Rangers Chief Executive, Mark Devlin, talks to QPRnet.com about the recent stewarding issues, Ramon Diaz, ABC and the clubs current financial situation.
QPRnet.com: When you were offered the chance to come back here was it too good an opportunity to turn down at the time?
MD: It was really, a chance to come back to a team you support as its Chief Executive isn’t the kind of opportunity that comes up every day. Clearly having just got promoted it was an exciting time, the team were in a higher division than Swindon and with the greatest respect to them, QPR is a bigger club in terms of potential, turnover and fanbase, even the people in Swindon would agree with that I think.
I was excited about the prospect, but at the same time I really enjoyed my time at Swindon, the people there are decent and hardworking and it is a good club but the potential at Rangers is fantastic and being the team I have supported since I was a kid made it too good to turn down.
QPRnet.com: Are there many parallels between when you first joined Swindon and the situation you found at QPR?
MD: Financially yes, both clubs operate on very tight cashflows. The expectation level is different here, at Swindon the club was in an artificially high position, given their recent history of financial problems. Here the team have done well to get out of the division but I think everyone in football would agree that Rangers shouldn’t be playing at League One/Division 2 level.
There were similarities in the way that the club had drifted off the field too but on the field it was chalk and cheese. We have a bigger squad than Andy King enjoyed down at Swindon, but financially there were some real parallels.
QPRnet.com: Was it a case that Rangers came looking for you or did you throw your hat in the ring?
MD: I was aware of something, I got a text informing me that David Davies had handed his resignation in and it was a couple of days after that, that I got spoken to about it. I certainly didn’t put my hat in the ring but you are always confident of your abilities to do a good job. At Swindon we were embroiled in trying to get planning permission for a new stadium and there was much going on. I was enjoying life down there and we had steadied the ship and turned the club around so I wasn’t actively looking to leave. Then whatever happened during the summer here happened, I was aware through reading various websites and from hearing various reports as to what was going on and that clearly it wasn’t a happy ship so it was flattering when I was approached and I was delighted to come back
QPRnet.com: Are the issues with the stewarding all behind us now?
MD: I’m not relaxing just yet. But we’ve had difficult games in West Ham, Millwall and Cardiff recently, and there have been no issues at all. The council have been perfectly happy and so they are pretty much behind us. I will take this opportunity to try and explain why we have to make so many games all ticket. Three years ago we played Bristol City, and we only opened the bottom tier of the School End. More of Bristol City fans turned up than were expected and there were real problems. In the aftermath of that this club has accepted in its safety certificate that if it wants to sell the ground to full capacity all tickets have to be sold in advance. If I want to sell tickets on the day then the capacity is reduced to only 16,400.
Previously, we were able to override the system somehow but now all of a sudden we are being made to live by the rules so that is why we have had to make so many games all ticket. One of the things we looked at, at the start of the season was making every game all ticket so then we always had the ability to sell 18,500 tickets, but there are those fans that decide to come on the day, or can’t get up here or don’t want to use the phone and spend money on a credit card and why should they. If we were Manchester United or Chelsea and all the games were selling out then it might be different. I am not aware of this ruling being in place at any other club, so we have started to challenge it through the new safety team, and I am hopeful of a positive outcome.
QPRnet.com: How did the sitting down, standing up issue come about?
MD: This is a rule that has been in existence for years, it is law of the land and we are not the only club trying to enforce it. I noticed Wolves had a programme note asking their fans not take it out on the stewards they are only acting upon club instructions. The Football Licensing Authority who govern, even the local council when it comes to safety in football stadia, put out an instruction in the close season, asking clubs to act on the standing issue. They really want to see clubs making an effort to get fans to stay seated. Anyone who knows Loftus Road will know that in most areas of the ground the seating is cramped in fact for some people sitting is actually uncomfortable. People standing in the back row don’t understand why they can’t stand as they are not getting in the way of anybody’s view, but the fact is they want everybody to sit down, including the away fans.
We tried to get the Millwall fans to sit down and you can imagine the response the stewards got! I don’t want stewards putting their safety on the line for this or getting hurt over it, so common sense prevailed and they backed out. It was the same at Swindon, we went through this stand up, sit down campaign, involving supporters groups in it. Unfortunately it was seen by some fans as a challenge to their manhood and standing initially got worse.
