The August Riots

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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Sir Bobby Robson: the loss of football's great gentleman who touched the hearts of so many

Achieving universal popularity is not at all easy. Not only do your interests, aims and desires have to chime with people from wildly varying backgrounds, but you have to maintain a very public sense of actually caring about each and every person you meet. This is a challenge even for the most skilled of PR operators. Yet Sir Bobby Robson was no PR man; he didn't need an entourage of assistants, or any notes or guides on how to act to make him look good. He achieved respect from his peers, success in the field, and a legacy that will long outlive him through his tenacity, dedication, humility and sheer talent. A working class hero, Robson's footballing career took place alongside employment as an electrician and colliery worker.

Netting 68 times for Fulham in 152 games in the early 1950s, a club described by the inside-forward as a "nice, sociable club" but not one capable of challenging for honours was a highlight of his playing career. His 56 goals in 239 games for West Bromwich Albion also constituted a purple patch for Robson, between 1956 and 1962. 20 England caps followed, as well as four strikes against France, Scotland and Mexico, but it was in management where Robson really cemented his reputation as a winner, and a man of the people. The farming lands of Suffolk proved fertile ground for Robson from 1969-1982; victories over Arsenal in the 1978 FA Cup Final, and AZ Alkmaar in 1981, in the UEFA Cup, made Robson a deserving recipient of his towering statue outside Portman Road.

England followed for Robson, and his and the Three Lions' failure to qualify for the 1984 European Championships was forgotten as the then 51 year old went on to manage England to two of the most famous, enigmatic, legendary defeats in the country's international footballing history. The first of these was in the Quarter Final at Mexico '86, where England were cruelly denied by Maradona's now infamous 'Hand of God' goal, which followed arguably the greatest strike in the history of the sport. The next tragedy was Italia '90, where Robson led England to their greatest finish in the World Cup since their 1966 triumph. Devastation followed as West Germany progressed on penalties, but in the minds of most England supporters, the tournament will long live in the memory.

Robson achieved tremendous success by moving into continental management, taking over PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto and FC Barcelona respectively between 1990 and 1999, picking up two Dutch league titles, two Portuguese top division crowns and a domestic cup trophy, before striking the big time with Barcelona. In one season, largely courtesy of the ingenious signing of Ronaldo, Los Cules won the European Cup Winners' Cup, Spanish Super Cup and Spanish Cup, with Robson being voted European Manager of the Year for 1996-1997. Geordie Robson returned to the promised land in 1999, taking over as manager of Newcastle United. After a slightly uneasy start, he took the Magpies to the Champions League in 2002, securing successive top five finishes.

With these magnificent achievements in mind, it was never likely that the respect, adoration and popularity built up by Robson during his early and latter managerial career would ever fall. Yet whilst football supporters may respect figures such as Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson, and Jose Mourinho, they may feel little to no affection or emotional attachment towards them unless of course they happen to support the clubs managed by these three. Sir Bobby Robson was truly loved, and taken from us far too soon at the age of just 76. Having previously fought off cancer and other threats to his life as British football’s lauded elder statesman, Robson’s lung cancer was diagnosed in 2007 as terminal.

Whilst everyone knew that sooner or later this Geordie fighter would leave us, nothing could prepare for the day when Robson’s smiling face and passion for football would be lost from the world. The launch, in 2008, of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and Robson’s heroic dedication of his final years to fighting for others experiencing the devastating disease, ensured his untouchable status as a true gentleman. By the end of 2008 the charity had earned £1million, a testament to the man who founded it, and by 2011 has raked in more than £2.5million to aid the battle against lung cancer.

When Robson passed away, peacefully at his home in County Durham, the world’s footballing flag flew at half-mast. Few of us knew Robson, but we all felt as though we did. His popularity surpassed generations, and by the time of his passing nobody could have found anything negative to say about him, no matter how hard they may have tried. Knighted in 2002 for services to football, Robson’s tributes know no end. One of thousands of fitting tributes came from close friend Michael Parkinson: “Robson will be remembered long after the present lot are old bones. By his decency, his humour, his love of the game's traditions and origins and confusion at what it had become, he made present day football look what it is – shabby by comparison. I can think of no more fitting epitaph.” Neither can I. Gone but never, ever forgotten.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Money talks, but silence has fallen over W12

Exasperation and disbelief have long been core components of QPR fandom. From the inconceivably disastrous days of Gerry Francis’ second managerial spell at the club, to the jaw-droppingly ludicrous procession of misguided hirings and firings during the 2009/2010 season, there’s nearly always a dark cloud above Loftus Road. The opening of the Summer Transfer Window yesterday will do little to lift the gloom, either, as Rangers supporters watch their closest rivals for Premier League safety, Norwich City and Swansea City, take intelligent, measured steps in the transfer market. The Canaries’ signings of Bradley Johnson from Leeds United and Millwall’s Steve Morison should see them well-placed to mount a survival bid, especially if the irrepressibly brilliant Paul Lambert remains at the helm.

