In this short ‘book’ I describe my ups and downs at QPR as an Academy Football Coach.
When I left QPR I was overwhelmed by the level of support I got in communications from players, parents and coaches. It truly is a great club and overall I learned a lot and it enhanced my football career without any doubt. But it was mixed with a series of events that is perhaps a sign of the sickness that exists in our game. There can never be any doubt that whatever job you do, whatever club you’re at, it will never be perfect. There will always be the moaners as well. The ones that are never happy. I ran a business and learned that some people are just never happy. But at QPR something very unique was happening. You can do business comparisons but ultimately it’s a football club. A football club with heritage, image, reputation and people. It was in my view that these have been damaged and I tried to communicate that to the people that run the club. It’s easy to say nothing, do what football people call ‘play the game’. But I can’t do it. I can’t pretend things are ok when they are not. I think the impact is bigger and people should know. Football and money are a dangerous combination because they are high on the list of what most people love and love can bring out the worst in some people.
Table of Contents
1-Luton Town to QPR
2-The 1st season
4-A new start, new investment a new era
5-Aug 2012 The identity and another new Academy Manager
6-Transition in to EPPP
7-Players with ‘Parents’ at the club & Beckham
8-Standard of players
9-Feb 2013 to Resignation
10-A year on 2014/15
|Luton Town Academy Coach|
In football there is no better feeling than feeling wanted. I’d had 8 great years coaching at Luton working up from the community department. But, with things becoming difficult due to the vulnerable position I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. So I went to meet Steve. I got there and went to the old office at Harlington. Immediately there was a great feeling. A great relationship with the scholars was clear as they came into the office having completed their chores and tasks. One of them was of course Raheem and straight away Steve being Steve, was quick to introduce him to me. I sensed a well-grounded, respectful lad, of course I never knew what he would become. “Tone, let’s go for a coffee, Kev Coffee? Birchy, Coffee? We jumped into the van and nipped over to Starbucks.
|With the LTFC Squad before Wembley 2009|
would see him in passing but of course we never had anything to do with him. I was initially asked to work with the U14’s and helped Kevin Gallen. Of course I knew Kevin from Luton so that was an easy transition. For those that have come into contact with Kevin they will have experienced the bright enthusiastic bubbly guy that certainly likes a laugh. That was a great thing about training. It was something I always looked forward to. You couldn’t wait to get to work. But I always sensed that perhaps few people knew the other side to him. The dressing room is the so called home for banter, yet for Kevin, what I could see, was the opposite for him. This was work, the place where he transformed into this focused no nonsense individual. Maybe that’s his downfall? Because there are many people that can bluff people with their public persona and steely focus in front of senior influential people. But Kevin only knows how to be himself and transforms when and where it matters. In the dressing room, on the training ground and on the pitch. Only people that know him can empathise with that.
When he was at Luton I recalled he had been sent to train with the youngsters. He was training and was gobsmacked at the lack of application from the young lads. I guess that they too were mistaken by the character that lit the lounge and canteen up with laughter making it a great place to be and thought that was an approach they could bring to the training pitch. They were very mistaken and they were told in no uncertain terms. He gave them a speech which should be given to every single young player. He told them that this was 2/3 hours of a day that was hard work and application compared to most peoples 8-10 hours. So if you can’t dedicate yourself properly to that then you’ve got no chance. They soon livened up.
Of course I wasn’t surprised. I’d seen Kevin in a dressing room before. We were in the Blue Square Conference and things were not going to plan. Luton were away to Cambridge United and it was eventful to say the least. I was aware that as well as fireworks on the pitch there was some ruffled feathers in the stands. Even our non-playing lads were getting some grief in the stands so everyone was a bit pumped. Luton went in at half time 2-0 down with some dubious decisions and we had a man sent off for arguing about them. After Mick had delivered his half time plans and motivation (great man by the way) the lads do what they do, their own time. With emotions boiling over you could sense this could be a difficult second half. Kevin stepped in and the room fell silent. He kept it very simple. “Look lads, all you’ve got to do is do your jobs, I’m up top, I’ll do the job of two people. So, what have you got to complain about? If you all come back in here having done your jobs 100% well be fine” I didn’t let on but I was gobsmacked. No one had an answer to that. I guess inside they thought, well if he’s saying he’ll do two peoples job, what excuse have I got? They returned for the second half full of inspiration and ran out 4-3 winners with Kevin scoring twice.
You see, not many people see this side of Kevin. Working with him then in a development environment at QPR was also a learning curve. No, at that time he didn’t have his badges but was starting. To me I could tell he felt he was home. I could see the relationship with everyone and clearly the staff loved him. He motivated everyone around him. He put smiles on people’s faces and most of all, he was the guy at that level that had the most playing experience yet he had no ego and would talk to everyone. The gateman, the grounds man, the cook, the kit lady Dee were all treated the same as everyone else and he would speak to them all. Dee the kit lady had actually been there when Kevin was a young player and she would recall to me stories of him around the training ground and it was great to see their relaxed open relationship.
In football terms, Kevin was fantastic. He might not have had the top badges at that time but he had the memories and he’s intelligent and so open to learning. I would stand on the side of the pitch and occasionally I would think, I’m not sure here, I’m trying to work out where things were going a bit wrong. Kevin would spot it instantly and I learned so much from that. He also had an amazing relationship with the lads and knew how to develop and challenge players as individuals. He of course also had little bits of high quality advice for strikers and midfielders that just don’t exist in the handbook. Not all ex pros make good coaches but for me, after 8 years in pro football I was happy to admit that I was still learning.
I’d recalled playing QPR’s youth when I was Luton. Luton were of course strong as they have always been. A great history for producing players but playing QPR was always a challenge. The problem was that whatever you seemingly threw at them they could cope with it. Most of all, they could play and they could play in tight areas, quickly. So when I ended up working there I was fascinated about their training methods and how they approached development. We would have in-service days and Steve Gallen would lead it. All the suggested sessions were delightful and realistic drills relative to the real game. They ensured that players also developed technically and could handle the ball in all situations. There was also competition, something I think too many are scared of. But it was fun and light hearted when required. There was a great sense of player centric development as well. We were very aware that we were there for the players. I recall Steve making comments about words in games that could be deemed critical and we were reminded about the power of confidence.
