Memories of Harold Winton

A year ago tonight I was in a very sombre mood indeed.

I was contacting various people connected with QPR to give them very sad news about Harold Winton’s condition, and asking them to think about what they might like to say the following day when, sadly, I would probably be putting together a tribute to him.

Harold’s sons, Matt and Alex, had agreed that I should do this in preparation for the inevitable news that would follow. Harold had been suffering with cancer for some time.

Perhaps the person most synonymous with the Wintons is Dan Shittu, who was number one on my list that evening. But Shittu was on international duty with Nigeria and I was unable to get hold of him in time.

Shittu later paid his own tribute to Harold, who funded the player’s move to Rangers from Charlton and took a keen interest in his career after that.

Harold also agreed to help Rangers with the signing of Marc Bircham, who was sad to hear the news about him and said some nice words. Nick Blackburn had his differences with Harold while chairman but was sincere in his tribute, as was another former Rangers chairman Bill Power, who had great affection for him.

One person Harold always had a particularly soft spot for was Gary Waddock, who also paid him a nice tribute.

A sign of the esteem Harold was held in was that, after the news that he had passed away, so many others – some of whom I didn’t even know knew Harold so well – were keen to add their own tribute. He was known to many more former QPR players than I realised.

Harold is most known for his involvement in the Doudou, Bircham and Shittu deals, and it’s for those that he was invited to join the board and later given the title of honorary president.

But he also worked tirelessly behind the scenes during some incredibly traumatic times for QPR. I had a ringside seat for the battles that were fought during that awful period, and can vouch for the fact that Harold was at the forefront of the daily fight for the club’s survival.

He was later joined by the likes of Power, Kevin McGrath, Gianni Paladini, Dave Morris and others, but for a time he was the club’s leading firefighter.

Bringing in players was the fun – and the public – part. There was plenty more going on away from all that. There were bills to be paid and battles to be fought.

I liked Harold a lot. I never told him so, because I’d never tell a bigwig at QPR something like that. Plus we had our differences. He would sometimes be unhappy about a story of mine, never more so than one that suggested Ian Holloway was looking to replace Doudou, which Harold took great exception to.

But like Holloway, Harold didn’t tend to bear grudges. On one occasion, in 2006, I was banned from the press area at Loftus Road because of a falling out with the regime. Harold, who was poorly at the time, didn’t know about this and in any case was unhappy with me about something.

When he found out a few weeks later, he insisted that he would “sort it”. I didn’t say at the time because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, but I didn’t want him to get involved, as I was worried this would leave me owing him something. The Wintons are good people, but they knew how and when to call a favour in. I didn’t want to be in that situation.

A few months later, Harold and I had a disagreement over a story I’d done. I waited for him to remind me that I owed him one and was an ungrateful so-and-so, but he never did. Not then, or other times when we were on opposite sides.

He was always fantastic and engaging to speak to. Mad as a hatter at times, often touting some idea he’d come up with, and almost always with a plan to get this or that player to QPR by hook or by crook. The return of Lee Camp, for example, was something he had tried to bring about several times before a deal was eventually done.

There was also conflict. Harold was hugely supportive of Holloway and Paladini, but fell out with them for very different reasons. His relationship with the latter was affected by the boardroom coup of 2005, which Harold was deeply unhappy about. Later, the sale of Dean Parrett and other issues caused real acrimony.

Harold wasn’t perfect but there were some misconceptions about him. More recently, Paulo Sousa’s problematic reign opened many eyes to how the internet can be used to influence opinions. People seem wise to it now. But previously, Harold was a messageboard target in a way that made the Sousa debacle look tame.

For some time there was an implication that, among other things, Harold was responsible for various leaks and negative stories about QPR, was hell-bent on self-promotion, and couldn’t stop talking to the press.

Harold let that go without comment. As did I – the person who wrote 99% of the stories in question, and as such was the only person who knew the truth, while fiction was being presented as fact on messageboards.

It was a sad time. Harold and I had had our differences, but this was a sick and elderly man who’d done a lot for the club and was being demonised unfairly.

Ironically, Harold worked tirelessly to prevent leaks and worked to uphold the club’s reputation at all times. He could talk for England, but was actually very reluctant to comment on anything on the record, and was constantly putting the squeeze on me in various ways to try and prevent things getting into the public domain.

Far from being a sneaky leak, what Harold actually did was take the bull by the horns and speak publicly about something when he felt the need to. But these occasions were in fact very few and far between.

After Harold died it wasn’t appropriate to dwell on these things. But a year on, maybe it’s the right time to reveal that, actually, there were only five occasions when Harold sought publicity. In all five cases he initially tried to get his way via private persuasion.

The first was after the promotion in 2004, when there were divisions behind the scenes and Harold had fears about where things were heading.

The second and third occasions were over attempts to replace Holloway with Ramon Diaz, and later the 2005 boardroom split that led to Power and Mark Devlin being ousted. In both cases Harold was unhappy with me because he felt I should have written something sooner than I did.

The fourth was after Power and Devlin were removed, and Harold was unhappy that Paladini and the Monaco group were in sole control. He took his position as honorary president seriously, and felt that he should say publicly that he was concerned, and pointed to examples at Wimbledon and Stoke of what can happen when a club comes under foreign control.

The fifth and most controversial was Harold’s public call for Holloway to be replaced.

For his role in Holloway’s exit, Harold perhaps won’t be judged favourably by some. But he had his reasons, and it’s also the case that he had fought tooth and nail to keep Holloway in the job on several occasions when he was close to the sack. He had also backed him financially.

