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Ephraim on early days, move to QPR, and eclectic string of managers – Interview
Friday, 9th Oct 2020 09:46 by Clive Whittingham

Part one of our catch up with former QPR winger Hogan Ephraim starts with his time at West Ham but quickly gets into the rapidly rotating, ridiculously varied collection of managers he played for at Loftus Road.

LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 16 years and publishing them free-to-view. This year, in addition for the first time, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read it for free below…

Early days

Did you have an old-school youth team upbringing at West Ham, cleaning the senior pro boots and all of that?

I didn’t actually have to do much of that because Alan Pardew had me in the first team squad when I was 15. The hardest part for me was going into the changing rooms with those men - guys who’d been there and done it. I was a Man Utd fan and you’re there in the changing room with Teddy Sheringham, you don’t want to say anything because you’re starstruck but when you get out onto the pitch you have to lose all of that. It was crazy, you leave school where everybody is on the same page, then you have these massive characters who’ve been round the block, great money and great talent, but you aspire to be at that level. It was a great changing room, it brought you up quickly, we had young guys like Nigel Reo-Coker, Anton Ferdinand, Mark Noble who were great characters and you learn from them. Their characters shone through early so I knew I couldn’t just sit in the corner in the background.

I had my first night out after a play-off semi-final. I had two Sambucas and didn’t know what hit me. I was in a bad place. There was another where we had Wigan and Burnley away in the Championship, Saturday Tuesday, and we stayed up there for Sheringham’s birthday. We were allowed out for the birthday but me, Anton Ferdinand and Mark Noble were on a 1am curfew. I was so upset in that taxi going back to the hotel, it was heart-breaking.

What do you remember of your debut, in the cup at Sheff Wed?

I felt a bit aggrieved with the manager because I’d been on the bench in the Prem 15 to 20 times and as we weren’t going anywhere in the league that year I was thinking just bring me on, give me a game. When it came to Sheff Wed at Hillsborough I think I got the last six minutes or so and it was amazing for me. That and QPR at Everton are the two moments that stand out for me. Every young boy wants to be a professional footballer so just stepping on the pitch whether it goes good or bad I can say that I’ve done it. It was the same at Goodison Park when I made my Premier League debut it was something nobody could take away from me. I don’t remember the game too much, we won 4-2, I was trying all sorts, I wanted to get on Soccer AM. It can’t have gone too well as I didn’t get another appearance.

You then get loaned to Colchester who, weirdly, had a very good Championship team at that point. How did that go?

I didn’t know what to expect, all I knew was West Ham. When you’re at a club like West Ham you get treated like royalty and going to Colchester was a nice reality check. The changing rooms at Layer Road were terrible, the training pitches were poor, the standard of food was horrendous, there was a lot to deal with. But it gave me a lot of confidence. Training at West Ham there would be days when I’m not in the top 15 players in training, then I go to Colchester and you’re suddenly one of the best players. You start gaining confidence which came into the matches. Towards the end of the season I had a couple of big games, Stoke away and Palace at home, we were pushing for the play-offs. My phone was ringing straight after that Palace game so I knew I’d made an impression. The guys at Colchester, the coaches there, they were wonderful and I appreciated everything they did for me.

It was Geraint Williams managing with Mick Harford, with Jamie Cureton and Chris Iwelumo up front as two of the top scorers in the league, Kevin Watson in midfield was a good player, Richard Garcia was a good player. It was a really good team and to be honest I’d never even heard of Colchester before I went there, I didn’t know where in the country it was, what league they were in. My agent sold me the dream. I loved it. The front two got about 40 goals between them. We were able to play a bit. Kevin Watson had been around at some good clubs and was a proper footballer and he wanted to get on the ball, he took it from the defence and got us playing so we were a good footballing side. I wouldn’t have got in the team at my age if it had been channel-ball so it worked out well for me. I know it hasn’t worked out for the manager since then but I thought he had a really good philosophy and way of going about things.

