QPR aren't just coming to terms with the cost of relegation – there are stories behind the scenes too. Anthony Hobbs reveals all
The last time Queens Park Rangers were relegated, from the Premiership five years ago, things were very simple. We had a rich chairman with no real interest in football, who was completely unwilling to spend his own money, but content to realise the capital of our most liquid assets (ie sell our best players). In the five years leading up to our latest 40-point season, things have been bit a little less clear cut. This season in particular, it’s felt a little like being on a boat that hasn’t been properly tied up. We’ve just been gradually drifting away and nobody quite knows what to do about it.
On the face of it, blame apportionment should still be simple enough. Our most recent chairman, Chris Wright, was a supporter of the club with a suitcase full of money and a thriving media business. However, during his five years at the helm, he presided over several not very successful managers, some dubious transfer business and not a little financial mismanagement. In essence, Wright took a series of ruinous financial decisions over player contracts and transfers, gambling that we would get back into the Premiership and things would be OK. He lost.
Nevertheless, while he has received a good deal of criticism over his business dealings, a sizeable element of Rangers’ support have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, chiefly because he at least appeared to be trying to do the right thing. Maybe we felt that Wright should step down, but where were the millionaires beating a path to his door begging him to sell his shares?
Likewise, our performances on the field this season have been some of the worst I’ve experienced in my 25 years of watching the team. Tactically, we’ve been quite staggeringly inept, shipping five goals at Preston, Sheffield Wednesday and Wimbledon, and six at home to Arsenal in the Cup. And yet through all this, the previous manager Gerry Francis was spared from the worst excesses of supporter criticism – ostensibly because he is a Rangers man through and through. Once again, we might have felt he should walk away, but who would we then get to manage our overpaid, semi-bankrupt team?
With the new manager Ian Holloway unable to get a quick enough response from a dispirited, apparently uninterested squad, and administrators BDH Stoy Hayward busily totting up the value of the club, things could be said to be looking a tad on the bleak side. Yet the introduction of the administrators appears to have suddenly galvanised fans into action. Now, in common with many other clubs, our fans are well on the road to setting up a supporters’ trust, QPR 1st, with the aim of having a say in the future of the club and perhaps even getting a representative on the new board. With help and advice from the government-backed Supporters Direct initiative, QPR 1st has become the first supporters’ trust in the country to be set up while the club is in administration.
In only a couple of weeks, the trust has become the club’s fourth biggest shareholder, with over 1.3 million shares pledged to date. Its interim committee is made up of members of most major fan groups including the Loyal Supporters Association, which itself was the first independent fan group in the country when it was set up in response to our last major crisis – the proposed merger with Fulham in 1986. Supporters have pledged money and skills to the cause as well, with accountants, legal advisers and so on all offering to do whatever is necessary.
Hammersmith Town Hall was packed with 1,000 people for the Trust’s first public meeting and all of a sudden there is a real sense of purpose and direction. Next season, Rangers will kick off in the third tier of English football for the first time in over 30 years. Ian Holloway doesn’t know how many of the 20-odd players out of contract in July he will be able to keep, even if he wanted to. He doesn’t even know if he’ll still be in a job. Nor do we know who, if anyone, will own the club by the start of next season.
And yet, this feels like one of the best times to be a Rangers supporter. There is a sense of community and involvement once again. Surely, things have got to get better soon, haven’t they? Supporters of Aldershot, Newport and Maidstone need not answer this question.
From WSC 172 June 2001. What was happening this month