Ephraim on promotion, Hughes, Redknapp… and Bond – Interview
Friday, 9th Oct 2020 09:49 by Clive Whittingham
The second part of our Patreon catch up with Hogan Ephraim goes in depth on the Neil Warnock promotion season, and all the horrors that came the club’s way after that.
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…
Read part one by clicking here.
Initially Neil Warnock brings a lot of his old favourites in, how was that summer?
I wasn’t too impressed when the signings were made initially, but then they started training. Somebody like Shaun Derry you don’t appreciate how good a player he is until you play with him. He’s a proper player, he’s not just there to break it up, he can move the ball, he’s a leader, he gave the team exactly what it needed and was an ideal partner for Ale Faurlin. Clint Hill as well, what a guy, character and player. He was somebody I’d played against at Palace and thought I had a decent game against so I thought I had his number, it didn’t take many training sessions for me to go over to the other side. Mackie I hadn’t seen much of but he came in with an unbelievable personality, got the place up, started absolutely on fire, pace and power, and his finishing was massively underrated - we’d do finishing drills and he was always in the top two. Paddy Kenny, great guy, moved in as my next door neighbour so we’d go into training together. That summer when we went down to Plymouth the team spirit really, really built. We had senior players who knew when the team needed lifting, knew when the team needed settling down, it was brilliant. Those signings were a masterstroke. I wasn’t enthused at the time but that’s why Warnock is the manager he is, his vision for it was perfect.
Is that pre-season trip all about team spirit because I can’t imagine you get much out of beating up Bodmin Town 13-0?
It was quite basic. The first week would be running - a 400m track that you have to do in less than 60 seconds. You’d do three in the morning and three in the afternoon, and you’d do that every day for seven days. After that it was just football work. I loved it because once you had those three one-minute runs out the way in the morning, then again in the afternoon, it’s just that for seven days and then we’re done. It’s better than being two weeks in and still doing bleep tests. You couldn’t argue with it, we started well, we started on fire in the Championship. The Plymouth trip didn’t have great facilities, we were staying in dorms while he was in his lovely house, but the players were connected and it was as close as I’d seen a QPR squad at that stage.
Living next door to Paddy Kenny must have been lively?
Did you get the feeling pre-season that we’d do well?
It was more hopeful. I didn’t expect us to go up. We were playing great football, we had momentum and confidence, but still more helpful. The day I realised was Ipswich away, on a Tuesday, Kyle Walker’s debut. I was rooming with Patrick Agyemang, up there during the day, and I didn’t want to say it to Pat at the time but the way football had gone for me to that point was you win at home and lose away. When we went and beat Ipswich 3-0, a place I’m used to getting smashed, going up to Sheff Utd and doing them 3-0, I started to think ‘whoa hold on a minute there’s something seriously going on here’. These were big clubs, with good teams, and we were just putting them to the sword - the Sheff Utd game was done in 20 minutes, Ipswich was done in 60 minutes, with loads to spare. You see Jamie Mackie on a hot streak and you start thinking this isn’t going to stop.
A massive point in that season was the game away at Derby, just before the international break. We were 2-0 down going into the 90th minute and ended up drawing 2-2. We got battered that day, hadn’t had a kick, and when you can go there and do that that spirit builds up massively. Confidence and momentum are the most important things, once you have that you’re difficult to stop.
Can we stop and talk about Kyle Walker for a moment, just how good…
Amazing. Bradley Orr was another Warnock brought in who was a brilliant player, another I wasn’t expecting to be as good as he was because I’d roasted him a few times at Bristol City, but he came in, great lad as well, but then got injured and Kyle came in. I hadn’t seen or heard much of him. What a player. Still to this day I tell people, I hold Adel in the highest of regard I’m his biggest fan, but for me while Kyle was at QPR he was our best attacking player. He’s gone on to become one of the best right backs we’ve seen over the last ten years. He’d be in my Premier League all time 11.
At QPR he came in, amazing attitude, ability out of this world, pace and power unquestionable. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody with that physical side to their game and he was only a young boy. I remember him coming into the physio room one morning and saying Tottenham want to take me back and send me to Aston Villa on loan. He didn’t want to do it, and I knew it would be a major loss to us, but I said you’ve got to do it. He said “nah I’m enjoying it here, we’re going to get promoted,” But I told him we’ve got Bradley Orr coming back who’s brilliant, you’re going to be in the England squad the minute you play in the Premier League you’re that good, this is too easy for you. It was like a Year 11 playing against Year 7s. I love how it’s worked out for him, and we got Bradley Orr back in he was great for us. I used to hate it in training when I was playing on the left against Kyle Walker, Warnock used to pull me and ask why I kept popping up on the right – I’m saying “are you not seeing the same player I am that I’m up against. This guy is a nightmare.” A beast. People say he’s not good defensively, I disagree. He’s got everything. Technically brilliant, defensively brilliant, going forwards on another planet. He was only there three months but his impact was brilliant.
He made our team of the decade off that three months.
Do you know what I got a phone call about that from Danny Simpson who was not happy at all. We speak most days and he told me this team was coming out and thought he would be up there with Bradley Orr. When Kyle got in the team he was fuming because he was only there for three months.