The ‘big money’ move

Was it the Mick Harford connection that brought you to QPR the year after?

There were a few clubs interested. Colchester wanted to do it again, Palace were interested. Mick Harford phoned me, the talk went well, I respected him massively from my time at Colchester. John Gregory rang me and said “we’ve got a bunch of players who are 8/10 every week and we just need somebody to add a bit of quality”. I thought I was walking into an unbelievable team. He said: “Lee Cook’s gone, we just need you to come in and do this”. I’ve got there and, no offence to the boys, but there’s no way it was 8/10 every week.

We started the season horrendously. A lot of things needed to change at the time. The culture around the club wasn’t great, people were turning up late regularly, there were a lot of different cliques in the changing room, people were coming in and then gone within six months which isn’t a good way to do it long term. John didn’t have the easiest of jobs, and it didn’t go well for him, but I have a lot of respect for him - I remember him being a great manager when I was young.

We’d actually finished the previous season on a run of wins to secure survival and I do remember there being a fair bit of optimism around that summer with Ben Sahar coming in from Chelsea, Simon Walton, Lee Camp, but we were just awful.

The Bristol City game gave me a bit of hope. I started on the bench and I was looking at Martin Rowlands thinking this guy is Ronaldinho. He was incredible. Even when the results were going badly I’m thinking this guy will help us get out of trouble, Dexter Blackstock will always score goals that will get us out of trouble. But it never happened. You could see in training bits of quality from individuals but it was never a collective, always somebody doing their own stand out thing and it’s hard to translate that into games. In my mind I always believed it would come good. Ben Sahar I’d heard a lot about at Chelsea, hadn’t seen much of him, then I saw him in training, started thinking maybe he’s not going to come good. The Simon Walton injury was a big blow, they had high hopes for him and he was doing well at the time, if he didn’t get that injury a lot could have changed.

Is Mick Harford as scary as he looks?

I can’t speak highly enough of him, I love the guy. I can see why people think he’s terrifying, I’ve been fortunate never to be on the end of an ear bashing from him, in footballing terms he’s almost like a father figure and has been fantastic. He’s the only manager who’s dragged me off after 45 minutes which I wasn’t too pleased with, I thought the relationship was a bit stronger than that Mick, but he’s unbelievable. He’s got a very deep knowledge of football and it doesn’t surprise me the job he’s doing at Luton some of the recruitment that’s going on there. Great guy, great laugh, we’ve had one or two nights out as a team and he’s a fantastic character, really good, honest football man.

If you get dragged at half time by Mick Harford do you have a go or just say ‘ok Mick no worries’?

Do you know I left the stadium. He called me in two days later, said it was a total lack of respect. We were playing Ipswich at home I think, we were 2-0 down at half time and he came in and said “it could be any of you coming off but I’m bringing off Hogan and Quashie”. My thing is I’d rather you come in and dig me out, say I’ve been terrible and I’m coming off, but this felt like an easy way out - if it could be any of us then why is it me? We had a discussion on the Thursday and trained and it was all under the carpet.

With the Flavio Briatore takeover and the bad results John Gregory felt like a dead man walking, was that the impression you all had?

He didn’t give the impression to us that he was gone but you knew from the media outlets it was only a matter of time. You know when there’s a big takeover they’re going to want their own man even when results aren’t as bad as ours were. He would always come across, not in a bad way, quite arrogant. He would never let it be seen that he was under pressure. You feel sorry for any manager when a takeover happens and it’s just non-stop speculation, how can you concentrate on training and getting results?

How was it in training because the club felt like a bit of a mess at that point?

It got really down. There wasn’t much team spirit. One person I have to mention who was fantastic in that bad time was Mark Bosnich. He was a fantastic character, keeping the boys spirits up single handedly. His energy made it easier to come into training. If he hadn’t been there I don’t know how low it could have got. I knew things were wrong with John Gregory when we played Leicester away and drew, then we trained on the Sunday because we had a midweek game and he didn’t come out for training which wasn’t like him, he was always out there wanting to see what was going on. He called me in the office afterwards and we had a talk, he said he was enjoying working with me and knew the club wanted to sign me in the next window, but I got the impression he wouldn’t be around for long.

