Neil Warnock: 'The relief was unbelievable. The players were in tears'
QPR manager Neil Warnock gives an exclusive and emotional account of how the FA hearing that threatened their promotion affected the club
Tuesday 10 May 2011
For QPR fans it will go down, I guess, as one of those "JFK moments", as in, "where were you when you heard?" I was in the tunnel at Loftus Road just around midday on Saturday. There were less than 45 minutes to kick-off in our final game against Leeds United. I'd just done a TV interview and was walking back to the dressing room when Terry Springett, one of our club's secretaries who's been involved in the case throughout, grabbed me. She was crying but she managed to blurt out "no points, two counts, both fines, they're announcing it any second now".
I gave her a kiss and rushed into the dressing room to tell the players, who were busy getting changed. The relief was unbelievable. They were all jumping up and down and hugging each other, half of them were in tears. I didn't realise just how much the threat of having points deducted, and losing our promotion, had affected the players until then. It was an amazing scene. I think everyone will remember it for the rest of their lives.
I know we had a game to play, but it seemed irrelevant. Nevertheless, I had to settle them down. I had a chat, thanked them all for what they had done in the season, and told them we had got what we deserved. Then I said: "We also have a game, if we go into it with the wrong attitude you might get injured. I don't want anyone injured for next season." Then we went into the referee's room to exchange team sheets. It's fair to say we and Leeds are not the best of buddies, as relations between clubs go, so it was funny when Richard Naylor, their captain, said "we'll give you a guard of honour", and I replied, "you won't be spitting on the floor in front of us, will you?" We all laughed, including the ref, Mark Clattenburg. His presence was another reason for being pleased at going up, next season we'll have top refs like Mark every week.
By kick-off, the players had calmed down a bit, but how they played the game I haven't a clue. The atmosphere in the ground was the same as in the dressing room. The news had spread like a Mexican wave. It lifted fans and players from trepidation to joy that we had rightfully gained Premier League status. I'm not surprised we lost, though we played quite well.
While the timing of the hearing has not been ideal, to say the least, I don't think the Football Association had any choice. In a case like this it had to be thorough and judge it on all the facts. I know it took our lawyers a while to gather all the evidence. I just wish everyone was so thorough and patient. I have been disappointed by comments from some other clubs, who appear to be judging the case by some of the wilder newspaper reports. Swansea City, having said they will accept the verdict, are now talking about contesting it. They seem to have changed their mind since climbing from fourth to third. Funny that.
I don't want to fall out with them because they're a great club with a superb stadium, wonderful fans, and a very promising young manager, but I don't think people should comment until they know all the facts. When they do, I'm sure they'll realise the commission reached the right verdict.
I first heard about the situation months ago and, while it is only a few weeks since charges were laid, the issue seems to have been hanging over us all season. Obviously I've felt sorry for Ali Faurlin, whose transfer and contract they revolved around. He's a lovely lad, but he must have felt responsible. The lads ribbed him a bit, that's what footballers are like, and he took it well, but deep down it must have been hard. I saw him say a prayer as he went on the pitch, which spoke volumes to me. In the circumstances, he's done ever so well to keep his form, they all have.
Personally, I've been convinced we would be OK ever since I sat down with our barrister, Ian Mill. He spent an hour going through all the charges, why and so on, and satisfied everything I wanted to know. In his opinion we had breached a couple of regulations and we would be fined for both, but there would be no points deduction whatsoever. I trusted him because he knew his stuff, and he was also independent of the club.
It was still very hard dealing with the next few weeks, what with it being right near the end of the season. There was some terrible scaremongering from people who should know better, and ridiculous headlines from people who never do, and didn't know any facts. The Sun headline, that we would be docked 15 points, was scandalous as we couldn't reply. There were no facts in it at all other than a "source" within the FA. That "source", if he ever existed, obviously had no idea about the evidence in the case, as was proven when the headline was shown to be spectacularly wrong.
But no one knew that for certain at the time and the players were distraught. It was the day of the royal wedding, and we were due to train in the afternoon before travelling to Watford.
When I arrived at the training ground, Keith Curle, my coach, came over to me in the car park and said, "Gaffer, we've got a bit of a problem. I've not seen them as low as this. They are rock bottom. They want us to get someone to speak to them."
I went inside and sat them down. I said, "You have to trust me. I've spoken to the main man and it'll be OK. You have got to get out of this mode and not use it as an excuse. We have to put this aside and get a result at Watford. Stop messing about with these draws [we'd drawn our previous three matches]. Just focus on that."
They did, and they won. I was very proud of them that afternoon. One of the papers said it wasn't convincing. If the reporter had known what the lads had been through, he would have thought it a remarkable performance.
Now for next season. I've been meeting all week with the playing staff, and expect to meet the owners tomorrow to look at budgets and so on. That's the nature of football management, you enjoy success when it comes, you have to because there are plenty of difficult times, but all too soon you are planning for the next challenge.
Read Neil Warnock's regular column in 'The Independent' on Saturday
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