Is it as banal as ‘one game at a time’ as they always say in the interviews or are you looking ahead, planning ahead, working it out as a team?
It’s never one game at a time. Your focus is always the next game, but you’re always looking at the scenario. There were times at QPR we knew we were in a relegation battle with 15 games to go. We’re not stupid enough to think we’re going to go to Forest or Swansea and win 3-0 3-0, we know if we get two points out of that it’s massive. In the promotion season when it got to 12-15 games unbeaten I started to think we weren’t going to lose at all, we looked unbelievable. Maybe we took our eye off the prize that’s why we lost the nineteenth. The game I knew we were up was the 1-0 win away at Barnsley when Adel scored after 45 seconds. That game showed everything. His individual quality to score the goal was amazing, then we got absolutely battered for the rest of the game and we dug in because we knew how big it was on the back of an embarrassing 4-1 loss at Scunthorpe that was quite a shock. I thought at that point we’re going up.
Mentioning Scunthorpe makes me realise we’ve skipped over your starring role in the Four Year Plan. Was that fairly typical or did the cameras just happen to be filming then?
That’s the only time I get angry, football really gets to me. That was around the time we’d lost the Ipswich game and for them to be coming to Loftus Road and rolling us over, Scunthorpe coming and winning 1-0 by far the better team, was unacceptable. I am loud and vocal in the dressing room. You forget the cameras are there because they’re there all day every day. There was another occasion a couple of days before Mark Hughes got sacked. I wasn’t even playing but he called a meeting and I had to have my say. The players just know that’s my personality. I don’t like to dig out individuals unless they’re throwing the towel in, but that’s the way I am. It might be the players I was around growing up. As a youngster I was always mouthing off at the referee, I can’t stand it when it’s not going well for my team. It’s one of the reasons I finished football.
Three of the six games we did lose came over Christmas, were we wobbling then?
Never at any stage did I think we would blow it. When you have Adel in that sort of form you’ll win games. There’s never been a player ever to have a season like that in the Championship. You go into games and just believe. Then there were others on top of their game, Jamie Mackie was immense, Ale Faurlin was sensational, Paddy, Fitz Hall, Clint Hill, top players. Maybe with previous QPR dressing rooms those results over Christmas would have caused a little wobble up, but the signings Warnock made that summer those boys stuck to the plan. We’d always look at six game blocks as a minimum of 12 points - two points a game gives you 92 points over the course of the season and that’s promoted.
You scored a lovely goal against Middlesbrough at the Loft End off an Adel assist. Indulge me, what’s that like, at that end of the ground, scoring a goal like that?
The thing with Adel is you don’t need to call for the ball. You get the eye contact, you know he’s seen what you’ve seen. I’ve made a run between the full back and centre half which is something, looking back, I should have worked on a lot more in my career. My volleying technique is good so as Adel’s played the ball then it’s about concentration. He’s whipped it in it’s gone flying off my foot and the whole Loft End is going crazy. You lose your mind. Look at the replay, it’s Adel and me talking on such a high, and Shaun Derry going crazy at us to concentrate, concentrate, go again, go again.
Those senior players had us perfectly managed. It was the main reason behind the success, any little blip things didn’t get too long, or when things were going well and a great goal was scored they never let anybody get too high. If they weren’t there Adel and I probably would have spent the rest of the game trying to have a showboat competition – which I’m sure he would have won.
Games like that you never want them to end. Middlesbrough weren’t an easy team but we ended up having to play Peter Ramage up front because his cruciate had gone and even he nearly got an assist, played me in with his cruciate gone and I whipped one in from the left and it hit the crossbar. If that had gone in I don’t think they’d have been able to get me out of Loftus Road that day.
Wayne Routledge that January, great signing at the perfect time.
What a player. Arguably the most underrated player I’ve ever played with. So intelligent. You could play him right, left, in behind as a ten. He’s not just a little whippet, he’s got a great brain on him. Similar to Adel in that once you’ve made eye contact you know he can find the pass. The first day he came into QPR for his first spell we got on so well straight away, we were roommates, we’d go out for dinner two or three times a week. When we lost Mackie we needed somebody big to step up because what he’d done was unbelievable, he came in and was perfect. He didn’t get as many goals as Mackie but the effect he had on games, the assists he would get… When you have players like him and Adel in your team you believe you’re going to score two goals a game and if you do that every game you’re not going to be too far off it.
The shame is he’s always been so desperate to stay at QPR permanently. We had the same agent and I’ve been there when he’s been making phone call after phone call to the agent or Gianni just saying ‘I want to be at QPR, get it done, get it done’. I know he’s done a big stint at Swansea and loved his time down there but I think if you asked him privately he would have wished to do that stint at QPR.
A less happy memory at Reading where you fell victim to the local refereeing committee.