QPR at that time was clearly a challenging environment top down, actually I wasn’t sure the club really, truly valued the academy but Steve was like the protector. He would take the flack and then smile at the staff and players like nothing was wrong. I recall there being a whole issue over a missing KitKat from the canteen. Academy staff would have restricted access to certain areas, sometimes, no areas and getting the kit washed seemed like you was asking the club to rotate Loftus Road ninety degrees. I know that some clubs like to segregate the 1st team and that’s fine. I’d seen that abroad in Germany. Chelsea have a separate building, Blackburn have a site down the road but QPR didn’t have another site. Even so, it didn’t matter because under Steve, you wanted to be there. Football was great, we were learning, we were working with genuine talent and we felt valued and rewarded. Another example of Steve’s approach was evident when Raheem had returned after his sale to Liverpool. The scholars were all walking, down the road toward the main building. Steve was outside and could see one of the players had his earrings in. “Take your earrings out, your still at QPR and in our tracksuit”, with that, a casually dressed Raheem reached for his ears to take his out. “No, no, not you Raheem, you can do what you like now” Steve said jovially. But this showed the level of respect Raheem had for him.
There could be no doubt that Steve was firefighting. He covered it well and would never mention it but some things were obvious. None more so than the facilities. The main 3G pitch had lighting that was so poor in winter you could barely see the ball and the other playing surface was a short pile hockey pitch of which you would have a third of a pitch and it was so slippy in the cold. But despite that Steve has been successful in bringing through players. None more so than Raheem Stirling, one of Europe’s top targets. But also he has players now playing or played in many teams. Michael Harriman, Michael Doughty, Bruno Andrade, Frankie Sutherland, Max Ahmer, Mo Sherrif, Tafarri Moore, Liam O’Brian, Dean Parrot, Antonio German, Jamie Sandless-White, Michael Petrasso came in late and Reece Cox is now in the 21’s. So despite juggling balls on a roller-coaster, clearly Steve was doing something right. I also believe that at that time QPR had one scout Terry O’Sullivan and the club would not, or could not approve a true budget for a scouting team. Despite that Terry was also instrumental in securing the services of many of those players. This of course a difficult task when you consider the regions competition and clubs with great facilities in comparison. So why did they come to QPR? Because it was a great place to be and had good people. There were good standards, we were expected to look professional, prepare properly, deliver quality sessions and be sure to have plenty of enthusiasm. “Help them” Steve would say and “Always get caught being yourself” A phrase I will never forget, in other words, don’t pretend.
I remember Matt Jackson on talksport was asked how he gets players to Wigan when you consider the competition around him in the North West with huge clubs on his doorstep. His simple answer was “People, were good people”. I think QPR is, or was like that.
QPR had been promoted to the Premier League and with it came a new chairman. Soon afterwards, there was a new 1st team manager Mark Hughes. We heard there was going to be change and investment in the academy. Quite frankly this was fantastic news. It excited every one. We were invited to a meeting with the new chairman and he was really inspirational with his words. So down to earth. Later he walked over to the training pitches and spoke to the players. It struck me that he was more keen to do this than talk to all the adults trying to grab his attention. This sat really well with me. This was a working class guy that come good and I loved that he wanted to get out in the cold and see the young academy players. As things began to change we also heard about the changes afoot with EPPP being implemented. This all sounded fantastic. Imagine the excitement at being at a club with such grounded people, great football heritage and now investment and positive change. I was invited in to help advise on certain aspects of technology that were required as part of the audit tool on EPPP and I was really excited about where things were heading.
We were asked to attend another meeting. This was non-negotiable, everyone had to be there, there was to be some kind of announcement. There were new people around. We were introduced to a new structure. A guy called Shaun Hallett was introduced as the Academy Manager and Mike Rigg was Technical Director. I had never heard of either of them. The tone of this presentation was in complete stark contrast to the one delivered by the chairman and put everyone on the back foot. This guy in jeans and tweed jacket seemed to have little to smile about wanted to immediately intimidate everyone. The other, Shaun Hallett looked suarve in his open top shirt. He said about his senior background and described his success in making things happen, but he wasn’t from a football background. Mike Rigg got a flipchart out and began his speech which we would later hear repeated several times. These guys were not interested in anyone’s experience, advice or feedback. They were not interested in QPR’s heritage, history or success stories. They were going to deliver a strategy and this was how it’s going to happen. In that presentation I was amazed to hear Mike Riggs description of his background. He gloated that he and his people were responsible for turning Man City around. He described them as a Palace where inside lived a “dysfunctional family”. He claimed that he had managed to fix that and this enabled them to win the league. Some staff member nudged me and said, yeah he also managed to spend nearly £300m in the process. In that meeting we were clearly told some home truths. “Change is going to happen, you will support it and get behind it. If you don’t like it, there’s the door. For everyone of you there are a thousand other people that would jump in your place. You either get on the bus, or get off, it’s your choice”
I remember thinking, hang on pal, you don’t even know us and your throwing threats around. There are good coaches sitting around in this room. I would argue not easy to replace. It was a very naive tactic in my opinion and I for one don’t take kindly to bullying. This guy had attempted to put everyone on the back foot in one swoop. This wasn’t the ‘QPR Way’ I thought. We was also introduced to another guy Glyn Hodges, of course I had heard of him. He would be taking care of football and coaching. All these people would begin to form part of a new team to take the Academy forward. Immediately I thought, hang on, with all the years of firefighting it would have been nice if Steve would have been given the chance to benefit from running it with proper investment.
The next few months was nothing short of turmoil. Steve had disappeared as he had been told he was now solely responsible for the 18’s. Shaun was now in charge. We never really knew what was going on. Very quickly, this had become a very strange place to be. It seemed to me that these people didn’t really know the youth/academy process. Much of that was held together by the football administrator Alan Jacket. On one occasion we turned up to training and on the way to the pitch were told Glyn Hodges is coming to watch training. That for me wasn’t a problem. In all clubs the bosses want to see what’s happening of course. But then another guy was told he had to coach, Paul Bruce. Paul was a great guy. Great people’s person. A great coach. Probably too nice though. I was coaching next to him and he said to me “Tone, I’ve been told I’ve got to coach but it wasn’t my session, he got told to deliver someone else’s session and was given the trialist. All coaches will know that is the worst scenario. Although I can of course do things off the cuff. I like to Plan. Poor Paul was sold down the river. His session broke up and didn’t go down well. Paul was later sent an email by the club to tell him he was getting let go. I was devastated, I know he’s a great coach and person. He was close to players in that Raheem era and you could see the way they went to him. He was there ‘go to’ guy. Yet I felt he had been royally stitched up and not even told face to face or furthermore, not even a phone call.
