination of, however… still to come.
LH: “You make £75k a game, away from home it’s better than a kick in the teeth. At home we had 1,000 fewer people at Luton on a Friday than we did last time we played them on a Saturday. It’s not like the Premier League where you get a big chunk of change.”
- So I’m an hour into the transcription, it’s 02.07 my time, and I can see there is another hour of tape left to go. There began, at this point, a discussion about the Lower Loft, the atmosphere at home games, making Loftus Road intimidating for visiting teams, giving the backing Mark Warburton’s team deserves, the recent atmosphere we came up against at Blackpool and what a difference it made for them, how much some members of the audience admire the big flags and topless jumping up and down at Crystal Palace, and so on. This took up most of the second half of the evening, with three or four people coming back to the microphone for multiple cracks at it. I’ll transcribe any coherent replies from the top table below but essentially the room went around and around and around on… I agree the atmosphere is crap, I agree safe standing would be great, I ain’t fucking moving out of my seat to solve this, and where would you put the kids from the family stand?
LH: “I love the idea of safe standing. The last thing I want to do is go into an area and say don’t renew your season tickets here, it’s going to be the safe standing area. We did a survey, the vast majority were in favour of safe standing, and most felt it would be best iin the Lower Loft. The litmus test is if I’d been sitting there for five years and a bunch of people said I think it should be safe standing, how would I feel? I want that information and your opinions. I have randomly selected six people for a steering committee. I deliberately selected six people at random, I know a lot of people like to put themselves forward but if you select at random you get a real cross section. I want to hear the average supporter view. How do you work that? How should it be handled? What kind of alternative arrangements? What happens if it’s over subscribed? Who gets priority?”
Probably the soundest comments in a long old hour of discussion came from a gentlemen who’d been shifted out of the Lower Loft originally to make it a family stand, at short notice and without consultation. He say: “My view would be first of all anybody in that stand has to have first choice of staying there or not. Secondly because of families in there, people standing could be a vision issue, potentially grandfather those prices. It may cost the club in the short term, giving them the option to move to another area of the ground while people move into the Lower Loft. They shouldn’t be worse off, particularly in terms of cost because otherwise it becomes very expensive to move to another part of the ground, you have to give them an incentive to do that and give them first option. The desire is there, the conversation is how do you communicate it? Have a clear set of principals. Not everybody will agree. Ultimately the club the club has to make the decision and it has to be fair, people can’t be financially worse off.”
- Behaviour of fans. Now, here’s your veritable political hot potato. I’ve written, on occasions, about chants, incidents, behaviour that makes me uncomfortable at matches. I find it pretty grim personally, and particularly for people taking kids to games, that it’s now basically a given that the toilets at away games are there for people to smoke and stuff coke up their nose, and when you have a big following like we did at London Road you can’t near the bogs at half time because of that. The behaviour that then results is there for all to see. I hate this new culture for throwing stuff in the air in performative joy – a kid got hit at Peterborough, an older lady at Fulham. The much more serious stuff we saw at Millwall and Luton, and God knows what awaits us in that Kenilworth Road away match, isn’t even 1980s throwback, it’s dark ages regression. But then I’ve seen other criticisms of fan behaviour, people moaning about chants, people standing up, people swearing, that I just think is an inevitable part of football. It’s not a knitting circle. I’m sure people who’ve had the misfortune to be near me at matches think my behaviour is inappropriate.
There’s no question in my mind that alcohol intake, drug taking, and poor behaviour has increased exponentially since we came back from lockdown – well, if you will lock people in their homes for 18 months… There was enormous discussion about this on the night, some quotes from which are below, and the head of QPR Operations, Josh Scott, came up as LH’s latest surprise witness to discuss his role and challenges. But, coming back to the loyalty point issue, I reckon Charlie from Talking Rangers was the youngest person there tonight by a street. When one of your youngest audience members is a 37-year-old website editor called Clive, that’s not a cross section. There was broad agreement in the room for arrests, banning orders, ratting people out, a phone number to text, and yet whenever the club Tweet stuff like this they get absolutely hammered and rinsed by a different demographic of the support base. We’re in danger of a split here – the old soaks like me and my mates, my dad’s mates who still go, who go all the time regardless, and the new blood trying to get into it, leading so-called modern-day ‘fan culture’. That rubbed up against each other in a few themes on the night. I don’t really know where I am on this except to say some of the comments made from the floor, and the stage, didn’t sit right with me, but nor have I enjoyed being in angry, coked-up, aggressive away ends this season. Anyway, eyes down look in for…
LH: “The deterioration in fan behaviour this season I find quite disturbing. I have no idea why, I don’t know if anybody here knows why or more importantly how we address it. Quite frankly I’m really pissed off with it. The Luton game was the first time I’ve been embarrassed to be associated with the club. I’m doing everything I can to identify these guys. We’ve gone through CCTV of all this stuff, we’ve identified some, two arrests have been made, my first priority is to get a conviction made. From the looks of it it’s 25-30 people, all between 16 and maybe 24/25, all acting like they’re 12. I don’t want to be associated with that. I don’t think they should be anywhere near our club. Everything I’ve ever done here has been about cutting costs, making things work better, if I cut this, this, and this, that equates to one more player on the pitch. This is one where if I have to divert resources, and it would be a shame to divert resources that should go on players, but I will to get these people out of this club. I will do it.”