What of QPR, the Championship’s best team last season and deserved winners of their first title since 1983? Well, as frustrated R’s fans will tell you, besides the niggling rumours surrounding Neil Warnock’s future at the club, and the constant Adel Taarabt transfer-merry-go-round, it’s all quiet on the Western Avenue. Those who crave behind-the-scenes drama and the sort of Goodfellas’-style scenario we had a few years ago – with the ‘Guns in the Boardroom’ saga – would probably love to hear of an epic power-struggle going on between QPR’s two ownership ‘blocs’. However, there is no evidence to point to this. Indeed it appears very much that the Cowboys, namely ‘Tango’ and ‘Cash’ – Messrs’ Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone – have irrevocably claimed the upper hand over the Indians – the ‘steelionaire’ Mittals.

Yes, there have been rumours, none of them pleasant, mind you. The prospect of our ‘big signings’ to keep us in what is unarguably one of the toughest leagues in the world being Fulham’s Andy Johnson and Hull City’s Jimmy Bullard is hardly appealing. Jay Bothroyd’s astronomical wage demands of allegedly £50,000 per week have, fortunately, priced him out of a move to West London, so what sort of new arrivals can we expect? Well, perhaps it’s best to ask Mr. Gianni Paladini, the man with seemingly no appreciation of when it’s right to cut your losses and leave. He is, without a doubt, past his sell-by date, an awkward amalgamation of a Godfather-type figure mixed with an East-End used car dealer who has long ceased to be of any benefit to proceedings at Loftus Road. His ‘limited’ evidence to the Tribunal over QPR’s signing of Alejandro Faurlin – a wonderful Argentine midfielder whose popularity knows no bounds amongst R’s supporters – shows him up as the morally dubious and inherently damaging and shady figure fans have long believed him to be.

The returns from their respective loan spells of Italian flops Matteo Alberti and Alessandro Pellicori, unless greeted with their imminent departures, might just sum up the current malaise. The only players we are able to obtain are those others don’t want; the board are unwilling to bid for potential signings whom other teams are interested in (see Craig Mackail-Smith for details); and the club is still controlled by men who would be more suited to running an illicit gambling den in London’s seedy backstreets. One thing is certain; over the past few years Paladini has acquired a reputation as a man willing to turn Loftus Road into a ‘rest home’ for footballers who are either on their way out or chronically injury prone (Fitz Hall and Dean Sturridge come to mind). If this summer is characterised by more of the same, don’t be surprised to see Sir Neil Warnock cut his losses and leave this over-priced, farce of a football club behind. He and QPR fans fundamentally deserve better.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

QPR - So many unanswered questions

Queens Park Rangers supporters finally received the news they had been waiting eagerly for since the final match of last season against Leeds United on 8 May. Neil Warnock’s men will kick off their first year back in the top flight since 1996 against Bolton Wanderers, themselves a model of how to achieve Premier League survival, and subsequent stability. Seeing such illustrious names as Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea on the fixture list was something rather special. However as discussed previously, the cost of attending these matches is such to render them little more than pipe dreams for a significant proportion of the W12 faithful.

Not only are the QPR owners’ misguided attempts to cash in on top-flight football tainting what ought to be the divine calm before the ferocious storm, but the club looks in worse shape than any other entering the Premier League fray previously. The dearth of signings at Loftus Road has already been discussed, sometimes with deep acrimony, but this is by no means the full extent of the problem. For in almost certainly the most commercially valuable summer in recent memory for Rangers, we have, catastrophically, not released our 2011-2012 season kit. The reason for this is that, since 8 June, Queens Park Rangers have been without a sponsor, the contract with Gulf Air running out without replacement. Thus not only is the club losing out on vital revenue, its standing is diminishing by the day from an already low base.

Perhaps some suggestions as to a future sponsor would be welcome to Messrs Ecclestone and Briatore. Considering that it has long been acknowledged that neither is capable of organising the proverbial ‘piss-up in a brewery,’ it would be apt for Carlsberg to take over the reins. Although from another perspective, in light of their recent record, maybe Sony would like to bring its unique brand of professional service to W12? Or we could just let Bill – the café owner from the high street – sign a multi-thousand pound advertising contract. That would, based on the current misery amongst formerly proud wearers of the blue and white hoops, reflect the esteem in which the club’s owners are currently held.

Moving swiftly back to the football, and the terrifying prospect of Shaun Derry lining up to take care of Luka Modrić on October 22, can Neil Warnock’s men stay in the Premier League? Realistically, based on what is essentially last season’s team sheet, the answer is no. Team spirit, a solid if unimpressive defence, managerial stability and organisation can see a team fly the Championship nest, but the Premier League is more akin to a pit of snakes, who don’t take kindly to newcomers. With enigma, ‘captain’ and whinger-in-chief Adel Taarabt constantly pining for a move to Newcastle United, or more realistically Chelsea, Real Madrid and Arsenal, will he want to play for the R’s up to his usual standard when the inevitable happens and other clubs say no to the player who is probably more trouble than he’s worth? Even if he does want to play for QPR still, will it make any difference? So many unanswered questions remain, and unless things become abundantly clear over the next month or so, Queens Park Rangers may well face a rude awakening in August.