Features & commentIt’s time to stop the nonsense and get back to what QPR did best

Philip Beard and Tony Fernandes of QPR

Hi. I’m Matt Winton and many QPR fans will remember that some years ago my family helped the club financially and funded the signings of a number of players.

My dad, Harold, was subsequently a club director and was later given the title of honorary president, which he proudly held until he passed away a couple of years ago.

I was surprised when West London Sport asked if I’d write a regular blog on Rangers – and here’s my first contribution.

Everybody seems to have an opinion on QPR and in particular the club’s transfer policy.

Let me say first and foremost that I know from experience that running a football club is incredibly tough and often just as complicated.

“Take us back to the days when Loftus Road rocked and was one of the most intimidating grounds in football.”

We fans are passionate and often opinionated, but it’s easy to underestimate how difficult decision-making at a club can be, and how easy it is to criticise with the help of hindsight.

Even so, I believe Rangers have got things badly wrong in recent years. And like a lot of fans this has left me with some concerns about the future of our club.

It is obvious that football has radically changed in the last decade or so, especially since the advent of the Bosman ruling and Sky chucking around obscene amounts of money.

It is understandable for people to be sceptical when comparing today with yesteryear, but I fully intend on doing so, because I believe some things don’t change. Good practice is good practice.

Over the last 10 years some of the game’s most iconic clubs have heaped terrible suffering on their supporters because of a ‘boom or bust’ epidemic that continues to be the scourge of our once great game.

It is with deep personal regret to me that QPR appear to be trying to replicate this unsuccessful model for the second time in recent memory.

After all, lest we forget, it was a similar story in the Chris Wright era, as we trail-blazed our way into administration – fortunately long before the days of points deductions.

This left the club with over a decade of crippling debt, that we were unable to service and inflicted massive long-term financial consequences on the club, which only went away finally when the dastardly billionaires Bernie and Flavio appeared on the scene.

When you look at QPR over the last 30 years, you will see that the club did once have a very sustainable financial template in place, which unfortunately got muddled in the mid-90s and has seemingly not been revisited since.

The financial blueprint I speak of was best practiced by Jim Gregory and Richard Thompson after him, although admittedly Thompson contributed towards moving away from this successful formula in 1995, through a mixture of panic buying (Hateley and Zelic) in response to fan disharmony at the sale of Les Ferdinand, and also to facilitate his own exit strategy.

Paul Parker while at QPR

Parker served QPR brilliantly.

Prior to the 1995-96 season, QPR had been a very well operated football club for the best part of two decades under ownerships that realised the scales of economy that will always be associated with the club.

This economy was simple. We had to focus on nurturing and developing talent acquired from the lower leagues, with a view to selling at the right time for substantial profit.

In the food chain I guess this made us a feeder club. But it also meant that other clubs were our feeder clubs too.

In came the likes of Terry Fenwick, David Seaman, Paul Parker, Trevor Sinclair, Andy Sinton, Andy Impey, Ferdinand and others, all of whom served the club very well before being sold for a profit.

These transfers allowed us to break even financially every season, because the club cannot generate enough revenue alone from gate receipts, merchandise and matchday sales at Loftus Road.

It has for a long time been impossible to cover the costs of having a playing staff good enough for the top two divisions on our average attendance of 16,000.

QPR operated through the 80s and early 90s very successfully on this basis and these were the core values that gave our club a talented and caring playing staff, prudent and successful chairmen, a great sense of community in west London and a fervent support that felt at one with their football club.

It is now time for QPR to revisit this business model, and reconsider the ill-conceived idealism that we can be anything other than what our history and heritage tells us we are.

This is the simple, tried and tested, advice that I would give to both Tony Fernandes and Philip Beard:

1) We are a London club and therefore will always struggle to attract large attendances. There are simply too many clubs in one city for us to exponentially grow our fanbase.

2) You should not base our business plan around potential television revenues or parachute payments, as this is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

3) We should not live beyond our means and create endless debt in the business to a wealthy benefactor, as inevitably the club will one day change hands.

4) You must start scouting and buying talent from the lower leagues again.

5) Focus your financial resources on harnessing this talent and selling them to bigger clubs. You will then not lose money and we can again find our place as a well established top-division team.

6) Get some experienced players in the twilight of their careers in on free transfers, who in turn would give the team great balance, experience and also help to develop the club’s sellable assets, as the likes of Ray Wilkins, Trevor Francis and Tony Currie did.

7) Never again let QPR be the club to pay the highest wages or the biggest transfer fees as this always ends in tears. Please see every example when this has happened before and realise it only ever ends badly: Sheron, Spencer, Hately and almost every signing in the last two seasons. It breads a mercenary culture and creates no long-term stability or structure.

Only when this happens, Tony and Phil, will you be able to experience the harmony of what a truly special club QPR is.

