Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Skating on thin Hoops

Queens Park Rangers 3 Walsall 0

(+ a bit of Norwich City 1 Queens Park Rangers 1)

Having enjoyed an extended bank holiday weekend with family 'ooop north' it was nice to come back to Loftus Road at the end of it and watch the Rs win a cup match fairly comfortably. Watching together with a crowd of about 6,000 people all sat at the South Africa Road and Loftus Road ends, it almost felt as if we were transported back in time to our League One days. I know I'll be the only one who says this, but I actually quite liked the atmosphere last night. Only the hardcore fans were there, with a lot of people sitting away from their ST seats, the #qprtwitfam out in force and with kids still on holiday there was a lovely family feeling about the place.

I loved the banter with the Walsall fans. It sure was a strange sort of 'library', and sarcastic shrieks of 'oooh' when Walsall nearly scored made me chuckle. But while we supported our team with this kind of banter, the real subtext was our incredible fear of losing another cup game early on. Like most fans, I was hoping that we would stage a QPR upset, and actually win the match. And a few close-shaves, especially in the first half, had me with my head in my hands, my eyes behind my two hands, and looking up to the heavens for some help.

It was good to see though, that Hughes' intentions were absolutely clear. He was out to win this match, and not use it as some sort of 'practice round'. He made serious substitutions (although I have to say, as @sandyhoops mentioned to me during the game 'we don't look at the bench anymore and think s** we've got Zesh Rehman'), and with only 6,000+ people there I could hear him remonstrating animatedly at the team. He is under pressure without doubt, and so are the boys. OK, so we're only 3 matches in to the season but so far (as was the case last season) the new players are not living up to expectation, and I for one I am not sure if I buy the 'they need time to gel' theory. These guys train together every day and at this level I sometimes just have no sympathy for them. They shouldn't be using their Premier League or cup games to get in to the right team shape and neither should Hughes.

So, apart from the fact that I really wanted to call this blog 'skating on thin hoops'  because the hoops have been getting so thin over the years and I thought it was a good title, I wonder whether there is a case for saying the QPR management are playing a risky strategy making massive marquee signings, letting go of several players, and not fostering an atmosphere were players understand the history and meaning of the club instead of simply talking about the long-term plan of the future? Don't get me wrong, it's just wonderful that we now have the funds to attract big names like Park and Green etc etc, but having listened to what Lee Cook had to say a couple of weeks ago on the QPR podcast 'Open All Rs', the old atmosphere in the dressing room back in the day was something special with everyone playing for the shirt. Obviously we won't have people in the team who feel that way about playing for the Rangers, but surely players at this level have got to take it on the chin and stop looking so disjointed on and off the pitch?

I've been thinking a lot about how clubs ride on past glories. Look at Liverpool...a prime example of a club that will attract big players (and yet still don't perform!). I get it, QPR don't have the same glories to ride on, but we are a proud and loyal fan base, with a fascinating history that shouldn't be forgotten completely. And I guess I am a little sceptical about the mass exodus of old players, and the influx of the new because so far the results (ever since January 2012), have proved old players that have been through the challenges with us are the ones who have performed.

This all sounds a little bit negative after what was a decent win last night, but I'm still nervous about the future. I can't quite figure out what this 'long-term plan' is in terms of what and who we see on the pitch. Looking at last night SWP finally scored a goal outside a friendly last night, but he wasn't great for much of the game, Cisse was offside time and time again (as he was last Saturday against Norwich), and it was old boy Faurlin back from injury who made all the difference in mid field with his classy passing. We are also hearing rumours of some of the young players: Doughty and Ehmer pipped for first-team selection, but haven't seen or heard a peep from them (apart from front-covers on cup programmes!). Now, we are on the verge of signing top Brazilian international Julio Cesar as a second goalkeeper who no one is sure we actually need.

I am confused to say the least, and my hope is that we're going to see in the coming weeks a more fully fledged team really playing with pride for QPR and for the dedicated fans.

In the meantime, I pay homage to a couple of friends who have worn their own hoops throughout the years and the shirt which has changed over the years. If you like the idea, please tweet me your pics in the Hoops over the years and I will write another bigger piece on it.

I am still not sure if I like the new 'thinner' hoops but I am glad the logo doesn't look 'ironed on' anymore.  Some consolation as we look forward to a long, hard and no doubt exciting season.

You RRRsssss

For more on QPR's kits over the years: Historical QPR Kits

A great pic of @gmileham1's shirts

@QPRman2's selection of shirts over the years including this season's Air Asia one

The Hoops through the years courtesy of @QPRman2

@pinoyQPR in his Hoops back in the early 90s
@annieqpr in the Binatone shirt from 2003-2006

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Welcome back/to QPR

Queens Park Rangers 0 Swansea City 5

I, along with several thousand QPR fans, will try to draw a line under what has been the worst start to a season I can remember. I wasn't expecting to write a blog tonight after such a heavy loss. Swansea at home couldn't have been a better test for another 'shiny new-look' QPR squad.