Early in the game I took a heavy touch. Then it’s happened again as we’re breaking from a corner and I’m thinking ‘oh God, Warnock’s going to kill me here, I’m going to have to make a slide for it’. I’ve gone for the slide. It’s a bit late. I wasn’t expecting a red card. I’m seeing pushing and shoving thinking ‘what’s going on here?’ and it was Matt Mills. Hold on a minute, I was in a hotel with him at Colchester, we used to be team mates, what’s happening? Referee has pulled out a red. I’m thinking ‘he’s having an absolute banter, this can’t be real’. I’ve gone into the changing room, Warnock came in at half time and shouted “get the fuck out I don’t want to see you”. I was just praying we won the game. Reading were a good team, playing with ten men for 65-70 minutes, it was a big ask. Wayne came to my rescue, an unbelievable goal off a great pass from Ale. Straight after the game Warnock had forgot about the red card which was good. But I was disappointed. I was back in the team doing well, when you’re in that three behind Heidar with Adel and Routledge you get a lot more space and time because people are worried about the threat of the other two. I was disappointed with the three-game ban. The video came up on my timeline recently and I can see why the referee gave it but I’m going to stick to my guns and say it was a yellow at best.
Happier memory was the winning goal at Doncaster when I think you were filling in while Adel was on one of his sabbaticals.
Adel had a bereavement or wasn’t feeling well or something, I’m not sure, but you weren’t getting Adel up to Doncaster anyway. So I was in the team. I don’t think I played particularly well. I just remember getting the ball and the right back was encouraging me to come inside and backing off so I thought I’d try it. When it went in I was loving it. It’s one of my favourite pictures, seeing me head towards the away end with the players behind me and the fans in uproar. A great memory. I didn’t play well though, I cramped up after an hour.
It was just before the international break and it was my birthday as well. I think they wanted us back in on the Tuesday but we won so I asked Keith Curle if there was any chance of a couple of days extra off for my birthday. Next thing, he must have made a call, because the secretary text us all with an extra three days off. The goal meant a lot for the promotion, but it got the boys some more time away as well. Him, Ronnie Jepson, Neil Warnock were proper man management people.
First game back after the international break we beat Sheff Utd 3-0, Adel’s back in the team, I’m not on the pitch. Everybody says ‘you were harshly treated there, scored the winner and then didn’t get on’, I didn’t see it that way. The manager will pick the players he believes will win him that game and if I was the manager that day I would have picked Adel in front of me. He was a better player than me, a better match winner than me, I had no issue with Warnock doing that.
When the news of the Faurlin situation broke, again all the public statements were “it’s going to be fine, nothing to worry about” but I can’t imagine it was like that in the dressing room. Talk us through it.
Originally I thought it would be fine, but the minute Gianni said it was going to be fine I said we’re done. We are done. Massive panic.
Ale, at the time, you could see he was down. He’s one of the best characters I’ve ever come across in football. He came across without the language and learnt it himself without a teacher, just from being in the changing room, watching TV, reading books. To see him down hurt me a lot. He wasn’t only an amazing person but also a massive reason why we were up there. Without him in midfield that season things would have been a lot tougher. So, we’re trying to pick up his spirits but you do have the worry in the back of your head, are they going to take this away?
Even the points deduction they were saying would only have put us in the play-offs, and if that did happen we would have won the play-offs anyway. There wasn’t a team in that league could beat us over two legs, or in a one-off game when it mattered. There was no team near us.
At home to Leeds last game of the season with Gianni coming in crying, tie ripped round his neck, it was amazing. Scenes you’ll never forget. Everybody there, their dream had come true. We had players from all over the world, all different ages, everyone had the one dream to get to the Premier League. To accomplish it with people who were fantastic teammates but also friends, some of them friends for life, you can’t get much better than that. You have a massive respect for each other. Two weeks ago I was doing a commentary for TalkSport and as I’m coming out Shaun Derry is coming the other way to do his game and he nearly missed the start of his because me and him are just having a catch up about those times. You never forget teammates, but you never forget the team mates you win with.
I’ve always wondered that about the play-offs if we’d ended up in them, because the team that’s in the top two all season but finishes third never wins the play-offs, they can’t cope with the disappointment, you reckon we would have won them?
One hundred percent. Those teams didn’t want to play us. They didn’t have Adel. If you’re going into a game of pressure that means something the one player you want is Adel. If he knows he can be the reason that the club gets to the Premier League he’ll do it. In a good way, the guy has a massive ego, like Cristiano Ronaldo when he goes into a final you don’t think he’s going to lose. If we’d gone to the play-offs he would have got four or five goals himself over the three games. He would have wanted to be the man who dragged us there. He did that in the normal season and if he’d needed to do it again in the play-offs he would have done.
Could you celebrate after the Watford game?
Oh yes, 100%. We got onto the bus and were making plans from then. Amit took us out. We had an unbelievable night out. I’m glad he paid that bill because it looked like a transfer fee. A great night. Even with Leeds coming up on the Monday and Tuesday I was still celebrating. When it was all confirmed after Leeds, that’s when it all kicked in. We went out with the staff and the manager and everybody’s family. We had a great three or four days then all went our separate ways. We were all buzzing, we knew we were coming back as a Premier League team, the first time QPR had been back there for a long time. You’re waiting for the signings, the fixture list, it was all exciting.
I haven’t been back to TGI Friday’s since. Once we were promoted I got to upgrade to somewhere else.
