Our latest interview is with former Skipper, Steve Palmer. Steve left QPR last summer after three years with the club that culminated in our promotion at Hillsborough. He talks to us about his time at Loftus Road.
QPRnet.com: When you were approached about coming to QPR we’d just been relegated, were in administration, had seven players on the books including our two best with long term injuries and no goalkeeper. Why did it seem like a good move?
SP: A number of reasons really I knew my time at Watford was coming to an end so it was a new challenge for me. Also I’d known Ian Holloway for a number of years and I knew what he was about. Kenny Jackett was in the process of coming to QPR as well and we’d worked together for six years at Watford of course. Mostly though the status and size of a club like QPR meant it was a great opportunity for me, yes I knew about the financial problems the club had but I had confidence that they would come through the difficult times.
QPRnet.com: How aware were you made of the clubs financial problems at the time, did you go into it with your eyes open?
SP: Well obviously QPR was in administration but I had a feeling the stature of the club would see it through those times, I just couldn’t see QPR going out of business to be honest and the opportunity to be a part of the rebuilding process was a big draw for me.
QPRnet.com: You were obviously well aware of Kenny Jackett and Ian Holloway as people then. They seemed like total opposites in many ways but did they work well as a twosome?
SP: They were different characters but they had a common ideal on how to play football, they had the same ideas and the same principles on how to play the game. Yes they had very different personalities but in many ways that’s a good thing for a manager and an assistant as you can appeal to wider range of players.
QPRnet.com: The first game you played in for Rangers was the pre-season friendly with Celtic, how strange was that lining up in a team that barely knew each other?
SP: I joined the Tuesday before that game and I got to know the players that were there a little bit and Chris Day joined that week as well so I knew him from Watford but there were plenty of trialists in that game that I’d not met before. It was all part of what was going at Rangers during that time though, it was a difficult stage for the club but hopefully it was a start of a rebuilding process that’s still continuing.
QPRnet.com: You were shortly named club captain, did you feel you had a responsibility to guide the younger players through a difficult time?
SP: Very much so, it was something I really enjoyed doing and it was an honour to be given the armband. I tried to help the younger players develop and I did my best to set an example on the pitch because I can remember what it was like to start making your way in football what with all the pressures young players are under. Whether they listened to me or not I don’t know but I certainly saw that as part of my job.
QPRnet.com: The fans were all hopeful of a quick return to Division One but did you and the management always know it would take time to stabilise the club again?
SP: I think when you’ve been around football for a while you know what a squad is capable of achieving. In the three years I was there we had a gradual progression season on season, the first year we finished eight, then we made the play off final and finally went up automatically that third season. I fully understood the supporters expectation because they weren’t used to being in that division and wanted to go up as quickly as possible but the rebuilding process we went through has put the club in a much better state than it was so possibly it was worth the wait in the long run.
QPRnet.com: We had a respectable first season in Division Two, finishing just outside the play offs. Did everyone feel a run at promotion was a real possibility for the next campaign?
SP: Yes definitely, the squad was added to over that summer and it was always important we built on the previous season and pushed on. It was a bit of a funny season, we started well had a terrible run towards the end of the year but came good in the end.
QPRnet.com: The biggest blip that season came with the defeat by Vauxhall Motors that must have knocked the confidence, and the league form suffered for a bit after it, just how did we get past that?
SP: You have meetings as players and with the management of course and we were made aware of what we missed out by losing to Vauxhall in term of the financial implications. Football is such a fine line between success and failure you know, during that time we certainly weren’t playing as well as we could but there were things that weren’t going for us and once we got a couple of good results things started to turn round. We weren’t massively better after we started winning games though, like I say it’s just such a fine line.
We all took responsibility for what happened of course and eventually we managed to turn it round through a combination of the players working hard, trying to maintain confidence and getting a little bit of luck along the way.
QPRnet.com: We did make the play off final of course that year so things did turn around in the end.
SP: It was amazing, when you think of the mood around the place for that Vauxhall game then how it was for the Oldham play off semi final and they were only a few months apart. That evening at Loftus Road was the noisiest domestic stadium I’ve ever been in and I’ll never forget it. OK the play off final didn’t go for us but it was still a great occasion and at least it saw the club moving in the right direction.
QPRnet.com: It must have been as heartbreaking for you as it was for us?
SP: Absolutely, I was lucky at Watford as we won the play off final to go up to the Premier League and it’s a fantastic experience to get promoted in that way. That day at Cardiff was a great occasion but at the end of the day we didn’t go up but it’s a testimony to the squad and the management that we didn’t have a hangover from it and went up automatically the following season.
QPRnet.com: Did the squad use the defeat as a motivation for the following season as something not to go through again?
