The Promised land or a false dawn? By Dave West
Here we are in 2013 and the FA Premier League has been with us now for almost 21 years. There is no doubting that it has become the biggest football league in the world in those 21 years with now around 600 million people watching in over 200 countries every weekend waiting to be entertained by 20 teams who own some of the world’s best players. It has generated billions of pounds by ensuring that TV companies battle it out each season to be able to show the games live as well as all the sponsorship that comes with football now. Each club gets a slice of this money which then enables them to buy better players or improve the infrastructure of the club.
Roughly 730,000 of the 600 million people worldwide watching are the loyal English supporters of the 20 Premier League clubs who attend the matches each week. To the majority of these fans it is essential that their season ticket is purchased without fail. To some the cost is not an issue, to others they will have saved up to make sure they have their seat for the next season. For many though, it will be a struggle or near impossible to be able to afford a season ticket. For those whose club has been promoted to the Premier League it could mean a lot worse. Now it would be easy to moan about the cost of season tickets in this country but I feel the hardship goes a lot deeper than just a ticket price.
I’ve followed my club for around 35 years now. It’s a special part of my life. It goes back four generations in my family with my Great Grandfather having watched St. Judes play before the club eventually merged. My own kids are supporters. It’s just the done thing in my family. Now those 35 years have filled me with joy, heartache, shock, surprise and even grief but no matter where my team have been in the league structure I have been there. When it was announced that in 1992 we were to have a new top tier of English football I felt immensely proud that my team would be one of the founding members. When it started it felt great, amazing and fresh and with Sky’s coverage the whole experience of watching football took on a new level. The standard and style of football didn’t really change very much but the way it was covered by the TV and press made it seem better. Have you ever watched a Sky Sports advert on the TV promoting the Premier League? Next time you see one come on, really watch and listen. They are very clever, very clever indeed. With their editing, sound bites and razzmatazz they can make a dreary nil-nil seem like the greatest game in history. A pig and lipstick come to mind. When we were relegated it felt as though I had lost a great friend. It really hurt but after a while it became easier to deal with.
The next 15 years in the history of Queens Park Rangers football club were pretty much up and down if you pardon the pun. League 1 football with a trip to a play-off final in between and then promotion and then the merry go round of managers, owners, guns, Brazil legends, points deduction threat etc, etc, etc. The football in the lower leagues in England may not be the most skilful in the world but it’s certainly up there for excitement. It’s just great to watch. The football we had the pleasure to watch in the 2010-2011 season was brilliant and that includes the games we scraped by one goal. So after that Championship winning season we find ourselves at the end of the 2010/2011 season and promoted once again to what many call The Promised Land!
Now don’t get me wrong. I was excited, I was over the moon and I even shed a few tears at the Leeds game at season's end. It was what was about to happen at my club that was to change my feeling for the game and the Premier League. When I arrived in W12 for the first game of the season against Bolton Wanderers I sensed a feeling of apprehension. I couldn’t tell you why but it was just there. Looking back I think the fact we missed out on our open top bus parade had a lot to do with it. It didn’t feel like we had won the Championship in some way. Yet another kick in the teeth to our fans from the two clowns as they departed our club.
For years my Dad and I (and recently my boys) stood by the entrance to the match-day parking up by the Springbok pub and we would get autographs from the players and have a quick chat with them. It was a part of my match day that I really looked forward to. Imagine my surprise to be told that ALL players would now be parking at the school by the club shop. I wandered down and found myself looking at a stretch of barriers going from the school gates to the away supporter’s entrance!? What was this for? VIP’s? Club officials? No, this was for our players. Surely not? This didn’t feel right. I felt as though the players were being kept away from the fans that had supported them through the good, the bad and the downright awful times of the last 15 years. The Premier League and its rules were forcing a divide between the players and fans. How dare the hard working supporters who spend vast amounts of money each season to watch their heroes be allowed anywhere near them! Even the dug outs changed to a more sturdy structure just in case any young fan dared to ask for an autograph in the paddocks.
Gradually I started to see the changes appear of a club now in the Premier League. The rise in season tickets, memberships and match day prices; the influx of new and supposedly Premier League standard players; the rise of merchandise prices; and the changes and improvements to HQ. We also had a new saviour at our club. Tony Fernandes. Now right away I want to state that I like this guy and have a lot of respect for him. He saved my football club from a pair of clowns and yes they may have saved us from the abyss but they were clowns. My only criticism of Mr Fernandes is that he was a little bit naïve. He believed he was getting in the right people to ensure we stayed up and at best finished mid table. We all know how that first season back finished. Our two seasons back in the top flight left me feeling down and disillusioned and I felt that although the league was filled with world class players the standard of football was stale and clinical. Yes we failed to win a lot of games but this league had nothing compared to what I had been watching between 1992 and 2011. The whole atmosphere around Loftus road was down. Apart from the games against Arsenal and Liverpool at home that stand out, I felt as though our club had lost its heart. The draw and win against the little club in SW6 brought the sort of noise we have always been proud of as QPR fans but that couldn’t make up for those two seasons of pain.
Now here we are back in the Championship with the team only beaten once and sitting third in the league. Loftus road is once again a happy place to be. The Championship is now the FIFTH most watched football league in the world. We now have a great manager and more importantly a team who want to play for the shirt and the club. Things couldn’t be better as a QPR fan right now. So why do I have a little tinge of doubt in my mind? If we carry on playing as we have been we should be certain of the Promised Land once again. If you had a choice of one or two seasons in the Premier League not winning many games and hovering around the bottom three or playing Championship football every week where the football is proper English, tough tackling end to end stuff where every team can beat each other, which would you choose? I’m sure many would say the top flight because they believe that is where the club should be.
All I can say is… be careful what you wish for.