My daughter, Amy, and I were at QPR this evening for our long-awaited Kit Sponsors’ Evening. We arrived in good time and that gave us a chance to calm the nerves (Amy was rather nervous to meet her favourite player – Akos Buzsaky – particularly as last year he had been ill and had failed to turn up!). It also gave us our first glimpse of some of our players as they turned up. Kaspars Gorkks – he’s tall – has had a very radical haircut (which was commented on later in the evening to his amusement). You’ll see on Sunday!
We were taken upstairs to the W12 Club room – the old dining room decked out in Flavio’s favourite colour … silver. We bought drinks and were then ushered to one end of the room where blue and white seats had been set out for the sponsors.
Unlike last year, this was far better organised. We all sat together and were able to acknowledge the players as they came up to the front; and respectfully acknowledge each other as we went to get our sponsored item.
It didn’t take long for Amy & my name to be called out, as the players came up in squad number order. We jumped out of our seats – much to Billy Rice’s amusement – and joined Buzsaky, looking dapper in his blue QPR tracksuit trousers and blue and white striped QPR t-shirt, for a couple of photos. Amy had had to take a couple of breaths to steady her nerves but he was charming and put her at her ease, handing first Amy and then me our shin pads.
Neil Warnock came up at the end to give his kit to his sponsor – and that brought the first of many funny moments to the fore. Everyone who sponsored a shirt got one with (a) their player’s name on and (b) their number. But Warnock’s only had his name. Billy Rice was quick to quip that they didn’t bother to put a number on Warnock’s shirt because they’d lost count with how many managers we’d had this season! Everyone roared and whooped, including Warnock!
Then Warnock grabbed the mike, firstly to thank us, the sponsors, for our support and to remind us how important this support was. He also reminded us that he was very eager to ‘get to the promised land as quick as we can although it wont be easy next season with the number of clubs all looking to do the same!’
He assured us that the players would be working very hard in training and as a result he’s certain that ‘we’ll (the fans, that is) enjoy whatever we do next year’. He did acknowledge that there may be one or two days when we might say one or two unpleasant things about him, but ‘nothing that I haven’t heard many times!’ he quipped. He’s actually very self-effacing.
After this part of the evening concluded, and unlike last year, the players were available to chat, have photos taken and sign autographs. And this they did willingly and very happily – again, unlike last year, when there was a distinct feeling that they were ‘doing us a favour’.
My first port of call was Mr Warnock himself. What a really, really, REALLY nice guy. He’s funny, relaxed, very happy about being with us – genuinely – and very serious about us, too. I only had a few brief moments with him and asked him about his plans for the pre-season matches – sorry guys that’s the only question I was able to ask. But his reply was very encouraging!
He told me that the plans were already completed and that, firstly, there would be a trip down to Cornwall for a few days. Then over to Italy for a week or so before finally, the week before the season starts, a home game against a Premier team. (I asked him if he’d let on just who that team was; but he wouldn’t, other than to admit it was a London Prem team!)
I then had a chat with some of our esteemed players. But let me tell you – not everyone was there – and some who you wouldn’t expect to be there, were! Not surprisingly, none of those players out on loan appeared – and disappointingly, nor did Matthew Connolly. And I’m sure it wont surprise anyone that Adel Taarabt wasn’t around, either.
But those who did turn up unexpectedly were Dusko Tosic (who isn’t being sponsored so didn’t need to turn up), Nigel Quashie (yes, I did say – and see – Nigel Quashie!) and Tamas Priskin – who actually had had his bright yellow boots sponsored – and those boots are even brighter close up. Trust me!
Meanwhile, Amy was running around with her shirt and pen, chatting happily with this player and that, and filling up her shirt with a variety of signatures. Akos signed her shin pads to her great delight and she had several photos taken with him! He is actually a very quietly-spoken, unassuming man. I congratulated him on his excellent goal against Palace, for example, and he blushed with pride. I think I can see why he may have felt at odds with Jim Magilton’s style of management!
