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Donnelly's off
at 20:30 7 Dec 2018

How will we cope?

Can QPR recover from a history of blunders?
at 09:12 27 Aug 2018

Good article by Iain Macintosh of ESPN, researched down at the Crown and Sceptre.
How Jim Smith’s 3-5-2 revolution at QPR altered the face of English football
at 20:34 10 Sep 2017

Interesting article in The Guardian, especially considering our formation discussions of late.

How Jim Smith’s 3-5-2 revolution at QPR altered the face of English football

For more than 20 years, managers had stuck with the rigid 4-4-2 system favoured by Alf Ramsey. But that all changed when the ‘Bald Eagle’ guided the London club to the top of the table

Bob Yule
Monday 8 September 2014 13.53 BST Last modified on Monday 20 February 2017 13.39 GMT

The following is an extract from Bob Yule’s article from Issue Five of the Blizzard. The Blizzard is a quarterly football journal available from on a pay-what-you-like basis in print and digital formats.

15 August 1987, Upton Park. West Ham v QPR on the opening Saturday of the season. West Ham had finished 15th in the First Division the previous season and QPR 16th; no one expected much more than the usual rough and tumble of a London derby. And yet a significant piece of English football history was about to be made.

QPR lined up in a 3-5-2 system, with wing-backs, two man-to-man markers in central defence and a sweeper. It was the first time a major club side in England had opted for the formation as a first-choice strategy and, perhaps more significantly, it worked. QPR won 3-0, and went on to win six and draw one of their opening seven games. In a world that had been dominated by 4-4-2 since the 1960s, this was a radical departure and it took QPR to the top of the league.

“I first got the idea from watching European football on the TV, particularly the Germans,” said QPR’s manager, Jim Smith, who was already 18 years into his eventful management career. “I thought it was a great way to play.”

When I asked whether he went over to Germany to watch matches or consult with other managers, he laughed. “At Oxford, they couldn’t afford to send you to Carlisle,” he said. It was when he’d been manager of Oxford United in the early eighties, though, that he first tried playing with three at the back.

“In particular games,” he said, “when we were in trouble and needed a goal, we’d go three at the back, and push another man up into the attack to go 3-4-3. I can remember some games where it helped us to get a draw from a defeat, or a win from a draw.” Before he left for QPR in 1985, Oxford gained successive promotions from the Third Division to the First. Smith doesn’t believe the system was particularly significant in their success, as they only used it on half a dozen occasions, but he’d become convinced of its usefulness.

After finishing 13th and 16th in his first two seasons at QPR, Smith decided to take the plunge. “At the time, in England, there was such a lot of hostility about a sweeper system,” he said. “I told my coach, Peter Shreeves, and the players that I wanted to go to a three, and they didn’t like the idea at all. I had to promise that we’d go back to a four if it didn’t work.”

Before the opening league game, Smith was very aware that the new formation was unlikely to survive a defeat. He got lucky. “In pre-season, I’d bought Paul Parker from Fulham as a wing-back, but I got a bit worried because West Ham had Cottee up front, who was very fast,” he said. “Parker had a lot of pace and I decided to use him as my marker instead. It turned out that he was ideally suited to the position. That game was the making of him, really, and he went on to become an England player.”

Behind Parker and the solid Alan McDonald, Smith used Terry Fenwick as his sweeper. “He was a leader and organiser, and loved that position. It’s also important in the system that you have defenders who don’t mind going wide, to help the wing-back if necessary. Most centre-backs don’t like it, but Fenwick and Parker were comfortable.”

Success bred confidence, and although they were knocked off the top by a 4-0 defeat at Anfield, Rangers maintained their form and finished the season fifth. Bewildered teams struggled to contain their wing-backs, although as the season progressed, other managers gradually developed a counter-strategy. “They’d use wingers to double up on the wing-back,” Smith explained. “If you’re on top of your game, one of the three can go across to help, and the other full-back just tucks in. The problem was, we weren’t a major club and we didn’t have a large squad, and a difficulty of the system is that you need players who are familiar with it for it to work. That’s why, later on at Derby, I got the reserve team and the youth team to play 3-5-2 as well.”