The rest of that year was horrible and myself and another QPR coach went to share our concerns with Glyn Hodges. We felt that we should tell him to his face. To be fair, he did attempt to appease us at this point. However I later thought this was the wrong move. It seemed every time we arrived at training we would get called into the office and we would get told things that were wrong. But it would never come back from the horse’s mouth. Fear factor was running through the club, it wasn’t nice anymore. We began to feel like we were being attacked and coaches would come to me complaining about so many things. I always said to them “Guys, just remember why we’re here, what would Steve say? Just grit your teeth and don’t rise to the comments. They are trying to destabilise things but let’s just do our jobs, were here to coach for the kids”. So that’s what we did. I remember one guy wanted to quit 3 times that year. What keeps you going though is the players. Once on the pitch we would forget what was going on in the building. We did feel that the guys did seem to lack real experience in handling young developing players. Mainly by the way they communicated with them. Or some cases, they just didn’t, at all.
I do feel that’s its perfectly plausible and understandable that in some cases certain coaches could be in breach of contracts, not coach at the required level, not maintain records as required etc. So in some cases that needs addressing. Even at times people need to change. But this wasn’t the situation here and people were not getting treated equally.
We had returned to training and we instantly felt on the back foot again like we had before. But now there would be further twists. With the new manager in place the summer had brought much improvement to the training ground in terms of 1st teams facility. Glyn Hodges has a personal relationship with Mark Hughes so actually that should have been of benefit to the Academy. A little in to the return we were hit with some new news. Kevin Gallen had been sacked overnight by email. We were totally gobsmacked. I recall sitting in a back room dressing room with Steve Quashie and Terry O’Sullivan. It was like a bereavement. QPR didn’t feel like QPR anymore. It felt like these guys were determined to remove its identity. Kevin didn’t even get a chance to say cheerio to the lads. Many were so close to him. We didn’t even have a story from them. Just, “erm, he’s gone”.
The next training session I dragged myself through the gate. I really felt that was it. Terry O’Sullivan stopped me walking across the field. “Tone, you ok”? The motivation was gone, I was thinking, what am I going to tell all these players? “I dont think they realise what Kevin means to them”. I said to Terry “its gone Terry, the soul has gone” For the first time in my football life, this felt like a job and a Job I didn’t like anymore.
As I had done to others many times I was talked out of leaving. I thought again about Steve and what he would want. I thought about the players I had helped and that depended on me.
The next twist came with the appearance of Richard Allen. Another person I had not heard of. We were told he had come from Spurs and that he was head of recruitment. He was someone close to Mike Rigg and he brought him in. Within a short time there was some disagreement and we were aware of an atmosphere between these guys. I understand a falling out had happened with Mike Rigg, Glyn Hodges and Shaun Hallett. They would be glaring at each other across the room, mumbling under their breath or sit behind a desk with a face like thunder. You would turn up for work happy and within 10 minutes you could feel the atmosphere and it was depressing. The ironic thing was that this was now the “Dysfunctional Family”. The outcome of this was that Shaun then disappeared and Richard Allen was announced another, Head of Academy. These became a tight three and later a tight four with Nick Dawes added to mix as 18’s assistant coach. On the ground, I was a mere U14 lead coach and simply got on with my job. Despite the challenges and hurdles we tried to get on with the Job of coaching and developing players.
The usual QPR challenges had increased as always due to the shared site. A new barrier was installed further down the car park and we had to wait for Caroline (1st team secretary) to leave before any of the academy staff were allowed in. So the top car park would be jam packed, we would sit up there embarrassed as staff with all the parents not allowed in till 5.30PM. On one match day the actual front gate was shut and security said we couldn’t come in. I said, “its ok, I work here”. He nervously said, “I know, but she has told me the academy staff are not allowed in”. We had to throw our boots, balls and kit over the fence as we had a game. On another occasion we were completely banned from the whole building and had to get changed in the next field in a Sunday league adult dressing room. That day we played Southampton. Who also were sent there to get changed. This was so embarrassing, a great academy like Southampton and the kids were walking up the main road to get changed. They had to then walk through groups of smoking taxi drivers to the dressing room whilst the parents went in the grubby café for a cup of tea. I changed in the toilet into training kit and made my way back across the adjacent field and through trees back to the training ground to do the warm up. One of the Phase Lead coaches stopped me, he thought he’d been handed the reins of Microsoft and tried to ‘manage’ everyone. I’ve managed many people and put myself on man-management courses. So, I knew that he was severely lacking the skills required, he was miles out of his depth. What an ‘A’ licence doesn’t give you is automatic man-management skills. He tried to be busy to impress the bosses. “Where’s your match day tracksuit”? He said, I replied “It’s in the dressing room where there are naked adults walking around and drawings of a Penis with a sex message underneath it, that the kids pointed out to me when I arrived”. “Why don’t you challenge the real issues instead of trying to look busy in front of the bosses” However despite all the issues, we would go upstairs, say hello to Dee and the cook, Alan the Administrator and the cleaner. I loved the laughs we had. But gradually it seemed any type of communication up there was frowned upon. We were increasingly rejected by the new group of management and any form of communication was a struggle. “Hello” was a push.
Richard Allen set about bringing in his own staff. In fact, the staff at the academy had grown on a massive scale. He brought in a head of recruitment. Someone that didn’t work there all the time and evidently had been running a boys club Crown and Manor in north London. He was never formally introduced, he just appeared and at one point was walking around the pitches and we didn’t even know who he was. Just a guy in casual clothes and a ruck sack but he was always talking to Richard so we guessed he had that autonomy. He never wore QPR clothes. Something Richard later boasted was something good about him. I wasn’t so sure. I like the idea of professionalism. More staff arrived, one was unconnected to Richard but seven new coaches and a whole team of scouts under Frank were quickly and gradually integrated in different roles in the academy. They mostly had links to working with the crown and manor boys club in north London or Spurs. New people are great but what happened next was a clear divide in staff. I remember being asked to go to a meeting and a table of people were completely new yet they were never introduced. Richard sat with them and they talked and whispered throughout the meeting. Why they were never introduced I don’t know. Terry O’Sullivan was moved into a lesser role and eventually out of the club.