Both Mikele Leigertwood – who was surprisingly forthcoming and at ease and happy to stand chatting – and Lee Cook (who is always happy to chat) gave me interesting insights into their thoughts on this season. Neither could believe what we had gone through, particularly, as Cookie observed, as it all had started so promisingly. We even discussed the fact that, a couple of years ago, before he came back to us, the take-over looked so promising too. He had been excited back then but we all know the end of that particular chapter!
He thought we could have a very good season next year. But he did feel that it would important to see how the Board backed Warnock during the summer. He was waiting expectantly to see what happened during the summer, he told me.
We also talked about the new Board set-up a bit and he agreed with me that, at least so far, they had put their money where their collective mouths were. For example, with the season tickets. Cookie told me that his father-in-law had renewed already and made a saving which he was delighted with. And Cook agreed that that move was a good one for us fans, particularly after they way we’d been treated up till then.
Legs assured me that Warnock really was the business. He was fun, everything was relaxed in training and they were all very happy at long last. Legs and I also chatted a bit about the new Board – and he agreed that there was a new era of treating us fans with greater respect. I even managed to bring ‘marmite’ into the discussion – referring to our great new manager as being like ‘marmite’ – you either love him or hate him, but we’re all damned glad he’s ours now! Legs liked the reference (but didn’t tell me if he likes marmite!!!).
Leigertwood and I then discussed the new shirt. I asked him if he’d had a chance to see it, because I was concerned, based on the photos, that the upper hoop was not really a hoop at all. He thought for a moment and then admitted that he’d only seen the front and wasn’t really sure himself if the upper hoop went all the way around. “If it doesn’t, it isn’t really a hoop, is it? It’d be a line!” he said to me. And that got us into a whole discussion about how we were the Superhoops – not Superlines!!
We also discussed the fact that, along with Martin Rowlands and Damion Stewart, he was now our longest-serving player (although he’d only been with us 2 1/2 years!) He was proud of his achievement but thought this fact spoke volumes about the traumas of the past months!
I then had my own personal moment – I had a lovely chat with Peter Ramage. I told him that everyone on our site (well almost everyone!!) thought he was ‘the man’ – a rock at the heart of our defence (particularly since moving to central defence) but also a true Blue & White Hooper. I stopped short of telling him that, if we cut him, he’d bleed blue & white! He was so chuffed with my compliments – he was surprised and delighted with my enthusiastic praise. I told him I thought he was the only player who would ‘kiss the badge’ during the dark days of winter – and that that summed up how important his contribution had been this season.
And then we had a lovely chat about Sunday’s game. He was very, very quick to tell me that he really didn’t want Newcastle to win at all! He was delighted they’d done so well this year, but it was our turn, he felt, and he wanted us to turn Newcastle over on Sunday! He’s a really top bloke and, daft as it sounds, I’m really glad I told him how I – we on Vital – felt.
The evening was fast passing us by. Despite a lovely spread of dim sum, samosas, lovely quiches and sandwiches, chicken satay and more, Amy and I had to leave. It was 8.30 already but, unlike last year, when the players couldn’t wait to hot-foot it out of the Club, there were many still hanging around, chatting in a most relaxed manner.
It was great to see and I commented on it to Julie Newman, of the Commercial Department. She assured me this was all part of the new regime’s attitude. Julie admitted that life around Loftus Road, at least for her in the Commercial Department, was not much different than before – as she rarely interacted or even saw Flavio Briatore. But she did observe that it was much more relaxed around the Club since the Mittal ‘coup’ – and that certainly came across this evening.
So, to sum up, Amy and I had a wonderful evening. We’ve loads of signatures on our respective shirts (I just HAD to get Tamas Priskin’s as it’ll be a collector’s item someday!!) and more photos to add to our growing collection! Everyone at our Club seems more relaxed and there is a greater effort to reconnect with the fans – that was evident this evening in comparison with last year. And we have a great leader in Neil Warnock – and I’m a just SOOOOO excited for next year, I really am!
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