LH: “I need the fans onside with this. Don’t wait until Monday morning to say things like ‘oh it was awful’. Even if I don’t have the resources to address it immediately in that game, at least if I know what is going on in that game I can target CCTV in that area. Communication from the fanbase will be really, really, really important. We have to get these people out of our club. It’s a community based club and people are ruining it. It’s home and away. If I can identify them I’m not leaving a stone in turn to get a conviction, and even if I can’t get a conviction I can ban them. John Gerrard is the best football intelligence officer I’ve ever worked with, a really good and fantastic guy, and he has said it is a new group, doesn’t know where they’ve come from. Peterborough away is a great example. There are policing categories of games, A being the lowest category in terms of security, and our game at Peterborough got moved from a Cat A to a Cat C. I don’t want that reputation for our club. We should not be a Cat C game for any other club. We put a message out about fan behaviour a few games ago and it actually got a round of applause, that tells me you guys are as fed up with it as I am.
Josh Scott, head of operations (@QPROperations, firstname.lastname@example.org), said the club had an anonymous reporting text number for five years and it received two texts in that time, one of which was a fan reporting ten men in blue and white making his life miserable (what a club). This is going to be reignited and publicised. JS: “It only gets resolved if it gets reported. We receive an email a week after a game saying the behaviour wasn’t great – why didn’t you tell us on the day? We’ve got a long list of people we’re looking at. There is CCTV around the ground, we’re constantly looking at people we think are misbehaving. Not minor issues, there have been really serious assaults and actions at away games that we don’t want at this club. Any game, home or away, contact me. We want to deal with it. There’s a lot of people in this room saying there’s an issue, but then I’m not hearing a lot of issues from people. I’m not saying you’ll have to tell me people’s names, but tell us when there’s an issue. If you tell me on a matchday there’s an issue, we’ll get the cameras on there.”
- Follow on point about the road blocks, Bloemfontein Road, carnage on Uxbridge Road, fans trapped, Millwall, Luton. Policing away fans… basically. A good question from the floor, which I’ve wondered about myself, and the answers had lots of interesting info I didn’t know. LH: “Outside the ground the police are in command. We have had a chat with the police about communication. People hate being told to do something when they have no idea why. The police are very reluctant to hold fans back because you have all kinds of legal issues about detainment, imprisonment and everything else. I know Millwall do it, but it’s a different local authority.”
JS: “I’ve been at QPR awaydays where you are held back, every time you have that there is a designated space to do that. To do a holdback you have to have available concourse space and external space to do so, we don’t have it. Go to the School upper concourse, it’s one of the tightest concourses in the country. I’d love to tell you we could hold back 1,500 people in there but we’d be refused the safety certificate if we did so. We don’t have the size and lay-out of the stadium to do a hold back. Therefore we try and manage it with the police to take people away from the stadium. There are issues with what happened on the Luton evening, there were supporters blocked from Ellerslie Road at Bloemfontein Road, sent around to South Africa Road and blocked there. We will raise that issue with the police. I heard comments that there were too many police, but then there weren’t enough at the end of the night to deal with the assaults that happened. All the issues the police were dealing with, they didn’t have enough resources to deal with what was happening on Uxbridge Road. That’s because of the behaviour of fans, both QPR and the away side. We’re limited in what we can manage, particularly on holding fans back, Millwall have a separate space to do it. If we had that space we’d do the same. We’ll work to address these issues for the next game, but some of it is about behaviour of supporters. Some of it is about arresting supporters who are involved in this, and that’s where we’re asking you to assist us in this. The more we identify these people, kick them out the club, the less issues we face next time it comes around. We know 100-200 people who will be a risk from the away club, they’re escorted to the stadium, we know where they are, when they’re travelling, when they’re getting here. To do that with 1,500 people when they leave when you have stations at Shepherd’s Bush, White City, there’s not enough police in the world to do it. We do recognise there were issues at Luton we need to address those and make supporters feel safer.”