Why we’re not allowed nice things
Is it almost a mixed blessing, selfishly, because you know you’re likely to be replaced?
There was a lot of money at QPR, whereas some teams go up, West Brom now or Norwich last year, and stick with the same players. Some people say that’s the right way, I don’t necessarily agree. Just because players help you go up doesn’t mean they deserve to play, you have to do what’s best for you. If you can replace them with better players then you do it.
I played in the Everton game and then there was an international break so I went away, and I was at this pool party and I saw a voicemail on my phone. I never get a voicemail, so I went outside to listen and it was Warnock telling me I wasn’t going to be in the 25 man squad. Heart dropped. There was nothing I could do about it, I didn’t feel a hard way towards him, it wasn’t an easy decision to make and that phone call will not have been easy for him. I could hear in his voice he was sincere and genuine. The next thing is you have to go out on loan, so I went down to Charlton where I knew Chris Powell having played with him at West Ham. Things went well there and I’m sitting at home one day October time, my phone starts ringing an unknown number, and it was Warnock saying “I watched you against Huddersfield the other day and thought you were brilliant, I want to say I honestly regret not having you in the 25, when you come back in January you’ll be in”. That’s the sort of person he is, he didn’t need to call me just because he’d watched Charlton v Huddersfield in League One, a Premier League manager. It meant a lot to me. It was a nice, touching moment.
I find the 25 man squad thing odd. What’s it like being signed to a club you can’t play for?
Horrible. You have to go on loan, and then when are you ever going to get back in? They’ve brought in big name players, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Joey Barton, on huge money and big reputations in football with hundreds of Premier League games between them, fantastic careers. Even when the next squad comes around you know they’ll be in it so you start thinking about who might potentially fall out. You can only concentrate on your own game. I had no hard feelings towards Neil for leaving me out. I would have liked to see what would have happened if he’d still been there in the January when I came back.
What changed for the worse? There’s a lot of chat about the new arrivals disrupting that tight dressing room.
I don’t think the new arrivals destructed necessarily the team spirit. There were some big characters and what they would have done… maybe subconsciously… Players that have been at that level respect managers who have won stuff and been around at that level for a long time. I think maybe they didn’t respect Neil Warnock as highly as we did when he first walked into our changing room. Once that happens it’s easy for other people to latch onto it and lose the regard they hold the manager in. I think the players let Neil down in that season. He’d done everything to get us there and I think we could have done a little bit more. I don’t necessarily blame the new players. I don’t agree with it because every manager should be respected equally, but I understand if you’ve played 300 Premier League games you looking down your nose at a manager who’s known as a promotion king but never really done much in the Prem.
How did it feel when he left?
I was upset. He was amazing for QPR and myself personally. The manager who made my biggest childhood dream come true. I’ll always love the guy. It was sad, it ended in a way it shouldn’t have ended. I know things weren’t going well but Neil is a man of dignity and respect and maybe one or two of the players didn’t show him that same level of respect and dignity.
Unusually for a QPR interview I think you’re going to tell me you liked Mark Hughes.
I did. I came back from Charlton and played for the reserves against Spurs at the training ground. Afterwards Eddie Niedzwiecki came over and introduced himself and asked why I hadn’t been playing. “That player I’ve just seen there should be playing in this team, something must be wrong.” I’m on cloud nine right there. Mark Hughes came over, introduced himself, we had a good chat, then he brought me on away at Aston Villa when we drew 2-2. The reason I love him is he’s so honest. He said to me you’re not going to be in the 25, ability wise you’re 100% in it if you were Premier League match fit right now you’d be in it but you’ve been in League One it’s a complete contrast. I understood completely.
I had six months left on my deal, he said you’re coming away with us to Portugal, I’m not letting you go out on loan unless you sign a new deal because you might go out and enjoy it and want to leave on a free and it isn’t happening so either sit out the six months with us and leave on a free which kind of harms you, or sign a deal with us, come away to Portugal and then you’ll be a big part of the plans. I loved that. I wanted to stay at QPR no matter what. It’s weird but I fell in love with the place. I’ve been to other clubs where that never happened. So I signed the contract, went on loan to Bristol City, came back and started brilliantly with Mark Hughes in pre-season and there’s another new contract. I guess you know why I like him now? I thought he had big hopes for me, of course though we sign a load of players.
He got sacked just before Man Utd away. We’d just got battered at home to Southampton, I told him the day before “you might not want to throw me in but I will give you my absolute all and I guarantee I won’t let you down”. He turned around and said fine you’re starting, on the Wednesday. Then he got sacked on the Friday the day we travelled.
