Last week we were offered the chance to talk with three of QPR’s young prospects in Tom Hitchcock, Frankie Sutherland and Max Ehmer. So along with other fan sites we travelled to Harlington to meet the lads and learn a little bit more about what it is like to be an up and coming pro at a club aspiring for promotion to the top flight.
With training behind them for the day the three players sat down with myself, Clive Whittingham and Matthew Woolf to talk about all aspects of training, the management and coaching staff and their hopes for the future. With two of them recently coming off the back of their first team debuts talk quickly turned to those experiences.
“It was all a bit rushed to be honest,” Max Ehmer explained. “ I had to put on all my kit quickly and I didn’t really have any time to think about what was really going to happen I just literally got changed and went straight on the pitch.”
What does it feel like when you cross the line onto the pitch for the first time? “You are just really focused, it becomes like like any other game and you’ve just go to get in the zone straight away. I really enjoyed it though, it was good to get on especially in a home game and to keep a clean sheet and win the game made it even better.”
Tom Hitchcock meanwhile had a little something else to talk about from his first appearance, his first goal.
“It was a great moment,” he told us. “It’s what I’ve dreamed about all my life really so it was really good. At first it was just a blur, after the game everyone was texting and ringing me, my phone wouldn’t stop going off. When I got home I sat down and watched it again and it started sinking in."
“I read all the Sunday papers and thought wow this is real but the next day I just had to get my head down and keep working hard which I think I have done.”
Whilst Max and Tom had made their first team bows Frankie Sutherland has yet to do so but seeing his friends and colleagues beat him to it just spurs him on more.
“You can only use it in a positive way,” the young midfielder explained. “I’m really close to Tom Hitchcock and to see him come on and score is brilliant and it makes me think that I’d love to do that for myself.
“If he’s getting his opportunity then all I can do is get my head down and work doubly as hard as have been in the hope the manager gives me that chance. Then if it comes my way then I’ve got to take it.”
Hard work and the right attitude is a message clearly stamped into the youngsters at QPR and that rang through from all three of them when talk turned to day to day training. Whilst they may have all been around the first team Sutherland insists that doesn’t mean they can let up for a second.
“It really varies whether we train with the EDS or the first team,” he said. “I don’t think they like to label you as ‘first team’ because sometimes you can get complacent and they watch for that a lot.
“If you’re training with the first team then you have an EDS game it’s important to see how you deal with that because certain lads might think ‘I’m only with the 21’s today so I’m not going try as hard’. You’re never going to get away with that especially with the likes of Marc Bircham in charge of you.
“That situation is a massive factor for the management, because generally the EDS is where we’re going to get most of our match time, so they look at your attitude there and if you’re working as hard as you do with the first team then you deserve another chance.
As a young striker Hitchcock has the likes of Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson to look up to, learn from and, from his point of view, aim to displace.
“Being around the likes of those players every day is great for me. They help me all the time and they genuinely just want me to do really well which is nice,” he says. “Getting in front of them is hard but I think you have to believe in yourself really, you have to believe in your abilities to get past them and get to where you want to be.”
And when it comes to the men putting them through their paces on the training pitch the respect from the players for their manager and coaches was very clear.
“It’s been brilliant working under Harry Redknapp,” says Sutherland. “You can see his from his CV that he’s taken Tottenham to the Champions League and managed people like Gareth Bale to the top level, he’s been really good for us all.
“What I like about him is you can go and speak to him and he will just tell you honestly what he actually thinks, he’s been brilliant to work with.”
Harry is part of a team just like everyone though and his coaches are a big part of day to day life.
“Together they all work really well and you can tell that by where we are in the league,” said Hitchcock. “It's a great combination of coaching staff and manager and it’s really good to work under them.”
“They are all different and they express things in really different ways,” continued Sutherland. “In training the gaffer sort of takes a step back and watches things while Joe and Kev become more active. You soon know if you’re making a mistake because Joe and Kev will be like, well let’s say you will hear them anyway!”
Of course training hard for the gaffer can get you noticed but all the players agreed there was no substitute for real game time and the best way for them to get that was to go out on loan.
Ehmer has had the most experience of the three with spells at Stevenage, Preston and Yeovil under his belt.
“I was at Yeovil for a year, for the whole of 2011 and for the first week or so its different because you’re like the new kid at school but you get used to it and it’s always good when you’re playing matches.
“If a new pro came to me for advice then I’d say you got to get out there and see what it’s like,” he said. “You can’t really beat playing in front of thousands of people. The 21’s can get you so far but first team games is what gets you further.”
“I loved it at Bristol Rovers,” agreed Hitchcock looking back on his spell at The Memorial Stadium earlier this year. “it was a good confidence boost for me as I got some goals and played some regular football, it was a great experience.”
Frankie meanwhile returned from his time at Portsmouth both disappointed and a little wiser.
“I came out of that learning quite a lot,” he explained. “I remember the first day we got changed at the stadium then went off to a public university and trained on a really bobbly pitch. It’s public so there are all these kids around shouting abuse at you. It was an eye opener.
“I was disappointed I didn't play more though I made my first appearance and then the manager had a meeting with the Chairman and he was told to progress Pompey’s young players as the priority. So that was disappointing because I thought I could have played my part in trying to help them.”
With time ticking away we wrapped things up by asking the boys what their hopes were for their immediate futures and clearly all of them are keen to play as many games as possible, as soon as possible.
“I’d love to go out on loan again,” said Hitchcock. “There’s a lot of players in this squad and it’s tough to get into and I need to play first team football and get more experience. However I’m happy being here too it’s a really great club and I would love to play more games for QPR.”
Sutherland agrees and reflecting on his positive pre-season it’s clear he wants to build on that.
“It was great to be with the first team this summer,” he explained. “I went away for the pre-season games and got my chance to play and scored the goal but I don’t want that to be the end of it I want to kick on and try and push myself. Obviously it’s been difficult, there’s a lot of midfield options and for me I think I probably need to get out and start playing games.
“I think a loan can be a massive thing, from the managers point of view will he play someone who he has never seen play in front of a crowd? That’s a huge factor and as a young lad I think I need to go out there prove I can do it on a Saturday in front of a crowd and consistently do it over a sustained amount of time and then come back and say I want to play and I’m desperate to play.”
As for Ehmer he knows that with centre backs thin on the ground at Loftus Road that he has a job to do here for now.
“At the moment it’s about sticking around and seeing if I can break through and obviously in case of any injuries at the back then I’d have to come in and step up,” he said. “Having made my debut then obviously I really want to do it again now, to stay involved with the first team, earn another chance and take it.”
Since meeting the players last week Frankie Sutherland has today got his wish for a loan move making a temporary switch to Leyton Orient. We wish him well and would like to thank all three players for their time and Paul Morrissey for organising the interviews.
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