I was prepared to forgive the 8 minute goal from Michu as we were looking slick and confident: Park was workman-like and Hoilett looked like he was fired up. Early days, I thought, early days. And at half time I checked the stats: we had pretty much equal possession, had completed the same amount of passes as Swansea and had several shots more on goal. Sadly the only one that counted was the one from the opposition. One would have thought, that this 'shiny new look' team and our experienced manager would have sounded the alarm bells at half time. But it seems to me that a lack of respect and over-blown confidence prevailed which resulted in a second half where we simply crumbled. I don't think I've ever seen so many people leave the ground so quickly after goals no. 4 and 5 occurred. And once 4 goals were scored, I have to say I was thinking "I just can't take 20 whole minutes of this." Yes that's how much time we had to suffer.

And here is my line:


On the other hand. My morning and early afternoon were filled with high hopes and excitement as I prepared myself for this season's first trip down to The Green to see the members of the QPRTWITFAM. It was great to see @Loftboy63, @Funkyprawn, @RichieQPR1, @Mrs_AJams et al. It was also nice to meet my sister from another mother @Gemcricketmad and her son for the first time.

On the way down to the Bush it was nice to read all the excited tweets as people from all over the country made their pilgrimage down to Loftus Road. There were many new faces too, a lot of new fans from Korea who were there to support Park Ji Sung asking for directions to the 'Queens Park Rangers Stadium'. It was nice to hear from some of the old fans that they were excited to welcome this new international following. There was a positive feeling in the air. I really like the way QPR fans are embracing the changes at the club.

Also today, the latest QPR writer @writesaidfred68 was down from Norwich with his two kids in tow, signing his book which is now selling at the QPR club shop. Unfortunately I was not able to see him, but I wish his book all the success and urge all fans to get down to the store and buy it if you can.

Here I erase some of the line


I am considering watching Match of the Day & Match Choice today even though we lost. Why? I need to understand what the hell happened. OK, I know what happened (I merely want to re-affirm my belief): we don't have a defence, and we were completely wrong tactically, we shouldn't have had Cisse up-front alone, Fabio was frighteningly bad...etc etc etc. Well, in all honesty, we were Queens Park Rangers. And that's what we do in the first game of the season: we squander a great opportunity.

What does it mean? My prediction is now what we will have an EXTREMELY exciting season. We will not be suffering from mid-table mediocrity. We certainly won't be playing boring football (good or bad). We will see some serious under-achieving going on, and we will see the 'old boys' playing the better football. Sound familiar?

Well, we are familiar with it, but I did feel for the two young Korean chaps who shared a carriage with me on the Central line home. I wondered, have they made previous pilgrimages to Old Trafford before? Looking at one of them who was wearing the new Air Asia-sponsored kit, I thought - has this boy realised changing allegiance will bring him such pain and anguish on a regular basis? Does he know what we'll probably lose to Walsall on the 28th August? Will he be there at all after today's performance?

Welcome back to another season with QPR everyone, and welcome new fans to what will likely be one hell of a season.

You RRRRRssssss
 South Africa Road on a sunny day before the crumble

Finally, they put my name on my seat!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Fred: on friends, family and football (not necessarily in that order)

It feels surreal writing this with only on week left till the fans return en-mass to Loftus Road for the beginning of the 2012/2013 season. It has been a long summer of highs and lows in British sport, finishing with an incredibly exciting Olympic campaign. I am excited, but it will feel strange going back to the routine of football supporting life.

Amidst the flurry and excitement of the wall to wall coverage of sport we have been gifted with, I had the pleasure to speak to Fred Hartman last week. He is the latest QPR fan to pick up a pen and write about his passion for Queens Park Rangers. I was lucky enough to get an early copy of his book 'It's a Game of Two Halves'  back in June and reviewed it in conjunction with another football book 'Manchester City Ruined my Life' (see review here). And I was moved by Fred's simple passion for the club that he supports and how he writes with such fondness about his close friends and family. After ensuring I've got my recorder on and phone on speaker...."Is it Frederick or Fred?" I ask. He  explains that Fred is definitely what people call him with Frederick being used only for the book as it sounded more serious. I knew this was going to be a jovial and fun conversation as he continues on to explain how he started the journey to writing his first book after I tell him how writing my blog suddenly created demand from a select but interested group of people, week in week out:

"That's how I started writing my blog Write Said Fred, it's the same kind of thing...where you do a blog with your rants...and people start saying 'I really enjoyed that, when's the next one?' and you think well I haven't got anything to write about so you end up writing about the fact you haven't got anything to write about," he laughs. I completely understand where he's coming from. Once you start the 'blogging' life, the ball does roll (albeit down a small mound as opposed to some massive mountain). And he clearly enjoys it as much as I do.