I was really fortunate to be buddied up with a great lad Stephen McCarthy. He works at the club in the community and is a really smashing guy. He was an excellent coach and a great person. Great with the kids to. I also loved that he was ‘QPR’. He knew all the surrounding area and many of the players that came in. I made it clear to him that to me the titled ‘Lead Coach’ meant nothing. Perhaps only that I’ll take the flack for anything that was wrong. But it doesn’t mean he’s here to watch me coach and be my ‘GoFor’ or the ‘BBC’ man. I see that role of one of responsibility to help the assistant coach learn. Its not a threat to me. I want to see him progress. We agreed that we would alternate sessions. That was great because he is a very good coach and very grounded. I actually learned a lot from him to. Later I had another good coach Dean who is young and enthusiastic and so keen to progress. I good lad, hes now moved on. Actually that poor lad was another one that spent a long time preparing for another job that was clearly already assigned to someone else. Another good candidate who was another coach applied but he had his interview moved onto a day that he already said he could not do. Anyway, relationships like this were a great distraction from the traps and banana skins that were be set for us.
Money was being spent on advertisement boards and booklets. Actually I have to commend the investment in medical and S&C. To me that was class! We were also going through the transition to EPPP and these people I felt had interpreted it badly. They weren’t player centric. To me they were too ruthless. Richard Allen was unapproachable, there were clicky gangs, people felt nervous. There was serious doubt about the integrity of the whole thing. Most of all, I was uncomfortable about the way these guys handled the players. To me that lacked experience in that department and most of all empathy. These are young human beings not puppy greyhounds. I cringed at the way some of the players were treated and spoken to.
We had a big meeting about everything academy. Everyone was there. Including the now brave faced Steve. Who by the way never said one negative word about any person or what had happened to him. In that meeting they spoke about how they were going to recruit players and how to handle real talent. I remember thinking, hang on, Fitz is in the room and he coached Raheem Stirling. Steve is in the room and he coached him more than anyone and overseen his development. At the time if you went on the Premier League youth website Raheem was the image you were presented with. The flagship example. They never once asked them two guys to stand up. Ask them what they thought, did they have anything they could share that we could learn from? It’s like they’re scared to admit that before all this money, something great happened, before you got here under difficult ownership, the club had success. Instead we are now being presented to by people who, with respect, have a fraction or no experience. Later an email was circulated saying we are going to ‘smash the perception that QPR only recruits posh players from Surrey’. This was a ludicrous statement. Raheem and probably 90% of the original players were not ‘Posh kids from Surrey’. Even so, if there was a ‘posh kid from surrey’, that was class, should he not be recruited? These attacks were unjustified and continued through the year. I was accused of not giving trialist a chance, was another example. In response I wrote a correspondence to Richard Allen. This was an absolute insult to me. I always want to give people a chance, but also want to give the lads already there the best chance. I felt this was more about making way for lads that affect the percentage of players brought in to make the reports look better. For me, I’ve got too much integrity for that. This formed one of the biggest issues I had. How can you sleep at night signing a player who you know will not make the grade? You’re taking him out of school, giving him a dream, his parents and family are over the moon. But you know he won’t make it, but it makes your numbers look better and bonuses start flowing.
For me I will not bend on this. If I was in charge of an academy I would be clear. When I look a player in the eye and tell him were signing him, it will be because I think he has a genuine chance. I’m taking you out of school which has a lifetime impact on you. When I look the parents in the eye it’s because I genuinely think he has a chance and I will care for him and be honest with him. We owe that to you the parents. I certainly won’t do it to meet my performance targets and my bonus. If I don’t meet them, I’ll explain to the chairman, ‘that’s because I want a player for the first team’. Not a short term fix by way of a spreadsheets and percentages. I can’t live with myself by bluffing you to keep my salary because I might destroy people’s lives in the process. If a player signs for me he’ll have earned it. If the chairman can’t live with that, sack me. Yet this club now seems to be jumping in with both feet with players who for me, are not at the level required.
Whilst the club embarked on EPPP it seemed that it had become obsessed with the data instead of the pitch. I’m actually behind many of the EPPP principles but at QPR it had focussed all around the data entry. But the quality on the pitch was failing. Both players and the coaching. The players coming in and signed (not all) but many were in my view unfairly signed. I say unfairly because of the effect long term. The coaching had also declined. We had a ‘skills coach’ who was meant to do a session on Saturdays. He would turn up late, take random players un prepared, then I’d watch and he was doing passing and receiving. I’d think, this guy is making it up as he goes along. They began to squeeze more and more hours in to the lads to meet EPPP requirements for level 2 but everyone and the players are part-time. The players were tired and they no longer had smiles on their faces. We had put in a new philosophy but I think the players were confused. There didn’t seem to be any consistency. For example, a player (now signed at another club U18) was told to improve his range of pass in a 6 week report meeting. It was all too ‘sideways and backwards’. The next week I watched him train as two age groups got together and played a game. He hit a 40 yard raking diagonal pass that the other full back missed and his winger brought down with his chest. If Paul Scholes hit that pass the MOTD team would be raving about it. The game was immediately stopped and he had strips tore off him. “That pass was too risky, the full back could have got that”. This was also a lad accused of having anger issues, is it any wonder?
I was now dreading coming to training. The ego on people was now off the scale. Some staff just refused to talk to you. They actually didn’t even talk to the players. I walked upstairs to the restaurant before training on one occasion and Glyn Hodges and Richard Allen were sitting on the sofa. As I walked around the corner, instead of saying Hi, they both got up and walked off. This was a regular thing I experienced. Another coach who was sitting there and seen what happened. He said to me, “Did that really just happen”? I said to him. “Don’t worry, I’m used to it now”. I just smiled. One thing I always tried to do was smile through it and laugh. In some ways it gave me comfort to know that whatever they chucked at me I could still smile and be happy. That also helped put me in the right frame of mind for coaching. There is nothing worse than watching a coach that’s had a bad day taking his or her mood on to the pitch. I see that in teachers as well and its such an ugly unfair appearance.
