Tony Fernandes

‘QPR: Four Year Plan’ documented the chaos at the club before Tony Fernandes bought the club. Fan Anthony Hassan fills in the gaps and looks ahead to a new style of Management.

On the 18th August 2011 Tony Fernandes completed his takeover of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, having bought Bernie Ecclestone’s 66% shares of the club to become the majority shareholder. He was also named as the Chairman of QPR Holdings Ltd. Finally, a welcome change after four years of chaos.

The previous regime, under the control of Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone, had started off as a dream come true for fans. They had bought into the club at a time when the club was under threat of no longer existing, clearing all the club’s debts and leaving the club in a much healthier financial position then it had been for many years. But this great feeling of togetherness didn’t last. There was soon little stability both on and off the pitch and it became clear that the Owners were also having an input into the team as we went through a stage of going through 10 different managers (some on a caretaker basis) in under 3 years.

Eventually, towards the end of the 2009-2010 season Flavio Briatore stepped down from his position as Chairman of QPR Holdings Ltd, because of pressure put on him from fans, and the media after his dismissal from F1 and the charges he faced from the F1 governing body. We were led to believe that Flavio no longer had any say in the dealings with the club and as Amit Bhatia, from the Mittal Group, was appointed Chairman, the change in the running of the club was evident right away.

After winning promotion back to the Premier League after a 15 year wait as Champions in the 2010-2011 season, there was great euphoria around the club. It had been a long time coming for us fans, and it was an emotional time. Under the guidance of Bhatia, Neil Warnock and his management team, it was an unlikely feat was made possible. But that feeling of euphoria was short lived. With many fans expecting some sort of parade of the team, plans did not materialise, with the club citing costs as the issue. This was to be the first sign of Flavio again having some form of control of the club.

It became apparent that he in fact still had major dealings with the club, and that him and Ecclestone were both still majority shareholders. This was then further indicated when the ticket pricing structure was announced. The major increase in prices for season tickets and match day tickets led to non-renewals and promises of boycotts under their management. This was then followed up by Bhatia, who wanted to distance himself from the steep increases in ticket prices, stepping down from his position as Chairman.

Due to promotion and the healthy financial state of the club, investment was expected in the summer transfer window, but that did not happen either. Manager Neil Warnock was not being given funds to spend, and it was made public knowledge that the Owners wanted to sell their shares, count their profits and walk from the club. Most signings were free transfers and the return to the top flight started with a 4-0 loss at home to Bolton, and the hostility to the Owners grew again.

So when the news filtered through on the 18th August that Tony Fernandes completed his takeover, it was welcome news. There was more good news when it was announced Bhatia, who clearly loves the club, was also rejoining the Board as Vice-Chairman. Tony became very hands on with his role right away, and made it clear to fans that he was to give Neil Warnock his backing, and the transfer funds to bring in players. With the takeover happening so close to the end of the transfer window Tony and Neil had to work quickly in the market to bring in players, and a statement was made right away by securing the signature of Joey Barton, the first of five transfers to be completed after the takeover.

After fronting money for transfers in the last few days of the window, Fernandes’ attention turned to matters off the field. He had made it publicly known to fans his ambitious plans for a new stadium and new training facilities. From a fans perspective he was saying all the right things. In an interview on Sky Sports News, Tony went on to talk about his previous encounters with QPR, stating that although he was a West Ham fan he had once lived on the Uxbridge Road, and had attended QPR games in the past. He did say that there was a small place in his heart for QPR, but did openly admit he was a Hammer, and that he had previously tried to buy in to the Upton Park outfit. But having failed he was made aware of the opportunity that became available at Loftus Road, saying it was one that he could not miss out on. His honesty and ambition were refreshing to hear.

From the very start of the takeover Tony made it clear that he wanted to hear from fans and get their opinions on the state of the club. One of the things that was brought to his attention was the increase in ticket prices. Fernandes and Bhati soon made changes, making match-day tickets more affordable for families and people on lower incomes, and giving money-vouchers to fans that purchased season tickets at the higher prices.

There was now communication between the fans and the board, something lacking in the last regime altogether; they had dismissed the QPR supporters committee, which I am glad to say is now also back. Fernandes has stated that he wants to be open with fans, and as a regular user of Twitter he takes the chance to interact: asking fans for their opinions and posting information and updates.

He also had taken time out before a game (QPR v Blackburn, picture below) to meet fans, and spent time talking to individuals to hear what they wanted from the ownership, and what their views are on matters at the club. He is representing a Board that now recognizes how important fans are to the club, while also realizing how important the club is to the fans.

There have been some questions raised by some fans since the dismissal of Neil Warnock as Manager, who accomplished so much last season, considering QPR were sitting just above the relegation places in the Championship when he took over. But Football is a results business, and after going on a run of not winning a game in nine I think Fernandes and the other board members, who witnessed an upturn in Sunderland fortunes after appointing a new manager in Martin O Neil a few weeks previously, felt that they needed to make a similar move to secure Premier League status.

The appointment of Mark Hughes as Manager is another wise move. He is a manager with plenty of Premier League experience, both as a player and a manager, and has been successful wherever he has managed. I feel he would be able to acquire a higher calibre of player than Warnock may have, and with Tony willing to back him financially, Hughes would be the right man to push the club forward in the Premier League.

Six new signings came through the doors at Loftus Road in January, with QPR being the biggest spenders in the Premier League in the latest window. Since Fernandes’ arrival at QPR F.C on 18th August 2011, he has spent over 20 million pounds on players alone.

Away from QPR, Fernandes has been successful in his previous businesses. When he got involved in AirAsia, he turned the fortunes of the company around. AirAsia was a failing government-linked commercial airline, and with Tony as Director he has formed it into a highly successful budget airline. When he took over at AirAsia the company was in severe debt. Tony mortgaged his home and sank his savings into acquiring the company, and in just one year after his takeover, the company had broken even and cleared all its debts. This was the first of Tony’s successful businesses. He is also the founder of ‘Tune Group,’ a group of entertainment and leisure companies. The group’s brands includes low-cost airline AirAsia and formula one team Lotus Racing and their logo can also be seen on referee’s kits in the Barclays Premier League.  Fernandes’ company also purchased ‘Caterham Cars’ and he is also the team principal of the ‘Caterham F1 Formula One’ team better known as ‘Team Lotus.’

He has treated QPR the same way he treats any of his businesses, and has put together a strong Board, with Phillip Beard as CEO. Beard was part of the reason that London won its bid to host the Olympics, and also went on to help in the transformation of the Millennium Dome to the O2 arena. He has been described as ‘someone that gets things done,’ and that is what QPR need.

It’s a positive time to be a QPR fan, and things are looking a lot brighter than anytime in the twenty or so years I have been a fan. The ambitions for the team are high, and with plans to have new training facilities and a new ground that will also host events both in place in the next few years, it suggests Tony Fernandes is in this project for the long run. If you are a fan of QPR you would notice the change at the club, and under Fernandes we can hope to be a force in English Football within ten years.

Anthony Hassan