AS QPR prepare to mark 100 years at Loftus Road on Saturday, editor of popular fans site Loft for Words - Clive Whittingham - caught up with manager Ian Holloway to discuss his return to the club, transfer window, attitude to cups and memories of W12.
The QPR manager job comes up a lot, whenever that happened over the last few years were you waiting by the phone, did you put feelers out, or did you feel your time here had been and gone?
IH: It came up just after I’d promised Gary Hughes, the head of football at Sky, I’d do a year with him to see how it went. I told him I wouldn’t go in for any other jobs. At the end of that year I got a three-year contract which I signed but I told him at that point if the QPR job came up that’s the only one I’d consider and want to put my name in for. Blow me down, it happened.
To get it again was a dream come true. I can’t tell you how excited I am about what I want to do here. What I’ve found here hasn’t discouraged me at all, I’m going to work through it and help the club as it has helped me through the ten years I’ve had an association with it. That came first through Gerry Francis, who I would have done anything for - if he told me to jump off the roof I’d have done it for him. His affinity with this club made me love it even from afar and when he came here and brought me with him it was more than a dream, going into the top flight at 29-years-old. I had a big decision to make at 33 when Ray Wilkins offered me two more years and Bristol Rovers offered me four years. Leaving here wasn’t easy, but to come back and have another opportunity is life changing for me. I want people to understand that, and I will do whatever it takes to get it to a situation where it’s moving the way everybody wants.
Hopefully everybody can see the way the lads are wearing the shirt, the way they’re chasing and working for each other at the minute, is a bit more like what QPR fans would expect.
Lewis Jones who worked with you at Sky also does bits for LFW and he always said that when he was putting your Championship column together for the Sky website the QPR bit would always take longer than anything else…
IH: Yeh my wife used to moan about that.
…so as an outsider looking in – albeit one with a connection with the club and huge experience in the game – you obviously had strong opinions about QPR and what the club was doing. What was your perception of the club before you came back in for this stint?
IH: Very good actually. I always liked the appointment of Jimmy, I thought he was the right man for the club. I thought Les supporting and helping him, and Chris Ramsey still being at the club, was really important. The expectations that were around when Chris was in charge were very unbalanced - I felt it was unfair. He’s a fantastic bloke and I’m delighted he’s still here.
I liked the signings. Conor Washington was a good move, coming from Peterborough and hungry to score goals. It was always going to be a problem losing your highest goal scorer, Charlie Austin, because he was exceptional. We’ve since had to lose Tjaronn Chery as well, because he wanted to go, and he got a lot of goals and assists too.
But I liked the way the club was going, I liked the murmurings that were coming out. It was a platform for people to become famous again, not somewhere you came because you were famous. That’s the right way to go for us and where we are. Our place in London, the area the ground is in, what it means to me is reality and real people. It’s not an upmarket area where everything is false and designer label. I didn’t like it when the club had a flirt around with things like that.
I feel I understand what the club is about and I want people here who care about it, treasure it, and give us their best every minute no matter what. I want them to be reliable, even in times of trouble when you need a resilience about you. I believe the way we’re going about it, the direction we’re going and what we’re trying to achieve, is the right way for us to do it. At the minute I’m delighted with the overall structure, which is absolutely vital. I don’t like that we don’t own the training ground, but we’re working on getting another one. We’re all trying to move it in the right direction.
Having come in with that positive perception, was there anything once you had your feet under the table that surprised or disappointed you? Stuff that wasn’t in the job advert?
IH: Not really, no. The game itself, during my 18 months of punditry, has changed dramatically with respect of the money that changes hands and the wages in the Championship. The level of coaching, where the managers are coming from at this level has gone up – managers at this level now have been promoted to the Premier League before or have come from abroad where they were winning things. The level of it is getting stronger all the time – better players are dropping down and the standard of foreign players coming in is increasing. The enormity of where it’s galloped was the main thing. It’s good that that game has flourished, but is it a good thing that it’s so money orientated? Where will it ever stop?
