Ahead of tonight’s QPR fixture, I caught up with LoftForWords.com’s Clive Whittingham, who gave me the lowdown on what to expect from The Rs ….
Connor: Clive, it’s fair to say QPR have undergone a huge revamp on the pitch in the last few seasons. Is Ian Holloway the man to stabilise the club and push for promotion in upcoming campaigns?
Clive: ‘We started last season with a plan and a manager and, as usual, ditched both halfway through. The football was boring under Hasselbaink, don’t get me wrong, and I was quite in favour of Holloway coming in (although it’s not an appointment any other Championship side would have made) with the idea that we had a team that could do more if only it was let off the leash a little bit. Promotion is miles away for us at the moment. Holloway tends to go in cycles where he gets good results through doing the basics and what he’s good at, but then tries to complicate things and show what a good manager he is. At this point the results drop off a cliff until he abandons that, goes back to basics, and so the cycle begins again. Whatever he’s going at the moment is working so ‘just don’t touch it’!’
Clive proceeds to tell me about how he would have been tempted into another managerial change following QPR’s dire string of results at the backend of the season. I was intrigued to learn more about the precarious financial situation at Loftus Road, and raised questions over QPR’s signings this summer, but Clive points out that new additions often don’t work at QPR.
‘QPR have, for far too long, treated new signings as the answer to everything. The fans have come to expect a rush of new arrivals every window and when it didn’t happen this summer the reaction from some online was nothing short of hysterical. It ignores, first of all, the financial realities we’re facing. In 2015/16 the club lost £11m. That season we received the maximum parachute payment, £10m from the Raheem Sterling sale to Man City, and £4m from selling Charlie Austin. Two years later a smaller parachute payment, no Sterling sale and no Austin sale means we’ve got to find £25m or thereabouts just to lose £11m again.
‘Of the six players we signed in January, only Luke Freeman and Pawel Wszolek play regularly and well. We’d be much better off working with what we already have and making just the odd sensible, strategic addition – particularly with the transfer market as ridiculous as it is at the moment.’
Clive then identified Josh Scowen as QPR’s most influential new signing…
‘We had Grant Hall playing a sort of third centre back/deep lying midfield roll last year and that was crucial to the team. QPR won 13 and drew seven of 34 with Hall; without him they lost nine of 12, so it shows how important he is, and that roll is, to the way we play. Scowen has done that and added something going forwards that Hall couldn’t do, especially with Hall’s injury.’
As a proud devotee of Norfolk, it filled me with happiness as Clive declared his admiration for Norwich, and recalls that famous Bradley Johnson and Joey Barton feud… along with telling me his most memorable game between the sides.
‘Joey Barton and Bradley Johnson, two d**kheads together. [That’s not going to go down well – Ed]. Made for each other.
‘It’s an away game I enjoy – cheap trains, lovely city, not too far, loads of pubs – but it’s not a game we’ve got a particularly good record in and it’s the one that cost us the league title in 1975/76. The 1993/94 game stands out for many QPR fans – both clubs had great teams at the top end of the Premier League and we won 4-3 that day with our rudimentary centre forward Devon White (only QPR would cover injuries to Les Ferdinand with a giant electrician from Ilkeston) lolloping through and sliding in the winner in front of the away fans late on.’
He agrees that the Carrow Road atmosphere needs major improvement, including the removing of the ‘bloody darts music’, I’m glad we agreed on something…
‘If it stays true to our recent trips then it’ll be pretty quiet, a pretty comfortable defeat and we’ll have to put up with being blasted by the bloody darts music several times. That said we’ve started the season better than I expected, and Norwich have done the opposite so it will maybe/hopefully be more competitive than we anticipated when the fixtures came out and we might actually be capable of sneaking a result.’