Do you know I’d completely forgotten Mark Bosnich was ever here. What are the first impressions of Flavio then, was he in and around the place at this point?

He came into the training ground in his helicopter, with his unbelievable wife. It was not easy concentrating on training with all that going on. Just a real outlandish guy. A lot of time people get the wrong impression, I’m not for one minute saying everything he did was great but I do understand when these people go into clubs and pump money in they want to have a say. Are they right to do so? Not if they don’t have the knowledge, but once you pay the money you probably have the right to say what you want. I think he thought it would be a lot easier than it was. I think he underestimated the sport and English football.

It was a tough time but also exciting. He brought in a load of players and while some didn’t work out just seeing the club get linked with these players gives you a boost - you think we can go on to the next level. The carrot of the Premier League is all they can see and they go above and beyond to try and get there but the Championship is such a tough league to get out of, it’s a battle every week and I don’t think he expected that at all. There were players coming in from Fiorentina, Real Madrid, fantastic players who’ve had great careers but throwing in 18-19 year olds from abroad who haven’t played first team football and expect them to take you up to the Premier League… it’s not going to happen.

Luigi De Canio, very popular among the fans, great football, goals all over the place. What was he like for the players?

It was like when you’re at school and the supply teacher comes in and you can get away with murder. No offence to him, he was a great guy, but the training was very boring. I know people say Italian coaches like to do a lot of tactical work but this was another level. We were running from bib to bib, you’d hardly see a ball most of the time. The football was very good at that stage, but I wouldn’t put it down to him with all due respect because nobody was listening. It was a load of new players coming in and freestyling doing their own thing. Agyemang started on fire, Rowan Vine was a very good player and a smart player. It was like being in the playground playing with your friends, some games we won 3-0, some we lost 3-0, there was no plan whatsoever, but it was enjoyable. There weren’t many rules in place, you’d see a load of Nandos on the team coach after an away game, one or two bottles. No discipline whatsoever. I think he enjoyed London a lot, that’s all I’d say.

The story at the time was the senior players were basically running the team, is that how it was?

When he was manager the senior players had a lot of say. One of the things I didn’t like when he was manager was senior players being very close to people upstairs. There would be discussions. I don’t like that. I have a great relationship with Amit, and did so when I was playing, but never in a million years would I think to do text or call Amit about anything that’s going on at the football club. We have a good laugh when we see each other, but we’d never talk about managers doing this or that or players doing this or that. It’s an unwritten rule. I do think that went on with a couple of senior players at the time. That was known in the changing room and caused a bit of division.

To Flavio or Gianni?

Flavio now and then would call six or seven players randomly every six weeks or so to his restaurant. He’d want to talk about why is this not going well, that not going well? He’d get involved sporadically. Gianni was the one where if you had a problem and wanted to make it known you’d pick up the phone any time of the day. Still to this day when I’m watching Sky Sports News and see stories about players talking to sporting directors I’m not a fan of that at all. I can honestly say in six and a half years at QPR I never once had Gianni’s number, Flavio’s number, Bernie’s number. I had Amit’s number, he had to get me into a nightclub one time, that’s the only reason I had that. People from outside the football world are very easily influenced by what the players say, particularly if you’re a decent player as well. If you’re not getting on with the manager you shouldn’t use that to try and get him the sack.

The power’s all with the players now right, down tools for six games and the manager gets the sack.

That’s how it has got in the last ten years or so. It’s not how it should be. Morally as a man and a human you have to have more respect for yourself. Managers will never leave out a player they think could win them a game. I’ve been left out by a load of managers. I would never go and knock on the door and ask why. If they trusted me to win them a game they’d play me. There’s nothing personal in it. Every manager in the world is four games away from being under pressure. They don’t do anything out of spite, I’ve believed that since I was 14/15 and I believe it now. If you’re a player who’s going to win them a game, get them promoted, help them with their CV, they’re going to play you.

