It’s not every day you walk through woods and across golf courses to a football match, or that a promotion is decided in a room at Wembley rather than on the pitch. It’s a surreal time.
Tiger Feet 2 – a sponsored walk from Loftus Road to Vicarage Road to raise money for the QPR Tiger Cubs – was tougher than last year’s relative stroll to Selhurst Park, but still an enjoyable experience.
We set off around 8am, shortly after a pitchside pep-talk from QPR in the Community Trust CEO Andy Evans, who remarked that when the Watford game was identified last June as a possible date for another walk, we didn’t know it would turn out to be “such an historic day for the club.” Stirring stuff.
What I like most about Tiger Feet apart from the great cause it raises money for, is that I can put journalistic impartiality and downright cynicism about all things QPR aside for a while, and feel part of the Rangers family in the way I used to.
For a few seconds sitting in the Paddock listening to Andy, I thought back to my days as a child leaning over the front of the terrace there, straining to get a better view.
I snapped out of that sentimental nonsense when it dawned on me I’d be spending several hours in the company of Paul Finney of the Independent R’s. The ultimate sobering thought.
But I must be going soft in my old age because, as I looked over at the QPR fans after the game, I do believe I felt a slight lump in the throat and thought of how much Rangers going up would mean to family and friends, some of whom are no longer with us.
Then it occurred to me that the enormity of the occasion, and the fact that it was at an away ground, would make it difficult for the QPR media team to keep tabs on me and prevent press from speaking to players, so I forgot all the sentimental claptrap and moved to a strategic position.
Much to my disgust, I was spotted in the tunnel by a delighted Rangers official. Even more to my disgust, he asked if I wanted him to bring me a player to speak to. The thrill is in the chase, so I told him I wasn’t bothered. What a disappointment.
Joking aside, being serious for a moment, there are rare occasions when impartiality and personal differences can be briefly put aside, and this was one of them.
Only looking back do I now treasure a couple of minutes with Ian Holloway on the side of the Hillsborough pitch. It was something I took for granted before a friend reminded me that every Rangers fan that day would have liked to put an arm around him and tell him he could be immensely proud of what he’d done. Up until then I just felt I’d disgraced myself professionally and wouldn’t dream of doing something like that again.
So it was a pleasure to shake Neil Warnock’s hand and congratulate him on a job very, very well done.
Warnock was then more boisterously congratulated by a Rangers fan who happened to be passing. In handcuffs. Being frogmarched by a policeman through the back of Watford’s main stand.
“You’re the man, Neil!” the guy shouted.
“Thanks mate. Good luck,” the manager replied.
“Legend! ‘kin legend!” the fan added, now shouting back over his shoulder as he was being swiftly led away.
He was followed seconds later by another nicked supporter, who didn’t get as close to Warnock but gleefully shouted in his direction. I didn’t hear what he shouted, but did hear as he turned to the policeman escorting him and said, in a very matter-of-fact way: “They’d better not take points off us.”
It’s that fear of a points deduction that cast a shadow over Saturday and this week. What a terrible shame for the Rangers fans who’ve waited for this moment. It shouldn’t be this way.
The anxiety out there isn’t being eased by coverage of the saga, which has inevitably reached fever pitch as we approach the big day.
Other than on this blog, I’ve written very little on the story and the little I have done has been background information for other journalists. I don’t do speculation, and the relevant facts either can’t be reported without prejudicing the process, or are things that were stated long before this case arose, such as the fact that Instituto de Córdoba received very little – if anything at all – following Alejando Faurlin’s move for a reported £3.5m.
Much of the rest out there is wide of the mark, or isn’t new. There’s an awful lot of rubbish that’s been spouted on this subject; a good deal of it heavily slanted in favour of QPR, and some not.
I can only repeat a couple of points I made on this blog during the week the charges were issued.
The first is that while QPR might be overwhelmingly confident this will all be settled in their favour, they have unfortunately been involved in a number of legal cases and the like in recent years, sent out a similar message of certain, impending victory, and lost.
But, secondly, it’s also the case that, partly because of their owners, QPR are well placed to launch a strong defence and challenge any outcome that denied the club promotion, which could throw the football calendar into chaos. This has since become an accepted fact. Everyone now talks about what a mess this situation could develop in to.
Beyond that, there’s really not that much that can be added to the respective statements by the FA and QPR back in March.
There have been a few interesting developments. One is Warnock’s apparent confidence, which I know a lot of fans have read an awful lot into.