The reason I ask is because when you were outside looking in you must have thought ‘if I was there I’d do this or that’ – then when you got the chance, apart from the Norwich match which we did win, we quickly went on a long losing run so I wondered whether what you found wasn’t quite as you expected/hoped…
IH: I was thinking about changing the whole style of play and moving the ball around and I think we played very well in a few of those defeats. We actually played better in some of the games we lost than the ones we eventually won – Derby County at home, how we lost that with the last kick I don’t know. I realised it was more about results than a style first and foremost. The boys needed some help and January was massive, absolutely massive. We needed a couple who could help, the boys knew we needed it, and I think we did brilliant work in that first window, moving people out who didn’t want to be here for all sorts of reasons and bringing people in who had an instant impact. Luke Freeman scored, then stuck a ball in for Matt Smith to score at Birmingham – that game was a huge shift in what we were capable of, with substitutes coming off the bench and scoring as well.
But then we ended in the same vein, losing seven out of eight just when it looked like we were safe…
Looking back at that run with hindsight now do you regret anything? Would you do anything differently? Do you know why that happened?
IH: I gave one or two who were on the fringes a chance to show me, because I liked what they were doing in training. Everybody was buzzing, things were good, and again we just started to lose by the odd goal. We still played quite well but it’s typical of what happens here, we started looking over our shoulder and getting more and more nervous, everybody starts wondering what’s going on, what’s happening…
We were missing a mainstay of the team in Grant Hall. If you look at his stats and what he did for the team, the blocks he got in, the stats with him in the team and the stats without him… I didn’t realise he was that vital. We’ve started this season without him and taken seven points so clearly we’ve moved forward. When he comes back, which is hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll have another very, very good player in our midst who shores things up defensively for us.
When you first arrived the theory was the team had talent but needed to be let off the leash a little bit. The pitch was you could come in, work with what we had and “rub off on them a bit”. From there we went to doing six in and six out in January. Why did that plan change?
IH: It’s about the way you get around the place and how you want to play. Until you get in there and see it and work with them - sometimes you get a good response and sometimes you don’t – you don’t know what you’ve got. You need certain elements in your team if you want to play high tempo press, if you want to pass it. I felt there was a staleness around the place and I needed to do something about that. Staleness can come from a player who doesn’t feel loved, wanted or needed or a player who’s here as a stepping stone to go and get some more money in China. What we need is people who are committed to us. I didn’t think for one minute when I took over I’d lose Chery and Sebastien Polter, not in a million years. I thought they were two I’d get a chance to work with. That’s how things go. One was a family thing, one was a money thing. Those two had only arrived the summer before and I thought I’d be working with them, unfortunately it didn’t work out. You have to take things and be ready to adapt, that’s what I had to do. The changes were made because I felt, and Les felt, they were needed.
You’re happy it’s made an improvement?
IH: That’s up to the opinions of whoever reads this. It’s all about opinions. I’m currently being paid for my opinion at this club and I’m delighted about that, when that ends somebody else will be paid for their opinion but hopefully the structure will be here so the whole thing doesn’t have to change when that happens.
We’ve started the season well. August was a great month considering the fixtures…
IH: August was a good month, it wasn’t a great one. We have a situation where we get ourselves into a good place and then have a wobble when we let a goal in. I don’t care about letting a goal in, as long as we don’t wobble. My Blackpool team didn’t wobble, they believed they would come back from adversity. I’ve got to get that here, we haven’t got it yet but we’re on our way – we came back the other day with a late winner against Hull which was very pleasing. We need to be a lot more resilient as a group of people and a team. But there are lots and lots of good things at the moment.
The club has taken criticism from some for its business in the transfer window, how do you think it’s gone?
IH: I’m pleased with the work we’ve been able to do in the window, if we can get them all over the line [at this point in the interview the club was waiting to hear whether an appeal to the league over Bright Osayi-Samuel had been successful – by the end of the discussion we found out it had been] I’ll be delighted. Another couple of wingers will help our situation here, it’s not all about strikers it’s about how we service them. We’ve got David Wheeler who I think is a fantastic fella, he got 20 goals last year albeit a couple of divisions down. Goalscorers are at a premium and I think we’ve got a good one.