Imitators quickly followed, although, somewhat to Smith’s exasperation, mainly among clubs who were struggling. “Our goals against was very good, so many teams saw it as a way of staying in the First Division,” he said. “I always played it as an attacking system, but they’d often end up with a five at the back, which I’ve never liked, because when you get the ball, there’s no-one to pass to.” Nevertheless, Smith’s experiment was a breakthrough, if only because he had demonstrated that British players did not have to be confined to 4-4-2 or its close variants. Two years later, Bobby Robson’s successful use of 3-5-2 in the 1990 World Cup was the final endorsement.

The system has gone in and out of fashion since. Smith believed that it should be used more widely, and felt that the conservatism and caution of many English players was an obstacle. “Many of our defenders are very reluctant to try anything except what they’ve already been taught,” he said. “They also like 4-4-2 because they have people around them. Full-backs want their winger to help them out and centre-backs don’t want a sweeper behind them, they want him alongside. You need the right players who can deal with one-v-ones.”

Smith admitted that the system is harder to coach because defenders need to make more decisions for themselves on the pitch and are less reliant on a pre-set structure. Fluidity comes at a price and particularly in that most exposed position of all, the sweeper. He sometimes had to import players from abroad who were more familiar with the role, such as Taribo West at Derby. For Smith, fluidity was key to any formation and, perhaps not surprisingly, he has admiration for Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal and Louis van Gaal’s Ajax.

When Jim Smith made the change from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2, he was not just replacing one set of lines with another, he was drawing his full-backs and sweeper away from any defensive or midfield line. Effectively, he was challenging the whole team to stop thinking in terms of lines and to improvise to a much greater degree. Those who didn’t grasp this drifted into a straight back five. The extra emphasis on improvisation also demanded that players retain possession and pass accurately on the ground, rather than hit the ball hopefully into space.

Although the 3-5-2 formation did not take a lasting hold on the English game, there is now far greater flexibility, far fewer teams reliant on a basic 4-4-2. Four at the back may have remained, but attacking formations have become more fluid. It is tempting to trace this trend back to the quiet revolution that Jim Smith began all those years ago, when he challenged his players to take the initiative and absorb new ideas.

I asked Smith if there were any reason he had been the first to take the risk, but he could offer no explanation. “You just study formations and systems, and try them out,” he said. It was in his nature as a manager to look outward and not inward, forward and not backward. It was also always evident that Smith loved football management, and to love management you must relish the tricky decision. Smith’s appetite for the bold stroke, the choice of player or formation that would give his team an unexpected advantage, was clear. In his career, he was always prepared to take risks.

There is usually a gap between the hopes of the dreamer who loves to see football at its most vibrant, and the view of the professional who must make things happen within the harsher realities of an imperfect world in which the sack is always waiting. Smith, though, managed better than most to reconcile his vision with the reality. When he cajoled his players at QPR into sharing his vision, they would have experienced him not as an unrealistic theoretician, but as a man who talked their language and who could handle their doubts.

Smith was successful, but not lucky in his career. He turned several moderate sides into good ones, but was never given the chance to turn a good side into a great one. But even if fate denied him the major opportunities and the major prizes, perhaps we can at least offer this genial Yorkshireman the recognition he deserves as a major innovator in the English game.

[Post edited 10 Sep 2017 20:37]
at 21:45 1 Aug 2017

This is about more than just a reminder that the start of the new season will be greeted with a new edition, although issue 327 will be available on Saturday.

Dave has spent his summer uploading sections of the more recent issues and a selection of other random articles onto the internet giving everybody the opportunity to while away a few hours in the company of some fabulous articles by Clive and Dave Barton among others. Enjoy.

Scooter Insurance Scam
at 19:26 14 Jul 2017

I had this pointed out to me today. While this idiot failed miserably, others have probably already succeeded with this. Unbelievable.

Stan Bowles Benefit match - tickets on sale on Monday
at 06:36 8 Jun 2017

Tickets set to go on sale for Stan Bowles benefit match hosted by Queens Park Rangers

Tickets for July 29 clash with Bournemouth on sale from Monday

Preparations continue to take place at Loftus Road as Queens Park Rangers gear up to host Premier League side Bournemouth in a benefit match for legendary winger Stan Bowles on July 29.

