Easter Monday sees City travel to Loftus Road in search of, well, not much really. As the season stumbles to its conclusion, Jon Punt spoke to QPR fanzine Loft For Words’ Clive Whittingham. They talked about trimming wage bills, the nature of the Championship, and how many separate words you could make from ‘Queens Park Rangers’….
Jon: Fun fact for you. In 1989 Norwich played QPR at Carrow Road. My long suffering mother was pestered into taking me. I forget the result but that really doesn't matter, here's what was important that day.
In the matchday programme was a competition, asking people to make as many separate words as possible from the words 'Queens Park Rangers'. We managed 144 (well, my mum did, I was only 10) and we won two match day tickets for our troubles.
So, how many can you come up with? Go!
Clive: Wow ok, left field. Given the time constraints of a two match weekend and actual day job I'm going to limit myself to two minutes at this starting.... Now. Queens. Park. Rangers. (Sorry). Queen. Ranger. Par. (Sorry) Anger, Angers, Range, Ranges, Garner, Garners, Grasp, Grasps, Square, Squares, Prank, Pranks, Queer, Rank, Rankness, Ranker, Quake, Squeak, Sprang, Pang, Pangs, Rang. And that, mercifully, is time.
28, not bad in a limited window. In fairness my mother had an hour and a half as when I was 10 I made her get to the ground at 1.30pm so I could watch the players warm up. So we'll call it an honourable draw. You missed 'quakes' though, disappointing.
You can have that game for free, tell your friends - they'll love it.
Onto to matters more pressing though. Ian Holloway, from an outsider's perspective, seems made for QPR. Much like Martin Allen is to Barnet. A bit like that ex lover you kept gravitating back towards in your 20s, no matter how much he/she pissed you off. Is that how you feel about the man, and how have you assessed his performance since he returned to Loftus Road?
Well I wouldn’t voice that too loudly in the dark and angry world of QPR on Twitter where there’s a very vocal group who really aren’t having Holloway at all and would like him sacked immediately and replaced by an unidentified better manager who would definitely want to come to QPR with no money to spend, who we would definitely be able to find and appoint despite getting the last five appointments ‘wrong’ and who would definitely spark improvements despite all the restrictions we’re operating under and the complete lack of any new manager bounce at all for any of the last five new managers we’ve appointed.
I said at the time that Holloway was an appointment no other Championship club would have made. He lost six of his first seven games which maybe suggested that we shouldn’t have done it either. We then recovered and played pretty well through January, February and March last year before completely collapsing and losing seven of the last eight. That second bad run, the wild team selections that went with it, the long rambling tangents he goes off on, and the constant blood lust and thirst for change that has infected our club since the money arrived (and sadly remains now it’s gone) mean plenty got to the end of their tethers with him at that point. He then didn’t help himself this season when we scored twice in injury time to draw with Brentford (after being outplayed for 90 minutes) and with the adrenalin still pumping he went straight on Sky and started ranting and yelling on about supporters leaving the game early.
This season we’ve accomplished what we set out to. We’ve continued to hack into the wage bill and reduce the gargantuan financial loses we were suffering. We’ve done that while maintaining a position in the Championship, and finally giving some serious game time to the promising players coming out of our U23 side. Kicking around 15th all season isn’t pretty, or that entertaining, and the away results have been abysmal and nowhere near good enough until the last fortnight. But we were stupid with money, blew our big chance, didn’t invest anything in infrastructure, and now have to pay our price by going through this process of becoming a sensible, shrewd, football club again so we can then move forward, hopefully in a Burnley or Huddersfield-type way. That takes time, you do well to stand still league placing wise while you’re doing it, and pending another collapse like this time last year we’ve managed this season’s bit of it reasonably well.
Short answer – he’s fulfilled his brief, some people are still grumpy with him.
Sounds typical of a lot of 'middle of the road' Championship clubs (no offence meant there), especially the ones who've had a taste of relative success in the last few years. The decimation of the wage bill sounds like familiar territory, we're going through the same thing albeit I can't imagine we paid anywhere near the kind of salaries you guys did a few years back.
From the times I've seen QPR this season you seem to range from workmanlike and organised, to completely chaotic and calamitous. How have things been recently?
We started the season pretty well, defying expectations, and peaked by beating Wolves and Sheff Utd in three days when they were the top two. We then, like last year, went on a calamitous six game losing run through December. January was spent grinding out necessary, ugly wins against poor teams below us to keep the wolf from the door. We've opened up and played some really good stuff through March, outplaying Derby but only drawing, beating Sunderland more comfortably than the 1-0 suggests, absolutely taking Aston Villa apart at their place and dominating the second half at Fulham and drawing 2-2. We hope that this continues through to the end of the season, although this time last year we were playing very well too and we came back from the international break and lost seven of the last eight so we'll see. We have, at times, been too prone to lazily hoofing it up to Matt Smith, but we've played some nice stuff through our talented midfield three - Scowen, Luongo, Freeman - as well.
That's encouraging to hear, given that we struggle to break sides down at home if they come and remain compact. Usually that results in some stilted midfield play and relying on a moment of magic from the likes of Maddison. Fingers crossed you come out to play expansively.