I think a lot of the changes people want us to make, we’re not in a position to do that here because of the contracts we’re committed to. It’s what people want to see their club do when they see other clubs spending loads of money but look at Derby, for instance - they’ve sold £22m-worth of player this summer, people like Ince and Hughes, so their manager can make changes, because he’s got some money and he’s got some people out so he’s got spaces in his squad. Whereas we only had two out of contract this summer, and I re-signed one of those - Jamie Mackie. So we’re already up to our squad number and, really, we’ve done ever so well to be able to bring anybody else in. Scowen is a bonus. The next couple of windows, as contracts start to run out, it’s easier to change things, but I believe there’s already been a huge change in the attitude of people coming into work.
It’s gone so mad in this window. Let me tell you, a player we were interested in went from £1.5m to £9m in the space of 20 minutes. He was going to be allowed out on loan, for a loan fee of over £1m. Then they wanted £1.5m to sell him. Then other clubs got involved and within 20 minutes it had changed to £9m. That was a striker, but the market for anybody is ridiculous. When you put a time limit on it, the window slamming shut might be good on television but it’s no good in reality.
It’s not always about making signings is it?
IH: No, sometimes it’s about having somebody back and having a look at them, trying to get that balance right. Sometimes it’s good to have a few changes, somebody else comes in and changes the group mentality. I believe we’re doing things very differently with the same group and I think we can get some good results. The lads are enjoying what we’re doing. We now need to become physically and mentally tougher when things don’t go our way. That will take care of itself.
The other thing is you have to hope the new rules about not being able to get a loan in outside the windows doesn’t coincide with us getting loads of injuries in the same position. You cannot possibly cover everything. There was nothing wrong with the system as it was, you could buy the bulk shopping and then nip down the shops and borrow somebody if you were short. Now if the milk goes off, you’re stuck with it. We’re not a club with zillions of pounds who can rack and stack a load of kids, steal them from clubs and not pay enough for them, stick them in the reserves like Chelsea and Man Utd. The good thing is we have got some young kids coming through who are in and around the squad and want to be part of it.
We’re behind the black ball at the moment because Gary Penrice has only just come but we’ve got a fair few months to the next window and then we’ll work to the next one after that and in a couple of windows time I believe, with Gary’s ability, what the fans will see from the players we bring in and the joy they will bring them, it will all take care of itself.
I’m interested about how we make signings now, I wonder if a lot of the criticism the club takes, Les Ferdinand takes, is because people don’t understand how it works here now so let’s take a few examples… Luke Freeman – Gary Penrice recommended him, so what happens then?
IH: Gary Penrice is in charge of the overall squad structure. I talk to him about how I want to play. He’s been working in Europe for ten years now, travelling all over, seen thousands and thousands of games. His eyes have seen top, top, top quality players; bad players; good players. I’ve told him to look at how I want to play, look at what I’m doing, look at my squad and when they’re out of contract and then try and make us better. I asked Les to bring me Gary’s experience of doing that – we’ve bought his eyes.
I’ve worked with him before, and he’s never brought me a wrong character ever. At Leicester he stopped me bringing in some bad characters there when I could have ended up with one on the training ground every day because the owner wanted to have a say in who we brought in. Gary stopped that happening but we didn’t last very long there because of that, it ended horribly. I like to know who’s coming onto my training ground and what skills they have and I want Gary to go and find them, then we have a look and discuss it.
Les is the head of football. To me that means he has the overall say in the people that we bring in. I can like players, Gary can like players, Les has to think long term about whether we’re bringing the right people to the football club.
Ok, so where does Les fit specifically in the process of signing Freeman, or David Wheeler for instance?
IH: We sit around and discuss it, we look at the situation we’re in. Freeman was a simple one – he had six months left, we knew he would come here, we had an opportunity to buy him or take him in the summer for free and I believed we needed him early. He ticked a lot of boxes: he was tenacious, a set piece specialist, somebody who never gives up, somebody who keeps going, somebody from the area who wants to come back, somebody who learnt to be a winner under Steve Cotterill, somebody who was available… I wanted to play a way where I had somebody who could twist and jink and get us out of trouble on a tight pitch sometimes.