But every time I turned up for work they would find a way to have a dig. It was becoming a real drain. It wasn’t “Hello” or “How are you”. It was “Right, this is a problem, we need to look at”. The thing is, we as coaches were trying our best to accommodate change. Mainly under the EPPP transition. We were all working now seven days a week with the extra reporting and sessions. We were not offered any extra money but we were also not offered any thanks. I felt that we were steamrolling ahead and not considering the wellbeing of the players in the process. This was clear to me on many occasions. One lad was training on the ‘hockey’ pitch. A surface we were never satisfied with, especially for a ‘level 2’ academy. We always feared injury and one evening it happened. A lad went down with a what we thought could be a broken ankle. As coaches we all steamed into action. Coaches from various age groups quickly rallied and we called for medical. We catered for the surrounding areas, helped the medical team and ensured the safe swift care of the boy. The next coaching session we were called upstairs to a meeting before training. Something that had become a constant drain as we knew this was a moan time before we even got on to the pitch. The subject of the lad’s injury was the topic. We were told that Richard Allen was not happy that he didn’t know till later. I said to the so called Phase lead coach “If you think I’m going to call the head of academy before I call for medical help or an ambulance you can forget it. He’s more concerned about being embarrassed and losing face than the welfare of the child? At no point in this meeting have you actually said how the lad is, or what we did was good or what could we have done better”. These examples were mounting and we were completely disillusioned. To be an Academy coach you must have enjoyment your-self. You have to love what you do because lets be fair, this job with new EPPP requirements had become a £1.74 per hour job. So, you have to love what you do, yet we were under constant attack. We were only ever communicated to in a negative way. At the time I wasn’t sure whether this was vindictive or simply naivety in management of people from these new staff who simply lacked leadership experience.
Having said that, you don’t need experience to just be civil and polite to people. If I ignore someone I am really conscious of doing that and makes me extremely uneasy, I can’t do it. Yet these people had it down to a tee. Or perhaps it was just the way they are as personalities? Myself and another Coach again decided that we would approach them. We asked for a meeting to discuss issues and we met Richard Allen and Glyn Hodges. I was actually surprised at Richard Allen. He listened and actually said he was also learning and would try to change. He acknowledged my remarks about scouts being at games and no-one knows who they are. Glyn didn’t really speak, I had the feeling he actually just wanted to throw me out the window. The EPPP was looming so a piece of me thought that Richard was simply buying time and didn’t need a mass walk out. Either way, in my mind, I always thought about what Steve would want. Although we didn’t have contact with him anymore he would want us to do what’s best for the players and QPR. Not for these people or even ourselves. I then bumped into Marc Bircham in the car park and he echoed my thoughts. “Tell all the coaches to forget what these guys are doing and get them to pull together for QPR”. So, I cascaded a message around the staff. “C’mon guys, let’s do everything we can to get the club through the audit”. My view was there are so many issues at the club that could be uncovered. What I don’t want, is the club failing the EPPP on my behalf. Despite what they were doing to us I won’t let them pin that on me. So I set about spending every spare minute I had making sure all the PMA (Premier League Data and record system) was up to date and that all our coaching and records were tip top. On the day of the audit I had planned everything perfectly. The match preparation was spot on. In the game I ensured the auditors listened to my team talk to ensure they heard me deliver the clubs ‘philosophy’. All the coaches did the same, we all pulled together for QPR. In fact the strange thing was, on that day everything was professional. It was like living with an abusive family that had guests. Because all these people that had completely disregarded us and bullied us were now smiling, laughing and talking to us. Someone asked me how it went. I said, “Yes it was great, but why can’t it be like this every week”? I just don’t know why these people could not be straight with people, be nice. I had run companies before and I know that being nice to people gets you so much more in return. These guys were seemingly disregarding anyone that was a previous member of staff. We never got any formal feedback after EPPP audit. No thanks either.
I’ve been to many clubs training grounds over the years and I pick up on everything. For example I remember being in reception at Carrington and seeing first-hand the level of respect Ryan Giggs had for the receptionist. So, it’s not all about scale, size and structure. Clearly some clubs clearly have a people philosophy as well as a playing philosophy.
On match days in the Academy every club has a ‘host’. Someone who shows people where to go, gets people tea etc. QPR have a guy called Steve Bacon. (I renamed him Mr Bacon to show respect) He is a lifetime fan of the club. When we travelled abroad to tournaments he would ask me to bring back any programs for him and I always did. He’s also someone that had undergone major surgery and a top man. I ensured all my players shook his hand and said hello to him. Also the kit lady Dee, “say hello to her, this lady washes all your grubby kits, don’t ignore her”. After a game I would make sure we would clean the dressing room, why should we leave it all for him to sort out? Because it’s his job? Hang on, show this guy some respect. When you get off the bus, say thanks to the driver, yes he’s doing a job, but he’s a human being. This guy Mr Bacon would trudge across 3 pitches in wind and rain just to get someone a cup of tea. I seen him there in this rubbish old QPR jacket that didn’t even zip up. I asked him “Mr Bacon, where’s your new jacket”? “Its ok Tone, I asked but they said no, they haven’t got any”. I was shocked, hang on, there is a container 50 yards over there which is stacked to the roof with kit. Including jackets, even last seasons. Why not give the guy a comfortable jacket. He’s served the club so well. We should put people like him in front of all the staff, players and parents and give him a thank you card a signed shirt and a round of applause. No, no longer at QPR. We don’t even keep him warm and ignore him. This isn’t football as I know it. I said I would bring him something from home but then I think Terry O’Sullivan had heard and gave him his own Jacket.
