I am writing this a few days after our 5-0 thumping at Southend United - a match broadcast live to all our family, friends and colleagues. The very same family members, friends and colleagues who had been asking us over the past few days, “I thought you said those new signings were good?”; or “Where was that £10m-rated player of yours?’’
Sadly, we struggle to convince ourselves - let alone anyone else - that lucky first goals and penalties not given would have made any difference to the eventual match result.
Post 5-0 fallout on the various messageboards once again raised a subject that was discussed at great length during the end of last season and has continued to be debated throughout this season. Would Queens Park Rangers FC be in a relegation battle if Ian Holloway were still our manager? Of course, the simple answer is we will never know - as it is just over a year since Ian Holloway was sent packing, and put on gardening leave. But why is it that a year on our previous manager is still being talked about so much?
Ian Holloway’s arrival as QPR manager coincided with our drop into the third tier of English football - the first time we had played in that division for nearly 40 years. His appointment was greeted with surprise from Rangers fans. Ian Holloway was not a Rangers legend in the same mould as Gerry Francis and his management career so far had not been particularly successful.
I spoke with the club’s Chief Executive, David Davies, a few weeks after Holloway’s appointment. David told me about some of the ‘big names’ that had been interviewed for the manager’s position. Each of them during their interviews had talked about the salary that they required and the bonuses. One had even stated that he would only work a five-day week, taking a weekday off as he had to work on a Saturday. All Ian Holloway talked about during his interview was football, footballers and his plans for the club should he be appointed manager. David Davies and the rest of the management team were impressed with Holloway’s enthusiasm and passion. Having won them over, he landed the job - and all he had to do now was convince us fans that he was the right man for the job.
Ian Holloway became the manager of Queens Park Rangers at a time when, for the majority of fans, the club was at an all-time low. He saw out the remainder of the 2000/2001 season, when relegation was certain, and started planning for the next season. The club was financially unstable, was going to be playing in the old Third Division and only had seven professional footballers at the start of pre-season.
I have no need to remind you as to what happened next. Ian Holloway took us on a rollercoaster ride, with a Play-off final and, eventually, promotion. I have supported Rangers for 30-odd years and during that time we have been runners-up in the old Division One, been promoted on a number of occasions and been to Wembley three times. The Ian Holloway era was just as exciting as any of that - sometimes even more so.
One of the main reasons why, is that when Ian took over we were at an all-time low. He took us by the scruff of the neck and dragged us up. The football was rarely top quality but Ian filled Loftus Road and created a tremendous buzz around the club - with management, fans and players united. We will never forget the atmosphere at Loftus Road on the night of the play-off semi-final against Oldham, the trip to Cardiff and promotion at Hillsborough. Ian Holloway took us from that all-time low to an all-time high.
After a successful first season back in the second tier of English football, we approached the 2005/2006 with great enthusiasm. Ian Holloway had taken us forward with each season, so why would this season be any different? A draw away at Hull and home wins against promotion favourites Ipswich and Sheffield United saw us joint top of the table.
Guns, continual boardroom changes, a chairman allegedly influencing transfers and team selection - it’s not surprising that both the football on the pitch and results suffered and soon Ian Holloway was gone. The majority of fans were happy with this, the football had become stale, fans questioned tactics, team selection and substitutions. The new manager promised a different style of play.
If results had been better since Ian Holloway left, things would not be so bad. But defeat after defeat and the threat of relegation means that coming down from that all-time high feels twice as bad.
You cannot go from an all-time low, up to an all-time high and back all the way down again without feeling somewhat fed-up! Some fans are so fed-up that they don’t bother coming to games any more. The massive rise in ticket prices and recent results means that attendances are lower, but some fans still have the Holloway blues. They feel that things just aren’t the same, the Ian Holloway era is over and it’s difficult to move on.
I know how they feel. But it’s easy to look back and remember only the good times. Things were far from perfect under Ian Holloway’s management. He built up a large squad containing mediocre players, which was - and still is - a strain on the club’s stretched financial resources. The continual playing of players out of position, the tactics, the substitutions.
A match that sticks in my memory was a home game against Glenn Hoddle’s Wolves side. We totally outplayed them at the start of the game and moved comfortably into a 1-0 lead. Ian Holloway then moved Kevin Gallen back into midfield and we defended the lead. We let Wolves back into the game and were lucky to get a 1-1 draw in the end.
Unfortunately the football has not improved since Ian Holloway left, the results are worse - and I certainly miss the atmosphere he created around the club. Personally, I would not want him ever to come back as things are rarely the same the second time around. I think he left at the right time, before the majority of fans really turned on him and all those marvellous memories became soured..
Even post 5-0, I think our playing squad is looking leaner and better than it has for a long time. John Gregory’s assessment of the 5-0 being a freak result is, hopefully, correct.
Plymouth’s visit sees the return of Ian Holloway to Loftus Road for the first time. I suspect that deep down the man himself will always be a Ranger. I doubt he will have more fun or success at any other club. I doubt he will listen to a packed stadium ever again singing “Thank you, Ian Holloway”.
Ian Holloway has gone - but as Rangers fans, he would tell us now to move on and support the club as best we can. And that really is all we can do.
Thank you, Ian Holloway.
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