Incredibly, it’s 22 years since Andy Sinton left QPR. And left somewhat under a cloud, with a youngster called Trevor Sinclair having been brought in to replace him.
It followed a summer of speculation about the futures of Sinton and other key players, including Les Ferdinand, after a fine Rangers squad had finished fifth in the inaugural Premier League.
Now back at Loftus Road as the club ambassador, Sinton empathises with Charlie Austin and Matty Phillips, who were both tipped to leave during the recent transfer window.
Sinton believes staying at Rangers could well turn out to be a good career move for them both.
Austin is in the final year of his contract and will potentially be available to top clubs on a free transfer next summer.
And although winger Phillips was outstanding during the second half of last season, he struggled for fitness and form before the appointment of Chris Ramsey as head coach. Many at QPR believe he would benefit from a full season in the Championship.
“Those lads have experienced Premier League football and for anyone worth their salt that’s where they want to play,” Sinton says.
“But I’m a great believer that there’s a time and a place to move from certain clubs.
“Sometimes it really is good for a player just to have another season under a manager who is able to develop them.”
Sinton’s acrimonious departure, to Sheffield Wednesday, still seems to bother him all these years later.
He continues to insist he did not pursue a move from the club, despite the then manager Gerry Francis suggesting otherwise at the time.
Sinton says he would have signed a new contract to stay had Rangers agreed to give him an improved deal.
He recalls: “When I was here there was a lot of speculation and I left a little bit under a cloud because the story that came out about the move was that I had engineered it – and that was a complete load of rubbish.
“I knew my value. I was playing for England. All I said to the club was ‘I’m quite happy, I’ve got two years left on my contract, give me a little bit more and I’ll sign for however long you want’.
“In anyone’s language I don’t think that’s a player asking to leave a club. But I then got a call saying that four clubs had been contacted [about possibly signing him] and Trevor Sinclair came in the next day as a replacement before I’d even left the club.
“Previous history of course was David Seaman, Paul Parker and others being sold. That year it happened to be me, the next year it was someone else [Darren Peacock] and the next year it was Les.
“It took me a while to get over it. I was really bothered about it at the start. I came back and got stick.
“But as I started to come back here more, people started to recognise what had gone on. I’ve had nothing but a great welcome coming back here and the fans are a massive part of it.”
Pride and passion
Sinton is enjoying being back at the club where he made his name as a player prior to spells at Wednesday, Tottenham and Wolves.
His role spans several areas, from hospitality and community work to coaching and providing advice behind the scenes.
He wrote the foreword to a new code of conduct written for the playing squad during the summer.
“It was just about what it means to be a professional footballer, what comes with that and also what it means to play for a club like QPR,” Sinton explains.
“It’s a community club and there are responsibilities for the players. Youngsters and their families look at the guys and what they say, how they behave.
“For example, these days social media can cause players and clubs all sorts of problems. Why comment on things that are about the club?
“So it was just about reiterating the responsibilities that come with being a player when they pull on the shirt. What I said was that they should wear that shirt with pride and passion.”
He adds: “No player goes out there and doesn’t try. But if there’s a perception they don’t, then it causes problems for them and rightly so because it costs a lot of money to watch football.
“It’s just a case of representing the club and the supporters and ultimately giving your best every time you play – win, lose or draw.”
Back to the future
Sinton acknowledges that the perception of QPR has changed – and not for the better – since he and director of football Ferdinand were in their pomp.
Both men are keen for that to change, while head coach Chris Ramsey’s enthusiasm for developing players, especially youngsters, is seen as crucial to restoring what Sinton calls “QPR values”.
“I’ve been really enthused by what I’ve seen here in terms of organisation and structure. The club’s going through a new stage with a new – but in a sense, old – philosophy,” he says.
“I came here about eight years ago and I’m not trying to put anyone down, but it all seemed a bit razzmatazz and I just don’t think QPR is that type of club.
“It’s almost going back to what it was in terms of being the family, community club that I remembered it as.
“People who’ve been closer to the club can tell me why it’s drifted away from that, if it has, but we’ve got to get back to getting the community involved and the feel-good factor back in the club.”
Sinton spent eight years in non-League management after retiring from playing, spending five years at Fleet Town and three in charge at AFC Telford.
He believes the likes of former Poole Town forward Austin have shown it is still possible to find gems at that level, just as QPR did by signing his former team-mates Ferdinand and Andrew Impey.
And he sees the club’s signings of Ben Gladwin and Massimo Luongo from League One side Swindon as a step in the right direction.