He was brilliant with me in training. My one misdemeanour, we’d come back from Germany pre-season, and it was Djibril Cisse’s birthday. The manager said you can go out for his birthday, but we’re training tomorrow. I figured we’d just played a game in Germany, we’re travelling, it’ll only be a light session. I got a bit worse for wear at the birthday. I booked into a hotel two minutes away from the training ground, it was right there. I’m always early anyway, so I thought just make sure you’re on time. I set about a hundred alarms. I woke up an hour into training, 82 missed calls, player liaison officer, Shaun Wright-Phillips, everybody calling my phone. Couldn’t believe it. I rang Wrighty back on my way in and asked for advice, what should I say? He said be 100% honest with him. I said you’re having a banter, I can’t go in there and tell him I was the tequila king last night. He said be honest with him. I walked out into the middle of the session, Hughes walked over his face looked like he wanted to kill me. He asks “why are you an hour late?” I said, “at the party last night I had a few too many, it went badly, I’ve overslept.” All he said was “it never happens again, thank you for being honest, now go and train.” Never got brought up again, never fined. I knew from the look he gave and the respect he commanded there was no way it could happen again. A lot of managers would have fined you, whacked you in the reserves, not spoken to you. He treated me as a person and I respected that.
Speaking of famed man management ability, here comes Harry Redknapp. How was that?
Strange. The first day he came in was the Sunday, we’d lost 3-1 at Man Utd. The boys who didn’t play were training - myself, Ji Sung-Park, Andy Johnson, Anton Ferdinand. We were doing a finishing exercise and he’d come out halfway through with his coaches. He walked around everybody shaking hands, introducing himself. Me and him never spoke. He didn’t come over. I made the bench a couple of times at Chelsea and West Brom, the conversations we did have were good but we never really got to know each other. It was weird because if you go back through my Twitter years before it would have been me saying Redknapp has to get the England job, greatest man manager out there. I don’t feel like I ever got to know him.
There was an issue between myself and his assistant Kevin Bond. We were doing a keep-ball session with Kevin Bond coaching it. As he’s talking I’m looking directly at him to listen, but Anton is talking in my ear about turning out and him being free down one side. Bond says “Hogan, shut up when I’m talking.” I said “who you talking to, I haven’t said one word, don’t talk to me like that because I’m the lowest name in this squad.” I felt like he was victimising me, picking me out. I wasn’t having it.
There were a couple of other occasions where Kevin Bond would make these little comments. It got to the stage where he’s called me in the office and we’re talking about things and he walks out. Why are you walking away if you’ve called me into the office? Next day he called me in the office again and he’s standing over me while I’m sat in the chair, like he’s trying to overpower me, so I stood straight back up. He says “why you standing up?” I said: “You think you’re going to stand over me? I’m not being overpowered by you, you’re not going to scare me, it’s not going to work.” That day he puts me in with the reserves for training.
Mid to late January we played Man City at home, Ryan Nelsen’s last game. That afternoon I’m playing a reserve game at Stevenage. Ten minutes in I see I’m getting subbed off. Birch and me are about to have a falling out, if you’re subbing me off ten minutes into a reserve game we’ve got an issue. He said go get your suit and get back to London, you’re in the squad for the City game tonight. I knew all the wingers were injured - Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton, they were all injured. I got to the game and there’s a 19 man squad on the wall, a starting 11, subs, and an extra player who’s usually the third goalkeeper. When the team sheet went up, he’s put two goalkeepers on the bench. I’m raging. I didn’t say anything, I went up to the players’ lounge, my head had gone, I rang my agent and said “get me the hell out of here”.
Deadline day comes. My agent rings me after training and says “pack your boots, you’re going back to Charlton”. Buzzing. Loved my time at Charlton. Go on loan there, hopefully something changes by the time I get back. I went home, time is ticking by ticking by, nothing from my agent. I rang him to find out where he was, he’s down at Loftus Road doing Jermaine Jenas’ deal. What’s going on with my deal that’s what I need to know. Anyway I’m seeing Odemwingie turning up at the stadium, all sorts of things going on, so I’ve decided to fly down to the stadium. There’s about half an hour left, I’m banging on Phillip Beard’s door and there’s no answer. Phone rings, it’s Karl Robinson at MK Dons saying “we’ve sorted it out, we’re going to pay more than Charlton towards your wages, there isn’t going to be time to sign it but the loan window opens in six days we’ll sign it then”. I was never going to sign that. MK Dons was the next junction from my house but it didn’t interest me. I wanted to go to Charlton. I wanted to go somewhere I would be respected and be happy.
That falls through. Phil Beard comes out a minute before the deadline. He’d been hiding, taking the absolute piss. I said: “I’ve always been respectful of the club, been a good servant, tried my all, you told me the Charlton deal was going through.” He says “yeh but MK Dons are going to pay an extra this or that a week”. I said “listen I’m not going to MK Dons. When this window opens next week know this, no matter what MK Dons say, I’m not going there.” The manager has violated me, put two goalkeepers on the bench and humiliated me. People from the outside are going to look at that and think ‘what’s going on here, has he got an attitude problem?’ They’re going to be making reasons in their head. He said: “I know what Redknapp was doing, it was a signal to us guys to say he didn’t have anybody else in the squad.” I said “I’ve been here five years I think I deserve more respect than that. We’ll speak next week.”
I went home. Got a text late that night, “Hogan if you’ve got five minutes can you give me a call – Ryan Nelsen”. I’ve called Ryan, who’s just taken the Toronto job, he was raging about this Kevin Bond thing anyway because he’ a proper man with proper morals and he’d said he was going to have a word because they were taking the piss. He said: “I know your situation at QPR, it’s bullshit what they’ve done, I’m going to Toronto and we want to bring in a few from England.” I didn’t even hesitate, I said yes straight away. Yes, I want to be there.
