QPR, John Gregory And The Future

Kaveh Solhekol wrote the following article which appeared in ‘The Times’
Gregory’s hard times over with QPR in the fast lane again. The Manager can put away his credit card with an affluent new ownership team in place to pick up the bills instead.

Where do you start ? John Gregory has been the Manager of Queens Park Rangers for 12 months but he already feels ten years older than he did last September. As a football reporter you get used to asking questions that you already know the answer to but Gregory has a lot to get off his chest. QPR nearly went out of business before Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore bought the Coca Cola Championship Club for £14m three weeks ago and there have been plenty of mornings during the past year when Gregory had looked in the mirror and wondered whether he could carry on. Last month, one of his star strikers died in a car crash, in February his players hit the headlines for kung-fu fighting with the China Olympic team and the threat of administration and relegation have been haunting him nearly every day.

“We couldn’t pay our hotel bills on away trips so I had to get my credit card out,” Gregory said. “That’s how bad things were before Bernie and Flavio arrived.” As well as dipping into his own pocket, Gregory had to dismantle the Club’s scouting system. “What’s the point of having scouts when you don’t have the money to buy anyone” he said – and get rid of half his 1st team squad. Just when he thought things could not get any worse, the photocopier in his office broke down last Christmas. When he tried to get it fixed, he was told that it would be impossible because the last repair bill was six months overdue. “That was scratching the surface of the problems here,” Gregory said. “When I arrived the whole place had relegation written all over it. There was no love, no one cared, the players hated Saturdays. Twenty of them were injured because they didn’t want to play and they didn’t want to be associated with our problems.”

Showing demoralised players the door was the least of his problems. When he tried to sign replacements on free transfers he discovered that word had spread about the Club’s financial problems and that players were reluctant to sign on the dotted line when their contracts might not be worth the paper that they were written on. “It was bloody hard.” Gregory who played for QPR from 1981 to 1985 said, “I had to tell the players that we signed that everything was wonderful here. They kept telling me that they had heard that we were close to administration but I’d say no, no, no, where did you hear that ? That was three years ago, everything is fine now, of course you’ll get paid next month.”

While Gregory demonstrated his ability to be economical with the truth, Gianni Paladini, the Chairman, rang up everyone he could think of to try to raise funds to keep the Club going. When Paladini rang Gregory and told him that Ecclestone, the Formula One ringmaster and one of the richest men in Britain and Briatore, the Managing Director of the Renault Formula One team, wanted to buy the Club, he could hardly believe what he was hearing. “I told Gianni he was living in a fantasy world when he mentioned their names,” Gregory said. “I told him to ring me back when he had sobered up. He was trying to convince me that they were coming but I refused to believe it until the deal was signed, sealed and delivered, what has happened is beyond our wildest dreams.”

At a meeting with Gregory last week, the new owners explained what was expected of him. He would be given money to spend in the transfer window in January but in the meantime, QPR had to start winning games. Unfortunately for Gregory, his team has not won this Season, leading to speculation that he would be replaced by somebody with a higher profile, such as Gianlucca Vialli, the former Chelsea Manager. “I’ve been given no guarantees about my future,”Gregory said. “I was just told to carry on doing my job and to prepare the team as best as I can.” Even if the worst comes to the worst and the Club’s new owners opt for a quick fix and show him the door, Gregory has at least repaired some of the damage done to his reputation after his acrimonious departure from Derby County in March 2003. “The allegations against my role in transfers started when I left Aston Villa five years ago. Then Derby threw allegations at me which I proved were totally false and I won my case against them for unfair dismissal. I got paid a seven-figure sum in compensation. You don’t get that if you are guilty of anything.”

The photocopier in his office is fixed now and new scouts are being employed but one thing Gregory cannot change is what happened on August 25th when Ray Jones, the Club’s highly rated 18-year-old striker, died in a car crash in East London. “I’ve lost a few friends in the past but to lose one of your players was unbelievably difficult. We had to go and bury one of our team mates, that was really tough.” As his voice trails off, Gregory glances at the tape machine recording our conversation. “I’m sure you’ve got enough in there.” More than enough John, more than enough.

There was also a ‘snippet’ yesterday in the Sunday Mirror by David James titled, ‘It’s Not Nice To Share’

Delighted QPR shareholders wait with baited breath to see if the purchase of their Club by Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone is going to lead them to the promised land of the Premier League. The only concern until now, has been the dilution of their shares to give the Formula One boys a working majority but why, now the deal is done, the small investors need to sell their shares for just one penny a share ? Surely it’s better to hold on to the shares because they might be worth much more soon if Rangers make it to the land of milk and honey !
Steve Russell