Film Club

wsc302A new documentary about QPR makes or fascinating if not flattering viewing, writes Anthony Hobbs

The Four Year Plan is a fly-on-the-wall account of a turbulent period of QPR’s history, following our takeover by wealthy backers, in particular one Flavio Briatore. Over three seasons, the film plots a path through boardroom-generated mayhem, destruction and chaos, before somehow delivering a happy ending with Rangers’ promotion to the Premier League.

There are quite a few points when you find yourself shaking your head in wonderment at who on earth allowed director Mat Hodgson to film this stuff and release it. Weird conversations take place (often in Italian, with subtitles) while the camera peers in from occasionally odd angles, with the protagonists only sometimes acknowledging that they are being recorded.

Top billing goes to the ludicrous caricature that is Flavio Briatore. He does not disappoint. He stomps around swearing, sacking managers, arguing with fans and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. We see Briatore telling Iain Dowie to get his reserve team to pass to Damiano Tomassi, while assistant manager Bruno Oliveira is taken to one side at half time and ordered to switch to two up front. We also see board members discussing the best way to get instructions to caretaker manager Gareth Ainsworth as to which substitutions he should make. Yet at other times Briatore shows a more human, almost naive, side. At one point, he almost sounds like a five-year-old boy as he ask plaintively: “Why don’t they put the ball in the net?”

Co-owner Amit Bhatia, son-in-law of steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, comes across as the most normal. That is probably just because he is not as prone to using insults and threats as his primary means of communication. Bhatia goes out to talk to fans and supporters groups while Briatore dismisses them as “people who put £10 in” (if only it were a tenner to get in) and says: “I want the names of who is booing me or I sell the club.” Bhatia comes to the fore in the second half of the film, when he put in place a revolutionary plan: appoint a respected manager and leave him to get on with it.

Hodgson’s cameras are initially trained on Briatore, chairman Gianni Paladini and managing director Alejandro Agag. The latter is less known to the outside world, but he probably had more influence behind the scenes than we realised – the backroom schemer, perhaps.

Paladini cuts the most interesting figure. Derided by large sections of the support as an erratic liability, his time on screen is a curious mixture of trying to reason with the volatile Briatore and running the mad owner’s errands. On the one hand, he is happy to join in with Briatore as various managers are routinely insulted. Dowie is a “fucking hooligan”, caretaker Gareth Ainsworth is “that prick in the dugout”, Paulo Sousa is simply an “idiot”, while Jim Magilton is apparently a “complete idiot”. Paladini is often on the phone to his angry boss, sounding exasperated as he tries to reason with him. Presumably, he is attempting to convince Briatore not to sack anyone.

Peppered throughout are a smattering of scenes of absolute, jaw-dropping madness. The nadir is the farcical moment when Dexter Blackstock is preparing to sign a loan deal to Nottingham Forest, while team-mate Fitz Hall urges “Don’t sign it, Dex…” before berating Paladini for selling the club’s top striker in the middle of the season.

The film amounts to a genuinely riveting 90 minutes of action, which is something of a rarity for Rangers fans at the moment. It is sometimes funny, sometimes touching and often hugely embarrassing. There is plenty to entertain anyone who suspects the boardrooms of football clubs may be full of people who have no idea what they are doing.

From WSC 302 April 2012