So we flagged him up. Les then goes and deals with the clubs. He talks to them, he makes the contact, does the negotiations. Lee Hoos handles the finances. Then we either get who we want or we find somebody else in a similar scenario. Les’ job is to manage up for me. Les understands the finances, talks to the owners. I concentrate on the players we have got, to get the best out of them and make sure the way we’re playing - not just the results - is of an acceptable standard to what the owners want, Les wants and I believe is the right way to play. Gary concentrates on the players we need and can recruit. Our three roles work very closely together.
I love the players up and make them believe I believe in them. The players respond to me. That’s my job - I’ve got to coach people. Management comes from Les. Management of transfer targets, I can’t do that as well can I? A producer produces, the director directs. They don’t cross over, they support each other. My director directs: directs the contracts, directs who’s out of contract, where we go. He has the help and advice of a very experienced CEO. We’re all backed up by a scouting network rather than just one manager’s opinion. How can a manager have an opinion on other players when he’s busy watching his team every day? These days you have to study the opposition, everything they do is out there to help you, so when are you going to have time to watch other players or negotiate contracts on top of that? I had this at Blackpool – ‘Can’t you do that as well?’ ‘No I bloody well can’t’.
The future here is in great hands. I’m the first team manager, Les is the director of football, Gary is the head of recruitment. We know each other and we have a collective idea of what we want to do here because of our association with it and what it means to us. Who else would nurture it, care about it, in that way? Between us we have the skill to deliver.
Let’s take another specific transfer – Sean Goss, not quite ready for Championship football yet, hence we’re looking to loan him out, how did that one come about? Is that one of yours and Gary’s? One from Les? How did he come to be at the football club?
IH: I believe he’s a good signing for the club long term. He’s only 21 and he had a very bad back injury at Man Utd, so to judge him now is very unfair on the boy. He was flagged up by Ian Butterworth, who was scouting here at the time, as a player who could help us play out from the back by hitting diagonal balls from deep. He’s not getting in at the moment because having watched him and Ariel Borysiuk for a period of time I think Borysiuk does that job better than Goss at the moment. He’ll have to get going and compete. Deep down he’s got the qualities if he wants to learn and use it, he’s still only 21.
It does make it easier if you’ve seen somebody go out on loan and how they respond. Man Utd didn’t loan him out. I didn’t want another loan signing at that time so we asked about the possibility of buying him and that’s how it came about. He’s one tucked in the top pocket for later. If we can get him going there’s a good player in there. He’s going to be a good player for QPR when he learns about disappointment. He came from a team that dominated the ball so easily he was bound to look good. He needs to get better at the bit without the ball, which the team is doing really well at the minute. I’d like to move towards being the team that has the ball all the time, but that’s hard.
IH: Ravel was me.
IH: Yeh. I wanted to try and help him. I felt he would get the crowd going and they wouldn’t look at Luke Freeman and Matt Smith in the wrong light, they’d love Ravel and get excited about him and buy us some time for the other two to bed in. Unfortunately he had two years left on a contract at Lazio, if he’d been in the last year of that contract I think things would have gone a lot better for him here. I still really like him.
The perception, in some quarters, is that was a Les Ferdinand signing that you had to deal with.
IH: No. Not true. Les wasn’t keen, he didn’t believe I could change him. That was mine and mine alone.
Now he’s gone to Mexico after not getting a contract at Birmingham.
IH: Yeh. Harry will have thought he could change him as well. Loads of us feel like that. The day I don’t feel like that is the day I pack in football because I always have to be making something that isn’t as shiny as it should be shiny again. I’ve never been able to buy the shiny ones.
Would you actually want to? You don’t strike me as that sort of manager.
IH: No I’ll never do that again. I believe in the system of a director of football and a chief scout doing the scouting route together. It should never come down to just the manager, it shouldn’t work that way and it doesn’t work that way. I believe a large part of the reason we ended last season the way we did was because I put Ravel in the team after he’d misbehaved in an U23 game. I felt that had a negative effect on the group because they were listening to me and believing in what I was saying, then the minute I rewarded somebody who hadn’t behaved the way I was demanding it confused them.
This is the Brighton game we’re referring to here? When Ravel was suddenly given a start in the middle of the team, big game, league leaders, on TV…
IH: Yeh. I think I confused some of the players there as to what I wanted. They looked at it and wondered why he was playing. It was out of frustration - his agent had talked to me about something - that was down to me, I should have known better. I’ve got to stick to what I believe is right: you get ice cream if you deserve ice cream, I’m not just going to give you a Cornetto if you’ve been naughty.