The now 68-year-old became a firm fan favourite during the 1970s during a seven-year stint with the Rs that yielded almost 100 league goals.

However, Bowles, who will be in attendance for the match, is now sadly suffering from Alzheimer’s.

All QPR’s net proceeds from all ticket sales for the clash will go to a newly-launched ex-players’ foundation, of which Bowles will be the first beneficiary.

The funds raised by the foundation will go towards Bowles’ medical assistance, physical and pastoral care, and other requirements, and in future other former Rs personnel.

Tickets for the clash go on sale at 10am on Monday, with adults and seniors £12 and under-18s £6.

The Just for Stan committee, who are working alongside QPR in organising the match, told the club website: “We thought long and hard about ticket pricing for this fixture.

“Fans that were canvassed suggested that £20 would be a fair price but the Gift Aid route is more beneficial from a tax viewpoint.

“We invite supporters to make a healthy contribution to the fund via the Gift Aid route to get us to at least the £20 entrance fee and hopefully well beyond that to show our support for Stan.”

For more information about the Just for Stan committee, visit

Old Oak Update
at 20:18 20 May 2017

A team led by Aecom with Asif Khan, BIG, MaccreanorLavington and WilkinsonEyre has won the contest to masterplan the £26bn redevelopment of London’s Old Oak Common.

The consortium, which also includes Bilfinger, GVA, Fluid, PBA, Spacehub and East, saw off six other heavyweight teams to land the lead design role on the 140 ha regeneration project, CN’s sister title Architects’ Journal revealed.

The Old Oak development, which will be the only place where Crossrail and HS2 intersect, is expected to deliver around 24,000 new homes and 55,000 jobs.

Among the bidders to lose out on the prestigious job were Allies & Morrison, Grimshaw, HawkinsBrown, Arup, Farrells with Heatherwick Studio, and Karakusevic Carson with 5th Studio.

Tendered by Transport for London on behalf of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), the £3m contract asked for a “bold” but “deliverable” redevelopment programme which would “establish a new benchmark for successful long-term placemaking” in the area.

Around 70 per cent of the land — currently mostly factories and railway sidings — is publicly owned and will be transferred to the OPDC in the coming years.

PLP Architecture with Arup and West 8 has already drawn up a masterplan for the regeneration zone’s largest private landowner, Cargiant.

The 18 ha scheme, dubbed Old Oak Park and backed by development partner London & Regional Properties, will deliver 7,000 homes, a cultural quarter, schools and parks.

Old Oak Common’s centrepiece will be a new High Speed 2 and Crossrail interchange station which is planned to open in 2026.

A design competition for the station and three other key HS2 stops is set to be launched later this year.

Preliminary talks between the Science Museum and Natural History Museum over a potential Old Oak Common outpost also raised hopes of a future design competition earlier this year.

The Aecom team will now be asked to draw up a “commercially viable and technically deliverable vision” based on the area’s existing Opportunity Area Planning Framework and draft Local Plan.

The team will eventually secure outline planning permission for the area and deliver development briefs for key sites, creating a clear context for neighbouring developers and landowners.

The preferred design “option for refinement [and] first draft strategies” are expected to be released in early 2018.

In March, former BPI chief Liz Peace was annouced as ODPC’s new chair.
Terry Venables, England’s best living coach?
at 21:20 2 Apr 2017

I was really pleased to stumble across this article from The Times on Terry Venables. I'd not heard anything about him for so long I was starting to worry about his health - totally unnecessarily thankfully. As for the question in the title as to whether he is England's best living coach - yes, by a country mile. Venables, the footballer, is the reason I support QPR.

They call it La Escondida, the hideaway. It is hidden away from the Costa Blanca, up in the mountains, amid the olive groves. It is here, in the tranquillity of the Spanish countryside, that Terry Venables has found his oasis – the furthest thing he can imagine from the stresses and strains of managing England.

A retirement home? Hardly. Venables and his wife, Yvette, run a boutique hotel – Michelin-trained head chef and all. “We’re non-stop out here,” she says. “It’s morning to night, non-stop, no let-up. It’s not easy.”