So aside from those you've already mentioned, who should we be worried about from your lot?
We're heavily reliant on Freeman who leads the division in assists, despite a collection of pretty poor forwards on the end of his deliveries. Luongo, after two goals in 93 appearances for us suddenly has four in 10 and played well for Australia during the week. Much of the excitement at the moment surrounds some of the kids coming through from our Under 23s. Paul Smyth is a tiny little dot of a human but he's quick as hell, with a properly nasty streak. He wound up Sol Bamba a treat on his debut against Cardiff and scored the winner there, and he scored on his full Northern Ireland debut at the weekend too so he's lively. Ebere Eze, who we picked up as a teenager with a bit of a reputation when Millwall released him, has broken through after a successful loan spell at Wycombe and has a nice languid style to his game and an eye for a spectacular goal from the number ten spot.
Glad to hear youth is being given a chance, although sounds like it's out of necessity.
Similarly, is there anyone from our ranks you particularly fear? And no, you can't say Maddison, that's a given.
Well yeah, Maddison obviously but my usual answer whenever I'm asked this question is nobody. That's not because I'm arrogant, or think QPR are brilliant, or think we'll definitely win. It's not because I think all your players are rubbish and it's not because I'm sure one of them won't turn round and ping one into our net from 30 yards, or that Norwich won't do what Nottingham Forest did to us twice this season because they might well do.
But, honestly, this division's a bit crap isn't it? Far too many games crammed far too close together rewarding attrition and fitness and physicality over skill and flair and ability. Far too much safety first, far too many mediocre teams, far too many players earning far more than their ability should really allow. All but a handful of our games this year have basically been two teams crashing into each other for 90 minutes producing a scoreline that could easily have been any other outcome. We beat Burton 3-1 but could have lost, we drew with Derby but could have won or lost, we lost at Wolves but could have won. And the vast majority of games I see at this level are like that, bang and crash for 90 minutes and a final score that could easily have been something else. Adomah and Grealish look good at Villa, Sessegnon and Cairney at Fulham (although we've kept all four quiet in our last two games), Jota and Douglas at Wolves impressed me but, in all honesty, when you're playing us or Ipswich or Barnsley or Preston or Derby are you really fearful of facing anybody in particular?
That is an excellent assessment of where the division is at. Sometimes it can make for compelling viewing though, and I guess many would point to the fact it all adds to the excitement, given anyone can really beat anyone (not like that fake 'anyone can beat anyone' in the Premier League)
Speaking of the top flight, given the pain you've encountered in the years that followed, was it all worth it in your view?
I wouldn't swap that Bobby Zamora Wembley moment for anything, although it is tainted by the way we achieved it (smashing FFP with an £80m wage bill) and some of the players and manager who were around at the time. The Warnock promotion season before that was magical, the best year many of us have had with Rangers, achieved with a lovely team full of top players. We had our Premier League moments, beating Chelsea twice, coming from two down to beat Liverpool, a memorable away win at Southampton... but overall it was a terrible waste of an opportunity.
For the first time ever we had money to spend and we wasted every single penny of it. All of it went on big name players who didn't give a shit about us and under delivered. They got rich, Hughes and Redknapp got rich, all their favourite agents got rich, we lost every week and it cost us £54 to get in. We didn't invest a single penny of it in infrastructure - we came out of three years of Premier League football with all the television money spent and another £300m on top of that lost (the board have converted most of that debt into equity to their credit) but the same tiny outdated stadium, the same sub-standard rented training ground, the same hotch-potch youth set up neglected across two different sites. We thought we'd made it, we thought the good times were here, we were all excited at the time, this is all with hindsight, but it really was a terrible waste and a very humbling experience to basically see our club become, at best, a laughing stock and, at worst, hated as 'everything that's wrong with football'. It'll take some recovering from, a process we're plodding through now.
That's a sad story, but one which I think will be retold by other clubs in the future. Hopefully some learn the lessons, we're certainly smarting from a lack of investment in infrastructure when we had the cash to do it.
ANYWAY, onto Monday's eggstravaganza (see what I did there?), how do you see things panning out? Any score predictions?
As per previous answer I expect we'll bash into each other for a bit, have a count up at the end and it could be any one of the three outcomes. We've been pretty decent at home, same record as Derby who are fifth, so maybe we'll shade it 2-1, but maybe not.
We haven’t shit housed our way to an away win for a while so I’ll plump for that, 1-0 to the Super Nodge.
While you're here. Two things; first, did you know we have a podcast? It's available via iTunes and Soundcloud. Alternatively you can just listen to it in your browser via our podcast page. Norwich legend Darren Huckerby was our recent guest as we debated the latest talking points regarding NCFC.
Second, to keep AlongComeNorwich advert free and to help us fund additional initiatives aimed at improving the Carrow Road atmosphere, we occasionally produce exclusive t-shirts/merchandise.
This time we've produced two t-shirts, celebrating the further German invasion at Carra Rud. Limited stock still left for those of a small or medium persuasion. As always, we take no profit from these and put all the revenue back into the site and things we can all enjoy.