Something wasn’t quite right there, I believe it is right now and we’ll keep going. I’ve got to keep my eye on the ball and make sure everybody is bang at it, but the structure behind it is in place. I’m absolutely delighted Gary has joined. He didn’t arrive at the same time as me and, honestly, I believe, if he had, one or two of the things I did would have been a little bit different. I don’t believe for one minute I’d have got Ravel Morrison if Gary was here.
And Mel Johnson is part of Gary’s team?
IH: Yes. And Kevin Reeves who’s been with Everton for years and worked with Roberto Martinez. Dean Austin as well. Gary has quietly gone about extending what we need to do so we don’t miss things – hence Paul Smyth coming in from Northern Ireland. What we’re trying to do is bit by bit move things forward.
This goes back to your admiration of the Watford scouting set up?
IH: Without a shadow of a doubt. It’s the best in the world. Watford are part of a network that feeds four clubs. They don’t miss a trick. They signed Medhi Benatia who I had agreed to come to Blackpool and it broke my heart. Have a look at who he plays for now and how much he’s cost – I had him signed for £200,000 on £4,000 a week. He went to Udinese, they gave him a five-year deal, they made nearly £25m on him. He scored in the Champions League semi-final I rang Karl Oyston straight away and said ‘there you go’. They don’t miss a trick, Gary doesn’t miss a trick and we won’t miss a trick long term.
We want to tie the whole thing together – the first team, the under 23s, so it’s all seamless. Ilias Chair is an example of that. I felt he did better than the other midfielders the other day, so I left him on and took them off. Chris Ramsey thanked me for that but to me it was logical, he was playing better. If he’s playing better than somebody I’ve bought, am I just going to keep playing the other lad because I bought him and want to look better? It’s not about that.
Man management is a big part of your skillset, I’m interested why some players seem to get an arm around them – Conor Washington, Steven Caulker seems to be a Clarke Carlisle situation all over again – while others seem to get a bit of stick, such as Idrissa Sylla?
IH: I haven’t given him any stick.
Well you said publicly you weren’t happy with how he reacted to being substituted at Reading, there was a comment about the French lads needing to run about a bit more, and then you weren’t happy that he said he was unavailable to play with a back injury at the end of last season…
IH: That was rude at Reading. If Clarke Carlisle was rude to me I’d have a go at him. It’s basic manners.
All my players are treated exactly the same. I got it wrong with Ravel like I say, because the talent he had I couldn’t wait to see it. Sylla has got talent, but he’s also got to do what he needs to do to defend and get that right. It’s about body language. He has a happy knack of scoring whether he plays ten minutes or 90. I’m very consistent if you know me. People outside may not think it, but I’m very consistent. I want to enjoy myself, I want people to toe the line, I want people to work hard, I want people to give me everything they’ve got. At times I haven’t seen Sylla give me everything he’s got so he’s had some from me.
If you have problems, genuine problems, I will support you through those. But a slightly sore back when you haven’t bothered to come in for treatment the day before is not a genuine problem. How dare you not be professional and come in? If you’ve got a drink problem and you’ve been drinking that’s unprofessional, course it is, but you have a problem and I will help you through that and with that because that’s my duty and job. If I let somebody come in and say he’s injured after not coming in for treatment when he should have done, that’s unprofessional. Our fans and owners deserve to have the ship run in a professional manner. I will have everybody being professional.
I gave Ravel another chance because he used to just not turn up, and then he stopped doing that. Previously when he didn’t turn up he still got picked here, I told him I wouldn’t do that and I kept going back to that. Then when I did see a change unfortunately I rewarded him at the wrong time because he’d kicked somebody in the U23s. I called him off, had a go at him, I felt it was frustration on his part so I put him in ahead of other people. You get that wrong once you can lose people.
Do I do that with Sylla? No, I’m trying to be consistent with everybody – Steve, Lynch, Nedum, I’m the same with all of them and they know the rules. Different players have different roles, mine was to give the ball to Ray Wilkins, get Ray another two or three years at the top, but everybody has to be treated the same. If you don’t do what I want then you’re not earning the shirt. That’s all I’ve ever done. I’ve got people to buy into what we’re doing.