Take us back to the days when Loftus Road rocked and was one of the most intimidating grounds in football, rather than the slightly poisonous and toxic environment of recent years.

Most importantly, save yourself a fortune. I promise you Messrs Gregory and Thompson were never out-of-pocket.



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Comments »

  1. Comment by Brian Peck
    11:25 am

    I would like to thank you for your comments on where QPR go next. I agree that the old QPR was, to all intent, a feeder club for bigger clubs. We made good players great players. Les Ferdinand is a prime example, i fine role model for all young lads starting their careers in football. We are what we are, a great club in a small ground. I remember when we went to the White City Stadium, what a big mistake that was. We must learn from the past and not run before we can walk, this a bad business model.
    On to the present day QPR. A sad reflection on what this club is about. Over paid players of average talent with no sparkle or determination. They must go. As Harry says, we need players who are willing to give their all for the club.
    I look forward to next year with great interest, a new look of keen players to get us back to the Premiership.
    Thank you Matt for starting this blog.

  2. Comment by GaryBannister
    11:26 am

    In the current climate this appears to be the argument of choice, but it misses one thing – how do you keep the QPR fans happy?

    If I won the lottery I’m not sure I would bid for the club. It will always end with the owner being villified.

    Anyone who comes out with the argument that QPR should be the club again who finds a Parker, a Ferdinand and sells them on at the peak of their careers seems to forget one thing. If you own the club, put this strucure in, unearth a gem and then sell them at the peak of their game you will get the fans outside the gates calling for your head. A la Darren Peacock, Ferdinand etc.

    We were 5th in the top flight and we wore Thompson out t-shirts. Seems incredible now, but it would happen again.

    I was far more devastated when we sold Peacock, Parker and Les than getting relegated with the present bunch. And who wasn’t? It felt awful to spot and nurture that talent, to love them and then watch them “develop their game” at the bigger clubs.

    Are you telling me now that having gone through this experience the fan base would cheer the financial prudence when we sell a talent just as they are about to peak?! Hurrah for the books balancing!

  3. Comment by The Long Ranger
    11:46 am

    I’m sorry to say, you’ll never see those days again.

    Every player you mention was signed either pre or early premier league years. Before the big money and the even bigger greed! Before extortionate agent fee’s and when a contract meant something to both parties.

    Look at the cost of British “talent” today (examples Jordan Rhodes & Danny Graham) and best practice becomes outdated. Because for every Darren Peacock that signed, there were more of the Andy TIlson’s. Ironically, and emphasising this point quite well, Tilson cost the greater transfer fee and both signed the same day. So whilst it’s easy to look back at the ‘good ol’ days’ with fondness, it’s also easy to forget the failings of the time.

    You are right however, to point to the similarities between today and the Chris Wright era. Although, I think it more to do with the naivety of the Chairmen than anything else. Both owners were eager to please and both got taken for a ride. It’ll be interesting now to see where the similarities end because I can’t see Mr Fernandes looking for the exit now the goings got tough?!?

  4. Comment by Adam King
    11:46 am

    While I agree with some of the things you say, I think some points are off the mark.

    You speak of QPR sound financial model in place up until the mid 90’s, but only talk of 16,000 attendance. Well those are todays attendances, up until the mid 90’s we had a capacity of 28k. During successful periods in the 80’s and 90’s we would often fill that capacity, therefore making it far easier to break even. Also it was before the age of stupid wages and agents.

    As for being a London club, therefore not being able to expand and increase our fan base? When we were finishing as London’s top club in the Premiership, Chelsea were languishing in the 1st division with home attendances lower than ours. Yet look were they are now? Desperate to find a new home because their short sited approach has left them losing out on millions of pounds because their capacity of 38k is too small. And a large reason why our club is as small as it is is because previous owners have never built a new and larger stadium, therefore we haven’t been able to capitalise on periods of success. Which is why we have struggled to break even on a capacity of 18k.

    Agree long term we have to live within our means, but until a new and larger stadium is built, we couldn’t even survive in league 1 with our current stadium. So which is it to be, accept the level of sustainability we can afford and play our football at that level? Or strive to become a bigger club, albeit slower than we have tried to achieve over the last two seasons.

    You speak of scouting at lower levels, Rednapp has already started to do this in January with the signings of Yun Suk and the defender from Portsmouth. I’m sure we will continue to do this in future.

    Concentrate of developing this talent? Isn’t the purchase of Warren Farm and 200 million for a new academy doing just that??

    Sign players of experience. Well I agree with you there to some degree, but haven’t we been doing that already? Derry, Hill, Zamora, Park, Johnson. The only problem there is you need a crystal ball to know whether they will stay fit. As we’ve seen this policy can backfire on you and as with Derry and Hill, they show that experience and professionalism counts for a lot in the championship, but as we’ve also seen that doesn’t really count as much in the Premiership. While I wish both players were younger, both have been found wanting in the Prem. But with the rest of the team failing so miserably they have still managed to come out on top despite their failings the past two season.

