forum, n - a place of public discussion
Okay, I risk getting a lot of people’s backs up by kicking off with a negative. The club has done a good job this year engaging more with fans through the first fans forum and meetings with fan groups and websites. This has been a huge step forward and is to be applauded.
Yet, it was clear before anyone set foot in the W12 club that this wasn’t going to be a ‘forum’. We were pre-warned that CEO Phillip Beard would be providing a brief update at the beginning, but would not be contributing to the panel ‘discussion’. For those fans who wanted serious issues put on the table, such as the new stadium, financing, communication and customer service, this decision broke the back of any meaningful public scrutiny of club affairs.
Back in February at the first forum, Beard experienced a rough ride from fans – not a surprise perhaps given that was the first such event for over six years. The club clearly wished to avoid a repeat. They would argue that the meetings with fan groups are where the meaty discussions are taking place. Fine – but then don’t imply an event is something it isn’t. ‘Fan Conference’ maybe, “Q&A with the manager and the players” perhaps. Forum it wasn’t.
Photo: Zach Sutton
So with rant over, what actually happened? Harry Redknapp (brandishing the now familiar crutches), Robert Green and Charlie Austin were introduced to the gathered fans, and Beard then commenced with a cross between prepared statement and monologue. He didn’t reveal anything new of substance. Objectors are delaying the Warren Farm project, but both the club and Ealing Council remain committed. Beard reiterated the usual messages about a new stadium; long-term project, want to stay in local area and retain atmosphere of Loftus Road. He expressed frustration with Lotto over late deliveries of new replica kit and stated this would be Lotto’s last year. This information was already several weeks out of date – the Chairman tweeted a heavy and unsubtle hint a while ago that Nike are in line for the new contract. Lastly the CEO said that there was ‘no magic solution’ on the issue of the family stand. (The changes made to the Lower Loft to accommodate families would also suggest they are not seriously looking for one…)
With that Beard exited the stage and curiously watched the remainder of the event from the back of the room. The floor was handed to Redknapp, Green and Austin to take questions from the audience present and those watching the event online worldwide. It was immediately obvious that the manager was in the driving seat and that he was in press conference “triffic Arry” mode. The event became almost a piece of staged entertainment. Redknapp had the punters eating out of his hand with his easy charm, barrow-boy wisecracks and shaggy-dog stories. Green spoke eloquently about his time at QPR, stating that it is in his nature to give his very best for the club and the fans. Austin was more enigmatic providing well-drilled “Match of the Day” soundbite responses, clearly keen not to put a foot wrong.
Questions ranged from interesting through to occasionally challenging all the way through to the ridiculous. Redknapp met one online question, “What is Tom Carroll’s best position?” with the dry one-word response “Midfield”.
Reading behind the platitudes and the well-practiced Redknapp puffery, what did we learn from the main body of the event? Few things came as a great surprise…
● Julio Cesar’s future at QPR would appear to be in doubt. In spite of currently being injured with a broken finger, he said the Brazilian number one should be looking to move on in the transfer window. That said, he is keen for the young players at the moment out on loan to come back and make their mark
● Redknapp acknowledges there is a striker shortage at the club, and the club tried to do deals on deadline day. Andy Johnson will be back hopefully just after the next international break
● As soon as he heard Derby had sacked Nigel Clough Redknapp thought Steve McClaren would be a good fit. Will be a loss of course, but it’s right for McClaren to get back to full-time management and coaching. A replacement has not been discussed.
● Redknapp is reviewing the back line and looking for reinforcements given the injury to Nedum Onuoha. Max Ehmer did well in the Middlesbrough fixture
● Green explained it would be difficult for him to get back into the England setup, but he would ‘never say never’. Right now he is concentrating firmly and squarely on playing for QPR. He really appreciated the support from the fans last season and found it immensely disappointing when other players didn’t try hard enough.
● When asked about Barton, Redknapp replied it was the first time they had worked with each other. He is a big influence on the squad and is a great player when he can get his head right
● Austin, in one of the moments he relaxed a little, told the audience he remembered well his time as a non-league player, and indeed working as a builder. He appreciates the success now he has it
● Redknapp has a real problem pronouncing Javier Chevanton’s name. After a couple of attempts referring to ‘Shevaton’ as the proverbial ‘top, top player’ he found ‘the Uruguayan lad’ a much easier moniker to get his teeth around
● A couple of questions went off piste with topics not solely on team affairs. One asked for Redknapp’s reaction to fans being turned away from a recent EDS game at Harlington. His response was he wasn’t aware, but he thought this was wrong. This brought a strong murmur of appreciation in the room, and a result; the club has since relented and withdrawn the ban on fans at these games
There were many moments of humour moments during the event. For example Redknapp related the story of when a man named ‘Ozzie’ wanted him to take a look at his grandson with a view to a trial. He turned Ozzie down, only to find out years later that the grandson was playing at Swindon – our own Charlie Austin! Austin was again at the centre of his laughter when one light-hearted question focused on the ‘sliding moves’ in his goal celebrations. There were also a few car crash moments, when one elderly gentleman proved he was ‘tired and emotional’ with a series of impromptu interventions.
It was a fun evening. It was great to be invited to as an Rs fan and get that insight from Redknapp and the players that we don’t normally get. What an evening like this cannot do however is replace the need for open, fair and honest public discussion of the key issues. We hope the club retains this as a key part of its communication programme.
Independent R’s would like to thank the press and marketing teams at QPR for inviting us to the event.