So with all of that going on, why sign permanently?

I signed on an emergency loan initially, you could only extend it twice and I went back to West Ham in November. My agent was telling my big things were happening at QPR. Matt Connolly was coming in from the same agency, I knew Matt from playing against him, he was a very good player. I wanted to know who else was coming through the door because we were in a bad place. Back at West Ham, QPR were the talk of the changing room. At the time they were on the back of every newspaper, billionaire owners, West London rich club, players were saying to me “can you get me down there?” I was thinking if they could nick these players off West Ham they’re not doing bad. There was a lot of glamour around it. Flavio underestimated it and, being young, I underestimated it too. Chelsea spent money at that time and became the best team, I thought QPR will spend money and in two or three years they’ll be in Europe. I was 18/19 at the time, I was maybe caught in the lights a bit, but there’s nothing about it I regret at all because I really enjoyed the move.

Was it a money decision?

For me it was big money. Coming through at West Ham my first pro contract was basic terms. My second one was good for that age, though now you’d probably see people in League One on that sort of level. The QPR one was good, but when I found out later on what some of the other boys got I felt I got massively short changed. I know my agent took a lot of players there, I don’t know if he had a nice summer or what. It was good money for me, it was double what I was on at West Ham at the time, but the West Ham contract wasn’t particularly great. It wasn’t like QPR bringing me in on £10k a week, nothing like that. I didn’t see it like that when I went there but when I heard what some of the boys who went there at the same time got, I can’t lie, I did feel short changed.

There was a lot of talk about the club using, shall we say, favoured agents. Did you end up here because of who your agent was?

I believe so, massively. I’d been to Colchester and QPR, played football, and I told my agent I wanted to get out of West Ham. Alan Curbishley was the manager there now and, where I’d always felt like Alan Pardew might put me in at some stage, with Curbishley, although the relationship was fine, I never felt that way. My agent called me one morning and said "the manager is going to call you into the office and say they’ve had some bids for you, tell him you want to think about it and you’ll call him later". Curbishley has called me in, said "we've had three bids from QPR, Palace and Colchester, they’re good bids and you’ve only got six months left on your deal". He told me I wasn’t going to be a regular, I was going to be behind Kieron Dyer and Freddie Ljungberg, but if I wanted to stay then I could have a new three-year deal to stay. I rang him back later that night and said I’d decided to go.

We’ve gone to Crystal Palace and I’m with the player liaison guy from the agency, not the main agent. I went into the office with Neil Warnock, with the player liaison officer outside, and we’ve had a nice chat. He said South London’s a bit far for you, come and live with me and the family. I left there and said I’d let him know. He knew I was going to speak to Colchester later that afternoon then QPR the following morning. Me and the player liaison drive up to Colchester for another meeting, he sits in this time because he knew the Colchester manager. We’re talking, at this stage no figures have been mentioned from West Ham, from Palace, and now from Colchester. On the Thursday I’m going into QPR, and the main agent has called me and said he’s going to meet me there. I never see this guy. I get there and me, him and Gianni are sitting in the canteen. There was no talking about football whereas Neil Warnock and I and Geraint Williams and I were talking about how they saw my career going, what position, how they can get the best out of me. Gianni is there with a contract, I’m there with the player liaison and the main agent, and he just said “this is the one you’re going to sign”. I asked what’s going on with Palace or Colchester, he said “they’re not going to touch this offer”. It was quite overpowering if I’m being honest, I was only 19. I signed the contract.

To this day I don’t know if Palace or West Ham or Colchester would have paid me more. The agent was desperate to get the deal done. You felt under pressure to get the deal done sitting at that table. I didn’t even know where Luigi De Canio was, I never spoke to him about football or where he saw me playing. There was a lot going on where certain agencies were getting a lot of players into the club and that’s not a good thing, I see it with top Premier League clubs at the moment and it doesn’t end well.