It is difficult trying to get across the message that the club is not trying to be a killjoy. If you want my honest opinion I think as long as fans behave it is far easier to be passionate stood up than it is sat down and I know how difficult it must be to stay seated when the ball goes into the area. My view, which I passed on to the LSA, is that fans can help themselves here if they are really against this. If the fan groups get together as a coordinated voice and go to the FLA, through the supporter’s federation they might be able to come up with some sort of campaign that will get the authorities to stand up and take notice, or even sit down and take notice!
QPRnet.com: We had away fans in the upper School End for the Wigan game but with the front rows netted off. Is that something that you have to do at both Wolves and West Ham?
MD: I do query why we have never done it more often as it is clearly something that other clubs do and I think it is a further instance of somebody saying it might be difficult so we don’t bother. It might well be we would need to prove that we can do it safely, we do still have a very small number of fans that throw things onto the pitch and we need to rid ourselves of them or make those people understand how dangerous their actions are both physically to other supporters and financially to the club.
QPRnet.com: What happened with the Ramon Diaz situation?
MD: Aah, Ramon Diaz, our new manager! He is someone that knows quite a few of the people from Barnaby, the first Monaco group that invested in the club. Apparently it was in the Argentine press that he had been offered the job and it was only a matter of time.
The facts of the matter are that one of the people involved with the club at board level got fed up after a game and said things indiscreetly, which they have learned they ought not to do and it was picked up by a newspaper. Diaz was never approached by the club, whether somebody at Barnaby had asked him if at some stage he would fancy managing in England because they were getting involved at QPR, who knows? Certainly nobody at the club had spoken to Ramon Diaz and offered him a position at QPR but once it was reported in the Argentinean press and it was big news over there, it soon moved onto England. Maybe he said a few things to build himself up as he is out of a job and I do understand that he does fancy coming into England so people put two and two together.
The Diaz thing had no real substance at all. I think we have a very inexperienced board of directors, and I include myself to an extent in that, that are all massively keen to do the best for Rangers and what I am comfortable with, as a Rangers fan, is that the people on the board at the club have got all the best intentions and want to see QPR moving in the right way. What we won’t do is spend money we don’t have and if that means that we get a bit of stick from fans for being un-ambitious then so be it.
My mission is not to work here when the club goes out of business, I would like to work here when the club cements itself as a Championship club and has a good tilt at the play off’s. First and foremost I want a develop a good, strong financial base which will allow us to invest in a team and squad of players that will give us as fans what we all want but likewise looking after the fans and engaging them, having two way conversations and listening to their opinions.
QPRnet.com: Can you just explain a bit about a modern football club. We have a Chairman and Chief Executive, how do responsibilities work, how are things run day to day?
MD: On a day to day basis I run the club, Bill might be in here on an odd day every so often, depending on what’s going on. Certainly he is around when there are board meetings, reserve, youth or first team matches, but invariably it’s no more than one day a week so the day to day management is down to me.
One of the first things I did was to batten down the hatches in terms of the way we were spending money, basically trying to spend a lot less! I have changed the procedures so that when we want to spend money we have a purchase order system which requires my sign it off. This helps to give me a much better understanding of how we are trying to spend our money, and can we do things differently.
Major expenditure clearly has to be approved by the board, which includes things like signing a player or bringing a player in on loan. What generally happens is that Ian will talk to me about it; we will get a rough feel for what the cost would be, I will speak to the club concerned and then go to the board and tell them what Ian would like to do and discuss the financial implications. I will already be able to say to the board whether I think the money is there or not but ultimately I will leave the decision with them. I will give a recommendation but Bill as Chairman is the ultimate controlling party; he will have the deciding vote at board meetings over big matters.
Olly obviously gets on with the football side but we all take an interest in that and I think that’s why we all enjoy the job and work in the industry we do, but ultimately the footballing side falls down to Olly, his coaches and to Joe Gallen on the youth side. We have had a reshaping of the youth structure and I think for the first time Ian has been fully engaged and spoken to about it. We had to decide what we wanted from our youth structure, where is it weak, where is it strong and what can we do about changing it.
It wasn’t just a case with Des Bulpin, as has been suggested somewhere, that we had differences of opinion and he was sacked because of it, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was simply that the structure, and cost base, was not right. I believe we now have in place a structure that will take us forward. That’s come about through talking with Ian and getting him involved in the youth scheme. It’ can be difficult, because why should football managers give a damn how the under twelve’s have got on when their livelihood depends on the first team. We hope Ian is here for the long term so it was a case of engaging him to find out the sort of structure he wanted, getting Joe Gallen’s input and hence they have identified somebody to come in to head up youth recruitment.