Once the club’s president and a former key ally made it known he wanted him out, the game was up for Holloway and he knew it. But that was Harold. One afternoon my phone rang and Harold’s number appeared. I knew from experience it wasn’t a good sign. He said what he had to say about Holloway and told me to do what I wanted with it. I warned him that the fans may never forgive him, sarcastically thanked him for wrecking my relationship with the manager, and that was it. That’s how Harold operated. In that respect he was as far removed from sneaky as you can get, so whispers that he was behind a series of leaks couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Whether he got the Holloway issue right or wrong, one thing is for sure: Harold loved QPR and had its best interests at heart. I also have no doubt that his involvement in Rangers took its toll on him, and on Matt and Alex.

Top of the league and owned by billionaires, it’s easy now to lose sight of what a mess Rangers were in a few years ago, and Harold’s role in getting the club to where it is today.

In May, if Rangers are promoted, Neil Warnock and the players will rightly bask in the glory. So will the owners and board. But Harold will have played his part too.

He was mad, yet when it mattered he was the voice of sanity. That was the great Harold paradox. And no matter how bleak things were – and boy were they bleak at times – Harold always had a Del Boy-like enthusiasm and belief that if we could just get this player or win that battle, then this time next year we’ll be millionaires.

In the end, it turns out he was right.

The likes of Briatore and Ecclestone may not remember him, but that wouldn’t have bothered Harold. He would, though, have wanted to be fondly remembered by QPR fans, who were always most important to him.

And, for what he did for his club during its darkest days, he ought to be remembered. Not just on this, the first anniversary of his passing, but always.

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60 Responses to Memories of Harold Winton

  1. Martin says:

    “Top of the league and owned by billionaires, it’s easy now to lose sight of what a mess Rangers were in a few years ago” – and a mess we really were Dave. I was living in Holland from April 2000 to August 2004 and in the early days I could not believe how rapidly it appeared that the club was falling apart. The stark reality was that we were reaping the harvest of some very poor decisions made from the mid 1990s onwards. It was a relief when things started to turn around (on the pitch at least) by 2003 and clearly a major debt is owed to Harold in so many ways for what has come since. Without him, and one or two others, we might so easily be the Third Lanark of London football by now.

  2. Martin says:

    I should have added my thanks for the piece – a terrific and interesting read, as ever!

  3. Grant says:

    Thanks for that, as someone who has been put off QPR messageboards because of the bile, presentation of opinion as fact and down right lies alot of this rings true.

    Until I read this I had a mixed opinion of Harold because of things I had read in other places, for the sake of the bloke I hope the people who wrote malicious things about him see this and feel ashamed, especially those who questioned his motives.

    Really nice, informative piece to read. Thanks

  4. Matt Winton says:

    Dave,

    What a fitting tribute, how very kind of you to say such lovely things about dad.

    He did have a rather soft spot for you as well.

    Your thoughts have brought a tear to my eye, but left me a warm feeling inside.

    Thank you so much,

    Matt W

    • Lorena says:

      Matthew, I have tried so hard to tell you and Alex how sorry that I am about your dad. It has been so long, but I remember the day that I answered the advert as a nanny and your dad neglected to tell me that you boys were 16 and 18! He hired me on the spot, because I feel that he knew that I would love you and Alex…and I did and always have. You both loved him so very much, I am proud to have witnessed such an unconditional love between you. Stay well boys. Love always, Lorena.

  5. Freddie Beech says:

    Great Read David, very informative and well worth five minutes of any real Rangers fans time!

  6. Jim Frayling says:

    Great piece Dave.

    A lot of people had ups and downs with Harold but you always got a sense with him that whatever view he had the club came first in his mind. You can’t say that for everyone and you can’t say it for everyone involved now. That’s the real test of being a fan or a club man.

    Undoubtedly Harold was. You might argue with him a lot on an issue, but I never minded disagreeing with others provided you knew that they had the club at heart.

    A lovely bloke, a Rangers great. Really good that he is not forgotten.

    JimF

  7. extrawide says:

    As a fan I was never privy to the innermost machinations of board manoueverings during this period, but would offer a couple of memories I have of the time. I had an overriding conflict related to Harold Wintons financial support towards the purchase of players. On the one hand I was aware of the selfless courage of the man to invest in a club he loved with the certainty of little gratitude should success not follow. On the other hand this conflict was tempered by constant awe for all directors of clubs such as ours who every week have to try and fulfill the differing hopes and dreams of the supporters, a real impossible task, and one irrespective of my wealth, I would struggle to commit to. Secondly I was somewhat aware of the pressure on an incumbent manager related to the subsequent emotional pressure of having to play players that had been bought with such selfless courage. I did not envy the strength that was needed on all sides to make it work, because as with all things, it’s not just about money.
    My other memory of the time was the passion and belief Holloway engendered in players. Testament to this is his current employ up the coast at Blackpool. The commitment to the cause from journeymen pros, playing primarily for the love of their craft, but who would run and run and run for I.H., carried along by the will of the fans need and desire was humbling. However that passion eventually drains even the most resilient of men, wrings them out like a wet flannel and leaves them gasping for breath. The team that Holloway assembled to get us promotion, and that he presided over in the subsequent season when unable to freshen due to the financial crisis, all deserve, along with Harold Winton, a great deal of thanks from every one of us.

  8. Hayden says:

    I must admit to being completely ignorant of most of this. Thank you Dave for posting it, if you have any doubts that was the right thing don’t worry it definitely was.

    I feel I really should say now; rest in peace Harold and thank you for all you have done for our Club x

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