It’s all about them understanding what a privilege it is to wear our shirt. I believe the atmosphere out there is getting there. I was here at the U23s the other day, screaming and shouting from the balcony at them, because it should matter. We ended up winning four or five because we pressed them and closed them. Sometimes they’re a bit ‘hmmmm hmmmm’ and I’m like ‘sort your life out’.
Any in that Under 23 side who particularly excite you at the moment?
IH: Lots. It’s about getting them experience at the right time. I’m delighted with how Furs went out on loan and came back. He’s maturing every minute of every day. Ryan Manning did brilliantly last year, he’s struggling to do the same thing again at the minute because he’s thinking about it too much – he’s a shining light.
Too many to mention: the fans have seen a bit of Ilias; we haven’t seen the best of Ebere yet, he needs to go and get some games under his belt, but he’s got wonderful skill and talent. I’m delighted with the way Chris Ramsey has been with me, what we talk about and how the U23s are starting to feel like they’re part of the picture. It’s not about stepping up to the first team then stepping down, it’s about moving sideways between the two - we’re all in it together. That was difficult for Les to bring in when managers were feeling under pressure because that makes you look short term about everything.
That was my next question, is it tough with managers having such a short shelf life, to give a kid five games and see how he does, because if you lose those five games it’s seen as a crisis?
IH: You can’t give them five games. You can’t. You have to give them a game and it’s sink or swim. Not because of the managerial position, because of the rest of the squad. If they see you pick somebody and he has a bad game and you don’t do something about it it’s a problem. You want the kid to go in there, play well and earn the shirt. Ryan Manning came in after we lost six in a row, we quickly won two with him in there. Ryan did it at a time when he had nothing to lose. Massimo Luongo and Jordan Cousins were trying to play through injuries I told them I didn’t want them doing that which was a statement, and then Ryan hit the ground running and did so well – he had to play with Sandro as well for Christ’s sake.
I believe we’re getting some principals of play at the club, principals of management at the club, principals of ownership at the club. We’re on the turn. We all have to be responsible for what we produce out there, and we have to be consistent. The identity you create for yourselves, it’s absolutely vital that it’s etched not just on your captain, or the goalkeeper who’s playing out of his skin, or someone you might have to sell to balance the books, but right the way throughout the club. To wear the shirt this is what you have to do son. Gerry Francis, you knew what he wanted and I carried that out to the letter whether he picked me or not.
Not to go all ‘during the war’ on you but do you find it difficult these days, when the kids are all on big money and walking around staring at screens, to communicate and get your values across?
IH: Not at all, if you’re consistent. One problem is the PFA is so strong it’s difficult to get disciplinary procedures past them, but they don’t go the other way against players who don’t do what their contract says. You should turn up and you should play. Look at Diego Costa at the minute, come on. Unfortunately, throughout the game all over the world, managers are being undermined. Football has changed. Talking about Chelsea again, there was a mutiny there with Mourinho after they won the title. However you cut it, those players forced him out. He’s now at Man Utd, the last club that had a successful dictatorship. Can you imagine a players’ revolt happening to Alex Ferguson? You’re having a laugh. He went round Ryan Giggs’ house party and kicked his door in. Imagine what would happen now if Jose Mourinho went round Eden Hazard’s gaff and kicked his door in.
Do you still enjoy it?
IH: I love every minute of every day. You’re trying to affect people. That’s what I was missing. I couldn’t affect anything, create anything, help you get over something, when I was working in TV. I could give my thoughts on what somebody else was doing, and even then you had to be politically correct and not over-negative. It did help me understand it more, when you’re watching it from a distance as a voyeur. It’s an even better game than I thought it was, even more of a spectacle. My dad would have loved the way football is now, he’d have watched it all, my mum would never have had the TV.