Later Ryan texts me saying “QPR are playing around, they want you to go to MK Dons”. I went to see Redknapp and said I want to get out of England, I’m obviously not playing here, if you don’t let this move go through then I’m just going to sit in the reserves, that’s the move I want to do. Redknapp was brilliant with it, he said he’d been in the MLS himself, it’ll be great, he rang Phil Beard in front of me and said make sure Hogan’s loan deal goes through to Toronto, we don’t care about the wages side of it just make sure it goes through. I went home, packed my bags, go to the airport and I’m sitting in the pre-security bit waiting for my flight. Ryan Nelsen rings me. He says: “You’re not allowed on the plane until Phil Beard calls you. Just act like he’s done you a massive favour and tell him how thankful you are.” I said “yeh absolutely no problem I’ll do that.” As soon as Ryan got off the phone I turned it off and walked through security. There’s no way Phil Beard is getting a thank you phone call from me.
Toronto was a completely different experience. It got me away from QPR at the one moment I wasn’t enjoying it.
And here’s us thinking Kevin Bond is just Redknapp’s driver.
Even when I got back from Toronto I was always with the reserves. There was no chance of me being with the firsts, they didn’t let me train with them. Danny Simpson and me were in the gym on the bikes, Kevin Bond comes in and asks for a word. I was like, you again, this is doing my head in now. We’ve gone into the office, he says “I think you’re taking the piss out of the club, you should give up your wages and leave, we need a striker.” I said: “I’m not being funny but I’ve approached the club about coming to a settlement to leave. I’ve approached you, you’ve never come to me. I’ve been saying this for a year now, I want to go, time’s up, I’m not going to play, what’s the point?” His words were: “You should just give it up, you’re 20 years of age, you’ve only been here a year or two, what have you done for this club?” I looked at him and said: “Hold on, I’m 26 by the way. I’ve been here six and a half years, I’ve won promotion with the club, you might want to check your facts.” He had no idea, I think he thought I’d come through the youth team and was a year or two into it. Miles off it the fella.
How toxic was that dressing room?
The dressing room turned into a shambles. There were cliques that didn’t see eye to eye. You’d have the French boys on their own, on their own page. There were rules in place that said English had to be spoken in the dressing room but it wasn’t happening. If there were two French boys who could speak English they were speaking French to each other. It got toxic. Joey, especially, wasn’t happy with that and let them know. Shaun Derry wasn’t happy with it. If you can speak a language that we can all speak, but you’re choosing to speak your own language, are you trying to dig people out? Nobody knows what’s going on.
I know a lot of things got brought up about wages but I’m not sure if that was the problem. I couldn’t care less what another player is on, you’ve got to know your own worth and settle for that. I’d be disappointed if players were annoyed at people getting paid more than them, you should never judge your value at that. I don’t know if that played a part. The dressing room was a shambles. All sorts going on. I remember Clint Hill and Djibril Cisse having a fight at Loftus Road, Armand Traore and Shaun Derry having a fight at the training ground. Sometimes a fight can be good for the team, now and then, but this was fighting because you hate each other, not because you want to win. It got a bit crazy.
You ended up being our longest serving player, but you didn’t make an appearance in your last two years, I think Villa was the last one right?
From the moment we went to the Premier League I ended up with more contracts than appearances. When we got promoted, with the backing we had, it was always going to be hard and big names were always going to come in. I didn’t think I’d be there for another two years and make a combined 50 minutes of appearances. It was tough. I need to be playing, or feel a part of it. As long as I know I’ve got a chance and it’s up to me to take it then I’m happy. To not play is hard for me. I’m a bubbly guy, unless we’re losing in which case I’m going mad. Maybe I was trying to overdo it and make it look like I was happy. The last 18 months especially were tough. You just have to find your happiness, I went out to Toronto and found happiness there. There were a lot of defeats but Ryan was getting the team towards where he wanted it to be and then QPR ended the loan spell which I was disappointed with. They called me back knowing full well I wasn’t going to play. I didn’t understand that. This is the first year I haven’t been back to Toronto since I joined on loan, I fell in love with the place and the team is doing well these days, getting to MLS cup finals and winning things.
End of days
Wycombe on a free, with Gareth there, feels like a bit of a no brainer.
Not necessarily. That summer, after the 18 months I’d had with QPR, I thought about calling it a day. I just wasn’t enjoying it. I got a phone call saying Gianni wanted to meet me. I’ve gone down to Aspinalls Casino, and Gianni is there with Mauro Milanese. The two of them are telling me about a big Italian takeover at Leyton Orient and they want to get me in. My best mate was at Orient at the time and I thought ‘do you know what, why not? I hadn’t played with him since England youth, I’m with him every day and speak to him every day, it’ll be nice to just play’. The meeting with Gianni went well, agent called me and said we’ll go down and sign the contract on Friday. Friday comes, agent rings me, says it’s not happening. An hour before we were due to sign, they signed Jobi McAnuff. Killed me. Oh my God.