Do you regret that?

In one way I regret leaving West Ham because I was being coached every year, learning, learning, learning. I went to QPR and I don’t think I got coached again apart from when Paulo Sousa came in. For a 19-year-old to not be learning is crazy. Then West Ham got into financial trouble and Zola brought through a couple of young boys like Jack Collison and Zavon Hines, so I think I might have got a chance there. But, overall picture, no I don’t regret the decision because it was easily the biggest achievement I ever had winning promotion with QPR and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was just those first early years, and that initial meeting.

Like I say, looking back, I felt a bit short changed, and I don’t know if that’s because the agent was getting so many players in he could maybe say to the sporting director “we can do a deal with this one”. I don’t know how it works. I don’t lose sleep about it, but it did feel pressurised and it didn’t look great to the outside. Neil Warnock mentioned it to me when he arrived, that I’d turned him down, and I think people looked at it and thought I just wanted the money, and the money wasn’t even great. Palace would have paid it.

Hire and fire

You didn’t play much for Iain Dowie, was that injury or was he not having you?

He wasn’t really having me, which was strange because in training he seemed to love me. We got on really well and he’d tell me I was a great player, then on Saturday I didn’t play. Dowie was a great guy, I can’t speak highly enough of him, I’ve done him a massive disservice saying I didn’t get coached.

Then we have Paulo Sousa, what was he like?

He was very blunt, in a good way. I always like to be a little bit fearful with managers. It brings the best out of me as a player and a person when you know no liberties can be taken. You could tell from minute one he knew what he wanted and how he wanted to go about it. The only thing, he loved a meeting. There were so many meetings. We’d come in before training there would be a 20-minute meeting about what we’re going to do in training, after training there’s a 20 minute meeting on how it went. Then an hour meeting on this.

He was an unbelievable guy. He called me into the office early doors and said to me “you’re from London?” I said yeh. He said: “Do you like to go out in London?” I tried to downplay it, say I’m not into all that, I’m in a relationship, I’m calm. He said “Don’t lie to me, it’s Tuesday, you’ve got Wednesday off, I want to know what you do on Tuesday night, I’ll come out and you can show me tonight”. So me, Matteo Alberti and two of his Italian friends have gone out, and Paulo has come out with his assistant manager Bruno. We got him to meet us in TGI Fridays in Leicester Square. We’re getting on it in there, I’m thinking I’ll give him a shot and see if he goes for it. We go to the nightclub, it was the most hip hop nightclub you can think of, Paulo has walked in in a big coat with his hair looking immaculate. It ended up being a crazy night. We had Wednesday off, go in on Thursday, see him straight away in the corridor and he was back to blunt Paulo – “good morning Hogan how are you?” No friendly me and him getting on now, he just wanted the experience of what a Tuesday night out was so I thought I’ll give him the best Tuesday night I’ve got.

And that starts in TGI Fridays does it?

I told you they weren’t paying me too good back then.

I thought you maybe played your best football under him, linking up with Adel, is that fair?

I agree. It was strange, in the first game he played me to the left of a diamond. I came in at half time saying this it was absolute bollocks and not right, he said “it’s not, listen to me this will come good” and the second half was amazing. I got home and somebody said have you seen his press conference? Somebody had asked him about Adel and he’d said don’t forget Hogan, this guy can play for England. We got on well. I loved the position he played me in. The players that were around me, Mikele Leigertwood had strength if I was getting overpowered, Adel on my side I could link up with, Wayne Routledge on the other side with his pace. It worked really well and it’s just a shame the way it transpired.

There was a criticism that the football was too negative – a lot of 0-0 draws – was that wrong?