My lad was a signed player at QPR but believe me he was not shown any favours. I never asked for any either. In fact in the end I asked for him to be released as I knew that despite all the positive comments from people, he was regular skipper and I’d had top football people say good things. But I knew he would never stand a chance here because of who he was. I also wanted him to get a proper education then come back to football at a club that doesn’t have the politics and issues. I wasn’t the only person to have a son at the club. There were several key people. Without talking about players individually, some I would say had a chance, some perhaps didn’t but, these players have all in some way been targeted by this management team. What I never understood is, why could they not show these people respect? If you’ve got Gerry Francis around, I think, if you’ve got an issue, you ask him to come into the office and you speak to him face to face about his boy. Surely he deserves that? Instead they deliberately set about getting all these players out. But there is a ‘way’. I think this was fear. Fear of these peoples calibre that were walking around and in some cases like Gerry Francis, an absolute legend as a QPR player/manager and someone connected with proper football people at the highest level. Was that why they targeted Kevin Gallen as well? To me, like Kevin, I wanted to learn from Gerry. To me he was a lovely approachable guy. Again, no ego. I can only learn from this guy. I would call him and he never once rejected my call. He also never tried to ‘interfere’. He would always be in the background but I knew I could approach him whenever I wanted and he was always a delight to speak to. Yet others ignored him and in my view handled the situation with his son appallingly. Marc Bircham had two lads there and of course Marc is a big character. Again, not handled well and not shown the respect he deserved. At every training session we had Dennis Wise there watching. Again I was amazed. Have we asked this guy to get involved? Maybe would he even talk to the kids? But to me he was just rejected. I can only think this was fear of who he was. To me it was the opposite. Again he was approachable, always polite, smiling and happy to talk football. Often he would share some views about development and what he felt would help. I enjoyed picking his brain. When I was at Luton I used to sit on the bus opposite Dimitri Kharine. As well as stories about his pregnant hamster he also occasionally came out with words of wisdom. Especially sitting on the bench. He might be a goalkeeper but he would spot things. He was always peeling an orange and whilst doing that he would nudge me and just say “That’s a problem”. He’d spot things.
I don’t see why people see that as a threat. When I was in business I wanted to surround my self with the highest calibre people as possible. I didn’t see that as a threat to my position. Also, these people, me included never asked for any special favours. I didn’t need any, my lad could have gone elsewhere but as I was at QPR it was of course convenient and he had been exposed to Steve Gallen’s training. But football is about opinions, if genuine, the least we could expect would be people to be straight with you? I think we all deserved that.
I was told David Beckham’s son was coming in. People might not believe me but I really wasn’t bothered. The guy that rang me was like a star struck school kid but to me, he’s just another player. I was asked by a reporter in the street who stopped my car if I was his coach. I read the script. “Look, the answer is yes, but that is as far as it goes. The only people I will talk about Brooklyn to will be the club officials and his parents. That’s no different to the rest of the lads in my squad”. But seeing the change of behaviour in people makes me cringe. I don’t know what it is in me that doesn’t really do the star thing. Brooklyn to me was just another player and I tried to integrate him and make him feel relaxed about playing and training with us. Plus Ive got kids his age, I take responsibility for the affect we have on all the kids and have empathy for their emotions. Maybe that’s the parent in me. Occasionally his Dad would turn up to watch. To me, a humble polite guy. Why wouldn’t he be I guess. I actually was really gutted though on one occasion when it turned into a bit of a circus. I think that lacked class. I think I would have got each coach to speak to the players about the situation. My lads were guided by the way I treated Brooklyn and therefore they did the same. But seeing QPR lads in kit rush around David for photos and autographs disappointed me. Maybe that’s me being harsh. But a football training ground should be a leveller for stars and we are taking these players down that road. They should be happy in the company of former top players and household names. Maybe show him the respect he deserves, offer to shake his hand and say hi. I’d seen that behaviour in Germanys in academies. Maybe then he could have walked across the pitch and shared some wisdom.
Later in this episode I’d turned up to training as normal. When I arrived I was told I had to go upstairs. “Why”? I was told I had to catch up on the PMA system as they needed it done by the next day. I was not convinced by this but as always I just did as I was told. Although, why not tell me that earlier because I’ve wasted 2 hours on the road getting here and that could be 2 hours extra working I could have had at home. I text my coaching partner Dean and asked if he was here and to pop and see me so I can talk about the session only for him to appear upstairs. “What are you doing here? Who’s coaching and looking after the kids?” He told me he also had been sent upstairs to do PMA. I was shocked and asked well who’s coaching? He said Glyn and other senior staff were taking it. This was a surprise as this had never happened before. I looked out the window and could see the senior guys now delivering a high tempo session next to the car park. Within 10’ I recognised one of the cars facing the session. David Beckham’s.
I would never speak openly about individual players but overall the standard was pretty good. I had however tried to bring a player in. A lad that had broken goal scoring records in local football. But it was blocked, he has now signed elsewhere. Yet other players being brought in were in my view, overall not at the level required. That’s not to say never, but most should be at a development centre stepping stone being prepared. But I was being forced to play players and I had no control. I was worried for some of the existing players because I felt some were far better but like the staff, they seemed to be squeezed out to get numbers in that looks better on a report. Under my direction we had gone to level 1 academies West Ham and Spurs and won. (Spurs may have fielded many younger players) Of course that is not the main development criteria. But at 14 upwards its reality. There is nothing wrong in my view with wanting to win. This is going to be your livelihood and one which is dependent on results. We weren’t smashing the ball up the pitch. We had played well in tight areas and won against two excellent academies. Later and not long before I gave up, we went to Arsenal. In this game my hand was forced. I was told I had to bring and play certain trialist despite me saying openly they were not ready. Also, Arsenal was not the place for their first game. I went and did as I was asked and tried as always to set up professionally. I’d noticed a group of people behind the goal. These were a group of the new scouts. To me, why were they there? Surely on a Sunday morning they should be out scouting? The jigsaw started to come together and I could see why I was told to bring these players. It was a complete disaster. We were miles off that level and conceded 24 goals. In 18 years coaching I have never been so humiliated and my heart went out to the guys. Registered and non-registered. They were completely destroyed. This wasn’t because we were trying to play out from the back so a development learning objective or some other key learning experience. We had destroyed the confidence of those boys and we engineered it. We set them up for failure. The year before I had matched Arsenal and they scored late on to win 2-1 and the year before that at 14’s was a 4-2 win and a draw. We now were on a level of a grass roots result. A cricket score you expect if Man Utd played a Sunday team. During the game Arsenal were also ruthless, they never let up and the coach was still pushing right to the end. Is he wrong? After the game Nick Dawes spoke to the lads. “I know we got beat lads, but look how far we’ve come”. These lads might be 14 but they are not stupid. He should have apologised for exposing them to that situation. What could they have possibly gained from it?