I had played a friendly for Wycombe to try and get some fitness. I look back at the pictures now, they’re horrendous. I’d put on weight, three months off, hadn’t been playing. I don’t know how but I was unreal in this friendly. When Orient didn’t happen I just thought that’s it, I’m calling it a day. I’m out watching Arsenal in the Champions League and Gareth Ainsworth called my phone, said he had no budget but the owner wants to get a deal done because he loved me from that friendly game and wanted to make it happen. I went down there and didn’t ask for anything. The owner asked what I wanted and I said just put down something that’s respectable for your club and I don’t even need to look at it I’ll just sign it. That was it, a one year deal.
First game I’m on the bench we’re 1-0 down at half time, I come on and we win 2-1 away at Oxford. Played really well. Gareth was quite similar to Paul Hart in that whenever the ball went out for a throw he wanted the closest player to immediately throw it and in my first start against Burton Albion I’ve done this, bent over to pick the ball up and felt something go in my back. I got through the 90, on the way back down the motorway we’ve got to a service station and I’ve tried to sit down and couldn’t. My hamstring was tighter than a violin. There was all sorts going on. I’d slipped a disk onto a nerve. That was seven weeks, then I had a setback for another two or three weeks. A nightmare period.
I came back, things went quite well. It was February March time – whenever Cheltenham Festival is because we were training Tuesday with a day off Wednesday and were all going up to Cheltenham afterwards. We’ve played, on a full sized pitch, 10v10, three passes a goal. After 15 minutes we drew 1-1. I have lost my rag. I don’t think I went too crazy but I told them it was unacceptable. What the hell are we doing boys? Afterwards Gaz came up to me saying “you can’t speak to them like that Hogs, they might not respond as you want them to”. I looked at him, I didn’t even say anything, I just knew I was done. It was game over. If the manager is accepting 1-1 from three passes a goal for 15 minutes then it’s impossible. I didn’t even like playing in the games at that level, it was more rugby than football.
At the end of the season we lost in the play-off final and the chairman wanted to do another deal, he called me when I was in Toronto and I said “it’s not going to happen”. My agent was telling me to do it, but my heart wasn’t in it. I couldn’t go there and take money when I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t know for certain it was the last time I’d play but I knew I didn’t want to go back to football for at least a month and once you’ve done that then the writing is on the wall. I ended up doing six months in Toronto. I’ve never actually come out with a Tweet saying “I retire”, it was just a case that at that point in my life I didn’t want to play football any more. I got no enjoyment from it. I’d never close the door if something came up but it’s not something I can envisage myself doing again.
This is the bit I find fascinating with you, because you’re only 32 now. You love your football and when you were 15-16, you’d have killed for a one year contract at Wycombe. When did it leave you and why?
The last 18 months at QPR and then the eight months at Wycombe. There were a lot of things where lies were being told to you by chairmen, some of the managers. That moment when I couldn’t express myself when I was upset at the standard of the training session. It was little things, and when little things are playing away at you that means you’re not happy. When I was 11, coming through at West Ham, playing football was the thing that made me the happiest in the world. In the end I was driving into training thinking ‘I cannot wait for this to be over with’. It got too much.
There are more important things in life than football. All the Christmases I was missing with my family, I’d rather be doing that than a job which I literally, in the end, had no interest in. It was draining me every day. The nail in the coffin was the standard at League Two level. What I would have to do to get back up to the Championship, I didn’t have that desire in me to do it. There were some days I’d go into training buzzing a bit, thinking I’m going to put on a show here, and then within ten minutes the first four passes to you have all gone ten foot over your head and out of play. It’s tough. The lower you go.
That QPR team, the dressing room was a shambles, the results weren’t great, but there was some quality there. Just training with them, Joey Barton, Ji Sung Park, Andy Johnson, Zamora, it’s unbelievable quality. Then you go to League Two and train, and I’ve got friends I could play with who have more ability. It was a harsh realisation. Playing with better players drags you up, but it works the other way, the lower the standard you go the more you drop a standard and let your standards slip. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, and I didn’t want to be somebody taking money for not playing. There were some young boys there whose dream was to play League Two football for Wycombe – I shouldn’t be in their way when I had no interest in it at that time.
When I listen to retired footballers they often talk about finding it mentally tough, there’s a lot of depression, coming out of a world where you’re king and every second of your day is planned, into the real world at 32 with nothing to do and nothing ahead of you. Is it the opposite with you?
I can see why some would find it tough. For me it was a release to escape out of it. I didn’t have to worry about going in, being down, playing a horrible game. It wasn’t the football I signed up for, it wasn’t the game I fell in love with. It was best for me to step away otherwise things could have become bitter and I might have started making excuses. I never want to be that guy. I had a great run in football, played for some unbelievable clubs, some of the managers I played under were unreal - they were people I grew up admiring as a child. I‘ve had an amazing spell in the game. It would have been wrong of me to drag it out, it was time to step away. If you’re not enjoying something, cut your losses.
What do you do with yourself now?
I do premier league commentary for TalkSport that goes out outside the UK and Ireland, to Africa, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.