Warnock is rightly trusted by supporters, and his word understandably carries a lot of weight.
But he’s a relative newcomer at QPR. His predecessors found there was often a big difference between what they were repeatedly assured, and what actually happened. This case will give an indication of whether the club has changed in that respect.
Warnock has stated several times that he is “very happy” with what a barrister involved in Rangers’ case has told him.
The club’s legal team certainly boasts expertise and experience in the shape Ian Mill and former QPR director Nick De Marco.
Mill represented Sheffield United in the Carlos Tevez case and has plenty of experience in sports law, as does his supporting barrister De Marco, a tireless and fierce defender of Gianni Paladini, who appointed him to the club’s board in 2007.
The legal team went to work over last week’s Sun article, which declared that Rangers could be in line for a hefty points deduction.
One broadcaster had suggested that were it a murder trial, the case would probably be thrown out on the grounds that the accused could not be sure of a fair trial. Amongst all the inaccurate nonsense being spouted elsewhere, that was an entirely fair and reasonable point to make.
But the argument about possibly prejudicing the process works both ways.
Anger at an apparent FA leak is ironic, given that much of the early coverage of all this was massively slanted in Rangers’ favour, largely because of the FA’s refusal to comment (as agreed with QPR) and the relative silence of the Championship clubs potentially affected by this case.
All of the early ‘news’ that a points deduction was unlikely, perhaps not even on the agenda at all, was based on nothing other than what was seeping out of Loftus Road.
The flow of ‘information’ was totally one-sided, and, it could be argued, prejudicial because it formed opinions and gave the strong impression a points deduction, should it be imposed, would be unexpected and draconian.
That arguably gave QPR a big advantage over the FA and the other potentially-affected Championship clubs well before the hearing was due to take place.
It’s also worth noting how incoherent some of the favourable coverage Rangers have received has been.
At first, there was the suggestion that far from being a mystery, the agent representing Faurlin was well known and fully registered. Less than a week later, these reports based on soundings from QPR were suggesting that most of the charges would easily be fended off, but there was some concern over the status of the agent. So the agent went from not a problem to the only problem in a matter of days.
There have also been suggestions all this wouldn’t even reach the stage it has, and that all but one of the seven charges would be dropped before the hearing started.
And as Mills, De Marco and co arrived at Wembley on Tuesday, there were rumours they would immediately have the whole process abandoned on the basis that last week’s Sun article would deny them a fair hearing. Yet on Wednesday, it was round two.
On the other side of the coin, much of the sensationalist stuff pointing to a big points deduction is based on very little fact, and certainly very little knowledge of the intricacies of the Faurlin deal, which was complicated and difficult to understand, as I know from my six days trying to stand the story up enough to write about it after first learning of Rangers’ interest in an Argentine called Alejandro Damian Faurlin in July 2009.
What also seems to have been forgotten is that QPR deny any deliberate wrongdoing. Even the regime’s staunchest allies in the stands and the press box talk of fines and small points deductions, which is itself implies guilt and is an assumption Rangers have actually done something wrong.
What is also noticeable – and I believe misguided – is the instinct of many fans to blame the FA rather than QPR for the whole affair and for the timing of the hearing.
It also seems that reports of no points deduction are widely seen as fair and based on solid information, whereas reports of heavy sanctions are angrily written off as gutter journalism based on lies.
That’s the absolute loyalty of QPR supporters for you, and something the club’s owners should remember, not disregard when, as I still expect, they and their rich chums are lording it at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge next season.
They should utilise and pay due respect to that loyalty, instead of testing or even trashing it at every opportunity. It’s an asset, and any ‘brand’, to use one of the regime’s favoured words, would give anything to have it.
Forget the boutique. Forget the world brand. The owners should wake up to and respect what’s already there, and was there long before they bought 125 years of history for a relative pittance.
Their continuation of the purge of symbols and people associated with the ‘old’ QPR, which started under the previous regime between 2005 and 2007, is, I would strongly argue, a huge reason for the current mess.
Whatever happens, there are lessons that need to be learned from all this. There is much that is seriously wrong with QPR and needs to change – something I have argued for a number of years, and often been in hot water as a result.
The danger is that either a positive or negative outcome for Rangers will lead to those lessons being ignored.
A negative outcome, and anger will doubtless be directed towards the FA rather than QPR.
If, as I fully expect, it goes the other way, then the understandable jubilation may mean that cracks are papered over yet again. That would be a huge mistake and an opportunity missed.