There are football clubs where the board think they know about footballing matters, we’ve all got opinions but at the end of the day the decision maker on that side of things is Ian. All I will tell Ian is whether we can afford someone or not and that will be the end of the matter. Of course I am always happy to pitch in with names of people I have seen play but how seriously anyone on the football side ever take people on the administration side doing that is open to debate!
QPRnet.com: So the new position is that effectively a Chief Scout for youth players?
MD: More or less yes, we are very concerned that we really get no kids from this area at all and that this has been happening for years now. How many kids from the White City do we ever get, or from Harlesden and Willesden and places like that. We know there is plenty of raw football talent out there but it all seems to be buggering off to Fulham, Chelsea or Arsenal. Something has been inherently wrong with our youth recruitment policy and operation.
We want to make the personnel accountable as well. You ask, “Who was the person that spotted such and such”, and I guarantee you that at least three people will claim they were involved in spotting him and getting him signed to a pro side. So we are putting in place a system so we can review how good our scouts are and if they are not good enough then regrettably you have to let them go and bring in people that have a better eye for the job.
It costs a lot of money to operate a Centre of Excellence, and you can go one of two ways. Either you can adopt the route that we are going down, or you can go down the route of saving the £250k it costs the club, after grants, and say to yourself, would that money be better off going to Olly?. Or maybe give Ian £150k and use £100k to go and nick players from Premiership Academies as Swindon have done recently. This is a gamble, but other teams have spent the money coaching them, then you can offer them a chance at your first team, normally on reasonable wages as they are young players.
We believe that a club like QPR has so much more to offer than a Chelsea or a Fulham. Sure, it must be lovely for a parent to think their boy can go and play for Chelsea, but unless he is world class he is not going to get a sniff of their first team because at some stage they will spend £20m importing the finished article. At QPR we have a lad called Shabazz Baidoo, who is still raw but he’s come from Arsenal and clearly has more chance here if he continues to improve. If he does he will have a shot at the first team, he was highly unlikely to get that at Arsenal other than the occasional cameo in the Carling Cup and that is the message we need to get across.
We have got to be able to recruit really good kids, look after them well, coach them properly and give them a chance at the end of it. If at the end of it they can play for the club and take the club forward, fantastic, if they play for the club and they are so outstanding that the club makes some money out of them, equally fantastic. If neither of those things happen then over the course of the years to come we will have to reassess the way the youth scheme operates.
It doesn’t help that we have more than one base. We operate out of the Acton training ground, Cranford and Brunel University, its fragmented and we are actively looking for one place to build a decent training ground that will house everyone from under nines up to the pro side and also have the under sixteen’s and eighteen’s playing their home games there on a Saturday. That’s what we want but we need the facilities and that is definitely not easy to find in West, or West of, London.
QPRnet.com: Are we looking to get back into the Academy system from our current Centre of Excellence (CofE) status?
MD: At present no, one of the reasons the club came out of it was because of certain Academy rules and regulations. You have to have an indoor training facility for instance. Certain clubs have been able to get by, by begging, stealing and borrowing other people’s facilities. If we wanted to reapply for a licence now we would need to have a modern, indoor 40 by 60 arena, and at the moment we don’t have that facility and there aren’t any schools or municipal facilities we can utilise.
We have looked at the Astroturf pitch on South Africa Road which has run into an incredible state of disrepair and I would like to think over the course of the next eighteen months that we might be able to work on a regeneration project with the local council so that we could at least utilise it for our Football in the Community Scheme. It may not be right for our CofE but I think the kids in this area deserve better than the current facility. It is so dangerous that we don’t even have our Saturday morning packages up there now, we have to take them further afield which adds to the cost.
QPRnet.com: At the moment I think we’ve got a better standard of youth player than we have had for years, but what sort of timescale do you give it to see whether it is being successful or not?
MD: To be fair I think you have to look at it over the course of the next five years or so, not one or two years, and we may have to be a little more aggressive in the market place, which is why we are bringing in someone that can identify fifteen to sixteen year olds at Premiership clubs who maybe we can approach.
