Our latest interview is with former Rangers midfielder Marc Bircham. Birch talks about his love for all things QPR, achieving his dream of playing for Rangers, the highs and lows under Ian Holloway and gives us his thoughts on today's "boutique" Queens Park Rangers.
QPRnet: Let’s go back to 2002; talk us through your move to QPR because it must have been like a dream come true for you?
MB: It was, I never thought I’d say it but moving to QPR was a really hard decision for me.
I had an offer from a Premier League team and a couple from the Championship on more money and I’d practically agreed to sign for the Premier League side when Kenny Jackett rang me up and asked if I’d be interested in going to QPR.
I went down and met him and Ian Holloway, he played on the heartstrings of course, I had a meeting in his office overlooking Loftus Road and I came away from there really wanting to play for Rangers.
I sat down with my family and said if I turn this down I might never got the chance again. The only reason I started playing football was to play for QPR and if I didn’t do it would have been a massive disappointment. My wife was right behind me so I made the decision.
The only concern I had was if it didn’t go well and the fans didn’t like me it would have taken the gloss off it. That was my big fear but in the long run it worked out and I’m so glad I made the decision.
QPRnet: Ian Holloway was the man who bought you to Loftus Road, you must have an enormous amount of respect for him?
MB: Definitely, his man management was second to none and he really got the lads playing for him. I remember the first year in the Championship and his job was under threat, a few of us were carrying injuries and we went out and won seven on the bounce for him. That showed how much the lads enjoyed and respected him.
QPRnet: He has a reputation as a bit of a joker and at times got horrible stick from the Rangers crowd. Putting all the joking aside is he still a proper football man at heart?
MB: Yeh of course he is and tactically he won us plenty of games as well, I remember one time we played Ipswich and they’d always played a diamond formation, we went up there and played like a 4-2-4 and won the game.
I think when Kenny Jackett was with him it was good, like a good cop bad cop type of thing. Kenny bought Olly down when he got a bit excited and it worked really well.
QPRnet: You made your QPR debut in a 3-1 home win over Chesterfield, what do you remember from the day because it must have been a pretty emotional occasion for you?
MB: Yeh, who would have thought a game against Chesterfield would get me so excited! I just couldn’t wait for it the minute I signed for QPR, to put the kit on and run out at Loftus Road was a dream come true. I had all the family there, I had to buy about forty tickets so I was well out of pocket but it was a great day.
QPRnet: You’d only been a QPR for a few months when the Vauxhall Motors debacle occurred, how do you pick yourself up after something like that?
MB: Yeh I got sent off at Wycombe by Rob Styles a little while before and I’ve got to thank Paul Furlong actually because he got me in a headlock otherwise I think I would have throttled him!
So I came back from that and we had a great win at Bristol City but I tweaked my medial ligament so I was out another three odd weeks, then I came back again and got a reoccurrence of my glandular fever and that was really hard.
So we found ourselves in a bad run and the Friday before the Brentford home game we didn’t even train, Olly took us all out up the café for a few cups of tea and bacon sandwiches. We all had a chat and relaxed and then got a result in that game. I think that match turned it round for us and Olly said that it saved his career and we kicked on from there really. The Vauxhall Motors thing turned out to be the kick up the backside we needed really.
QPRnet: The next games after the Vauxhall game we got hammered by Cardiff and Notts County, Paul Furlong was getting booed at the time, it can’t have been a pleasant time?
MB: The Cardiff one was a strange because we should have been about three up in the first half. I think I played right wing that day and I set up Brett Angell for a couple which he missed from about four yards. We played really well first half but they came out second half and beat us 4-0.
Furs turned it all around though and we were delighted for him because you won’t meet a nicer person in football than him. I call him the smiling assassin he’s a bit nasty on the pitch but he does it with a smile!
QPRnet: After Notts County we drew that game with Brentford and you scored your first QPR goal and things improved from there. Is that one of those things in football you get the break and you’re off and running?
MB: Yeh I think we had a bit of a siege mentality as well because everyone was hammering the team and it bought us all together. After that game we got more of a settled side, Furs came into his own and started a good partnership with Kev, Danny and Clarke started doing well at the back, me and Palms started to cement ourselves and it all seemed to work.
QPRnet: That game seemed to really lift everyone and we went on a great run only losing three games between then and the end of the season.
MB: Yeh there was some really hard games in there as well plus every week we knew we had to win because Tranmere were nipping at our heels. My mate Iain Hume was at Tranmere at the time and he told me afterwards that they’d win and come in every week to see we’d won as well and it was really frustrating for them.
The other Brentford game was good as well, at Griffin Park. Tranmere were infront and cruising and the Brentford fans were telling us the score all through the game, if it’d stayed like that they’d have probably pipped us to sixth place but I managed to score the winner. Hume said to me after that that result devastated them. If we hadn’t won that game I don’t think we’d have got in the play offs.
People tell me that my goal at Brentford was the most celebrated QPR goal since Clive Allen in the semi-final, people were on the pitch going mad, it was just mental!