I also mentor players. Helping young boys who are going through situations on the field and off the field that I’ve gone through. Just trying to give them the best advice possible. A lot of time now these young players are trying to deal with agents who are just looking at you as a commodity. If you play well five games in a row you won’t believe how many times your phone rings from your agent. If you’re on the bench four games in a row you never hear from him. I try to give the best advice I can and help them be better people and better players. I still do love the game of football, I love watching it, there’s not a game I miss. Every Premier League game I’ll watch the 90 minutes of it at some point during the week. I’m still obsessed with it. But my love for playing it sadly wasn’t there.
Before I let you go. Twitter. Brentford play-off final. What was all that about?
Oh my. Brentford is a weird one. I’d never heard of Brentford growing up. I couldn’t tell you what league they were in. When I was playing at QPR I couldn’t tell you if Brentford were League One or Two at that stage. They were just irrelevant.
Obviously with lockdown and football being on TV all the time, some of the quotes coming out from the manager and the players I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Brentford? Little Brentford? They shouldn’t be talking like this. When the game happened, I was buzzing for Scott Parker anyway, because I was at West Ham with him and he’s a great guy, and I just thought it served them right. All you’d heard was cockiness from Brentford the whole week, and before that with the games against Swansea. I don’t like the Sky Sports link with Brentford either, the studio is right around the corner and I’ve played games where man of the match has been chosen before we’ve even really played because it’s an ex Brentford player. They were hyping up Brentford and I was buzzing that they slipped up.
What was funny is I had Charlie Austin and Wayne Routledge sliding into my DMs on Twitter sending me more and more quotes from Brentford. They must have wanted me to nibble at it and they sucked me right in. They both said, Charlie said, when West Brom played them, he’d never seen a team that rude and arrogant. Wayne said the same with Swansea. A little bit of humility is the best way to go about it.
Is that old cliché about a “quote for the dressing room wall” and “done the teamtalk for them” actually a thing then? I notice Joe Bryan mentioned what they’d said straight after the game.
Oh yeh, 100%. Especially before the game. During the game you can say what you like on the pitch, anything kind of goes, you know you’re trying to get into somebody’s head. Before the game and after the game you have to be respectful. Everybody is in the same business, you understand the hard work other teams are putting into it, if you show some humility and principals as a person that’s the most important thing. I’m not sure if it’s because the players don’t get much TV time, but every time they came on TV they were saying these outrageous comments. Are they doing it for clicks or what?
I’m a bit upset they’ve started the season alright because those Tweets might come back to haunt me.
Yeh we’ve got them down as champions this year. Might be worth quietly going back and deleting a few of those…
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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
There’s enough doom and gloom about concerning the coronavirus pandemic to last several lifetimes, and let’s face it, 2020 really does suck. I’m pretty sure we’re all in need of some positivity right now, something to set our sights on, a goal if you will. Mine came to me in a blinding flash of inspiration as I prepared my wake-up mug of caffeine this morning – never, in all my years of following Colchester United, have I got even close to watching every single match of a season. I suspect I’m not alone in that, even diehards like noah must miss the occasional one or two each season. Kind of thanks to coronavirus (bizarre huh) and the relaxed approach to match streaming on Saturdays, I’m currently on 8/8, today being the 9th. Why not, I thought, make it all season without missing a game? There’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in that, not least if we do emerge from this crisis before the end of the season and the streaming gets canned, but for now I have my goal…
Letters from Wiltshire #08 by wessex_exile
Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by -
Letters from Wiltshire #07 by wessex_exile
Welcome to Matchday #4 everyone, with the U’s making a reasonably solid start to the league campaign, undefeated, two clean sheets, only one goal conceded and sitting comfortably just outside the play-offs. I’d probably feel more comfortable if we were scoring a few more at the other end, so it’s good to see Chuck getting back into action. The big news that’s grabbing most of the column inches now is of course that President Trump is in hospital with coronavirus. Now there are many out there in the social media world who consider this somewhat poetic irony, given his (mixed) messaging on the subject since the crisis began, and there are more than a few wishing that it ends very badly for Trump. I’m not one of them, but I was reminded this morning of a famous quote “I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction”. Often misattributed to Mark Twain, it was Clarence Darrow in his 1932 work The Story of My Life. For those, like me, who consider Inherit the Wind probably the best courtroom drama ever made, Darrow was the lawyer in the real Scopes Monkey Trial.
Letters from Wiltshire #06 by wessex_exile
Here we are again, back in the (now) much-maligned EFL Trophy and a home tie against West Ham United U21s, and I think probably our last chance to stay in the competition? Robbie’s most recent rallying cry has been to “buy, buy, buy” when it comes to iFollow streams, and with the likelihood of supporters getting to matches receding, making streaming probably our only viable revenue stream, who can blame him. As an exile, I was never expecting I’d have many opportunities to see the U’s in the flesh this season, so he’s rather preaching to the converted as far as I’m concerned, but I do like the loyalty scheme he’s put together.
Away days by Andyconky
Many pounds have been spent and many train tracks have been travelled but who doesn't love an away day. Doesn't matter if its Chester or Chelsea or Lincoln or Liverpool, it's all good fun with a sense of adventure of what may happen.
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