But I ask him about the book - and what the catalyst was for him to write it. "I've always wanted to write a book. When I was at school and people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, it would have been some kind of writer-slash-journalist, but I suppose the catalyst was the amazing high and low that I felt when we were promoted. I've followed QPR for nearly 35 years, so it was the biggest thing I'd ever seen happen to the club. But then my friend Queenie who I had obviously been going to football with for nearly 20 years passed away within a matter of weeks. And I think it was the incredibly high and the incredibly low- if you put those two things together...I blogged about it, but it didn't do it justice. And I thought, there's actually more of a story to tell here than just 'QPR won the Championship'."

Very quickly, I realise that what's really at the heart of the football 'memoir' that Fred has written, is a very personal journey that most humans can relate to. Queenie was the close footballing companion of Fred's and the book is interspersed with fond memories of their time together. And although Fred's parents (who also passed away some time ago) were not as fanatical about QPR or football as he was, there's a real appreciation for them as parents and as really decent human beings who gave all the support they could within their modest means. Personally, I loved hearing about their interesting lives, how his Dad "knew of" the Kray brothers back in the day, and how he "often witnessed acts of gangland violence in the clubs he frequented, and claimed that the only reason he himself didn't end up propping up a flyover somewhere was down to this close connections with the capital's Mafia hierarchy."

I actually think this is a fascinating and unique life-and-family-story, but Fred is so modest about this and about his achievement, as he explains how he used the 'November book month' to write his book in just one month. "It's a funny story actually." He tells me that after a little bit of hesitation, once set on the topic of football, family and the friend that he had lost, he sat down and wrote 4,000 words in one night. "Once you get going, it's a snowball effect, but you have to discipline can't sit there at 1 o'clock in the morning bleary-eyed." He jokes about how he never will write a book again, but as he explains the lessons learned from his experience (being organised, disciplined etc), I have a feeling we'll be seeing a bit more from Fred in the coming years.

In my review of the book, I talk about how Schindler from his slightly 'loftier' academic world (in Manchester City Ruined my Life), finishes, as the title so gloriously tells us, with him losing a lot of love for the club and deciding to no longer support it like he once did. This was largely due to his feeling of disillusionment due to the buyout of the club by the Abu Dhabi clan.While it can't be said that the Rangers are quite as rich, we have had the good fortune to be freed of debts and owned by some pretty rich people. I wanted to know what Fred thought about this and whether he thought that it's 'international-isation' of QPR (with the recent PR-generating tour of Asia and a plane being made in Alan McDonald's honour out in KL):

"I can see both sides. There are people that just want to stay in the past almost, with this feeling that we are a small club. 'Let's stay family-orientated, let's stay in the area, let's keep that intimacy.' I completely see that. But I also see the other side of things, that if you're ever going to be 'successful' i.e. finishing top 6, Europe, possibly winning trophies..challenging for the title, you have got to move with the times and you have to have thirty, forty thousand watching every week and you have got to have the ability to attract the very top players in Europe....and you have got to pay those wages. To do that, you've got to grow. I'm excited and scared at the same time. While I want to stay with the club I grew up with in the 70s and 80s with that family-orientated mentality, I also know that if we're ever going to challenge we do have to move with the times. I think I'd welcome that."

He hits the nail on the head when he says:

"It mirrors society, you know that whole thing about people who don't like change. There's a lot of QPR fans out there that won't welcome the change, while others, perhaps the younger generation will see this as something they will embrace."

It's a Game of Two Halves also ends with Fred deciding to step away from supporting QPR. At the early part of last season, visits to Loftus Road just seem to painful without Queenie. I ask him, given his more positive current outlook, whether this is still the case. And he admits quickly "No." And goes on to explain it was too difficult, especially after Tony Fernandes came on board, not to stick the telly on, watch the games online, even if it wasn't always easy to get down to Loftus Road from his base in Norwich.

I ask him whether his kids have caught the QPR bug yet?  He tells me that trips down to Loftus Road aon a Saturday are a bit of a trek and takes a whole day, so isn't something they can do all the time. Both kids get the QPR shirt at the beginning of the season, but while Jo is older and has been to more games he "prefers to kick a ball about with his friends." And Katie, his younger daughter just "wants to do what her Dad and brother do."

And there it is. We are a sport-loving nation. We go out on droves to watch all manner of sports all year-round. And, when it comes to football supporters sometimes get bad press about a sort of 'herd' mentality. But there's another much more intimate side to sport. And that is about being with friends and being with family, spending precious time together that one day will be taken away from us. I think Fred's got it just about right being open to the fact that maybe his kids aren't going to be as obsessive about QPR as he is, but they sure as hell aren't going to pass up an opportunity for a fun day out with Dad.

Perhaps Queens Park Rangers won't stop being a family club after all.

£1 of every book sold goes to the Tiger Cubs.  It's a Game of Two Halves is out on the 18th August at Foyles in Westfield and the QPR Superstore or on this website: Beaten Track  Follow Fred @writesaidfred68