This guy has in depth knowledge of some of the Premiership’s young kids and what we would like to see is with his knowledge and with Joe Gallen’s leadership that turn those into players that we can bring across to QPR who will be knocking on the first team door within a couple of years. Slowly but surely that will filter all the way down to the under nine’s but it is that fifteen to sixteen year old age group that we need to bring in now. We’re looking for players who are pretty outstanding but don’t have a great deal of opportunities at their clubs.
QPRnet.com: Can you sum up the financial situation at the club generally, where are we at right now compared to when you joined us?
MD: Thanks to the new investment, we are in much better shape. Most of that investment has gone to paying off old debts. If we hadn’t addressed it when we did it would have lead to some serious issues with the Inland Revenue. Because we took that action, we are back on track with the Inland Revenue and on a far more even keel generally. That is entirely down to the new investment from Monaco and also Gianni Paladini’s involvement. To be fair to Gianni it has been his contacts in Monaco which he has been able to convince to invest in the club. I wouldn’t be overstating it if I said that without the new investment, coupled with the plans that I saw that the previous board were trying to implement in terms of additional costs and so forth, I believe this club might have been in administration by now. As it is things are still very tight and they will continue to be for the remainder of this season and probably next while we clear the decks and make sure we are operating responsibly and smartly. It would have been nice had £500k of that investment been diverted into the playing staff rather than paying off old debt but, and it pains me as a fan to say this, it was more important to keep the Inland Revenue happy than to give Ian two or three more bodies.
QPRnet.com: Since you’ve been here we’ve seen a few staff move on from the admin side, were we hideously overstaffed?
MD: We were overstaffed in certain areas, I’ve not let people go that I felt could help to take the club forward. I’ve let people go whose jobs were redundant or whose skills did not match our requirements. There were people here that I couldn’t tell you what their jobs were, but between personnel and changes to services we’ve saved the equivalent of about £400k a year.
For example we were spending £24K a year on photography, now we have got in a QPR fan who’s an extremely competent photographer who’s doing it for the cost of the film and love of the club.
We were spending £30k a year having our database cleansed for promotional usage. I’ve knocked that on the head as we can do that ourselves through the ticketing system we’ve got here. When we need to input a bit of marketing expertise, so we can run promotions, we’ll bring it in, but only, then.
The new safety officers that I’ve brought in are not PAYE, they are contractors, and we only pay them for the days they come in on a set rate. They’ve already highlighted how overstaffed we were from a stewarding point of view and by the end of this season we will have seen a good saving on stewarding.
We’ve been so set in our ways here over the years that we just worked with the stewarding company and spent whatever it cost. We didn’t attempt to get best value out of the contract. I was fortunate in that I moved away to another football club for two years and saw things done totally differently. I don’t understand why stewards are dotted around the pitch edge at the end of a game as the only time there is ever likely to be a pitch incursion is the final game of the season, like it is at a lot of clubs. I think we just lay down and accepted things as a club for the past few years and we are beginning to get up now.
If I don’t agree with something I’ll say I don’t agree and fight my corner, particularly if it comes down to saving costs. I’m just trying to create a mentality here whereby staff are spending money as if it was their own. If it was own money, would we spend it? Will the place fall apart?, and will we forever be cast into the Vauxhall Conference if we don’t spend that pound? If the answer to that is no, it doesn’t really matter, then don’t spend the bloody thing! Let’s just batten down the hatches for a year or so and see where that takes us. Let’s channel as much money as we can into the squad and into making sure our supporters services are correct. Let’s make sure the box office is right, the club shop is right, and all of the key customer facing areas are operated correctly. Let’s make sure we have got the best people we can afford in the right numbers not just a lot of bodies for the sake of it, and we won’t go far wrong.
We’ve got a great fan base here. It’s more active vocally, numerically and financially than I’ve ever known. I remember coming here to Premiership games or old Division One games against Coventry, Leicester, and Sheffield Wednesday we were lucky if we got 9-10,000 now we have got 15,500 for Burnley who bring 800 people with them. The fan base has been magnificent. I sat at Swindon envious, but delighted, over what’s been going on here in terms of the fan base and the magnificent support. Look at the bucket collections, a club like this should not need to have fans rattling buckets out the front and nobody wants to see a return to that. Our turnover should be enough to have a decent playing budget and a club that is staffed properly so there is no way we should be asking fans to stick money in a bucket to prop this place up, it’s a travesty.