As we get onto the issues of atmosphere and how to improve it, Clive rants (quite brilliantly, passionately and wholeheartedly) about ticket prices, stewards, alcohol and chip shops – it’s incredible. Sadly I’m limited to word count but here’s part of it…
‘Firstly you can’t wake up on Saturday morning and just decide to go to the game anymore, because a huge number of Championship games, including Wednesday night, (often for no reason at all) are all-ticket for away fans or everybody. And then there’s the increase in the already extortionate ticket price (by a further £5 in Sheffield Wednesday’s case to £41) should you dare to want to turn up and pay at the turnstile. Football, and the trains that take you there, is now something you plan weeks and months in advance.
‘Secondly, for eight of you it’s going to be a minimum of £200 just to get in. Probably more. For eight 24-year old lads to go to our game with Reading last Saturday as away fans it would have cost £288 for tickets!
‘Thirdly, it’s now £4-6 for even a lukewarm pint.
‘Fourthly, if you get a bit lairy at the game, the club will be encouraging the people who sit near you to text an anonymous number and report your anti-social behaviour.
‘Fifthly, if you stand up, even in a largely empty stand with nobody behind you, you’ll be harassed by some jumped-up bloke [he didn’t say bloke –Ed] in a fluorescent jacket.
‘And sixthly, your local chip shop is now a vegan falafel bar. So, by the time you’re done you’ve dropped at least £300 between you for bad beer, bad food, and mediocre football played out in near silence sitting in a half-empty stand.’
We proceed to agree on safe standing and Clive reminisces about ‘old style’ safe standing. We both conclude that policed well and effectively it can work, and after comparing football’s stance on the subject to rugby’s, we move on to discuss Clive’s favourite QPR supporting season.
‘Best by far was the 2010/11 Championship winning season under Neil Warnock. It was a return to the Premier League after 15 years away, we went to every match, the team was full of really likeable characters and played a tremendous, exciting brand of football led from the front by Adel Taarabt and Wayne Routledge with Ale Faurlin behind them. Loved every minute of every game. So good to watch.’
After mulling over the ‘merits’ of Harry Redknapp, I ask Clive what’s gone so wrong at Loftus Road since the most recent relegation.
‘We went from having two goalkeepers on £20,000 a week between them (Paddy Kenny and Brian Murphy) to two on £150,000 a week (Julio Cesar and Rob Green) in the space of a month with no discernible improvement to the standard of goalkeeping. You can’t do s**t like that. Luckily we have an excellent CEO Lee Hoos who we brought in from Burnley who has steadied the ship after Redknapp’s ruinous reign.’
I ask for a little bit more information of the superbly named LoftForWords.com, to which Clive contributes…
‘If you want another long, egotistical, flouncy answer then it exists to provide in-depth, thoughtful, hopefully intelligent coverage, reports and interviews about QPR and our future opponents which you simply don’t get elsewhere. With jokes and graphic sexual imagery thrown in along the way. But if you want the short answer, Peroni is expensive and I need a second income.’
Before the generic conclusion ending with a prediction, I was intrigued to know what Clive expected from Norwich ahead of the fixture. He quickly identifided Alex Pritchard as a player who does well against QPR and was undoubtedly relieved when I told him he was injured.
‘I’m expecting a lot more than I’ve seen so far. As well as Middlesbrough and Wednesday I fancied Norwich to do very well this season as I believed you had the players to do a lot better last season but just seemed to go astray in the middle. I still think you will. Leaving Oliveira out seems odd to me and he’ll probably get a recall on Wednesday with spectacular results knowing our luck.’
And finally, the generic stuff – I asked Clive where these two teams would finish come May, and his predication for the match.
‘I think I said third and nineteenth to start with and we’re only two games in so I should stick with that shouldn’t I, although Norwich have started a lot worse and QPR a lot better than I thought. I had it down as a fairly comfortable 2-0 or 3-0 a week and a half ago. Play as we did at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and against Reading on day one and we could easily sneak it. 1-1 maybe.’
Thanks to Clive for his time and his no-nonsense thoughts. Here’s to an entertaining one with football being the real winner. (As if…)