Sunday, 10 February 2013

My QPR and other Animals

Swansea 4 Queens Park Rangers 1

For me, this week has been pretty mammoth as far is life for a QPR fan goes. Within one week, I feel as if I've experienced the ups and downs of whole lifetime, and I write this post with a heavy heart looking back what has happened.

I was fortunate to be asked on to this week's QPR Podcast, episode of 'Lucky Knickers'. Widely considered to be one of the worst or 'crappiest' of episodes it was a fantastic experience to meet QPR  hosts Paul Finney, David Fraser and Chris Charles at the studio bunker in Marylebone. It is true that for that episode, there was little structure, no special guest, and I am not sure the guys realised I thought I was going to be asked about my blog...but we muddled through and I don't think I've ever laughed so much for a long time. I realise I have a very loud laugh so you may have noticed I was trying to hold it back quite a bit. In spite of the lack of structure, I believe that episode is representative of exactly what a football fans podcast is meant to be like: all heart, soul, ramblings - warts and all. I'll admit I did wonder what the hell I was going to say about two 0-0 draws and as was always the fear with writing the blog: I am not a football pundit. I know and love the game, and am a passionate supporter but I can only talk about what I think I understand. A little bit like wine: I know nothing about what makes it good, but I sure do know when I'm drinking a great bottle of the stuff. I'd like to say thank you to the lads for inviting me on it, and hope it wasn't too painful an experience. And without wishing to make the podcast sound better than it really was, I do believe it's important that the QPR Podcast continues to invite a range of different fans from different backgrounds so that other fans can see what an interesting range of people love and support this club. While the hub of QPR is very much about West London and those who do get to go to matches both home and away, not everyone has the chance to do this, and it is possible to have a bond from far away Premier League or no Premier League - and the Melbourne Rs we mentioned on the show is one of those examples.

Another big event for the QPR Fans Forum on Thursday. Being the first forum in 5 years this was a pretty big deal. And unfortunately I was not invited. I am not sure whether a QPR fan blog qualifies me, but I was not hugely disappointed given that I knew there would be plenty of people representing and in all honesty I was ever so slightly suspicious about the potential level of spin and just how controlled an environment that would be. I heard from friends and read on twitter that we had all sorts of questions ranging from the Christmas parties through to what was happening with players like Bosingwa and others who may not be putting in the effort. Interestingly, while the forum itself appeared to be pretty successful with a largely happy contingent of fans leaving with some questions answered and others on hold - to be discussed, another contingent of fans on twitter who were not able to make it appear to have found reason to be concerned about the quality of the questions. It seems that there were fans who felt that questions about what football players were doing for the community or whether the club shop was stocked correctly were irrelevant given the relegation predicament we are in. I must say I did have some sympathy for those comments. Especially as I really felt after the Norwich game that we had really lost our chance of staying up and had run out of luck.

However having been busy all week with various engagements, I finally watched the recording this morning. And while it was funny to hear someone talk about his wife who teaches in a 'Chelsea' school being let down by Faurlin, and it was also amusing to hear Harry admit that Mbia does roll about a bit, I actually felt very much that the forum was exactly what it should have been. It was an opportunity for all fans to be able to tell the club about what mattered to them most, and I could really feel that in the way people were asking questions. I am not saying that fighting relegation is not the most important thing, but as we discussed on the podcast this week, this club is not just about the football. And to raise a good point that Finney made perhaps it's not just a 'football club'. Or perhaps, to put it better, a football club is not just about the football. So while we all have a right to have an opinion about some of the questions, we should also respect that those things happen to be important to them because those are the things that those fans believe represent QPR in the best possible light.

Do I honestly believe that some of the 'to be discussed' options will happen? I don't know. I am not part of the LSA and don't know enough about the history of past meetings between them and the club. But as fans, we must act not only solidly, and in unison but just as business-like as the club itself. It is no good behaving like kids and throwing toys out of a pram when we are angry and things don't go our way. Sometimes, things will mess up and we need to be able to approach each issue in a considered way, with facts and numbers to back ourselves up. And I also believe that while it's a shame that Faurlin did not go to that school we need to be much more realistic about what's going on when it comes to charities and community projects for the club and in the area. I'd like to understand a bit more about what the strategy overall is for the club;  the various charities each player personally supports or even sets up on his own, and how they decide on what the community projects are, or how they raise money for projects like the Tiger Cubs. These are the questions we need to be asking - and we should push them for the business plan they have for these. Because, make no bones about it, charities and community projects are a business in this part of the world and we need to understand exactly what good is being done and what impact it is really having.

