Paul Tracey reflects on the Football League sanction which has made life particularly hard for one of football's stalwart clubs

Uncertainty has surrounded QPR for the past year, ever since chairman Chris Wright put the club up for sale and placed it into administration. With no new owner emerging, fans and staff alike have had the pos­sibility of the club folding hanging over their heads for the best part of a season.

The Football League have confused the situation further by placing a transfer embargo on the club. What makes matters worse, how­ever, is the fact that the Lea­gue seems to have imposed this sanction without think-ing through the consequences or putting in place con- tingency plans.

To see the whole story, we need to go back to the end of last season. With QPR in administration and having just been relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time in a generation, the club had 18 players out of contract. After losing so many players, manager Ian Holloway trawled the lower leagues and foreign shores for free transfers to enable the club to field a side. Being in administration, the club had a strict bud­get for the season and as a consequence once Hol­loway’s wage cap had been reached, he was not permitted to sign any more players.

This is where the Winton brothers came in. Ran­gers fans since childhood, they owned a fashion com­pany and wanted to help with the financing of players. They stepped in and paid the costs of signing Doudou, a Congolese attacking midfielder once of Monaco, who came in on a free transfer. A few months later they paid the £250,000 transfer fee and wages of Danny Shittu, a defender signed from Char­lton after a successful loan period. At no stage did the League indicate there was any problem with these transactions.

With the Wintons ready to finance another acquisition, thought to be a young striker from France, the League received one complaint, widely believed to be from the chairman of a Second Division promotion rival. A temporary embargo was placed on QPR, sub­ject to appeal. This appeal was duly refused and Ran­gers are cur­rently unable to acquire players. This rule applies to any transfers or loans, not just those fun­ded by outside sources and will remain in place until the club comes out of administration.

The judgement appears to be a complete dog’s din­ner, with the League itself unsure of its implications. Should QPR suffer injuries they can apply for a dispensation to get a replacement player on loan. However, the League could not say whether the deal could be fin­anced as before, or whether it would come out of the club’s cash­flow. QPR can also use a percentage of any transfer mon­ey received to replace the outgoing play­ers. Again, the League were unsure as to the percentage available to QPR. What chance has Ian Holloway got to plan effectively if the League seem to be making up the rules as they go along?

Their mantra when replying to questions seems to be: “Each application would be considered on its own merits.” Ad­mirable I’m sure, but not much use if you are trying to mould a promotion-chasing team.

Another question that needs to be addressed is why the League only intervened once they received the com­plaint. If League rules were broken, why did they sanc­tion the signing of Doudou and Shittu? Invited to com- ment on this, they said: “The League’s chief exec­utive instigated the enquiry and it is likely this would have resulted in an embargo regardless of any com­plaint.” This seems unlikely, considering the fact the embargo immediately followed the receipt of the complaint.

With lower division clubs growing ever more vul­nerable to financial trouble, the League needs to look long and hard at fund-raising. After losing so many players last season, had this ruling been implemented as soon as QPR went into administration, it is likely that they would have had trouble fielding a full side at all this season. It is understandable that the League wants to avoid clubs going into administration too easily, but once they are, they should be encouraged to trade their way to a better financial state. The acquisitions of Doudou and Shittu have undoubtedly added to QPR’s value and pos­sibly brought the club’s sale closer. The League is just adding to the insecurity sur­rounding the club.

The contracts of the players signed last summer will soon be ending and the players may leave. It was difficult enough assembling a side last year, but I hate to contemplate the job facing Ian Holloway if he has to do the same with the embargo still in place. I have a bad feeling that QPR may pay the price for the League’s lack of foresight.

From WSC 183 May 2002. What was happening this month