Monday, 21 April 2014

Putting your best foot forward

Leicester City 1 Queens Park Rangers 0

Queens Park Rangers 2 Watford 1

I was at a work conference a few weeks ago. We had some great speakers from various businesses. One that interested me the most was a tech company that specialises in helping start-up tech and media companies. The speaker, Jörg  Rheinboldt from Plug and Play Tech Centre, when asked what he perceived to be a winning formula, said that a 'brilliant team with a mediocre idea was better than a mediocre team with a brilliant idea'. This, as an avid QPR fan and someone who is fascinated by sports psychology and management, resonated with me. Why? Because we have spent most of the season complaining about the players in the QPR squad, largely due to their under-achievement despite their supposed pedigree. It has been somewhat obvious to us all that such pedigree does not guarantee quality football,  nor does it guarantee consistent winning and a place in an automatic promotion spot. What we have been hoping for all season is to watch a team that is just that, a great team in itself whether we are playing fallen stars like Niko Kranjcar and Benoit Assou-Ekotto,  youngsters like Max Ehmer, or up-and-coming Charlie Austin. We haven't really seen that. We've seen glimpses of it in some matches, but it hasn't been consistent enough. One might argue that the injuries that have plagued us has not allowed us to have such a level of consistency. I don't know if that's totally fair.

Companies are constantly trying to re-invent themselves to keep up with the changing world, especially media and technology companies. Innovation has been a buzz word for years, and it is ever-present in my industry. But often we hear that, in practice, you cannot force people to be innovative. It has to be organic, and sometimes (but very rarely) it's innate, or natural. It's the same with anything isn't it? You can't force a team to create a spirit. Look back on our team that promoted itself in 2004: we all look back on those players and the manager with some wistfulness. But we lived with a very different set of ingredients at the time. Perhaps we actually look back with rose-tinted spectacles given that at that point we were still under huge financial pressure as a club with a lot less options than we have now. There is nothing more powerful than a difficult battle that can unite people.

So what of our team now? Will they truly understand the magnitude of the task ahead in the play-offs? There is a job to be done - the task is simply to make it to the Premier League by winning. But for many fans, even if we do make it to the final, what we really want to see now is passion and not arrogance. There is a reason why these so-called 'Premier League quality' players are playing with us and not in the Premier League. But bearing that in mind, the fact that the play-offs is really a lottery and frankly it doesn't matter where you finish and that you must simply win the competition, means that - mediocre or not - the players must unite. And I believe our only hope is in the belief and passion that we can do it. And frankly that they, the players WANT to do it. It's all well and good Joey Barton doing some lovely stats piece on whether we can win but as he so rightly titled his piece - 'optimism' and 'belief' are actually where it's at.

The role that Harry plays in all of this is critical. The situation we are heading for will all be about preparing the team mentally more than anything else. I really hope that he is up to it as it's probably going to be his biggest task so far as a manager. We only have to look at how Mourinho's extremely sour (but very amusing) behaviour (post-Sunderland loss) probably impacts on a team like Chelsea which now leaves them 5 points behind Liverpool and unlikely to win the Premier League title. On the other hand, I can imagine Chelsea players responding to a manager like Mourinho who thrives on pointing out negative aspects of everything outside of his control in order to win his own side over. To me, it's cheap shots. But for some, it works.

One could argue that the fact that Harry has played a different team for every game hasn't helped us at all. I think all of us can understand why Redknapp played the '2nd team' he did on Saturday and the '1st team' today. But not all of us actually agree with it. Surely, at this stage in the season we should have players that are fit enough, good enough and game enough to play both matches so we put our best foot forward every time and take the consequences regardless?

That said, given today's winning result and the (let's be honest) expected loss on Saturday perhaps Harry was right to do what he did. You could say that attitude and spirit should not just be reserved for those that are picked on the day. They are things that exist on and off the pitch. But I sometimes wonder whether we truly have that? I cannot be absolutely sure.

All I can be sure of is that I'll be there, with many thousands of others, cheering the boys on and hoping, just hoping we might do it.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Best Days

Sheffield Wednesday 3 Queens Park Rangers 0

Middlesbrough 1 Queens Park Rangers 3

Queens Park Rangers 1 Wigan 0

Queens Park Rangers 1 Blackpool 1

Bournemouth 2 Queens Park Rangers 1

Blackburn 2 Queens Park Rangers 0

Queens Park Rangers 5 Nottingham Forest 2

As I write the list of results above I feel a slight pang of guilt for missing the chance to write about so many games. It hasn't been a case of wanting to absolve responsibility or laziness but just one of those instances where life has simply happened. A thousand and one things landed on my plate, as did a thousand and one games it seems...