    So I understand your sentiments, but if we didn’t have owners trying to increase the clubs size and standing, then we’d have to accept our demise and ply our football in league 1 or 2. The time to expand was in the past when we were breaking even, but it didn’t happen. So we either have to accept some debt in order to move forward or we will have to go backwards in order to survive.

    I think it is stupidly unfair to blame Fernandes for all the clubs current problems. Yes he’s been naive in backing Hughes all the way, and then seemingly making the same mistakes by backing Rednapp with even more money, but all of Rednapps signings have been a success with the exception of the unfit Samba.

    But the clubs problems were there before Fernandes bought the club. But how many clubs get promoted to the Premiership in such a bad state as our club was? We had no academy, no scouts, no training ground of our own, an owner and chairman who had dictated our transfer policy and made team decisions, so many managers in 3 seasons that I’ve lost count, and yet still get promoted to the most competitive league in the world. We didn’t deserve to be promoted and we certainly weren’t ready. But how many clubs gain promotion only for their owners to want to sell, refuse to sell in a timely fashion to one of the worlds richest men who was waiting to buy the club, and then sell 3 weeks into the start of the new season?

    So while Fernandes did buy in to all this, his only error was to try and keep us up, but the damage was already there. But as he’s had to learn, so must the fans, do we either do it the right way which could take several years and managers, or do we try to make the best of what we’ve got and get back up, having learned a few lessons along the way?

  5. Comment by Matt Winton
    12:57 pm

    Thanks for all your feedback, there’s some really good points raised above.

    Just on the attendance issue, here’s a breakdown of attendances in the late 70s, 80s and 90s at Loftus Rd. At no point during that period were we attracting crowds anywhere like 28,000, I think our capacity was only 21,000 during that period before terracing was banned.

    1975/78 – 23,830
    1976/77 – 21,085
    1977/78 – 19,900
    1978/79 – 16, 287
    1979/80 – 14,087
    1980/81 – 10, 938
    1981/82 12,576
    1982/83 – 12,806
    1983/84 15,560
    1984/85 14,148
    1985/86 15,241
    1986/87 13,987
    1987/88 13,135
    1988/89 12,286
    1989/90 13,226
    1990/91 13,524
    1991/92 13,699
    1992/93 14,969

  6. Comment by E Finn
    1:55 pm

    I agree with many of your points and as a supporter of our club for 37 years i have seen ups and downs but also many missed chances to take our club further and this is where i agree with Adam Kings point rather than yours as a whole,indeed your point about accepting our size,i have been at many games during our so called successful years in the past where we had 27000 in our admittedly larger ground back then and thousands more outside trying to get in and also i remember our club easily selling 40000 plus tickets for our cup finals against spurs and oxford utd not to mention as a 3rd tier club bringing huge support to wales for the playoff final against cardiff,our big problem is and will remain to be our stadium so for all the prudence of Mr Gregory and Mr Thompson i think it is fair to point out that the remodelling of our stadium during the 70s,80s and the decimation of our academy during the 90s is one of the main reasons for our difficulty to sustain let alone grow our club.
    As Adam pointed out i remember very well Chelsea and the dire state of their club during those years and their crowds of 11000,12000etc in a huge ugly sick bowl of a stadium are you trying to tell me that they grew to where they are today because of prudence i dont think so indeed if it wasn’t for the russian chap they might not even be here today sound familiar,there is no magic formula but a balance between the two is probably closer to the mark hence a new academy and a new stadium ie spend a little heavily now on infrastructure for sound gains on and off the pitch later but long term vision has to be better than short term short sighted prudence of the eighties which as far as i can see limited our club and has done nothing for the club to the same extent that overpaid mercernaries and quickfix transfer policies of the last two years have,good article all the same………

  7. Comment by Danny Gould
    2:21 pm

    Just want to say a great 1st article and some great points made in all the posts, I would like a biger ground that we would grow into but based on buying and selling young talent.
    Great points made about Warren Farm TF seems wants to bring on young talent mixed with some decent signings maybe the good days will return.

  8. Comment by Mike O'Brien
    2:49 pm

    I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. As far as I understand it we did regularly make a profit under both Gregory and Thompson. Thompson’s big mistake wes selling Ferdinand without an experienced striker to help Gallen and Dichio. Hence the panic loan signing of an unfit Hately at a ludicrous cost.

    But not all the signings were cheap and sell on at a profit. Stan Bowles was effectively bought to replace Marsh at ahlf-price , even though it seems many in football thought we were mad to take him on. Selling Marsh incidently did lose a couple of thousand off the gate, although Middlesborough at home in March when we’d just slipped out of the promotion race after 3 defeats in a row was probably not an attractive prospect.