QPRnet.com: It is interesting as when we talked to your predecessor he made it very clear that he wanted to pay for things rather than use free or cheap fan help because he found it easier to go back to them if there were problems. Are you happier to accept help from the fans?
MD: I understand what he was saying, it is very difficult to go to someone who is doing a favour and complain about the standard, but if it is handled in the right way fans will understand that. I am more than happy to accept help from fans and whilst I can understand his point of view it is not one that I share.
I am very aware from talking to the supporters groups that in recent years quite a bit of assistance was offered and was generally turned down. A football club is nothing without its fans and we won’t always make decisions that keep the fans happy, but we will make them with the right intentions.
A very small example is that we will be going back to having kit votes. I thought it was ludicrous not to have a kit vote as the fans that buy the stuff ought, at least, to have a say in whether they like it or not. The last time I looked we weren’t a fashion house so what is the harm in running a website poll. Some of the people that worked here previously weren’t as keen to engage the fans as maybe they ought to have been in my opinion.
There are clubs that say sod the fans we’ll run the football club, all they have to do is turn up, pay their money and support the team, boo, hiss or cheer. Our strength is our unity. That might sound terribly crass but I actually believe that is the abiding advantage Rangers have got versus a club like Chelsea. You go to Chelsea and you see people there that aren’t really into Chelsea, they’ve just bought tickets as it is seen to be good to take corporate people and you take the soul out of the place.
Once people have been to see a game at Loftus Road they can’t help but be taken in by the atmosphere of the place and the passion of the fans. My missus has never been into football but she has come to a couple of evening games and understands all this QPR nonsense I’ve told about over the past umpteen years, a little better now. I think that is one of the reasons why when people like Dunga got involved, before they committed themselves they had people come over here to see what they were going to get themselves involved in and they saw the raw passion of the place. It isn’t the San Siro, we don’t play in front of 60,000 crowds and we don’t play in the Premiership, but they still chose to invest in the club for other reasons and a lot of that is driven by the fact that we are a proper football club with fans and players and people behind the scenes working together. That isn’t to say that we won’t make decisions fans don’t like or which might be unpopular, but they will generally be made for the right reasons.
QPRnet.com: What’s the latest with the ABC situation?
MD: The ABC situation is that we are actively seeking an alternative to take the loan over. We are talking to ABC about under what circumstances they would allow the loan to be taken over and if there are any financial penalties. I think it is well documented now that as a board we are not happy over the circumstances it was taken out in, we didn’t need £10m, we don’t see any evidence that forced us to take this loan from a Panamanian based organisation which then upped the loan by £200k a year at the last minute.
Of course the League were putting pressure on the club to come out of administration but like we have seen with Notts County, if we had gone back to the League, told them of our circumstances, I believe the Football League would have given us time to find another exit route. That’s my belief, there is no guarantee of that, but knowing the way the Football League works, then that’s what I would have thought would have happened.
We are very uncomfortable, to put it mildly, with the fact that Ray Hocking has left BDO, having been our administrator and has now popped up as a representative of ABC, a real conflict of interests if ever there was one. There were other areas of conflict. We continued to use a firm of solicitors who were also retained by Chris Wright and Chrysalis. As a big London firm, they were not the cheapest. We have now found a highly qualified Solicitor, who is also a QPR fan, and it’s safe to say things are a little more reasonable now without compromising on quality.
Generally speaking, football clubs do not need to spend large amounts on legals. We seemed to speak to a legal advisor at the drop of a hat, racking up huge costs at the same time. We are currently reviewing all the information available to us, to see what action we need to consider taking. This will take us through to January at the earliest.
QPRnet.com: Speaking of conflicts of interest, how did you react to the news that David Davies had popped up as Chief Exec at Wasps?
MD: Not surprised in the slightest! I look forward to some interesting conversations with David. For a man who I am told detested Chris Wight with a passion when he was here to then go and accept a job working for the rugby club that is owned by Chris will tell you everything you need to know about that situation.
In administration I am not sure how seriously we looked at a CVA, it would have been horrible for the creditors involved but the whole point of an administration is to protect the business, restructure the operation, and see it restart again with a chance of survival. Normally there are wholesale staffing cuts and being here previously I expected that I might have gone, David Davies would almost certainly have had to have gone and the senior management tier would have been stripped out. In the end we let go two maintenance men and brought in a contractor that cost almost as much!