- There’s a hole in the roof over H Block. This will be looked at, but not before Sunday, so hope it doesn’t rain then.
- The speakers don’t work in the Upper Loft. Can you put the Forever R’s interviews up on the website so people can hear what they said? Yes they can.
- Vaccine Passports. Club have to be flexible and ready to move quickly to act on whatever they’re told to do by this government. Fucking good luck with that lads. If they can’t shag you or deport you I’m not sure you matter really. Like cowering from a horny, racist T-rex.
- Paul Morrissey, usually GamesMaster at these events, got a spray from Chris Hewitt who described the online coverage of the U23, U18 and women’s teams “poor to say the least”. Past results, future fixtures, match reports are missing. Club media outlets are sometimes copying incorrect details about our goalscorers in U18 games at away matches from the home club feeds. PM says he has five people in his media team working six day weeks, first team games often clash with U18 fixtures and where they can’t get student and intern cover they will occasionally take coverage from the home team. Staffing and priorities basically.
- Macauley Bonne’s Jaffa Cake comments. MW: “Players are often interviewed when they’re out on loan, after a game, with emotions running high. I hope very much that certain comments were made in the heat of a moment. Macauley is our player, we’ll do what’s best for QPR absolutely.” No further comment or question on whether a January recall is a possibility.
- A gentleman put his hand up a little after 21.00 asking if it was time to draw the raffle yet. He is my spirit animal. I aspire to be him.
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When Saturday Comes #22 by wessex_exile
It’s the 15th of January, and still the U’s are attempting to play their first home match of 2022. Weather looks good (check), players have returned from injury (check), no on-day Covid testing to get in the way (check), so barring fire famine or flood, I reckon we must have at least a 50:50 chance of a game at the JobServe this afternoon. Whether it’ll be three much-needed points or not, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I at least did see green shoots at the New Lawn on Tuesday. We still lost, and the table doesn’t lie, but definitely signs to encourage me that whilst it’s not going to be a comfortable journey, we’ll be alright by May.
When Saturday Comes #21 by wessex_exile
Here we are then, what should have been the first home game of 2022, and I discover seconds before posting this that the game is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Having gone to the trouble of writing this, even though we’re not playing I’m going to post it anyway – it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do this afternoon.
When Saturday Comes #20 by wessex_exile
Finally, When Saturday Comes…and the U’s (for now at least) have a match to play. Mind you, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so there’s still time yet for yet another Covid/ injury postponement, I guess. I certainly hope not, as I’m planning on heading over to Crawley for this one. Mind you, now that the EFL have decreed there will be no on the day testing to eliminate the possibility of last-minute cancellations, I think I’ll defer buying a train ticket until this evening. Needless to say, a repeat of our last visit to Broadfield (The People’s Pension Stadium under the terms of a sponsorship deal) would do very nicely indeed.
When Saturday Comes #19 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes…and the U’s find themselves fixtureless again, following Hartlepool’s request to postpone the game because of positive Covid tests amongst their squad. To heap further fixture congestion problems on the U’s, in short order Forest Green Rovers did likewise for our already rearranged match at the New Lawn on Tuesday night, and for the same reason. They’re not on their own either, with in all (so far) four Premier League and 19 EFL matches postponed today – all for positive Covid tests in their squads.
When Saturday Comes #18 by wessex_exile
A little later than usual today I’m afraid – ‘tis the season to be jolly and all that, so I have just been out for the obligatory Xmas tree – bah humbug. Mind you, I was treated to the sight of literally hundreds of Santas (and the occasional elf) on a charity fun run through Calne on the way, which for want of a better expression was certainly surreal. Officially entitled Santa’s Scamper, the entry fee for participants goes to charitable causes, and to date the organisers have raised nearly £8k for charities such as Wiltshire Air Ambulance, Dorothy House, Hope for Tomorrow, Barnardos and of course their main charity every year, Hannah’s Trees – well done Santas!
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