I understand where it was coming from. What he wanted to do, maybe we let him down. He wanted little one touch triangles, his vision for it was good and we couldn’t implement it, or maybe the Championship at the time wasn’t the place to implement it. I didn’t find it negative to play in, I found it enjoyable. He’d say to me on a Thursday “I only want you at 30% today because you’re going to be our main player in transition, and then on Friday don’t get out of walking pace”. I was buzzing, two days there I don’t have to run. Then on Saturday he’d demand the absolute most. He was very big on transition and when you see teams now like Liverpool, Man City, Pochettino’s Tottenham, that has come to fruition, but they’ve got way better quality of player than we had so maybe that’s why we couldn’t do it.

What was the mood around the place when Dexter Blackstock, our top scorer, went to Nottingham Forest on loan?

The story we heard was Dexter signed a new contract then the end of the month came and his pay was the same as the previous contract. He made a phone call and asked what had happened and they said they hadn’t signed the contract off and it wasn’t going through now. To have somebody waiting around for a month thinking they’ve singed a new deal when they really haven’t is bang out of order. I’d never heard of it before or since. I don’t know whether the chairman decided by himself to revoke it. It’s the club’s money they can do what they want with it but to not tell somebody and then you’re waiting three or four weeks thinking you’ve signed a new deal. It’s disrespectful and unprofessional and they’re two things you don’t want at a football club. We knew Paulo wasn’t happy. Dexter was a massive source of goals and a leader in the dressing room.

With all this going on how was it trying to go out in the relentless Championship fixture list and perform because you’d have been forgiven for not being arsed?

I know what you mean. It could have easily gone that way but in that group we had at the time there was unbelievable spirit between us. To this day the players still speak and meet up for birthdays. We always thought no matter what goes on above us or between the board and the manager that’s not up to us, we just do what we can. We can’t be sliding down this league because that QPR team should have been in the play-offs. All you ask from the people above is respect and honesty and it didn’t happen. We were disappointed to lose Dexter. There were so many people coming in and out it wasn’t a surprise, you could turn up to training any day of the week and it wasn’t a surprise if one of the boys had left.

Is Paladini a problem at this point? He has a poor reputation among QPR fans.

It’s not quite fair. Everything he did he believed it was the best for the club. Some things he was wrong on, some things he was right on, but he always did it with the best intentions. Maybe he was too nice of a guy to the players, and probably let people walk all over him. From the outside it doesn’t look good at all, when you watch The Four Year Plan it looks a shambles. He was a very good character day to day, I have a lot of time for him, a lovely man, but you just knew whatever day he tells you it is believe it’s another day. If he says it’s Tuesday it’s probably Thursday. He had a good heart, but he was a little bit out of his depth.

How were you when Sousa left?

I was fuming. There had been a bit of talk and Paulo wasn’t stupid – he called some of us in and said boys I know a couple of senior players are going to the people above. People had to look at themselves, it’s embarrassing, this guy has played for some of the biggest clubs in the world and for senior players to be going behind his back, we’re going back down that route now, it was crazy. He probably felt he got put out of his misery. He wasn’t enjoying it. He had a core of players he couldn’t trust. He didn’t know what was going on above him. They’d let his star striker leave. It was tough for me. Him and Mark Hughes were the two who gave me proper coaching, treated me like a man. It divided the changing room because you had 15 players who loved him and then six who weren’t fans at all. It’s always the same with footballers, you’re not a fan of a manager if you’re not playing.

Another rumour at the time was that you were seen as a bit of a ‘Sousa loyalist’ and Flavio didn’t like it once he’d sacked him.

I haven’t heard that before but it wouldn’t surprise me. Around that time Gianni came down to the training ground and pulled me, saying a few of the players had told him I was going out too much, my lifestyle wasn’t right…

There are common things people assume about me in football circles, things I’ve heard over the years. The first is I won’t leave London. Second is he’s always going out. Third is he’s gone for the money. On the London thing – I’ve played for Leeds, Peterborough, I’ve played on the other side of the world for Toronto. Leaving London isn’t a problem for me, I’ll go anywhere in the world. When Gianni said that I was upset because every time we did a fitness test on the Tuesday I had the best results, every time there was a pre-season I was the best running and performance wise which is why I got a new contract every pre-season. If I’m out living this lifestyle that I’m supposed to be living, how am I winning all these tests? These players must be terrible professionals and living even worse than me. I knew some players had said it to him, I had an idea who it was in my mind, I just went in the changing room and all the boys were in there and I said straight away I know some of you have said this about me, it’s embarrassing, and I’m going to be here a lot longer than some of youse. I had that confidence. When somebody does me wrong like that, I can be a bit petty.