So who does what? “She’s the Basil Fawlty role,” he says with a guffaw. “I’m front of house. I walk around, have a chat to people. I like it. It keeps me busy, keeps me engaged. If you want to keep going on, you’ve got to keep fit, stay busy.”

Yvette laughs at the mention of fitness. “Hang on,” she says. “We’ve got two swimming pools and you’ve never been in either of them.”

“Well, no,” he smiles. “But my health is good. You never like to say that, because I could fall off the mountain tomorrow, but I’m fit, I’m well. I feel like this is my third life. First life playing, second life managing. What do you do about the third? This is a nice existence. Busy, but nice.”

Venables turned 74 in January. Almost a decade has passed since his final job in football, as England assistant manager under Steve McClaren, but even here, in this idyllic setting, he admits he gets pangs from time to time. He says he was unexpectedly approached about a job recently – a good one, coach of one of the leading African nations, though he would prefer not to say which – and that, while his initial response was that it would be incompatible with his responsibilities, they have remained quite persistent.

Was he tempted? “I was, actually,” he says. “I believe I could still do it. Really, I do. Football has always been what I do. I watch matches now and I think, ‘If they only they would do this . . . Wouldn’t it be good to try that?’ There are so many possibilities in football.”

Venables was always a deep thinker about the game. His mind was opened during what felt like English football’s period of enlightenment in the 1960s, gathering at Cassettari’s, a greasy-spoon café around the corner from Upton Park. It was there, over egg and chips, that figures such as Malcolm Allison, Dave Sexton and John Bond would sit and discuss the latest tactical trends across Europe and how they might work in the English game. “That was exactly it,” Venables says, “moving the salt and pepper pots around the table with Malcolm Allison holding court.

“That was always the challenge for me as a manager, wherever I went in the world. I always had to work out the way to get the best out of that group of players. Sometimes I would be thinking, ‘Crikey, I still don’t know what the team is like yet’, and I would be going through the videos and then suddenly I would shout ‘Yippee!’ and say to Yvette, ‘I’ve got it. I’ve got it. I know where we need to go to and what need to do to get there.’ ”

A classic example would be his experience at Euro ’96, where he urged his England team to cast off its tactical straitjacket and to embrace different systems; he had started, two years earlier, with an unfamiliar “Christmas tree” formation and ended up progressing, via 4-3-3, to the least conventional type of 4-4-2 and of course 3-5-2, deploying three central defenders, as indeed Gareth Southgate, one of his players at that tournament, now the England manager, did against Germany on Wednesday night.

“Great lad, Gareth,” Venables says. “He’s sensible, intelligent. I used to pick him out for things in training. I wanted him to add to what he was able to do. He liked to carry the ball out of defence, but when he first came into the squad, he would do it too quickly. I said to him, ‘You’re going so quickly, in a straight line, that you look like you’re running down a hill after the ball. You’re going so quick, you’re actually helping the opposition.’

“We worked out that if he did it another way, slowing it down, drawing the opposition towards him, making a half-turn, he could make a real difference to our attacking play.”

A wistful look comes over Venables as he casts his mind back to Euro ’96. “It was the most beautiful summer,” he says. “The football that we played, against Holland, against Germany, it was amazing. The feeling we had at Wembley, it was beautiful. We beat Holland 4-1, but we were just as good against Germany in the semi-final. We did everything but score the winner. Extra-time, I can still see it now . . . ”

Paul Gascoigne sliding in, a stud’s length from scoring the “golden goal” that would have taken England to the final? “That’s the one,” he said. “Gazza, my lovely boy. He deserved to score, but it wasn’t to be. And then penalties and . . . Gareth missed one, the bugger. No, I’m joking. It was hard on him. Anyone could miss a penalty. It speaks volumes for him that he was willing to take it when others were too nervous to take one. But . . . penalties again. Same as the European Cup final [in 1986 when his Barcelona team lost to Steaua Bucharest].” He puts on his Marlon Brando voice. “I coulda been a contender, Charlie.”

He is laughing. “But as everyone always says to me, ‘Behind that mask . . . ,’ ” he says. “I tell them, ‘Well just take the mask away and see what you’ve got.’ ”

Venables believes Southgate, whom he also coached at Middlesbrough, will do a “really, really good job” as England manager, but to make a real success of the job would be to buck a trend dating back to 1966 – or even further, as Venables sees it.