QPRnet.com: You see so many other clubs go into administration and end up paying back so little of what they owe yet we owe £10m.
MD: Yes, weird that isn’t it. Leicester was the trigger for the new ten point deduction ruling. Leicester went into admin, got themselves promoted to the Premiership, rid themselves of huge amounts of debt, especially crown debts and everyone went mad about it.
Look at Leeds, they had £100m of debt and seem to have been able to write off around £60m of it and come to an agreement with other creditors over the remaining debts, but not QPR. Let’s go into administration owing money and let’s come out owing even more.
We owe more, we lost our training ground, which now costs the club £50k per annum in rent and Wasps is no longer part of the family so it doesn’t seem on the surface to have been a great deal!
We will continue asking questions long and hard, the board are very passionate about getting to the bottom of this to make sure that everything was done legitimately and above board. It may well have been, it may just have been down to desperate management who made bad decisions, it could be no more than that but we owe it to the shareholders and supporters to research it properly and find out what the hell’s gone on.
QPRnet.com: Are we talking to Chris Wright regarding his shares or is that now a dead issue?
MD: We are still talking. One of the directors is talking to Chris Wright about selling his shares, and we remain optimistic that a deal can be agreed.
QPRnet.com: Staying up was the priority for this season, we are now sixth. How do you budget as a club for next season?
MD: It is a nice problem to have. We will have to produce a Championship budget and a Premiership budget rather than just a Championship version. By the end of January we will have produced two outline budgets based on what we think revenues and costs will be if we are in the Premiership and likewise the Championship. I might have missed something here, but I don’t see why we would have to add lots of personnel behind the scenes. The commercial department is down to one person already, although we do need to bring one more person in, but when you’ve got Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, the whole lot coming to play at your ground then your phones ring, you don’t have as much pressure to go out there and sell tickets. Speak to any club, speak to Palace, there will be some matches that are slightly harder to sell in the Premier League, but nothing like as difficult as Rotherham in August, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to Rotherham. So you don’t need bundles of extra staff.
You actually play less games so your infrastructure doesn’t need to be any bigger, its all down to how much you want to stick into playing funds and we would need to come up with contracts that allow players to earn more when we are in the Premiership and if we are not in the Premiership then they immediately come back down to Championship salaries. If players aren’t prepared to take that gamble along with the club then we will have to think seriously about employing them. I don’t mind paying them well when we’ve got the money; the players should enjoy it, but we would, undoubtedly, need to invest in the squad.
So we will produce two budgets and keep refining them as the months go on and the seasons outcome becomes clearer. The real issue I suppose comes down to if we get in the play offs. Suddenly, you don’t know if you are in the Premiership until May 31stwhich gives you two and a bit months to plan. I still think getting players in is then the major issue, but the rest of the infrastructure is in place here.
I believe if we were in the Premiership tomorrow then the infrastructure here, in terms of the personnel numbers we’ve got wouldn’t need to dramatically change. There are things we would need to do differently, the Premiership has different rules to the Football League, there may be some subtle changes in terms of medical provision and physiotherapy cover on match days but outside of that we wouldn’t fundamentally need to change. We’ve got some highly experienced staff behind the scenes and I have absolute faith in them to deliver.
Promotion to the Premiership is worth around £15m as a minimum and could go up to as much as £20m dependent on how often you feature on TV.
QPRnet.com: Would you be tempted to use the £15m, pay off ABC, come back down and take the parachute payments for a couple of years and go back up again?
MD: That is certainly one option you would want to look at. In my opinion maybe we would should do is pay off a slice of it. I think we owe it to the players, manager and fans, to give the team some sort of chance, but we wouldn’t be looking to spend all £15m on players. I think we would be getting it wrong if we didn’t try to rid ourselves of some of the debt burden.
QPRnet.com: When you are producing the budgets do people like Olly and Joe Gallen get involved in terms of saying how much money they need or is it very much a case of you saying, “This is how much money you have got”?