At the earlier Spurs game I was accused of not taking trialist to the game. However, I told this massive group of players that we would decide on the Saturday morning who to take. Several of the trialist had not turned up and made no contact. What does it tell you about a player if he knows he could potential play spurs at that great facility yet doesn’t turn up on the Saturday and doesn’t call or text? There was no way I was going to chase them. Yet I was told I was wrong and I wasn’t happy about that. These were low standards and messages to send to players. I always like to set good standards and the lads must show the drive and hunger. Being a top athlete isn’t a stroll. Im also very sympathetic to background issues and restrictions. This wasn’t the case here.
Since then it is my opinion that the lads are so low on confidence overall and I’m not convinced players are signed with the right motive. I think this can be seen in the current 18’s squad. Those poor guys are now paying the price of this episode. What surprised me with that was how they were selected. Steve Gallen has something like 5 wins in 7 seasons at youth alliance level with many players now earning a living. He has since gone on to get the 21’s doing well when you consider what they are up against. But last year I seen Steve and tripped him by asking about his involvement in selecting the scholars. It’s to my knowledge that Steve was not asked one question about his opinion of who should be signed. I find that absolutely shocking that you could have that experience on the payroll and not deem his opinion of value. But coaches with 1 year experience, recent community coaches, skills coaches and guys from a community boys club are asked. If I was in charge, yes I have my view, but I would embrace all the knowledge I had at my disposal.
I wrote to the management team. I asked to meet them about the comment made to me about not integrating trialist. This was such an insult. Ask any coach that worked with me what I did to make them feel welcome in a nerve racking environment. I also had no incentive not to welcome them. This was more about them wanting me to just agree about certain players in order for them to sign them. I will never do that. I have to be honest. But I know my place, I would of course work my hardest with whatever players are standing in front of me. We had one lad train with us and that night the floodlights failed. In that short time they had seen enough and took him upstairs and signed him. I questioned it and was told. Yes, but it makes the numbers look better in an audit. We are taking this lad out of school? Giving him a dream, to make numbers look better for us? That doesn’t sit well with me and I wrote to the club and told them. I was also concerned about the way in which we were releasing players. Not a nice process and some parents of course get confrontational and at times we get it wrong. I accept that. But this was always something I took seriously. Shattering a young person’s dreams is not something I enjoy one bit. Now the process was being disregarded. This was a rare occasion where you won’t find me laughing and joking but ironically, others were. I wondered if they actually cared. Some even seem to enjoy it, like it was an expression of power.
I wrote again to the club in March 2013. It was again fed back to me that the recruitment guy had a meeting with foundation coaches and made detrimental comments about the U14’s. This was an ongoing thing but I was convinced they were trying to get me out of the club to make way for others. I also asked for commitment about next season as of course, I could start to look for a new club.
I’d returned in the summer of 2013 and things were worse than ever. It was clear now that my son was now being targeted by the club. Richard Allen had never spoken two words to him so he was also ignored. So we asked for him to be released. On this occasion they agreed instantly. After that he played for QPR, skipper again. He walked off the pitch late on having been subbed and went to shake the coaches’ hand and the coach turned his back on him. If he had spat at an opponent, kicked someone in the face or told the Ref to F*ck off, I could understand that. But instead he had run his heart out as always. That was the final straw. I then resigned on November 17th. I couldn’t take the childish behaviour anymore. I told them that if they had just released my lad in the professional way as they just didn’t want him that would have been fine. Instead they kept him on and tortured him to get to me. He was in the top 4 physically, had lots of positive comments from ex pros, including a superstar in Europe. He attended every training session and applied himself, he always gave everything and that was other people talking. Yet his coach never said “well done” in one whole year! The only conclusion was that he was targeted to affect his Dad. Yet what did his dad do wrong? What did so many of the staff do wrong? I told them not to hang my resignation on the ‘disgruntled parent’ hook. I had already asked my lad to be released twice. Also, we wanted him to go back to school. The other peg to go for would be ‘doesn’t like change’. This would be ridiculous. I work in change. I wanted things to be better. Better people and better facilities. If I was a taxi driver with a Vauxhall Chevette would I turn down the offer of a new Mercedes? Of course not, but the downside would be this Mercedes would contain some of the biggest Ego’s you could come across and every time your backs turned they will be filing the brake pipes. In that scenario I would tell you to keep your Mercedes. I detailed in my letter that I was unhappy with the way they disregarded the impact they were having on children’s lives. If I was in charge my first question on the evaluation should be “Did I make the kids smile tonight”? What I could see was children that had become miserable and under so much pressure it was uncomfortable to watch and I didn’t want to be part of it anymore. Near the end I watched a 16s game against Bristol Rovers. QPR had 12 staff in or around the dugout. Bristol had 3 and were the better team and ran out winners. I’d seen the same group go to Brentford, they were set up for failure. I really felt for the guys, they were devoid of all confidence and belief.
The next day after resigning I wrote a separate email to the chairman. I told the chairman what was happening. I even told him that after Kevin Gallens treatment he had re-applied for another job. He got asked to come to an interview and deliver a session. Someone else also came and he was also excellent. The lads coached told me and said they were both excellent. After that he was told he didn’t get the job, it was awarded to Nick Dawes, who never delivered a demo session. I don’t think he had an interview either. So why put Kevin through it? Or the other guy? They later said he didn’t have an A licence, well don’t you cross that off the list before you bring him in and humiliate him for a job already clearly assigned to someone else? Is that the way you treat your former servants? Was Nikki Butt treated like that at Man Utd? Is that the way to treat anybody?
I heard back from the Chief Executive Philip Beard who requested to meet me. I had a three page document with bullet points of what had gone on. I didn’t need them. The meeting went well and I truly believed that he was going to act on it. I suggested he speak to staff. Ask them how things are. Tell them there is no retribution. He thanked me and asked me to meet Richard Allen. That was arranged and I again went to Loftus Road and I told Richard to his face with Mark Donnely. Again, that meeting went well and I was convinced that things would get better for the players and staff. I’d sacrificed myself but maybe the young lads would now get a better chance. I also met separately with HR and told her very openly about what was going on.