“There are rough diamonds at the lower levels. Players do come from there and go on and make it, but they have to be given an opportunity,” he argues.
“Look at Charlie Austin and what a great story that is. Going back, I came here from Brentford. Les started at Hayes. Andy Impey was at Yeading.
“QPR used to bring the likes of myself, Les, Darren Peacock, Trevor Sinclair and other people through and this is where we made our name and proved a point.
“If the club wanted to sell us, so be it, because they get good money and it means you’ve done well.
“But, over recent years, from afar it seems they’ve wanted to buy the ready-made article, paid probably over the odds and it hasn’t guaranteed us anything.
“So we’ve been a bit yo-yo in the last couple of years and are back in the Championship, which is a tough, tough league with lots of ex-Premier League clubs all fighting to get back to where they feel they deserve to be.
“Working with the club though, I’m seeing it all as a positive step. I don’t see it as a step back, I see it as reverting back to the kind of club it used to be and I think the fans will appreciate that.”
Sinton relishes his behind-the-scenes role but it is also obvious that he retains a passion for coaching.
Ferdinand and Ramsey are therefore keen to get him involved at the training ground as well as with the ongoing attempt to overhaul the club’s failing youth system.
“Les and Chris have been really welcoming. I’ve been to the training ground and they’ve been getting me involved,” Sinton says.
“I’ll be helping with marketing, matchday hospitality – a foot in every camp really.
“But I didn’t want to just come here on matchdays and have a title. I want to get my hands dirty – get out in the community, up the training ground and working with several aspects of the club.
“I’m very passionate about developing the youth side. They haven’t done it here for a period of time and hopefully that will change.
“Chris will only put people in if they’re good enough though. Anyone can just throw youngsters in. They’ve got to be good enough.
“But if you look at the back end of last season, there were three or four of them that got a chance. That sends a message further down the club that there is a pathway.
Having an influence
“If that’s not the case then kids will stop signing for the club if they’ve got anything about them, and rightly so.
“If they can see a clear pathway and that if you are good enough and if you are working hard then there will be an opportunity for you, that can only be good.
“It also gives the youth coaches enthusiasm that what they’re doing is going to be rewarded. There’s nothing better for a coach than to coach someone from the age of 14 and then see him playing out there on a Saturday.
“Whether you’re 16 or 36, if you’re good enough you should play and if you’re not you shouldn’t.
“I had a really positive meeting with [academy manager] Perry Suckling and [head of academy operations] Alex Carroll and they’re very keen for me to get my boots on and get out training with the boys.
“With the Under-21s it’s already been indicated that there will be opportunities to step in, whether it’s individual work – say with a wide player – or a group training session.
“Chris has been pretty much saying the same [about first-team training]. I’m not going to push myself in, but I’m there, I’m a Uefa ‘A’-qualified coach and I’ve managed before.
“If I could have any influence on any player in any age group across the club I would really welcome that.
“That might just involve sitting down and talking to players. If you have a great career, play for great clubs and for England, it’s not all plain sailing – you have injuries, you have doubts, confidence dips.
“We can impart those experiences on to players who may struggle with one or two things.
“With the youth players, some have left home to come to London which is what I did – I packed my bags as a 16-year-old, left Newcastle and came down south.
“So on the football side I’m there in any capacity I’m required and I think it will evolve organically once we get going. People know I’m there if they want me.
“I will sit in on meetings and that kind of thing but I won’t be making real decisions – that’s Les and Chris’ bag and the owners’, ultimately.
“I’m here to advise, drop an idea in. But Les will control the football decision-making with the backing of the shareholders and Chris will be responsible for the coaching.”
Talk of restoring the club’s former values of course goes down well with fans and allows room for optimism following a second ignominious relegation back to the Championship.
The question is whether this is all for good. Is it just a pragmatic move by the club’s owners while Rangers are outside of the Premier League? Return there, and could we expect them to again pursue the “razzmatazz” Sinton referred to?
“I would like to think that the philosophy will now continue regardless of what league we’re in and who’s in charge or who owns the club,” he says.
“If that’s what your roots and values are as a football club then you should remain true to that.
“So I see this, yes as a stepping stone to get back to where we used to be, but for that philosophy to then continue.
“It’s a club that’s really close to me. I had a fantastic career and undoubtedly this was where I had the best and happiest years of my career.
“To be back here, 20 or so years on, playing a role in trying to get the club back to where I think it should be, is a real privilege and I’m really loving it.
“I feel privileged because if you go back through QPR’s history, the amount of quality players that they’ve had, for the club to choose me as its first ambassador is a real honour.”