People say that the older you get the faster time flies. And the older you get, the easier it is to look back on those earlier days with slightly rose tinted spectacles. Life never gets any easier, and will often get tougher. So being young, being free, can sometimes appear to be a place and time worth yearning for again.

I remember my 6th form well. I went away to school and I loved every moment of the amazing opportunity. I remember thinking about the times I would never forget, right then and there, because I was already so afraid of time passing and I didn't want the good times to end. I did actually enjoy academia. My studies and extra-curricular activities in school were my escape from another life. Perhaps that was different from others who were with me, but I am sure there were a few who felt the same way. I still look back on those days with such fond memories and made great friends that I rarely see (with some who are thousands of miles away) but know are always there. And while I enjoyed school and didn't even mind staying over weekends,  as much as possible I was picked up and driven down to Loftus Road in time for the 3pm kick off. As ever, QPR has remained a constant in my life.

The last few weeks were critical to QPR's bid to reach an automatic promotion spot. Most of us were concerned about it given the injuries we had, given the very erratic form, and given Harry's seeming lack of 'mojo' and motivation. But we had all obviously hoped we might pull something out of the bag, and hoped that a bit of bad luck might hit Burnley (who I have wrongly and out of bitterness turned in to a team I hate almost as much as Chelsea). At the time of the poor results, Sheffield, Blackburn, Bournemouth - I think we often put it down to a lack of team effort or a lack of positive team attitude. But then, for the games that we won - Middlesbrough, Wigan, I was so pleased with what looked like a fighting spirit. It's been confusing to say the least. And for the first time in a long time I've largely stayed away from the twitter world as I simply didn't want to get caught up in the mire of the range of emotions which I knew would only confuse me more.

Twenty something years on after leaving school, everyone is living their lives: doing well at work, and building their families. Living countless good times and some pretty bad times. And sometimes we've been feeling guilty for not keeping in touch, but mostly we've just been getting on with things. This week was a hard slog to reach the end. As always I looked forward very much to visiting Loftus Road on Saturday and the week off I was planning from work. Having ignored twitter for the most part, I was mostly hopeful and positive. As many know - from the start, avoiding relegation was my main goal so within myself (without the influence of others) I was still up-beat about it all. Call me a little naive and perhaps not that competitive, but that was always my baseline position. I was tired though, and still suffering from a two-week cough. However, just before the week closed I received a message from one of my old friends who was visiting London with a whole group from said school friends. They would be coming to Loftus Road and would I be coming along with them if possible? This was a complete surprise, and I cannot tell you how elated I was for the chance to see old friends together. And to be able to bring along new friends too made it a wonderful way to spend the day when we beat Nottingham Forest 5-2.

No, we didn't play the best football I've ever seen QPR play, but lots of things were positive. We scored first, and within the first two minutes. We had Charlie back, and while he didn't score a goal - he was pivotal to the general attitude and spirit of the team. Nedum scored a cracker after a great week for him (the birth of his second child). Niko was back (lots of eye-candy for the last twenty minutes). We scored 5, yes 5 goals (when was the last time?).  I suppose it was the last chance for the team to give us a statement of intent. So now the friends that said two days ago that they weren't fussed about going to Barnsley are asking if we should all buy a group of tickets soon. It was a wonderful result. And it was just amazing to share it with so many friends, some who I have not seen for over ten years. Not only that, but out on the pitch I was very happy to present a cheque together with many others to the Tiger Cubs for the walk we did from Loftus Road to the Valley back in February.

So, while my life outside of football in the run up to yesterday was ridiculously busy and filled with days that I will likely forget, in some ways that has helped me to get through the 'poorer than hoped for' results. We all knew that March was filled with so many games - a few weeks with two games, and that it was going to speed by which maybe made it easier. And in my warped way of thinking, you could say that was a blessing rather than a curse. An odd way to look at it, you would think, but time is only relevant when you take notice of it anyway isn't it? For what is life if you are not able to forget the bad moments and move on, or remember and treasure the good ones? I know that I can count them on one hand, and yesterday is definitely there, as one of the best days of my life.

PS. Apologies to those twitter followers hoping I might streak in happiness (I did say 'could', not 'would ;-))