The Blog

QPR's Relegation Doesn't Feel Quite So Bad This Time

I suspect that I am not the only QPR supporter who finds this relegation more easy to cope with than others, or at least feel far less emotionally troubled by it. It's not that I haven't been there.

This is the fourth relegation I've experienced in my time as a QPR supporter. I began my life as a fan in the 1975-76 season, aged seveb. There was something appealing about the kit and something about the players (the likes of Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis). But it was also the season in which QPR nearly won the title finishing second to Liverpool. In reality, I was no different to seven-year-olds who choose to support Manchester United today: something of a glory-hunter, though with considerably poorer judgement.

'My' first relegation was 1979 from the old First Division. At that point I had never actually been to a QPR game, and the sadness of relegation was tinged with some consolation that I could go and watch them at nearby Watford next season. That said the pain of being taunted in the playground was considerable. I'm reminded of Nick Hornby writing about Arsenal's loss to Swindon in the 1968 League Cup Final, in Fever Pitch, where he told of children who did not even like football suddenly discovering an interest in it for the purposes of mockery. That hurt.

Relegation did not come again until 1996. QPR had gone back up to the top division in 1983 and had a great run, though facing the occasional flirtation with relegation. Big clubs like Aston Villa, Manchester City, Newcastle and Sunderland, have all been relegated in the time we were in the top flight, and we began to feel like permanent fixtures. Meanwhile, I felt we had a very promising team in 1995-96, containing the likes of Kevin Gallen, and we believed that if we stayed up we would not face a similar struggle next season. So it hurt again to go down.

Then in 2001 instead of having spent a few years in the second tier, and then return to our rightful top-flight place, we found ourselves plunging to the third level. Somebody I knew who had played for Blackpool when they were good, had once remarked to me when I said I was a QPR supporter 'Ah yes, a natural third division team I have always thought'. So when we found ourselves there I was haunted by the possibility that we had finally reached a level . Not only did that hurt, but it was also frightening as part of the generation of QPR fans who had expected to challenge for trophies (League in 1975-6, FA Cup Final in 1982, Milk Cup Final in 1986).

Promotions in 2004 and 2011 saw QPR return to where we thought we belonged. It would have really hurt to go straight back down, especially with the teams promoted with us, Norwich and Swansea, being relatively safe mid-table, but it didn't happen although it went right down to the wire. That in itself, just staying up, was something of an achievement. I suspect most QPR supporters believed Mark Hughes nearly a year ago when he said that we would not be in the same position, fighting relegation on the last day, while he was in charge. Well, of course, he was right, but not in the way that he meant.

But I suspect that I am not the only QPR supporter who finds this relegation more easy to cope with than others, or at least feel far less emotionally troubled by it. It's not that I haven't been there. I'm a season ticket holder and I've made a few away trips too: Norwich, Stoke, Wigan, Southampton and Fulham (how annoying to have missed our game at Chelsea for the first time in many encounters). But, I can't help but feel that if I wasn't a QPR supporter, and instead followed another team, then I would want QPR to go down because of the way we have gone about things. I was one of many, two years ago, they believed that our Championship winning squad was not strong enough for the Premier League, and would need to be strengthened. However the way it was done was not the right way, especially over the summer of 2012, with far too many highly paid players towards the ends of their careers coming in. Too many of those have simply not been able to find form at the highest level any longer - and the suspicion among fans has been they that is partly down to a lack of self-motivation by men who know they will live like kings whatever sort of shift they put in at work.

Some players also lack any connection with the supporters. I have quite often stood outside games in the cold and wet for up to an hour after the final whistle with my son waiting to get autographs, at home or away games, only for some of the players doing all they can to avoid the fans, either by getting straight on the team boss, or sneaking out of a side entrance. This was by no means all players, indeed not even a majority, but there were too many of them. The tragically early death last summer of Alan McDonald, the former QPR and Northern Ireland captain and my all-time sporting hero, who always had time for the fans, has shed a light on how far removed many current Premier league players are from the supporters. It also points to how little reason there is for some of today's players to be so revered by supporters.

On top of that, I can't help feeling that relegation may turn out to be good for QPR. Since we were last in the Premier league, the top flight of English football has changed immeasurably. It is not sustainable for a rich sugar daddy to pump money into a football club in the hope of short term gain, when the club does not have a massive fan base which can provide a long-term revenue stream to match that of the big boys. It is doubly unsustainable for a small club like QPR to have no serious youth policy. The recent grant of planning permission for a new training complex for QPR suggests at least the possibility that the club could start to develop its own players, players who will not have to be bought for high fees, and will have some desire to play for a club they have grown-up with. Meanwhile the promise of a new ground with a larger capacity that Loftus Road's 18,000 offers the opportunity to develop a larger fan base in the local area, hopefully by offering much cheaper football than is available in West London at the moment (unless you want to go to Brentford) - and also by making more money from fans of the bigger clubs who would buy more tickets than we can offer them at Loftus Road.

Those plans will take time to reach fruition, so I wonder if it would not be better for QPR to come to spend five years or so in the championship (and please, no lower than that), rather than returning straightaway? Of course, for any of that to happen, the club's high wage bill will have to slashed somehow, and fast. But there are good footballing reasons for unloading most of the high earners in any case. If it can be done, and the club can avoid sanctions under the Football League's new rules, or can at least ride out such sanctions, then in a few years we might realistically look forward not only to promotion, but also to being one of the Premier League's medium-sized clubs. Mediocrity in the short term, and some long-term planning, might pave the way for excellence in the future.