I was chuffed to be asked to write for ‘Independent R’s’ although, of late, I haven’t felt very inspired. Unsurprisingly, it has been very hard to find anything positive or upbeat to say about my beloved QPR. It is no easier now as, having returned from the Bolton game, I have come to accept what seems to be inevitable: that QPR are going to be relegated this season. So I do hope this article is not too depressing for you to read – after all, it is only how I have viewed QPR over this season.
I am a little calmer now – having beaten the roof of my car whilst uttering expletives not usually associated with “ladies” (!!!) – after another shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot display of dire defending, chronic dead-balls, a midfield that was unbalanced and opened up easier than the Red Sea when Moses tried to part it with his staff, and missed chance after missed chance – that ended with us losing 2-1 to Bolton.
Was I surprised we lost ? No ! Did I blame the appalling refereeing that saw a perfectly good “goal” from Clint Hill not given nor a penalty near the death, when Onuoha had his legs cut out from under him inside the penalty area ? No ! Because neither the ref nor the linos caused us to commit suicidal defensive errors – like losing your man too easily – which cost us those two goals !
So what has really made my blood boil this season ? The simple fact that we had a golden opportunity – hand delivered through hard-work last season – which we have simply thrown away this season. I am fed up of hearing from the management team (whichever management team it is), the Board, the media pundits, whoever (!), that we have a “talented squad” – or any other positive adjective you would like to choose from. The so-called “talented squad” is, to me, more like a group of over-paid, under-performers who have not TRIED !
Oh ! It is easy to blame Tony Fernandes for “wrongly” sacking Warnock and/or bringing in the “wrong” man in Mark Hughes, as many have been doing on message boards, Twitter and the like. It is easy to blame Warnock for “losing the dressing room”, as some have claimed, or Mark Hughes for “never having won the dressing room” ! But it is not their fault that the team that is sent out every single game seems to lack heart, fight, desire, courage, and willingness to play for the badge – until, that is, we include last season’s Championship-winning players like Adel Taarabt, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Akos Buzsaky and the inimitable Jamie Mackie.
I noticed the difference against Everton when the core of the team came from our 2010/2011 Championship-winning squad. Against Everton we battled and fought, led by Taarabt and Buzsaky in midfield and backed up by Derry and Hill, even if it wasn’t very pretty and resulted only in a draw. If Heidar Helguson was fit, I believe he would also be doing everything possible to beg, steal or borrow a winning goal for us, short of literally breaking a leg ! And I would rather have Hogan Ephraim, for example, trying to run along the wing, than Shaun Wright-Phillips who goes missing in most games and has contributed nothing to our cause virtually since day one ! Because, even if Ephraim does not have the Premier League experience of Wright-Phillips, you know that, for sure, Ephraim will TRY ! And Ephraim wasn’t even included in our 25-man squad !
So where and when did it go wrong ? Many have compared our season unfavourably with that of our fellow promoted teams, Norwich and Swansea. For me, the real difference between the three promoted teams is in the pre-season preparations – or, in QPR’s case, lack of. Swansea and Norwich bought sensibly, but did not make too many changes from their promotion-winning squads. They have settled Boards and managers, and had a full and proper pre-season together. QPR ?
Again, this is simply my opinion: the writing was on the wall, for those who wanted to read it, when Briatore and Ecclestone re-surfaced with a resounding “no” to any post-promotion parade. There then followed several weeks of heightened speculation that the duo, insultingly dubbed “Tango & Cash”, were looking to offload QPR for unrealistic sums of money. Clearly, despite Ecclestone telling us all in December 2010 that he had bought out Briatore’s shares in QPR so as to be able to prepare us “properly” should we be promoted; the duo had no intention of putting another single penny into the squad. And it was equally evident that, behind their desire to sell, was something far more odious and destructive – why else would they turn down Mittal’s offer to buy them out, early on in the summer, only to sell to Tony Fernandes at the last possible moment at, apparently, not much more than what Mittal was offering ?
A poor pre-season, which included doubts over whether Warnock would actually be around for the opening match of the new campaign, was followed by a rush to buy players who nobody else wanted, just to try to bring in “the right sort” of Premiership quality/experienced player at the last minute (Joey Barton, I mean, as opposed to the Kieron Dyer’s of this world ? !) This meant that by September we had effectively had two different teams in the space of two months – neither of which group of players had had much time to gel or work together to build the understanding, on and off the pitch, necessary for a successful team. And then, in January, Hughes brought in even more new faces, mid-season with absolutely no time to bed in – as was proved when, for example, Samba Diakite got himself sent off in his first-ever game for us because he was, literally, “thrown in at the deep end” out of necessity and desperation. Meanwhile, Swansea and Norwich have just continued to learn about the league and to build a solid base, from the core of their promotion-winning sides, for potential survival.
Since Warnock’s sacking (undeserved, in my opinion) it has become clear, from what has come out from the Club, that the structures necessary for survival in the Premier League, were not in place. With “Tango & Cash” running the show, I do not find myself surprised at this point and don’t think the structures would ever have been put in place. However, with the new Board, led by Tony Fernandes along with Amit Bhatia and Phil Beard, I do feel more optimistic about our future: particularly since listening to Phil Beard on a recent “Open All R’s” podcast – where he assured us that, even if we were relegated, plans for the new training ground and, vitally, the youth set-up, including returning to having an “Academy” status, would still go ahead (let alone a new ground !) This statement alone gives me hope for our future: that perhaps, at last, we have a Board who really does have the better interests of QPR at heart.
Of course, we have had a few bright moments this season – not least of which was the 1-0 drubbing of Chelsea. But, if I am totally honest, that was won more on sheer guts and plenty of good fortune, rather than an emphatic display against a 9-man Chelsea outfit who, let’s be honest, very nearly could have beaten us ! But it was all an illusion, wasn’t it ? Yes, we have had some rotten luck, including Hill’s goal-which-wasn’t-given against Bolton as well as Wright-Phillips’ goal that was disallowed against West Brom (for an offside that wasn’t !) But two home wins and three away wins so far this season really does tell its own tale: we are just not good enough !
So now, as I pray to any and every deity I can think of to please ensure we are not relegated after all; I find myself reflecting on what might have been. When we started this campaign, yes with a rude-awakening I know, I vowed to enjoy each and every game as if they would be our last. I loved the early away games as I went along with thousands of buoyant, enthusiastic fans, to places like Everton, Wolves, Spurs, and other Premier League grounds for the first time in over 15 years. I was moved by the upbeat, positive atmosphere generated at a packed Loftus Road, the likes of which hadn’t been seen for many, many years.
And then, as it became obvious that the team lacked heart, fight, desire, passion; that the so-called “Premier League stars” were not stars at all and certainly not to be trusted to help us cement our Premier League place because of their lack of talent (can Joey Barton actually deliver an accurate cross let alone a decent corner or free kick ?!!!); lack of desire; a “don’t-care-about-QPR” attitude; so I forgot my earlier vow. And I trudged to away games, trudged to home games, with a lack of heart myself – and I stopped enjoying our sojourn in the Premier League because it all seemed so pointless to me.
But not now ! I have followed QPR through thick and thin, thin and even thinner for nearly 40 years. I will always be a QPR fan – and a very proud one, too. I will hold my head high and enjoy the rest of this season – yes, even if we do not win a single point ! Because we all longed to be back in the Premier League and even if some of our squad desert us if and when we are relegated – I will never, ever desert my beloved QPR. Because I will be, always have been, and am QPR ! Aren’t you ?!
Sandy Lerman aka @sandyhoops and otherwise known, on VitalQPR, as sandyl:-D