Even a cynic like me couldn’t fail to be impressed at the official unveiling of the ‘QPR In The Community Trust’ at the House of Lords on Tuesday evening. I must be going soft. Either that or they spiked my orange juice. The event marked the re-launch of Rangers community scheme, which has been run by Andy Evans since 1994. When I first heard the scheme was gaining Trust status, my initial thought was that it was about the club cutting costs and expecting the community department to fund itself. Hopefully that won’t prove to be the case. Andy has wanted this change for several years and when I spoke to him this week he was very enthusiastic about the scheme’s future.
Becoming a Trust involves gaining official charity status, opening up new venues in terms of fundraising and other benefits. More on this can be found on the Trust’s website along with details of the work Andy and his team will be undertaking. That team will hopefully go from strength to strength. In 1994, when Rangers were of course an established top-flight club, the community department had two full time staff members. It now has ten. QPR really are sitting on a potential goldmine. And while the scheme can claim to have positively affected close to 100,000 lives in the last year, it is hoped that three years from now that figure will more than double; to around 250,000. The club’s community work is not just about football, but there is a definite crossover.
Everyone with an interest in QPR can reel off the names of high-profile local footballers who ended up at other clubs, and more recently Rangers have been even slower off the mark. The more youngsters they come into contact with, the better their chances have to be of picking up potential stars. For example, Dean Parrett, who has since been sold to Tottenham where he is already on the fringes of the first-team squad, became involved with QPR via the club’s community scheme. Even more importantly, if ‘QPR In The Community’ is vibrant and successful it will offer the club huge potential to maintain and expand its fan base. That isn’t just the usual drivel you hear about these schemes. QPR really are sitting on a potential goldmine, albeit an inner-city one and not the “boutique” model the owners have pursued.
A long-term goal of the Trust is to get to the stage where it not only receives funding, but is strong enough to actually step in and assist community projects and the like. There is a case that football clubs have a moral responsibility to do this. But those, including the owners, who are concerned with tangible results and the final balance sheet also have good reason to invest in a community scheme.
When I was a kid, QPR’s reaching out to young fans seemed to involve little more than handing out free tickets to the odd home match. Some of us already supported Rangers and others happily went along to watch a game for free – often wearing Liverpool or Manchester United shirts – with no intention of switching allegiances. The notion that youngsters would be so pleased to receive tickets and so smitten by QPR they’d become fans was almost as daft as believing that a green and white third kit would attract Irish fans. The best way to build any kind of support is to have an exciting and successful team. Gimmicks don’t work. But imagine a scenario where many projects and people are dependent on QPR. Where the club makes an actual difference to the quality of peoples’ lives, just like various charities we can all think off.
On Tuesday evening the speakers included a youngster who was very frank about the direction he was heading in before his involvement with a QPR-supported initiative, since which time his studies have improved immeasurably. Other speakers included the mother of a child with Down’s syndrome, who plays for the QPR Tiger Cubs’ team. Handing out free or cheap tickets to fill empty seats has its place, but giving people a reason to feel a genuine attachment to QPR is surely more effective. For that reason, expanding the Trust and reaching as many local people as possible can only strengthen QPR in the future. It’s a long-term investment and a worthy one. Lord Burns, a lifelong Rangers fan and former Club Director, hosted the event and also spoke, as did Andy Evans and Vice-Chairman Amit Bhatia (Lakshmi Mittal’s son-in-law and representative on the Board), who is the ‘QPR In The Community’ Chairman. Gareth Ainsworth then made a speech and presented a cheque from the players for over ¬£8,000.
Former players Clive Wilson and Kevin Gallen were also there, as was Kenny Dalglish, who is involved with community projects in Scotland. It was noticeable that a fair few of those attending this shindig were from companies that have been associated with QPR since last season’s takeover. Looking around the room, it occurred to me that although Flavio Briatore’s boutique vision is potentially disastrous for the club, there is scope to join it up with the community-based approach Bhatia is fronting. The Corporate types I increasingly came across at home games could be prime candidates for a friendly donation or two to ‘QPR In The Community’ and the terms of last year’s deal with Lotto showed the two approaches can be combined.
Andy deserves a lot of respect for the work he has done, and support for the work he is trying to do. He’s a Rangers man through and through, has worked at the club for many years and it’s about time he and his team got the credit they deserve. And I’m not in the business of praising Directors, so I’ll need to lie down after this….. QPR’s rhetoric rarely bears much resemblance to what’s actually happening. In my view, talk of building responsibly and not overspending is particularly laughable. If points were awarded for hot air, Rangers would be in a league of their own. But when I spoke to Bhatia soon after he joined the Board, he talked particularly passionately about the community aspect of QPR, saying he would work with Andy Evans to develop that side of the club. He has been as good as his word.