Telegraph Sport’s Thom Gibbs has been a Rangers fan for 23 years. His open letter to Tony Fernandes in the Telegraph today following the announcement of the club’s new stadium plans raises many points. What do you think? – Steve Russell
How are you? I am fine. I do hope your airline is well. Sorry about the Formula One season. Maybe next year, eh?
I write after your plans for a new 40,000-seater Queen’s Park Rangers stadium was unveiled on Thursday night. Congratulations, those are some lovely drawings.
As a QPR supporter of 23 years I applaud your ambition and am grateful for the gigantic amount of money you’ve already spent on our club. But I urge you to proceed with caution in this endeavour.
After a decade of decline, English football came roaring back on a tide of cash and European participation in the 1990’s. With the game ascending and hooliganism in remission a spate of new stadiums were built. They are almost all dreadful.
Middlesbrough, Derby, Southampton, Cardiff, Leicester, Reading and Coventry built grounds which are flawed, interchangeable, and only identifiable as their own by the colour of the seats. Coventry’s was such a failure that they’re now playing at the equally grim Sixfields (built 1994), 33 miles away in Northampton.
The anonymous bowls that defined this new era suffer from a uniformly pallid atmosphere, a direct consequence of the distance between the front row of spectators and the pitch. Loftus Road is an unsustainable long-term home for QPR, but it is wonderfully enclosed, intimate and one of the few remaining stadiums in the country where a raucous atmosphere can be generated with as few as 13,000 spectators.
Building a different kind of new stadium that’s geared towards QPR fans being able to help the club win football matches should be a challenge for your architects, not an obstacle to be swerved with another conservative design.
QPR must avoid the divide between corporate guests and the loyal majority whose budget only stretches to cheaper seats. The uninterrupted tier of expensive seats in the middle of Arsenal’s new ground saps noise from a once-loud set of supporters.
The proposed capacity of the new stadium is 40,000, nearly 4,000 more seats than Tottenham’s White Hart Lane. In the past 50 years the highest average attendance posted by QPR was 23,850 in 1975/76, the season we finished second in the top flight. Last season, again in the top flight although not quite as successful, it was just 17,779, not quite hitting the meagre capacity of 18,360 every week.
You have made encouraging noises about prioritising affordable tickets, and harnessing the support of the new community around the Old Oak development. But to assume the people living next door will all want to watch football, or even want to watch QPR, is to wilfully ignore the disturbing number of children wearing Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United shirts around Shepherd’s Bush on a match day.
To regularly fill a stadium as large as is planned, QPR would need to be performing spectacularly above their historic level for a sustained period. This isn’t out of the question in shorter spells, but no club in English football has ever transcended its status so violently that it is able to attract more than double its established number of fans in the long term.
What will a cavernous 40,000-capacity ground be like in the wholly possible event that we are playing at our current level in the Championship? Cold, quiet, and not a pleasant place to be.
I gently recommend that you approach your plans for capacity like you’re adding salt to a recipe. You can always add some more later if it’s required, but if you put too much in now you’re going to end up with something that tastes horrible. I would also gently recommend that you don’t attempt to taste this, or any other stadium.
Remember that what matters to match-attending football supporters is their relationship with their club, the rituals around going to see them play, and a sense of community. You’ve got the chance to build something which serves QPR supporters as well in these ways as Loftus Road. Good luck!