When taking over at QPR, Ian Holloway did not realise the severity of the situation he was getting into. Here he talks to Barney Ronay about administration, finances and Kevin Gallen
QPR were among the clubs to have been traumatised recently by relegation from the Premiership. What was it like being a manager picking up the pieces?
Funnily enough it was all a bit of a shock for me at the time, because I didn’t know quite how bad things were. We were talking just before deadline day about doing this and doing that, we even made an offer for a player with money it turned out in hindsight we didn’t have. It was a very difficult time. It also brought some reality. For the fans it was a shock, rather than moaning about where we are, to realise that we might not even be on the map. With the gates we get, that was 13,000 people looking like they might not have a team any more. The players were concerned about being paid, and all credit to David Davis and Chris Wright, they did keep paying us. But what we had to try and do was overcome the fact that we’d had a rich sugar daddy who’d built up a huge gap between what we were paying our players and what the fans were paying to come in and watch us. Feeling that the whole thing might die at any moment was very, very difficult.
Do you think more could have been done from outside to support the club?
Possibly. No one wants to see clubs go through the wringer. I saw Alan Sugar being interviewed recently and I thought he was absolutely right: you shouldn’t be allowed to run a football club and go out and spend money you haven’t got. It’s like doing all your Christmas shopping and then saying “I can’t pay for that, can you help me?” You have to take responsibility and you should only be allowed to spend what you can bring in through the gate. Having said that, the game is being governed by the top clubs. If you’re Manchester United and you’re getting 70,000 fans inside your ground then you’re only going to get bigger. But is it fair that when you play someone in your league you keep all of the gate? Everybody had a chance until the rules were changed. Smaller clubs like Wimbledon could compete with Manchester United because they got half of their gate. Now what chance do you have?
The transfer window was relatively quiet. Are you surprised by that?
No, I’m not surprised. The game is in a very difficult period at the moment, and I honestly believe the transfer window is a crazy system. Although it hasn’t really affected us that much. It might be more important if you’re Glenn Roeder, or Arsène Wenger with two injured goalkeepers and not allowed to bring anyone else in. That kind of thing could cost someone a title, or even get them relegated. I’m all for fairness but I can’t see how the window helps. The gulf between the top and the bottom is getting bigger all the time. And I don’t think the window is going to help.
There is talk of the Football League, the FA, the PFA and the Premiership jointly challenging the window.
I would support that. It’s not helping us. You’re supposed to be allowed four long-term loans, but Premiership clubs are loath to loan players out. The window has been counter-productive in those terms. There’s a lot of talk of us producing home-grown players, rather than foreign players coming over and showing us what real ball control is all about. But how can young players benefit if Premiership clubs are keeping them in the academies and not loaning them out, because they’re afraid they won’t be allowed to strengthen their squad if they get injuries? We’ve tried to use the four long-term loans we’re allowed, but it’s been disappointing and I’ve only managed to get one so far. Even recently with Watford’s Lee Cook, they said we could have him on long-term loan, then they had an injury to one of their players. You have that insecurity all the time. Jerome Thomas was excellent at the end of last year but he wanted to go back to Arsenal. He was doing so well for us the rumours were that Real Madrid were watching him. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. But he thought it was.
What do you think about Farnborough switching their FA Cup tie against Arsenal to Highbury?
I think that was exactly what they wanted. Are they expecting to beat Arsenal? No. Do they want a big slice of gate money to keep them going? Yes. It’s great to play at Arsenal. But I can’t help thinking what is the point of having a draw if you don’t play at home when your name comes out first? If you lose the fact that everybody can beat everybody then football isn’t worth watching. It’s like society to me: your poor man can beat your rich man. And if we lose that, that’s part of the beauty of the game gone. I don’t want footballers to be so far ahead of people in the street. That can’t be allowed to happen. It is obscene how the press keep emphasising the gulf between footballers and everyday people. There was a programme called Spend it Like Beckham the other night. We seem to be obsessed with money and wealth. We’re having it thrown at us all the time.
With the club still in a precarious position, have you made plans for what might happen in the short and long term?
Basically what we have to do is get our spending in order, get a balance of what’s coming through the gates and what we’re paying our players. At the moment that’s not quite right yet. It’s going to take until the end of this year, because 70 per cent of our players are out of contract at the end of the season. There will be some that I’ll want and some that I won’t, but we should be able to get our house in order after that. The budget for next year will be less than this one, but that’s not a bad thing, and we’ll be back in alignment with the money that’s coming into the club. It was always going to take two years to do that. And this time last year we had exactly the same amount of points after the same number of games. What we’ve got to do is beat last season’s eighth position.
