Dave McIntyre wrote the following superb article recently for West London Sport:
‘In the developing battle for Old Oak Common, Cargiant are keen to show they mean business. The car supermarket owns 45 acres of the site of QPR’s would-be sporting and leisure complex between Scrubs Lane – just up the road from Loftus Road – and Willesden.
And with Tony Mendes, Cargiant’s managing director, having recently labelled Rangers’ plans for the area as “speculative and presumptuous”, the company followed that up by announcing they have their own plan for the site – and it does not include a stadium for QPR.
Of course, this can be seen as inevitable posturing and all part of the process by which Cargiant, which must be re-located for the Old Oak development to happen, secure the best possible deal.
QPR ‘s plans have drawn strong initial support from key bodies like the Greater London Authority and the three relevant local authorities; Hammersmith & Fulham, Ealing and Brent.
Should that momentum continue, it ought to be a case of when, not if, Cargiant make way for the radical re-development of the area that has long been the goal of Rangers’ owners, fronted by chairman Tony Fernandes.
But Cargiant aren’t messing around. They’ve sent very pro-active PR agencies in to bat for them and insist they are deadly serious about extending rather than vacating. It’s also the case that talks between QPR and Cargiant, which seemed to be progressing, abruptly ended without any basis for a partnership agreement.
Most importantly though – and tells a lot – Rangers themselves are taking recent events seriously. Club officials are meeting later this week to discuss their response. While they have every reason to still feel confident, there’s no reason for them to be complacent.
After all, given the impact a small band of residents has had on their plans for a training ground at Warren Farm, it would make no sense for them to take anything for granted. It would be all too easy to dismiss Cargiant, perhaps because of the common perception of second-hand car salesmen, especially when compared to AirAsia’s silver-tongued, globally respected main man.
The reality is that Cargiant is an established owner of part of the site in question, a major local employer and, unlike QPR, has a solid track record when it comes to making a profit.
But the really important issue here is that, while for QPR fans this is about a stadium, for the key players in this it’s about much more. There must be a provision for 20,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs and if the seemingly evolving plan being developed by Cargiant, or any other credible party for that matter, can potentially deliver these, it could yet jeopardise QPR’s plans.
It’s still relatively early days too. While Rangers and their partners have been working on this for some time, it will be early next year at least before they are ready to submit a planning application.
The Mayoral Development Corporation, which Mayor Boris Johnson wants to oversee the development of the land, working with the local authorities, will not be operational until April 2015. So rather than be complacent, it makes sense for the club to look to shore up their position. And that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Expect their response to be the start of a full-on campaign to keep QPR in the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. It’s the right response and will mean the battle for Old Oak is well and truly under way.
The issue of public interest will be a hugely important determining factor in the whole process. QPR must therefore hammer home the fact that thousands care passionately about this subject and want them to have a home at Old Oak which would secure the club’s future in the local area, while their failure to do could have serious ramifications. May’s play-off semi-final triumph could be one of the last great nights at Loftus Road.
Whether a new home for QPR as part of a shiny new North-West London community would even be a good thing is debatable.
Fernandes’ emphasis on glamour and global branding, as well as his tendency to tell the fans what they want to hear without always delivering, should – but generally doesn’t – set alarm bells ringing when it comes to the crucial issue of what the QPR of the future might resemble under his leadership.
But there are home truths even the most ardent Fernandes critic and opponent of change can’t escape. The first is that the overwhelming majority accept QPR have no future as a top-flight club at Loftus Road. Various regimes have failed the club over the last two decades, but Chris Wright’s refusal to acquire the School End because he favoured a re-location to the west of London was arguably the most significant failure of all.
The repercussions mean that – here’s home truth number two – Old Oak perhaps now represents QPR’s last and only chance of a long-tern home in Hammersmith & Fulham. If that chance is lost, the possible alternatives aren’t going to be popular. Many fans don’t want to leave the area and neither do the owners, whose long-term strategy hinges on a location as close to the centre of London as possible.
But they also don’t want to stay at an 18,000-capacity ground. The club must, and will, use that strength of feeling to demonstrate there is huge support from fans and local people for Rangers to remain in the area, and that a new QPR stadium within Old Oak is therefore undeniably in the community’s interest.
They will also need to demonstrate that QPR are committed to delivering wider community benefits as part of their stadium-led re-generation. To do this they will rely heavily on the excellent ‘QPR in the Community Trust’, which is likely to play an increasingly pivotal role as this story unfolds. A template has been set by Brentford whose Sports Community Trust played a blinder in helping secure a move to Lionel Road.
Fernandes says he is serious about providing affordable housing for local people. And stadium-led developments are proven to be a good catalyst for re-generation – a number of cases in this country and elsewhere have shown this.
These factors ought to give QPR an advantage over potential rival developments. But the club will mainly rely on the all-important strength of public feeling. To put it another way; they need the fans. Big time.
For the ‘£20 fans’ of no use to Flavio Briatore just a few years ago, this will be a potential opportunity to shape the club beyond telling Uncle Tony he’s the best chairman in the world and politely asking him for an atmospheric ground with decent legroom.
They can use this as leverage to get the tightest possible assurances on important issues like ticket prices, the look and feel of the stadium and the ‘New Queen’s Park’ community in general. To be blunt, in return for the support the club need on this, fans groups can try to ensure Fernandes delivers on his pledge that the project is “not just for rich Asians”. His words.
Consider the issue of ticket prices for last season. The club deserve credit for those revised (extremely revised) prices, as do the fans’ representatives who made the case for a reduction. It showed that the club do listen, they are willing to engage and that keeping people on board is important to them. Much more important than during the Briatore era.
There has been a concerted effort by the club to re-connect with fans and take their views seriously. I can definitely vouch for the fact that this effort has been sincere. So the climate is ideal for the fans to make sure they play a leading role.
When the club urge the fans to back a campaign to keep Rangers in the area, the call will be answered. And rightly so, because the issue is of monumental importance to the future of QPR, but it’s also a great chance for the fans to really engage and help shape the club’s future rather than simply act as Fernandes’ foot soldiers in the PR battle that lies ahead.
For another example of how influential the supporters can be when speaking with a clear voice, I recall 2001, when, after opposing a merger with Wimbledon, fans very skilfully saw off attempts to move QPR away from W12. Members of the supporters’ trust, QPR 1st, lobbied the local council, who in the end made it clear they would do everything they could do to prevent Loftus Road being used as anything other than a football stadium.
I attended the Council meeting where this was decided and wrote a story that led to the financial backers of the proposed re-location immediately pulling out and the deal collapsing, much to the anger of the Wright-led board, but much to QPR fans’ joy.
What that also showed was that the feelings of local people can count for a lot, even against wealthy developers.
More than a decade later and QPR will look to invoke the same spirit when they argue that it would be a travesty if this unique opportunity to secure the club’s future in West London is lost.
With hindsight, although the events of 2001 were hugely significant in terms of keeping QPR in the local area, only half the battle was won.
The second-half is about to start.’