“We have had fantastic individual players in England,” he says. “Go back to 1950. Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, all those great players went to Brazil for the World Cup and they got beaten [by the United States]. You go from the 1950s right the way through, all those fantastic players, and with the exception of one tournament, they couldn’t win for England.”

Why? “My feeling is that too often they wanted to be individual players, just like they were when they were kids with mum and dad watching,” he says. “When they went back to their clubs, they wanted to show, ‘Look, I’m a player. I’m a star.’ Well, as I see it, you don’t get ‘stars’ in football. You get people who win and who deserve it because they do it – above all else – with each other. I can’t stand when people want to be the individual. You do that and all you’re doing is letting everyone down.”

He is not naming names or even referring to one generation – for example the one that, under McClaren and himself, failed to reach Euro 2008 – rather than another. He believes it has been a common thread in English football history, which is damning. Rather than claim credit for finding a system in which individualism was curbed in 1996, he suggests the greatest strength of that squad was the personalities involved. He reels them off. “Seaman, Neville, Southgate, Adams, Pearce, Gascoigne, Ince, Anderton, Platt, McManaman, Shearer, Sheringham . . .” he says. “That team had leaders. Inner strength. Smart leaders, too. And they’re like gold dust.

“I watch football with people and they’ll say to me, ‘Cor, look at him. He’s a good player.’ ‘Who? Him? No he’s not.’ ‘Look at him, he’s dribbling around. He’s a really good player.’ ‘No he’s not going anywhere. He’s just enjoying himself.’ I’m not chiding anyone here, but the thing is that any player can look good on the ball when the pressure’s off. Anyone can play football over the park. You need to be able to do it under pressure. That’s where you need your strong personalities, your leaders, your players who can spot when one of their team-mates is struggling and who can paddle even harder to get that guy through.”

Recent England teams have invariably lacked that quality. When up that creek, they have often found themselves without a paddle. Venables was watching at his London home, aghast, as England disintegrated at the hands of Iceland at Euro 2016. “You could see it just slipping away,” he says. “No disrespect to Iceland, but they were what we used to call hammer-throwers, weren’t they? But they did it. They stopped our players. Credit to them. They did really well.”

Other England managers have talked about a culture of fear. “That has always been a problem,” he says. “Can you take the pressure? That’s where you need your leaders, your strong personalities. It’s not just about clenching your fist and giving people a bollocking, although you need your players who can do that. It’s about being strong enough to play under pressure and to get on the ball and pass it, pass it, pass it. Not everyone is. But if you get that right, if you’ve got the players who will do that, you won’t be too far away, my son. That’s what we had in Euro ’96. We didn’t have that fear.”

We keep coming back to the summer of 1996. It is a constant reference point for Venables – inevitably so. He wishes he had had more than one tournament as England manager, wishes he had been able to take that young squad to the ’98 World Cup, by which time David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen were also on the scene. “I was pleased to get the chance to do what I did, but, yeah, it would have been nice, all those young players coming through,” he says.

Venables never saw eye to eye with the FA hierarchy. He felt that Noel White and Peter Swales, on the international committee, were always against him. He is unwilling to go over that old ground – or to revisit the subject of Alan Sugar, with whom he clashed so disastrously and so publicly during their time at Tottenham Hotspur. He rejects the suggestion that he had fingers in too many pies, that his interests in the business side of the game, even working in an executive role at QPR early in his managerial career, became a distraction from his true vocation. “Coaching was what I did,” he says.

These days, despite certain pangs for the touchline, La Escondida is what he does. He loves it. Alan Shearer came out to stay while filming a BBC documentary last year. “When I came here, I tried to see if I could get Gazza to come and stay for a few days,” Venables says. “We’ve spoken on the phone from time to time. He was a wonderful player, the most fantastic player – with all the problems that he had – that I’ve ever seen. I still love him. I could just see him out here, you know, kicking stones down the road . . .”

Venables smiles once more. Whatever those slight regrets, life is great. He “coulda been a contender”, he feels, but he took England an awful lot closer to glory than any man alive.

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