Things have turned around again for you in the last few weeks after a sticky period.
It was more than a sticky period. We actually felt that we were bottom of the league, because of the expectation created by how we were playing at the start of the season. Everybody started saying we were going to go right back up again – and it doesn’t work like that. I’ve spent most of my time playing and managing in this league and it’s one of the most difficult to get out of.
QPR seem to have attracted a series of unsuccessful owner-investors. If another attempt by a private investor to buy the club were made, are there any guarantees that you as manager would ask for?
I think the board are aware of that and I’m very impressed with how they’re trying to set things up for the long-term future. This is a good club to be part of, but you need to have experience to make it work at boardroom level. Our board are experienced, perhaps because some of them have got it wrong in the past, and they’re big enough to admit they did make some mistakes.
Is the role of a football manager outside the Premiership changing?
I’m hoping it will. I’m hoping we can go back to being a club for the people. Clubs wouldn’t exist without their fans, and we have to entertain them in return for their money. Not everyone can win on a Saturday, but there are other ways of winning. I believe that giving something back to the community is a vital part of long-term success for clubs like us. You have to get to them early on, go into schools and make your players approachable. You have to heal the wound that the media can cause – “players are on x amount and we’re only earning so much and look at them, the bunch of big heads”. It’s not like that at this club. The players we have now care a damn sight more than the ones we had when I first took over.
Your role at QPR has been a very demanding one – have you ever wished you could become more hands-off, more involved just with the playing and coaching side?
It’s very difficult to try and describe what the job is like. The only person who actually has to pick a team before the game is the manager, while everyone else has the benefit of hindsight. I know what my best team is but the problem is being able to pick it, or even get it to train together. I believe the biggest part of being a manager is setting standards and keeping to them. That’s very difficult. Generally a footballer will do just about what’s needed and nothing more. What we’re trying to do is make them do more. Give more back. And the lads we’ve got here are very good.
What’s it like having Kevin Gallen back at the club?
He’s a great ambassador for the football club now. Whether he was before, that’s for you to decide. I was lucky enough to play with him and see him develop. I felt he should have got in the first team before he did. He was outscoring everyone at youth level, he was big enough, and physically strong, but he didn’t get in. That was Gerry’s [Francis] decision at the time, and we were doing very well in the Premier League. But Kevin is only 27 and he’s got his best years ahead of him. He’s better than this standard and he can help us get out of it. He’s playing for a third of what he used to be on – after earning a bit too much money, with the greatest respect. He’s come back for football reasons because I believe he can still be the player he always should have been. I want him to get back to Premiership level. He’s good enough, and I want him to do it with us. I know it’s going to be a long haul, but everybody’s got to start somewhere.
Have expectations at the top and the bottom become more polarised than ever? Can you reasonably expect to get back to the Premiership with the level of support you have?
I think the longer you’re out the harder it gets. If you compare our budget to West Ham’s for example – what kind of wages can Lee Bowyer be on? His wage could be the same as my whole squad’s. If you’ve got him and Paulo Di Canio, you’ve got to be careful. If West Ham don’t stay up they’re going to have to jettison all kinds of players, and what if they can’t get rid of them? We have to run this club like a business. The way to go is to get quality young players coming through, some of which can be sold on to the big boys. The problem is that in London it’s very hard to get the good kids, when you’re competing with all the other clubs. How much did West Ham have to pay to get Joe Cole? The long-term growth of this football club has to start in the boardroom. We’ve budgeted that to break even this year we have to get average crowds of 12,600. If we can do that then we can start to build. This year we’ve had to go backwards. I let Marcus Bignot go because all we could offer him was 50 per cent of what he earned last year. We had to pay off Gavin Peacock because we couldn’t afford his contract. We had to pay him to go. But the gates will start creeping up again when we start winning. We had a spell where we drew nine out of 12 games. We had all sorts of injuries, Kevin was out for six games and the goals dried up. Confidence was waning, the fans started having a go and then the young squad started wobbling. I’m constantly trying to boost them up and keep them strong. The fan who pays his money is demanding. He wants success. Everybody does, because of the perceptions they have of the people at the top – all the flash cars and so on. Players like David Beckham have earned what they get. But players like Titi Camara at West Ham – God knows what he was on but he hardly ever played. People like that are killing it. I wouldn’t want his wages on my books. David Beckham could retire tomorrow and take up modelling. But he’s got that desire to be the best he can be. It’s about making the most of yourself. And that’s what we’re trying to produce here. Unfortunately the younger players I inherited had the opposite view – “I already am somebody and I’m getting paid a ridiculous amount of money for being a kid”. It’s a cancer and I’ve had to try and cut it out. We’re getting there. I just love it. I love the club. I love the game. And that’s what it’s about. It’s very difficult. I’m from Bristol and London people are very difficult. They have expectations of what they want, and that’s fine.