Overall conclusion of the forum? It's the first step in an exercise that the club must continue to do more regularly. It was also important that it was streamed live - I understand that 17,000 fans viewed it online so there is an obvious heavy interest in what the club has to say everyone.

So as the week drew to a close, I looked forward to the Swansea trip which was a last minute decision. Being a match that we were on the cards to lose, I was hoping we may cause an upset. And the line of the day was 'don't let 90 minutes ruin a perfectly nice day out.' As we steamed up the motorway the banter in the car was priceless. We discussed everything from what to do if a QPR fan married another QPR fan; they had a baby and both needed to go to the match but could not get a babysitter,  through to what we thought about the Viagogo arrangement with the club. We drove through hail, snow and rain to reach the relatively balmy temperatures of Swansea city. And for the next 90 minutes I don't think I've ever experienced a more miserable away stand. There were no songs, there were fights in the back, there were fights in the toilets, there were programmes thrown in the air within the first 5 minutes, there were people getting thrown out, there were people lighting up cigarettes. And all because we were just so shockingly bad on the pitch that I think everyone just felt it was a step way too far to be in any way enamoured by what we were seeing.

It was awful. We played with no real centre forward to start, and had lined up a very poor midfield in Jenas, Mbia, Derry and Townsend. While individually each player has his skills, this was not the context for them to play together and I am not sure that as a unit they were really meant to fight against the power house of 5 midfielders that Swansea had. I think it killed us, and even if we could claim a clear penalty this is the kind of luck that we can no longer hope or rely on. It was so so depressing coming back, and as we sped down back to West London, it was really hard to find one positive from the day. Nice Swansea fans? Tick. Free coke refills at the local Harvester? Tick. Going to away matches in Brighton next year? maaaaybe tick.

So it is now Sunday and after an evening where I fell off the smoking ladder and smoked 5 cigarettes due to depression, and had a little too much wine to drink, I am now lying in my bed planning a day ahead that aims to be as constructive and positive as ever. I shall be throwing away those cigarettes, going for a run, and I shall cook a lovely meal and catch up on my soaps and crime dramas. Why? Because you can't go on in life feeling sorry for yourself. You must pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on or life simply isn't worth living. And by the same token, QPR is going through some serious s*** right now. But remember, this isn't the first time we've been through this, and we have managed to pick ourselves up and keep coming back. And this time will not be last time we do either. Finney is right when he says the only people who stay loyal to a club are the fans. It is absolutely spot on. And that is why I dedicate this blog to all the fans - even the ones I completely disagree with. Because, as the podcast experience, the fans forum and the trip to Swansea shows: the fact is we do care. No this is not a football club, it's my family and other animals.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Big club, little club

Queens Park Rangers 2 MK Dons 4

Queens Park Rangers 0 Manchester City 0

Queens Park Rangers 0 Norwich City 0

Last night I experienced what can only be described as severe QPR depression. For the first time in a long time, I could not think positively about the club for more than a minute. Even for the whole of last season I did not feel this way. It was a hopeless feeling. When I got home, I resorted to making lasagne to keep my mind occupied, opening a bottle of red to attempt to drown my sorrows and then switching to Splash and The Following on TV to attempt to compartmentalise my feelings.

Why did I feel this way? QPR are still bottom of the table. Truth is, we would have been even if we had won yesterday. QPR are still unbeaten in the league this year. Truth is, we were thrashed by MK Dons so I still think there is a problem. And we've just signed ourselves a fantastic central defender in Chris Samba. Truth is, I am still nervous about the decisions being made by the board.

Because our season start was so bad, and the positive momentum has come too late, yesterday's draw felt as bad as a loss for me. Taarabt not scoring the penalty didn't help. It felt as if we were doomed even if a little bit of luck tried to shine upon us. And now, given that the clubs around us are winning and pulling away, I really must honestly come to terms with the possibility that we are doing down. Yes I know that before Christmas I had written that I had already resigned myself. But I suppose our win against Chelsea and the QPR PR strategy has provided me with a false sense of security. And frankly I am a little angry that I have allowed myself to be carried away with this tide of spin.

