Terence Blacker: A touch of Sicilian wouldn't come amiss in football

There are no prizes for niceness or sportsmanship in football; it is the most nakedly competitive sport
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is always a difficult moment in January when the window opens, other richer families add to their wealth and comfort, while your own huddles miserably in the front room, hoping merely to survive the long, cold month. The fact that, while the window is open, you are also likely to be dumped humiliatingly out of the FA Cup by some miserable gimcrack outfit, Swansea or something called Vauxhall Motors FC, adds to the general misery.

Yes, the family is football. There will be readers who find embarrassing the idea that a team of 11 men kicking a ball could have emotional or psychological significance, can make the weekend brighter or greyer, but what a deprived, emotionally suppressed bunch they are. Being a fan adds to life's colour and passion.

As for the window, it is a ghastly recent invention which limits the buying and selling of players to one hectic month during the season. Under the old system, the smaller clubs whose glory days are in the past or in dreams could survive by a bit of ducking and diving in the transfer market, buying or borrowing from other teams' players who were out of form or favour, were too young or too old. It was part of the skill of management.

The new arrangement, "the transfer window", involves a month of frenzied negotiation, a system which, as is now traditional in British football, favours large, moneyed outfits over those, like Queens Park Rangers, whose balance sheet invariably contains more red ink than black.

The weeks before the transfer window opens are usually marked by gloomy rumours, and this year for QPR has been no exception. The club has had a bad run of owners. There were some people called Thompson who, I was once told by the chief executive answerable to them, treated the business of football like a farmer treats land: if there is more profitable acreage up the road, they will be on their way.

After they had left, there was the fan-chairman Chris Wright, who enjoyed himself while we were doing well but who was so upset when some fans were rude to him during a game against Fulham that he went into a terminal sulk and eventually sold up.

The club where I have spent many happy, agonising afternoons and evenings in the past has now been described in the press as "the strangest club in the league". Its manager, the brilliant and inspirational Ian Holloway is a much-quoted master of the bizarre sound bite. Last year, after he had been in hospital and was asked about his health, he replied: "My arms withered and my body was covered with pus-like sores, but no matter how bad it got I consoled myself by remembering that I wasn't a Chelsea fan."

The man who is now chairman, Gianni Paladini, is an Italian-born former footballers' agent who was alleged to have had a gun held to his head by a fellow director in the boardroom before a game earlier in the season.

Frankly, these sound like more my kind of people. A joke at the expense of Chelsea is always worth telling and Gianni hardly sounds like a man who will sulk or go running after other clubs.

All the same, the pre-window predictions have been as grim as ever this year. With their usual horrendous debts, QPR would have to sell, it was reported. Even our mighty defender Danny Shittu was likely to be on his way. Then suddenly, wonderfully, other stories began to circulate. Our troubles could be over. Funds were on their way. Some kind of takeover, involving a Sicilian-based conglomerate, was being negotiated.

It was only a rumour in the wind, of course, but, like many Rangers fans, I have found that it has helped to concentrate my mind significantly. Without wishing to be judgmental in any way, the idea of a takeover by a Sicilian conglomerate brings with it the faintest niggle of concern. Is it possible that the club that has done so much to bring the family back to football is about to introduce a new and brutal kind of family values?

I like it. I hope that the gossip is true. The management of football has always, after all, been a rough and ready business. It is part of its charm. One of QPR's greatest players, Stan Bowles, was famous for the story that, having signed a sponsorship deal for two separate football boot manufacturers, he was planning to play a game in odd boots. The most successful manager in our history, Terry Venables, is also famous for having been disqualified from holding company directorships.

So if there is a Sicilian interest, it will be nothing but a good thing. There are no prizes for niceness or good sportsmanship in football; it is the most nakedly competitive and capitalist of sports. QPR's neighbours and rivals are bankrolled by those two upright members of the business community, Mohamed Fayed and Roman Abramovich. If, by some miracle, we are able to match them pound for grubby pound and regain once more our place among the princes of the Premiership, I cannot find it in my heart to be disapproving. What are a few horses' heads when it comes down to getting those all-important three points on a Saturday afternoon?

So maybe, during this transfer window, other clubs should stop laughing at us. Talking of windows, it could just be that their manager will find himself hanging out of one by his heels if he doesn't agree to do a little business with us. It's time for a bit of respect, if you know what I mean.

Terblacker@aol.com

Comments