MD: A bit of both, not so much with Joe, as with the youth costs it is easier to budget. On the first team side, knowing Olly, he would like twenty five billion to spend on players and we might have to keep him to something slight more manageable! It’s all about working with your manager and hopefully him understanding what you are trying to achieve. You can spend all of your Premiership £15m on players and it doesn’t guarantee you anything like success. If you’ve done all that and you’ve not been very smart you come back down and players are all on huge salaries. In this day and age, you sometimes see players throw their toys out of the pram, when the club has been relegated and want to go back to the Premiership instantly. What you hope to have is a sensible conversation with Ian, give him as much as you can afford to and give him a fair tilt at going up. At the same time the directors of the club have got a burden of responsibility that means they must manage the place properly and that also means taking care of some of the debt that we may have accrued.
QPRnet.com: In terms of future investment, are we still actively seeking further investors to come on board? It is a strategy to have several smaller investors?
MD: Not at the moment as the biggest group of shares that could potentially be sold are Chris Wright’s. There doesn’t appear to be an awful lot of manoeuvring left because there is not much in the way of available equity. There are some key individuals who are looking at different ways of investing in the organisation. I am speaking to one gentleman about investing in the Centre of Excellence and we are looking at ways he can put money into the club, that doesn’t involve having equity of the club. There are plenty of trust type schemes out there that can be utilised in that way. That kind of investment we are looking at but in terms of selling shares or selling equity in the business there is not a lot more that can be done.
You could issue a re-offer, where every share is converted into, say, three shares. That dilutes the current shareholders shares, and is not fair on those recently arrived investors. Perhaps that is one for the future.
QPRnet.com: If a rich Rangers fan turned up with £250k and says, “Here you are, but I want you to buy a player”, would you do that or would you have to say, “Actually, we would quite like to pay some debt with it”?
MD: If someone came to me with £250k and they cant buy equity as there are no shares but they want to buy a player as long as they are happy to fund a player or players of the manager’s choice that would be acceptable. We would want any investment to cover salary as well as any fees.
QPRnet.com: So would it be a case that a player signs on Monday and then on Tuesday the Inland Revenue are on the phone asking how you can afford it?
MD: No, to be fair you can explain that type of thing to the Inland Revenue. What you can’t do is plead poverty, ask for time to pay off debts, and then expect the IR not to say anything if they notice (and they will) you spending money on a new player a few days later. Basically they will think you lied to them and, naturally, they wouldn’t be best pleased.
QPRnet.com: Going forward for this season, in terms of player budget, I assume we will not be signing too many people so is it just loan players we are looking at now?
MD: Yes, mostly it will be loans, whether that be long term or short term. If there are players available and there is no fee and the salaries they are looking for are manageable then we will try and support Olly. He has one or two people like that in mind and we will have to see whether they come to fruition. He also has two or three loan ideas currently on the go but for whatever reason we have not approached them. We have frank and open contact with Ian in terms of understanding what players he is looking for and whether we can afford them or not. Most of the time we are trying to support Ian, I don’t think he can complain too much in that respect. No, we don’t have £1m to spend on a player but who the hell has in our division apart from Wigan? They have a benefactor that will do it, we don’t.
QPRnet.com: Do you ever find that Olly will come flying in and say, “I have found this player give me £100k”, or does he know that if he says that he will get turned down so he doesn’t bother?
MD: I think Olly knows that transfer fees are going to be difficult for us to find but I think he also knows now that if he’s got people in mind and he is keen to bring them in for a month or three months or longer than that, that we will try and support him wherever possible. He understands fully, we have tried to be honest with Ian and the players about the whole situation with the Inland Revenue and the credit card companies. We had the best part of £1.5m held by the credit card companies, our credit card revenues were being frozen, seriously affecting our cashflow, again because the previous management team had agreed that they wouldn’t touch season ticket money and then they went and spent £600k of it so the bank froze our account. People were buying tickets, they were buying stuff in the shop using their credit cards and we weren’t getting anything. It was really hurting us and we tried to explain to the players and Olly exactly what the situation was as we think that as long as people are aware of it and are fully involved they can’t say they don’t understand the decisions we are making.
QPRnet.com: Were the players receptive to it?
MD: Generally yes. They just absorbed it, players are no different from members of staff, the first thing that go through their minds are whether they are going to get paid, can they pay their mortgage etc. They have families to support, they are no different than most of us. They just get paid to play sport and they earn a decent wage doing it. It just meant that they were aware of certain difficulties we were experiencing at the time. That has eased a little bit now and we don’t have to have those conversations. My style is to be very open and honest with as many people as possible. It is no different with the players.