If QPR don’t get promoted this season and other clubs come looking for your services, how difficult would it be to tear yourself away from Loftus road?
I’m a realist. My club was Bristol Rovers and I had a long-term plan there. People were starting to believe in the dream. But in the end we couldn’t afford to keep the players who had done so well for us: [Jamie] Cureton, [Barry] Hayles, [Jason] Roberts. Even [Bobby] Zamora. Now I want to be at this club as long as it matches my ambition. I believe in the people who are at the helm at the moment. We’re all singing from the same song sheet. But I realise they’ll have a decision to make if our results don’t go the right way. That is football. What I’m trying to do is get this club back to where it should be. We’re not a Premier League club, but we could be in the top 30 clubs in this country if we can sort ourselves out, work together with our fans, get the players caring, giving back to the community, and get more bums on seats by doing that. I believe if people are patient, then anything can happen. Millwall nearly did it last year.
Which clubs would you adopt as a role model for QPR? What would you emulate about them or anyone else?
I think it’s been fantastic what they’ve done at Charlton after going back to The Valley. They’ve been up and down, and up again, but they’ve still got the same manager – a manager who’s good at what he does, who’s been given time. If football needs a kick up the backside at the moment it’s to do with patience. Look what Ronnie Moore has done with Rotherham. That wasn’t instant. He worked at it.
What is it like sharing Loftus Road with Fulham? Is there a chance that the longer QPR share with a Premiership club the more likely they are to lose the next generation of fans?
No. I know what you’re saying, but I believe people will support their team. It might be hard to get the floating fans, but I honestly believe when you’ve got your club’s colours inbred in you, you stick with it. We need to reach out to the youngsters in the area, go to the schools, get our players there and indoctrinate them into the club. Then, if we can put on a good performance when they turn up, we might just get them. The future for me is having good young players in my team who can become role models for all the other youngsters. So I can say to them: “Sign for us and you can be in our first team at 17 if you’re good enough. It’s down to you to work your socks off.” At the moment Fulham is like a shot in the arm for us. We’ve been very ill and it’s like some drugs that are helping us to live. The longer that continues the better. I want Fulham to have their own ground in the long run, but I don’t believe it’s hurting us. I am happy as long as we are the landlords and they are the tenants.
Have you had much contact with Mohamed Fayed? What is he like to share premises with?
I went Christmas shopping and I bumped into him and he didn’t even know who I was. He walked straight by me. I could see the security guards thinking “who’s that feller?” because I looked at him twice. All I know is what he does is absolutely top drawer. It’s absolutely no surprise to me where his club are and I admire that greatly. Money doesn’t always guarantee success but he’s been very determined, too.
There are those who fear that some kind of Fulham Park Rangers merger might be on the cards.
That will never happen. Never. No way. You can’t tell someone: “You’re going to support this new team now.” It won’t work. Mr Fayed has enough money not to have to do that. Our fans are worried they’re going to end up taking our ground. That’s not right. It won’t happen.
Is it true about the taxi driver coming to Loftus Road and demanding to see you the day after the Vauxhall Motors game?
Yes, I talked to him for nearly two hours. He’s QPR through and through, and they were all very upset at what they thought was a lacklustre performance. And yes we should have beaten Vauxhall Motors, but then Everton should have beaten Shrewsbury. That is football, and unfortunately we lost on a penalty shoot-out. Maybe I should have had them [the fans] in after the game. I can assure them all that the players do care. And what came out of it was passion. The beautiful thing about football is passion. It has to be controlled but it’s all about passion, and that’s why people pay their money to see you play.
From WSC 193 March 2003. What was happening this month