However as we approach nearly a year later things have been still very strained. I have wrote a lot about EPPP and the affects but I guess much of this was the way QPR interpreted it. A lot of people have been very badly treated, good people as well. I wrote to the Chairman again in April to tell him how frustrated I was that nothing has really changed, possibly got worse. I actually believed I could solve issues for QPR. I would rid the club of ego and bullshit. Go back to the core values of QPR but with added facilities and structure. I’d make sure players ‘wanted’ to come to QPR because as well as great facilities, we have great people. I believe firmly that you can have a modern club, modern facilities, modern thinking, work within EPPP guidelines but also players and staff that can also enjoy the process. My vision would be to imagine players desperate to get to training because they love it. Staff desperate to get there because it’s so rewarding. I offered to speak to him privately but he never replied.
Since then I see Richard Allen is moving to the FA to join Mike Rigg. To me that is like the abuser’s joining the social services or the police. This perhaps is systematic of our games downfall. This is the organisation telling us all how to do it. Glyn Hodges has re-joined Mark Hughes and Nick Dawes has left to head back north. So it’s time to sift through the wreckage I guess and look for survivors.
If it were me I would start my process of hiring with good people. That is the core of everything and the greatest thing about kids is, like animals they are rubbish at lies. When you try to be nice to them just because people are watching, you can see it in their eyes. Just like a dog, if he doesn’t like you, you’ll know about it. This was evident at QPR in that spell.
10-A year on 2014/15
Now I see again QPR have took another massive swing to another set of leaders. The good thing I can see is that these are ‘football people’. I don’t know Les Ferdinand from Adam so of course I have no view of him but I have certainly heard great things about his colleague Chris Ramsay. I sincerely hope these guys set about re instating a player centric Academy and I’m sure they will spot the bluffers and move them on, saving QPR from yet another whirlwind. The first of its kind to reach a youth level.
From the chairman’s perspective, I hope he realises that PowerPoint and Posters don’t produce players. Good People do and some of them are, and were right under his nose at a fraction of the cost. I can only judge things based on what I have seen and to me the Chairman was a good man. Mostly in football these guys have a thankless task. Only one team can win the league and the rest fight for the scraps & survival. I genuinely believe that Mr Fernandes has good intentions but he won’t like me saying that many believe (me included) that he has had his pants pulled down. It’s time for him to wade through the arse kissers and look for real solid good ‘people’ that can properly cement the future of QPR. They might be the guys at the back of the room, not up front. I think he and the club also need to place a great deal more importance on individuals that are coaching in the academy. Maybe the whole of football does? Let’s face it, a phase lead coaches salary is ridiculously low and in some clubs you can clearly see that you get what you pay for. A part-time coach is on less than the minimum wage. That can’t be right? The most important asset of a football club is its players. Unless you simply decide to throw money away, you simply go buy them but for a club like QPR a free spending chairman is no longer the solution with the FFP rules. So to me that means the academy players must be high on the list of the most important assets of the club? Who is closest to them? Who has most contact with them? Who therefore has the most influence on their development? So, surely you would take care who you afford this responsibility to. You would then reward them and make them feel valued. I certainly don’t think that means anyone of a thousand people could just jump into the role. Its not McDonalds or a factory floor pressing buttons.
I’m now doing a bit of coaching and scouting for someone that has recognised my abilities in the past. I know there are great clubs out there and also great people. I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. Like most, football is my passion. A football pitch is where I’m most at home. But the game sometimes frustrates me. Top down and bottom up. I see all these variations of courses the FA deliver, many great ones but what good are they if the guy who sits at the front writing notes all the way through then is the guy shouting abuse at a player? It’s like getting your driving licence. That doesn’t automatically make you a good driver and many abuse the roads and disregard safety.
As a governing body the FA needs to start leading by example. Pound for pound it has to be one of the globes most underperforming organisations. Yes, its taken strides in grass roots recently and many courses are valuable. It’s trying to combat bottom up issues and to me those changes look good. But top down it’s a disaster. We have no synergy or consistency. I listen to many debates about the problems and then we talk about Germany, how they do it, before it was Spain and Tikka Takka. Before that it was Brazil.
The FA needs to be more humble, a failing schools leaders don’t go round other schools advising. The achieving schools leaders do. If putting an England badge on your chest makes you think you’re at the pinnacle of your career and everyone admires you than your wrong. But it does mean you’ve got responsibility. You’re working for our governing body top down and you should lead by example. So please, hoof your Ego over the hedge and roll your sleeves up. I’ve met some great people in the FA like Rob Munroe, a real guy, real knowledge, real personality, no ego. We need more of him.
To me football is simple. I see Scotland doing better at the moment and I think, have they instantly improved the development process? Have the players they had suddenly got better? Or do they have an enjoyable environment with togetherness and confidence? That’s what Gordon Strachan brings. ‘It’s ok to enjoy football and your surrounding’s at any level’ that’s why I would take the young crop to the Euro’s. Let them practice 3/4/5 games together and get to know each other better. Elsewhere, further down in the FA I would set about internal presentations about EGO. What does it look like and how can we rid it from our development game. I would go to clubs at all levels, with a BLANK presentation and ask them all what they think of the FA and fill it in. Let them guide the future of the FA. After all, like the BBC or the NHS. TheFA is the Peoples. It should be called, The PEOPLES FA. It belongs to the football community. I would embark on clear and balanced recruitment policies to ensure we have the right values attached to the right talent. I would look at the coaching certificates and investigate in depth why the cost is somewhere near 10 times the cost of the same qualification elsewhere in Western Europe. Finally, I would pat Nick Levett on the back and ensure he has a good team to advance development of grass roots but assist in supporting people from all backgrounds to participate in football. 3G pitches look great. The kids with no money can benefit from rebound practice off the 12’ fence. They need access to them.
My criteria for any coach delivering football or fiitball for us is simple. Knowledge, yes we need knowledge, quality learning and development. But every session remember our 4xE’s.
Enjoyment, Enthusiasm, Empathy and Energy.
That is the cornerstone to simply enable the knowledge to be shared and delivered.