Some things are better, some things are worse, but every day is a new challenge. You can still make a difference, and that’s what I want to do. I believe I am, I believe I will, and I believe that every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better. I can’t wait to get out there now the window is shut, with the couple of new people we’ve added to the group and start showing what we’re about. We’ll be staggering training across the day into the afternoon, with the U23s overlapping with the ones I haven’t been picking and the first team so they all have a chance and understand the drills. We want it to be seamless so anybody from the U23s or who hasn’t been playing can just slot straight in. We had Giles Phillips with us today working with Robbo and Nedum – I stopped him and said ‘you’re not talking enough son come on, I need you to talk’.
So things like the Brentford game last week won’t happen in quite that way because people will slide straight in?
IH: No the Brentford game will happen. I made ten changes.
People were upset by that. Do you regret it? Do you stand by it?
IH: I regret they scored with their first opportunity and then scored from their second opportunity which was terrible marking at a corner. The team I had out there should have done better than they did. They should have put more effort into the chance I gave them. We were on our way back at 3-1 at half time and how we didn’t get the first goal in the second half I don’t know. That was a chance. At the end of it the fourth goal ruined it.
Would you ever be tempted to play your strongest team in the cup and then make ten changes for Cardiff and just say we’re going for a cup?
IH: Never in a million years. You have to try and get to the top, and the top is the Premier League. That’s where everybody wants to be, that’s where the money is, that’s where your parachute money comes from.
Do you think that’s a shame? As somebody who is a football man and ingrained in the traditions of the sport…
IH: No I feel our squad will get stronger and if I need to change it then I will. I’ve already got enough injuries to sink a battleship here. I regret not playing Nedum in that game, Nedum next to Caulker and Baptiste might have been the difference.
But in general, our cup competitions seem to be horribly devalued and dwarfed by the Premier League...
IH: They’re not devalued, but everybody is under so much pressure to finish as high as they can in the league.
I just wonder if that’s a shame. We had a great tradition of cup competitions in this country…
IH: Well look at the fixtures and where they put them. In the first month you should never have seven or eight matches. The first cup game should be played on the day we all currently play our last pre-season friendly – that should be the start of the season. Then you get a week before your first league game. Then you could pick the same team for both games with six days recovery in between. Instead they have Saturday and then Tuesday – how can you adequately recover a team in two days when they haven’t played for two months over the summer? Tell me that. Then if you win that game it gives you another one before the end of the month so the start of our season was Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. I picked a strong team – a team with Caulker in it, Baptiste in it, Matt Smith up front, should be strong. Unfortunately, on the day, we missed our chances, they took theirs, we still came back, we dominated the second half until the fourth goal. Unfortunately, for me, one or two of the fans didn’t quite get it. At the end of the day none of us like losing to that lot over there, but have a think about it and let’s make sure that when the league game comes we give them an absolute thumping. That would make everything right.
The competition we’re in is so intense, you need a big strong squad and I’m trying to work towards that. I will die trying to get them to wear the shirt how every single QPR fan would wear it if they had the chance. If that’s not good enough for some, amazingly enough, I don’t give a shit.
100 years at Loftus Road
Are your best memories at Loftus Road as a manager or as a player?
IH: Every time I go out there and put a team together I still get goosebumps. Much more than when I was a player. As a player I was worried as I came in, now I can’t wait for it. When you walk down the tunnel and see that surface, I don’t think people understand what a wonderful arena it is, with everything so close.
As a player I think back to when we beat Tottenham 4-1, that was my favourite time. I hit one into the ground and it skidded into the top corner. A different class effort, as Gary Penrice said ‘not bad for somebody on my money’. Ray got a diving header, Gary scored twice – he’d only got one goal before then and he realised I was level with him so he got two. I remember Man Utd at home, making a tackle on the edge of their box and it went through to Danny Dichio and he curled it home.
Sometimes, time would slow down while I was out there. I’d realise it was Ray Wilkins next to me. There was a goal Les scored against Norwich once that just went in slow motion – I slipped him a ball and he set off past half their team and banged it into the bottom corner. He was on fire at that time. Somebody patted me on the back and said ‘good ball Ol’, I said ‘are you having a laugh? Look at that. Look at that.’ To have wanted it for so long, for Gerry to bring me in basically to show the team how to train, and to play as many times as I did, I found it hard to believe.