Are you going to name names for us?

I’m not naming names. There weren’t many senior players there at that time. There were a couple there whose noses got put out of place with new players coming in and their time at the club was visibly up.

Do you enjoy a night out?

Oh 100%. But only if the time is right. If there’s a Saturday Tuesday week you won’t be seeing me out on the Sunday. I’m more professional than that. If there’s a Saturday Saturday game and we’ve had a good result, or even if we haven’t and I want to take my mind off it, I’ll go out and try and have my release. When Gianni said it it hurt me because I’ve never been a crazy party animal, but I like to enjoy myself when the time is right. My stats showed I always came back fit as a fiddle. It was a myth.

It was similar with the London thing, when I went to Leeds Simon Grayson said “Leeds must be a big club because everybody told us you never want to leave London”. I could not care less, in fact get me out of London it’ll save me some money. People make up their own minds, I like to judge people on face value be it managers, owners, players I judge what I see. If one player’s hobby is gambling it’s got nothing to do with me, if he likes to play golf like the Gareth Bale situation it’s nothing to do with me, whatever you want to do in your free time go and do it. If it affects your performance then people have a right to question you.

Jim Magilton next. How was that?

Now I said I like to be fearful of my managers, but he had me shit scared. I was a nervous wreck. This guy was a lunatic. His passion to win was unbelievable, in everything, every training game, everything. The scariest thing in the world, I don’t mind having a bad game and him having a go, but in training if we’re playing seven-a-side and he’s on my team I’m panicking. Great player, technique with the ball was unbelievable, but you’re going around the goalkeeper thinking I’ve got to square this to him or he’s going to rip my head off.

Him and John Gorman did a good job of installing discipline in the team. I knew about his playing career and had a lot of respect for him. This is when I had my ankle injury and went on loan to Leeds because when whatever happened at Vicarage Road happened I wasn’t there, I was in the hotel seeing reports on Sky and making phone calls trying to find out what went on. I think he just lost his head for a moment.

John Gorman’s the opposite isn’t he?

Loveliest guy on planet Earth. You could sit down with John and talk football for four hours. He’d tell you the next 17-year-old coming through in Serie B. His knowledge was unbelievable. Their training was brilliant. Things got a lot better when they came in on a day to day basis - the discipline, the training - but I wasn’t the only one who was scared. There were a few the same, the main two he didn’t see eye to eye with was Kaspars Gorkss and Akos Buszaky, and eventually things boiled over and his time came to an end.

We were so good for that glorious little spell it just all seemed to click.

He was the first manager where I thought we’ve got a chance of going where we want to go. We were pushing for the play-offs, those wins you mention, we looked really good. With those demanding managers it normally takes two or three years for it to become draining and too much so I wouldn’t blame him for that. I’d blame it more on the players because in that short period of time when things had been going well you can’t just turn bad overnight you have to have more mental strength than that.

How was Leeds?
Up there with the worst experiences in football I’ve had. They put me in a hotel in Weatherby, the next youngest person there was early 60s, there were 11 of us in there, it was freezing cold. The assistant there had been one of Alan Curbishley’s coach and he said “are you still a rapid winger”, I was thinking I’ve never been rapid in my life it’s the biggest myth in football. I did a month there, first game went really well, then I got a goal and assist in a cup game against Accrington, but boredom kicked in really quickly for me. I was alone in the hotel, the team spirit wasn’t really there, there just weren’t people with matching personalities there. Maybe I did want to come back to London on that occasion. There had been a couple of Championship clubs interested but the chance to go and play for a massive club like that, even though they were League One, wasn’t something I could turn down.