QPRnet.com: We talked about promotion before, nobody expected it, but do we have targets for this season, next season and going forward?
MD: This season was all about staying in this division and giving us a chance to get the finances sorted off the field. Next season we would hope that Ian could move us forward a bit and if that meant as far as getting into the top ten or top eight that’s what we would hope for. Then a year after that, I think is when we expected realistically to have got ourselves in a position to have a proper tilt at promotion. This season if we are still in with a chance come March we might be able to back to some of the new investors and ask them for some support for Olly. It is worth it to them, to the players, to the manager, to the fans for us to give it a go.
QPRnet.com: In terms of player’s wages, not going into specifics, how do we sit in terms of how we pay players?
MD: I would say we are pretty middle of the road. Managers are fantastic at saying, “Well they earn XYZ there”, and we say, “but they get 27,000 people through the turnstiles every week”. I can afford to pay more than we paid at Swindon because our crowds are 2.5 times what Swindon enjoyed. I would say we are up there in the top half of the division in terms of payment. Clearly those clubs that have come down from the Premiership and have significantly bigger gates than us and bigger stadiums can afford to pay more but we don’t pay badly for a club of our size.
QPRnet.com: Do you think Wasps will come back?
MD: The only people that can tell you that really are Wasps. My understanding of the rules of the Zurich premiership is that they need to let them know by the end of the year what they are planning to do, and by March they need to say exactly what they are going to do. We have not opened discussions with them yet. They would be welcomed back; my gut feeling is that they don’t want to come back, as they have found a little home for themselves in Wycombe with facilities that are suited to rugby. The only reason that they would come back is because we would vigorously chase them for compensation. They have had a year’s grace this year- that was negotiated with them previously, but as far as I am concerned they are supposed to be our tenants here for the next eight years and if they want to come back they are more than welcome. Unless I hear otherwise I would expect them back here at the start of the new rugby season.
QPRnet.com: Is the compensation worth more to us than the rent?
MD: The compensation would be very handy. Hopefully we would get it all upfront and it would help us pay some historics and move on. It would also allow us to look seriously at whether we would like to bring in another football club, another rugby union club, a rugby league club, whatever into Loftus Road to ground share. I know that fans feel that their stadium is sacrosanct and the fans of the club coming here wouldn’t be too keen but I would have no problem having somebody share Loftus Road as long as they gave us a reasonable rate.
QPRnet.com: Do you think having David Davies at Wasps now will hinder the negotiations?
MD: As far as I am aware David has gone on record, when he worked for Rangers, saying that if Wasps didn’t come back he would expect compensation to be in the region of £1.5m. I don’t see the fact that his office is now three miles up the road in Acton makes that comment any different. It’s certainly a starting point and I am not saying that is what we would accept but that is certainly a starting point.
The one reason they would really want to come back here is the capacity. They have built their fan base in Wycombe but they might have a problem getting that fan base to Loftus Road. We are in a traditional footballing part of town, not a traditional rugby area which is what they have at the moment. We are on the doorstep of a big council estate and rugby people are not necessarily always comfortable with that. This is a football stadium; I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but rugby stadiums are different. They have bigger suites, different types of facilities for people to drink and eat, because the rules are different. Wycombe does have the benefit of much bigger corporate facilities than we can offer them here. As I say though we would welcome them back and we expect them back unless we here to the contrary.
QPRnet.com: Just to sum up on the financial side, is administration a threat to us right now and do you think it will be in the future?
MD: No, but we came close. Without the new investment I honestly believe we would be in administration or worse by now. If the investment during the summer and early in the season hadn’t come in when it did, and if we hadn’t made the cost reductions that we made, it would be fairly bleak. Having done all that we are now on a more even keel. The fans have played a full part in turnaround, the shop is doing magnificently well, and it is unrecognisable from when I was here previously. Then it had gone from £450k a year to £650k a year and we thought that was really good. Now the shop has had a refit, in Mike Pink we’ve got a tremendous asset to the club and now it is turning over more than £1m a year. I’ve never been able to quite work out why the club could be in the play offs, get promoted, have a club shop turning over what it is with our best average gate in eight years, record numbers of season tickets, Fulham here for two years and end up owing nearly £2m to the Inland Revenue. I just don’t understand how that is possible. I would understand if somebody said that Ian Holloway had spent £7m on players last year but he didn’t.
To sum up though administration is not a threat.