But you still say you prefer it as the manager? The way you’re talking about those playing days sounds amazing…
IH: If you get to an age where you can’t do your job, and it’s all you know, and then somebody says ‘you can stay in it by doing a slightly different job’, you’re going to love that aren’t you? If I could roll the clock back and be like I used to be and play with who I used to play with and do it all again I’d do it right now. But when I go out there and see it and do it every day it brings it all back to me and I feel like I’m still that age. I feel like it’s still me. Sometimes I’ll see myself in a shop window and think ‘is that fella me?’ Older people who don’t admit they’re old, it keeps them alive.
There’s a bloke who affected me a lot in my life who refused to believe he was old. He’d treat every day as a new challenge. He used to say ‘I’m not old, I’m experienced, I can’t wait for my next experience’. It’s wonderful to be alive. It’s an absolute joy. I don’t care what comes – I didn’t even really care about the long-haired bloke and what he said to me during the Brentford game when I was trying to manage the team and he was supposed to be supporting them, but it wasn’t right.
Did that great QPR team actually under achieve?
IH: Don’t forget that when I came here as a player it was a group of players that consistently failed. Even the team that finished fifth in the Premier League went on and lost to Swindon twice the following year. My Bristol Rovers mates at that time wouldn’t have done that.
There was an attitude that “we’ll be alright next week” and that’s no good. If you want to win something you have to learn how to do that. Listen to Gary Neville, deep down the bloke can’t stand it - that Liverpool Arsenal game last week you could hear in his voice he wanted to kill them. He wants to win. He understood the levels and standards they set at Man Utd and they never wavered from it. It’s all about what you do for your team mate when you haven’t got the ball. People like me kept telling Roy Wegerle that – he could run, but often when he gave the ball away he didn’t bother. The fans still loved him but I didn’t because he let me down as a team mate. I used to tell him constantly, to his face, ‘any chance Roy?’ He’d say ‘oh Ollie don’t worry, it wasn’t meant to be’. I’d say ‘it’s nothing to do with what’s meant to be you lazy good for nothing’.
The Steve Yates thing, when the players heard he was coming in and said he was ‘a bit ham and eggs’, is exactly what I’m talking about. It didn’t bother me that Ray sat there and played piano after I’d won him the ball back, but some others weren’t willing to do that. I told Simon Barker ‘if you chase around and pass it to him, you’re a lot better than me so he’ll pick you. He’s picking me because I run around more than you, you want to do the passing like Ray. You want to play with Ray you’ve got to run around like I do.’ We got on as mates in the end.
And your best ever QPR signing was Paul Furlong?
IH: Every person I ever signed is my best ever signing. I can’t pick one. Everyone I signed gave me everything they could at that moment in time. I have no favourites. I’ve got four children, three grandchildren, two more on the way, have I got a favourite? No.
I can say we came through adversity when the club was completely in the mire and everybody played their part in building that. Matthew Rose did a brilliant job for me playing all over the place - had a go at left back at one point. Danny Shittu, Clarke Carlisle. Chris Day. Steve Palmer. How can I pick someone from these? They gave me everything they had, I thank every one of them. Richard Langley. Every one of them gave me so much joy because of where we were and what we managed to do and what they did for me and to help me make our fans a bit happier. Even the ones that didn’t quite manage it did their best at the time and that’s all you can ask – I had DouDou at one time, he played his little part. Martin Rowlands, Gareth Ainsworth, Lee Cook, how could I pick one? It’s an impossible question.
What makes me the proudest is a different question. I’ve now coached two generations of Furlongs. I have longevity. Longevity in the game is so hard to get. We’ve just lost Bruce Forsyth, for goodness sake what a wonderful performer, how did he manage to change himself over and over again and keep going? That’s longevity. I’ve got memories of Paul Furlong doing some marvellous things, and also not doing so well and me standing up for him. Now I’ve got his boy. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we were in the Premier League and I had Darnell Furlong’s boy? Don’t tell Darnell that, he’s only just got engaged, I’m sure he’s not rushing to have a family yet and he’ll probably think ‘this bloke will be dead by the time my kid’s old enough to play for QPR’. I’d be about 81. Maybe that’s a dream too far.
All I want to do is make a difference.
The above interview was reproduced with the kind permission of Loft for Words.