Yet again, last Thursday we found ourselves getting sucked in to transfer deadline day. We enjoyed poking fun at Odemwingie, and revelled at the envy of other clubs when we signed Samba - following on from our Remy buy a few weeks earlier. And while I think they were good buys- and according to Fernandes we can afford them - I honestly wonder whether we are now thinking too short term vs. long term. Is all this change yet again really good for our club and it's own heart? Fernandes, as the face of the club, obviously has his charms in persuading players to join us but the money is not all his and big decisions are obviously being made by the shareholders. Yes, some of these are risky but I do believe that they have probably done their sums. So, I don't think this is going to be another Pompey situation- at least not quite so quickly. But I do worry about what QPR stands for, and what all these events do to the personality of our club which means so much to so many people.

This week's QPR Podcast featured a great song by Owen Parker called 'Because we're Queens Park Rangers' which you can listen to here: Because we're Queens Park Rangers. I think all QPR fans can relate to the lyrics. In his dulcet David Greyish tones he sings:

I can take the constant disappointment
Guns in the boardroom
Anglo-Chinese diplomatic situation

I can take Tango & Cash
Monaco-based banks
Striker after striker
Drawing blanks

But what makes me sick
Is when you put on that shirt
And don't give a s**
Collect your cash
Speed home metal to metal
Then spend all evening polishing your Champions League medal...
(copyright Owen Parker)

His lyrics, and the staccato style in which he sings the punchy verses, are reflective of what is now becoming the paradoxical monotony of controversial events that surround our club. And while we can all laugh at the song's humour in my depressed QPR state, I wonder whether it would just be nice to go back to being a fairly middling Championship or League One club. Then again, half of the events he describes happened before we were even promoted to the Premier League. So are we simply a club doomed because of the simple fact that we are a London based club that exists in a prime area of London which will always be of great interest to investors and people with money?

I have often written about the fact that what makes QPR special is the fact that it is by and large a family club, with a family atmosphere. I suppose that as fans, we have always assumed that a family club means a small club. After all, how can an atmosphere or an organisation be intimate, like a family, if it is so big? Tony Fernandes said something interesting in that Telegraph interview: 'We, QPR, have to move out of the small club syndrome and for constant security have to build a bigger stadium, a better infrastructure.' I can imagine there will be some QPR fans who will argue with this. After-all, we are small club aren't we? isn't that the reality? We aren't a West Ham that can easily pull in 30K+ people for Championship matches, it wasn't so long ago when we struggled to get 13K to the ground even though we were a fairly decent Championship team. Last week even saw a bit of debate between fans on twitter as to the number of 'hardcore' QPR fans, based in London, outside and abroad...Ranging from 15,000 to 60,000....Still, neither of these numbers come even close the other big global brands that have been doing this 'international expansion' thing for years. 

On the other hand, we don't really have a chance in Premier League football if we do not make some big decisions. I think that we probably didn't have to make so many ridiculous signings last January nor last summer - other clubs who were 'on paper' worse than us did not and have been able to nurture their squads more organically. But because we have started down that road, we're a bit stuck and probably don't have a choice to be proceed as we started. Fernandes said that 'We inherited a squad where every single player who has left is no longer playing in the Premier League, doesn’t that say something?' But I would also argue that I am not sure that many of the Premier League players we have acquired have a future in the Premier League either!!! 

Whichever way I turn I feel bewildered by it all. But what I can say for sure is that recent history has shown us that this level of instability has done us little good. Will it help us to survive? Unlikely, but maybe. And even if we do survive, how many more players do we bring in this summer to start the cycle all over again? I am so afraid that we keep working on the roof when we haven't even finished on the foundations of the house. So...perhaps relegation will actually do us some good? Yes, we're going to lose our on a shed load of money and we're going to lose some big players. But maybe we'll get a semblance of our old club back and we can start looking at our Youth Team again for talents like Ehmer, Harriman and Doughty. 

Do I care if we become a big club or a stay a little club? Not really. I believe families can still be big and loving, and by the same token our club can still be a family club even if we expand. But frankly we're no where near close to that stage yet and I think we can cross that bridge when we come to it.