QPRnet: The play off game against Oldham is probably my favourite game I’ve ever been to it at Loftus Road. It must have been a fantastic occasion to play in?
MB: It was such a special atmosphere, you could tell in the warm up the place was rocking, there were people standing in the aisles. It was like the old days when I used to go in the 80’s for the matches against Chelsea, they’d say there were 19,000 there and there were like 22,000. It was just fantastic after the up and down season we had to go on such a good run and to finish it with that game was brilliant.
QPRnet: The play off final was a great day but at the end you must have been as devastated as the fans?
MB: I still believe we were the better team on the day, but we got done with a sucker punch at the end. Actually I got told after that had we gone up it could have bankrupted the club because we owed money on player’s contractual promotion clauses and we just didn’t have it.
So we stayed down, managed to get a better squad together and I think that’s why we stayed up in the Championship two years later so it all worked out well. Of course we didn’t think that when the final whistle went at Cardiff though because it was devastating,
QPRnet: Did Olly use that disappointment to fire the players up to get automatic promotion in the following season?
MB: He didn’t need to, we did it for ourselves, when the fixtures come out and you see you’re still in the same place it hurts and I think we took it out on Blackpool that first game. It was nearly 100 degrees that day and people were tipping Blackpool to go up that year but all the hurt from May came out and we destroyed them 5-0.
QPRnet: Bristol City pushed us all the way but our bottle never went, the squad must have been so fired up for the final weeks of the season?
MB: I think it helped us from the year before when Tranmere were chasing us so we knew had to deal with it. I remember Tony Thorpe had joined by then and he was mates with Brian Tinnion at Bristol City and every time they won he used to text through telling us we were going to bottle it and he’d watch us in the play offs from Spain so it was great to give him a few texts on the way back home from Sheffield Wednesday!
QPRnet: And that day at Hillsborough will live long in everyone’s memories, it’s got to be one of your favourite moments?
MB: I think the last two games were possibly two of my best games in a QPR shirt. We played really well, beat Swindon 1-0 at home and it could have been more, then the Hillsborough game was fantastic. Other than my wedding and my kids being born it was probably the best day of my life.
I was like Pat Cash afterwards, I didn’t go in the dressing room I ran straight in the stands to my family. You don’t get times like that very often in football and I just wanted to savour it all.
I was doing an interview on the pitch afterwards and they asked what my plans were and I said I plan to be pissed for a week! I’d hired out a nightclub for after the game as it was wife’s birthday, lucky we won really because it wouldn’t have been much of a party otherwise! The team bus pulled up outside the club and loads of us were still in our kit we didn’t even bother getting changed! That all just added to the day really.
QPRnet: Rangers settled in The Championship well after promotion, and we went on that great run of seven straight wins things were looking good?
MB: We struggled in the first few games, we were really poor at Watford then all this stuff about what’s his name coming in came out, Ramos or someone, no one had ever heard of him anyway. That was when all the team got right behind Olly and we went on that great run.
I really believe we’d have got in the play offs that year if we’d had a slightly bigger squad, the last few games of that season we were calling up kids we’d already released to sit on the bench at Burnley and Wigan.
QPRnet: We got off to a good start the next season winning two out of the first three but our form slipped as the off the field problems hit the headlines, particularly the incident with Paladini in the boardroom. Did that make a difference to the teams form or is that just an excuse?
MB: Yeh it does affect you cos it filters down, that started us being a bit of a joke team in the media really, there was a story about us every week and it was never anything to do with what was going on on the pitch. There were always rumours of administration and that didn’t help and then Olly got the sack. At the time we had loads of injuries but we were still in about eleventh place and they sacked him. I think the only reason we stayed up that years was because we ran out of games.
Waddo came in and that was a bit of a disaster to be honest. He’s done really well at Aldershot and perhaps if he was allowed to do things his way it would have been different but he was a bit of a puppet really.
We had that pre-season in Italy the following summer and they left me behind as well as people like Lomas, Doherty and Evatt, I think we had a better team at home than the one that went. It set it all up for the season to go badly, then we got locked out of the training ground because the bill hadn’t been paid, it was just a shambles really.
John Gregory came in then and to be fair he did really well, he kept us up and that was his job. I had quite a good relationship with him.
QPRnet: When Olly left the club you were quite critical of the decision did that make things awkward for you at QPR?
MB: Yeh but I’m a man of principles and I wouldn’t buckle to that. They wanted me and Kev to do a press conference welcoming the decision and welcoming Gary Waddock in and I wouldn’t do it because I didn’t believe in it. I thought the way Olly was treated was terrible especially after everything he did for the club. If they wanted rid of him they should have given him the decency of sacking him not putting him on gardening leave. They were just trying to save money and I thought he deserved more than that. I’m not one of those players to kiss up the Chairman, I didn’t believe it was right and I stuck to my morals and that probably was the downfall of my time with Paladini really. I wouldn’t change it though, I’m a loyal person if someone’s good to me I’m loyal to them.
QPRnet: Under Waddo you were transfer listed in the summer but found yourself back in the side that must have been an odd situation?