    The landmark big, expensive signing was Dave Thomas though at £165,000. a record for a second division club to pay at the time. And if I remember correctly a record for an uncapped 21 year old also.

    But to move on, we also need to completely rebuild the club. The new training ground is needed for all levels at the club, we desperately need the entire youth development system brought up to date to compete. We’ve been left way behind many other clubs of a similar size and stature.

    And we do need a new stadium, although I hate to say it. But I doubt that they’re looking at people from London to fill it. On the move to the White City stadium, at the time it as all so promising. and exciting at the time. It all went a bit wrong with the winter killing our season and the expected promotion failed to materialise. It did get a bit depressing being able to pick your own block to stand or sit on the terraces, if better legroom than we now get at loftus Road.

  9. Comment by Mike O'Brien
    3:35 pm

    Matt, regarding the capacity and attendances, in 75-76 in particular there were regularly attendances of 25-28,000, with 31,000 officially for the final game against Leeds. There were also some lower attendances too, it has to be said. I think the ground was rated at around 32-36,000 capacity. Not that rated capacities mattered a lot in those days. In fact I’m sure for that Leeds game the attendance was at the time stated as something like 34,000 or 36,000. It was certainly more packed than I’ve ever experienced anywhere. Capacity only went down to around 21,000 when all-seating came in.

    Many of us, ahem, older supporters also remember that there always was a large degree of sceptism surrounding official gate figures. Not just at Rangers, it has to be said. In the ’60s many figures were quoted at nice round figures such as 63,000 in the top division at the “big” clubs. The selling arrangements of the time gave plenty of scope for under-reporting of attendance figures, shall we say. Nearly all were cash sales at the turnstile. And no-one cared about how many were in the ground or in what part.

    PS. When we went to Palace in 67-68 we set a ground record, which was only bettered by Manchester United (by 1 person on the gate). And when Chelsea were rolling around the bottom of the second division trying to avoid relegation to the third, they could pull in as many as, oh, 5,000 or so! Bizarrely when we went back down to the third, our season ticket sales and attendances went up I think.

  10. Comment by Lassie
    5:05 pm

    So so true I loved the RS in those days and when we where up we where up ,
    There was no life in the team this year ,
    They let them selfs down the fans and owner
    I remember the days when Paul Parker and Hughes where fighting on the pitch , one month later he’s play with him at utd sad time , but ranger have brought in some amazing players but some really bad ones

  11. Comment by J M Rees
    6:44 pm

    It’s very easy to tell owners in the Sky Age of Football to be prudent. The game initially seem’s to be awash with cash when in fact it is, both, morally and financially bankrupt.

    Clearly Players should be paying their agents and not the clubs, this bizarre trading standard is destroying the game. Joey Barton as a player of limited talent and severe behavioural difficulties seems to have garnered a £10 million contract over four years plus his agents fee’s which maybe up to a third of the contract. This is the work of a financially irresponsible director, a publically quoted company would have the chairman removed.

    The difficulty was that Fernandes thought he was buying into the premiership market cheaply. He forgot that the fee for the Club included its limited Championship Squad, it’s 1970’s stadium, a loyal fan-base spread out across the world not W12, Flavio and Bernie’s goodwill and some current debts.

    The price was to join the Premiership club that’s all, it was not a franchise that makes any return on investment, and involvement is not guaranteed.

    Attendance figures are meaningless unless they are seen in the current context, as a twelve year old I wondered what the excitement in the Loft was when the Club announced what the attendance for the match was. The canny fans wanted to see how much cash was being filtered off, no credit cards, players paid in cash, £80 PW or an ex-international for £100 PW. There was usually a guffaw of laughter when the figure was announced.

    I suspect we have 40-50k supporters spread across the world but most have left West London. It would take a very special event to get me to visit Loftus Road at a cost of £200 all up.

    The best investment TF et al can make is to build the training academy, build a mixed entertainment venue anywhere within 10-15 miles of Loftus Road and start again. Hire a young aspirational professional football coach and an effective scouting team and start again. Take a couple of years to faze out the 35 players we don’t need on the books, we owe no debts of gratitude, and start building a proper business that can operate within it’s means….it’s not hard if you start in the right place…and it is possible to make money. To my mind QPR FC should be a part of a far bigger business venture, involving property development, an entertainment venue for live music, shows, conferences, corporate activities, Football, young peoples education/training/job schooling, community activities.

    At this stage, the talent collected to bring about a great outcome for the club seem’s limited. Tony Fernandes’s focus on other businesses and no understanding of what problems he currently faces seems to have prompted him to jump straight into the arms of agents and Mark Hughes.

    He has an opportunity to put QPR on the right racks now and start thinking a little longer term….it’s the only way he’s going to make money!

  12. Comment by Tom
    1:02 pm

    Good article.

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