You come back in January and there’s a 5-0 loss to Forest, a 1-0 at Peterborough with six loans in charge, Paul Hart, Mick Harford again. Describe what you walked back into.

It was an absolute shambles. I went back and Paul Hart was manager for another ten days or so. Nice guy to be fair, but his football was poor. It was really bad. I’m sure if I spoke to him now and asked him about it he’d say that’s what he had to work with, but the football was bad. I remember we had training at the stadium and it was first team against the rest. His thing was if we get a throw the nearest player to it had to run, don’t even look, just throw it as far and as long down the line as you possibly can. Free kicks, whoever gets fouled spots it, nearest one behind them immediately launch it. I’m thinking this can’t be right. We’re playing this training game, there was a young lad playing, Joe, and the ball goes out for a throw in, he picks it up and Paul Hart is just screaming “throw it, throw it, fucking throw it”, he throws it straight to our team and we go and score. Paul Hart says “brilliant”. I couldn’t believe it, he’s thrown it straight to us and we’ve scored within two passes. Joe didn’t know if he was coming or going. The football was terrible. He didn’t last long. He wasn’t enjoying it. That was tough.

It was strange because he’s known for good work in the academy at Charlton and elsewhere. I remember playing their academy teams when I was young and they were always good footballing side. Maybe he’d blame it on the players and we just weren’t a good footballing side. The football was horrendous. I was worried coming back from Leeds because QPR had actually won at the weekend against Bristol City and I was talking to my agent, a new agent at this point, and he said it was the first time I’ve ever seen QPR booed off after winning a home game. It was that bad.

With Mick going back in charge, the issue was he had a friendly relationship with the players and that doesn’t always work well. He looks like the hard guy and he is when he wants to be, but for me he’s the perfect assistant manager. He can be the good cop and let somebody else play bad cop. That was unfortunate because I would have loved things to go well for him.

First impressions of Neil Warnock?

Other people who’d played under him told me the first day would be an eye opener. We’ve gone in and had a meeting, straight away he’s thrown in that I turned him down at Crystal Palace, I was like please don’t hold that against me. He said boys we’re going to do home kit v away kit, 11 v 11, shin pads on, we’re going for it. This was two or three days before a game, tackles are flying in there’s all sorts going on. I prefer training like that anyway but it was about making an impression. Myself, Adel especially, and Ale made a good impression and he put us in the team. Adel and I hadn’t been in the team, Ale wasn’t happy because he was having to play next to Nigel Quashie at the time who was an amazing guy and had a great career but his mobility wasn’t there at that point.

Warnock came in, lifted it, stripped it back to basics, and that’s what you need. People these days go crazy about philosophies, style of play, sometimes you need it back to basics and to man manage players and that’s what he did perfectly. I was going up for headers with Kaspars Gorkss, at one point I won a tackle and he’s loving it on the touchline, next minute I score a worldie and he didn’t say a word, so I thought I better just keep on tackling people here.

People underestimate him and say he’s a back to front manager. His time with us it was anything but. Some of the players he’s managed in his career and the football he’s got out of them – Zaha at Palace, players like that – he likes it played the right way. He came into a fire fighting job at QPR, we could easily have gone down, and he just tried to get the best out of the players he had. He quickly saw the best player by far was Adel, then you had Ale Faurlin who was the best midfielder in the league. He understood it wouldn’t be back to front with those two, we’re going to play football, and he was adaptable. I like my managers to be like that, I don’t think what you want to do should be set in stone.

I’ll tell you one story though. I can’t remember who were playing, we had a game on the Saturday and he named the team on the Friday. Anyway he came in on the Saturday, usually he was lively and bubbly, but he called out Kaspars Gorkss who was meant to be starting. Kaspars came back in looking as depressed as hell and he’d been dropped for Danny Shittu. Turns out Warnock’s wife had a dream the night before about Kaspars having a nightmare so he didn’t want to start him. That’s the first and last time I’ve ever heard of that.

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