MB: It was odd, the previous January Sheffield United had come in for me and Paladini told me he didn’t want me to go, we had no money troubles and as soon as we’re safe I could have a four year deal. Towards the end of that season I had another knee problem and I wasn’t training and Waddo asked me to have injections to keep playing so I did. Then I’m watching Sky Sports News in the canteen and I find out I’ve been transfer listed as the club need to sell me. I was really disappointed.
I came close to joining Leeds but at the last minute they asked for more money so that fell through then they offered me to Swansea and I didn’t want to go there so I told Waddo I wasn’t going anywhere. He said I’d be stuck in the reserves and I said no problem because I know the players you’ve bought in aren’t good enough and I’ll be back in the team and that’s what happened. The last two or three games I ended up with the armband under him!
QPRnet: I imagine Waddock was one of your boyhood heroes did that make it even more disappointing for you that things just didn’t work out under him?
MB: It was weird, Gary Waddock was a central midfielder like me of course and I’ve known him since I was about ten. He was being dictated to but he didn’t want to admit that because it would have undermined him. The players coming in weren’t good enough and all the lads knew we’d be battling relegation which is how it turned out. I did feel let down by Waddo to be honest, I’d like have a chat with him one day because I would like to think he regrets the way he handled me.
QPRnet: Ultimately it was John Gregory that let you leave Loftus Road, you must have been gutted it was all over but I assume you knew it was coming?
MB: Ultimately it was down to my relationship with Gianni to be honest, I don’t think he liked that me and Kev cared so much for the club and we didn’t like what he was doing to it, plus I believe he hated the fact we had a better relationship with the fans than he did.
My injuries finished me though, I think John would have liked to have kept me but I was on a good contract and money was tight at the club so they couldn’t really sign me up knowing I was only going to play 15 to 20 games a year. To be honest if I was QPR manager I wouldn’t have given me a new deal either.
After that I went out to LA Galaxy which would have been interesting! I trained with Toronto which I really liked but I don’t think the artificial pitch would have been too good for my injuries. I was close to signing for one of them but my wife was pregnant at the time and the baby was due in October which was when their season ended and it just wasn’t the right time for it.
So we came back to England but because of my back problems I was getting offered short term deals with clubs like Bristol City then Yeovil came in with a two year deal which I couldn’t really turn down.
So I went there, I got through pre-season and injury reared its ugly head, I made my first start in over a year and split my head open and had to come off after half an hour. Next game I played I got man of the match then got sent off in the one after! Now I’m out with an ankle problem, injuries have just killed me really.
QPRnet: There were even some rumours of retirement a few months back, is that accurate?
MB: I think that was just frustration on my part really, I was doing everything to try and get back, operations, injections. I strung the last eight games together last season, played nearly a full pre-season was looking forward to the new campaign. I played the first game did well and pulled my hamstring in the last ten minutes! Now I’ve done my ankle ligaments, I think the Gods are trying to tell me something but I’m not giving up until I can’t walk!
QPRnet: Once your playing days are behind you do you want to stay in the game or will you do something totally different?
MB: I’ve done my coaching badges and I’m doing my UEFA A license this summer so I’d like to be a manager one day but I’ve got some other interests because you just never know with football.
I’ve got a big project in Cyprus, I’m opening a sports complex and football academy and I’m really looking forward to that. It should open in about three years which should coincide with the end of my playing career. It’s been good for me with all the injuries to have something to keep me busy and it’s kept me happy as my family will tell you.
QPRnet: What’s your take on things at QPR today?
MB: You can never get too excited at Rangers because they let you down all the time! No one supports QPR through choice do we, you don’t choose it, you’re made to!
The investment has been a great thing for the club, we were a week away from going bust and they came in and saved the place and we owe them loads of course, but I think they need to be sensible. They said we’re going to be in the Champions League in four years which just seems over ambitious. If they’d said we’re going to stabilise the club and take it as it comes I think Rangers fans would have been happy with that but because they’ve come in with all this ambition the crowd are expecting now.
I think it hasn’t helped trying to turn us into a mini Chelsea with the ticket prices and the box prices going up. That’s not rewarding the fans that stuck with us in Division Two, they’ve been through the bad times and now they’re getting priced out. QPR are a working class West London, you can jazz us up as much as you want but you’ll never change that.
Now Iain Dowie has gone as well and we’ll be on our sixth manager in two years and we need stability on the pitch. Like a house needs strong foundations, a football club needs to be strong from the top. We’ve got three wealthy people owning the club and maybe there are too many cooks at the moment.
QPRnet: Looking back on your Rangers career, when are your personal highlights?
MB: My debut for sure, when you play for other clubs in your career you never know if you’re going to achieve your dream but I did and that was great. The goal at Brentford wasn’t my best goal but it was my personal favourite however mostly it’ll be the promotion at Hillsborough.
Growing up I dreamed of playing for QPR and winning something with the club I love and I did it. I’m a QPR fan that managed to live their dream; I captained the side and took part in a great couple of seasons so if my career ended tomorrow I’d still be a happy man.