SP: That’s always something people say isn’t it, we were disappointed with Cardiff of course but we all knew what we had to the next season and that was get automatic promotion, we didn’t need any extra motivation really.
QPRnet.com: The end of that season was nail biting stuff but you were stuck on the bench for the last three games, was that a frustrating time for you?
SP: It was of course but that’s the life of a footballer, you don’t like these things but you have to try and see the bigger picture. As an individual football is all about being in the team and there’s nothing wrong with being disappointed when you’re not but what’s important is how you deal with that disappointment. It was hard being club captain and not being in the starting eleven but if I look back now at what was achieved it fills me with pride because I was still very much part of what was going on.
QPRnet.com: The game at Hillsborough will live long in the memory for Rangers fans, what was it like as an occasion for the players?
SP: It was very nerve wracking and because I was on the bench that made it much worse. When you’re playing you are so involved in the game the nerves go away but being sub made it doubly worse! I’ll never forget looking over to my left from the dugout at the 8,000 QPR fans packed in that end, it was amazing day.
QPRnet.com: During your time at QPR many fans often questioned your inclusion in midfield, were you aware of that and was that preferred position or would you rather have been at the back?
SP: I’ve often found that at clubs and perhaps that’s because of my style of play. I know how to win football matches and I work as hard as I can and do whatever I can do to help that happen, I’m not a fancy footballer I just do my job. That’s not always the most aesthetically pleasing style of play granted but I’d say I’m effective without being flamboyant! I was aware of the criticism at the time but you cope with it and learn to deal with it, all I hope is that when people look back on my time at QPR they’ll think I did a good job for the club because that’s all I tried to do.
QPRnet.com: When the time came to leave Loftus Road was it a case of you wanting more regular football or were looking for a coaching opportunity?
SP: In the end I wasn’t actually offered anything by QPR so it was the club that decided I should move on. I understand the reasons behind it and there was an element of disappointment from me of course but you have to get on with it, that’s what happens in football.
I had, and still do have a desire to keep playing and if I had stayed then my opportunities with QPR would have been limited in the Championship, I was offered a chance to be a player coach at MK Dons and I’ve had a great experience over the last year and learned a lot as well. If you’re going to leave a club then perhaps after winning promotion is the best time to go. I can look back now over what we did with great pride and I look at the website everyday to keep in touch with what’s going on at Loftus Road because I had a great time there.
QPRnet.com: You are a Cambridge graduate of course, was football always your first choice career?
SP: Definitely it was the only career I ever wanted, I was brought up in Brighton and I had a lot of advice and people encouraged me to stay in education as long as I could. I was lucky enough to get into Cambridge and I’m very glad I did but at underneath all that was the desire to play football and again I was lucky to get a chance at that.
QPRnet.com: Did going to University and coming into the game later hinder you in anyway?
SP: I don’t know if it’s an advantage or not, there’s an argument for both sides I guess but I got my chance at twenty one and whilst I probably missed out on three or four years in the game I had a great experience at university and perhaps I played a bit longer because of it.
QPRnet.com: Iain Dowie once said "If you took twins, both of equal footballing ability, and one had a degree, he would be a better player. A degree helps you to analyse, be logical, methodical, organised and it makes you more worldly." Did your degree help you in that way?
SP: Possibly, I can see what he’s saying but there’s a big argument against it on the artistic side because a lot of football isn’t logical it’s instinctive.
QPRnet.com: You’re working as a player/coach at MK Dons, is management something you’d like to move into in the future?
SP: I had a great experience last year, I worked with the reserves from Christmas onwards but I have a playing contract with the club so I’m not sure what’s going to happen this season. As for management I don’t really have any specific ambitions, I enjoy being involved in the game and I like being at a football club but my career ambition was to be a player and that’s happened now. If an opportunity came along to be a manager I would give it my best shot but I wont feel that I’ve missed out if that doesn’t happen whereas I would have felt like that if I missed out on playing.
I know what football is like and I’ve no idea what’s going to happen next week let alone next year. I’ve made contingency plans over the last few years for a life after playing, I’ve taken coaching qualifications so I’m in a position to do that if an opportunity arises but who knows what will happen.
QPRnet.com: By the time you left QPR we had been promoted, had progressed enormously on the pitch and stabilised off of it, do you look back on your contribution with a great sense of achievement?
SP: Absolutely, having made a lot of friends along the way as well. I’ve only good memories of QPR and I really enjoy going back there on the few occasions I’ve been able to get to games. I played in the Masters the other week and that was great fun too and hopefully I can be involved in that again next year. What can I say, everything you said there sums it up, I loved my time at QPR.