On his ski-ing holiday somewhere in Europe, our volunteer from the ranks of QPR supporters Matt Bell* will surely find some way of learning the outcome of Sunderland’s visit to Loftus Road on Saturday. Both clubs are on the slopes too, QPR fighting to climb from the foot of them amid modest hopes of a revival while we slip and slide as alarmingly as we’ve come to expect as part of the deal. Matt’s indulgent view on cheating knocks me sideways, though he doesn’t amplify it, but his resignation to relegation seems uncontroversial. I’m not sure we’d like what could be read into his tale of the brother who has no interest in football and thinks he’s a Sunderland supporter …
Salut! Sunderland: Superb result for you on Saturday. Do you sense an extraordinary escape act or is too late even for the restorative powers of ‘Arry?
I was delighted with the Southampton result and so pleased that we brought in Redknapp in place of Hughes but I still think we will be relegated – mainly because our team is just not good enough. The table never lies.
Fulham brought only a few hundred to our place on Saturday. We’ve sold out our Loftus Rd allocation despite outrageous prices for possibly the worst away seats in the Premier (£45, only a fiver off for pensioners). Do home fans get stung, too?
Home fans pay an average of £40 and some areas of the ground are not ideal for viewing but it doesn’t feel worse value for money than any other Premier League club. I didn’t even know away fans had to pay that much.
What single improvement has ‘Arry made and where are you still vulnerable?
The immediate improvement Harry made was to make us stop conceding goals. Ryan Nelson and Clint Hill brought us stability at the back. But the biggest problem is a lack of goals. If Remy can stay fit he might get some but we don’t look like a team with lots of goals in it.
Being stuck at the bottom wasn’t part of the big plan. How would relegation, if it happened, affect the future development of the club in your view and how would fans respond?
You assume relegation would be difficult financially but Tony Fernandes seems a good guy with genuine fondness for the club so hopefully he can still invest money in us. The fans are worried obviously that we might lose a few decent players and then it will be a struggle to get back up. I don’t think it will be the doomsday scenario that some people think it will be.
A few links between our two clubs: Peter Reid, Clive Walker, John Byrne from history, Cisse, Ferdinand, Onouha from more recently. Do any stick out for the right or wrong reasons?
I’m afraid to say Anton Ferdinand sticks out – for being a dreadful player. He has been awful. John Byrne used to be one of my favourite players. He always seemed so laidback but he was very good.
Is there anyone in the present Sunderland side who you’d love to see in the hoops – and are you surprised at how much we’ve struggled?
I like your goalkeeper Mignolet and Fletcher looks like a man who will get goals – especially for us. I’m not surprised you’ve struggled in some ways, ie you need 2 or 3 more top players, but I did think Martin O’Neill would have improved you more than he has.
Any general thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the region?
My most bizarre connection to Sunderland is that my eldest brother Gary has no real interest in football but when he was a kid he once bought a scarf in the colours of an away kit that you had at the time so I told him he was a Sunderland fan and to do this day he still thinks he is – but he’s never been to see them. One of my friends is a diehard Sunderland fan – comes from the area – and we often talk about our two clubs. I really like the club and I like the area. I first went to your stadium when Wayne Rooney made his England debut.
What will be the top four in order, who is going down and where, in all honesty, do you feel we’ll both finish up come the end of the season?
I think QPR will go down along with Southampton and Reading. I think Sunderland will finish about 4 places above the relegation zone. I think Man United will win the league and Chelsea will make a strong finish to gain 2nd place with Man City in 3rd.
Has cheating become so commonplace – a cynic, eg me, would say it’s probably encouraged or even practised on the training ground – that we may as well accept it as part of the modenr game? If not, what do we do about it?
I don’t think cheating on the pitch is a problem but I’m saddened by the general standard of behaviour among fans at lots of grounds. I think the Olympics showed the true spirit of spectating in a healthy way and football has been shown up by some of the terrible abuse that is allowed to go on. I watched a man in the front row at QPR recently when we played Man United and he spent the entire time shouting abuse, really bad language, at every Man United player and all the officials. There was no need for it and I think he should have been thrown out of the ground. I simply don’t agree that even if Sunderland played Newcastle – your big rivals – you should be allowed to scream abuse at them. There is no doubt that kids see how adults can misbehave on terraces so they take that onto the football pitch in their games. A friend of mine says he watches Spurs, he pays his money and if he wants to shout abuse at anyone he can do, it’s his right, but I think that’s crazy.
The world divides over QPR’s ‘disgusting’ ticket prices: OK because they can only squeeze 18,500 into the ground – or an inexcusable ripoff for the “worst away accommodation in the Premier”? See Salut! Sunderland’s report and what Hoops fans made of it at the QPR Fans’ Network.
Our Fulham interviewee wanted fresh sandwiches, sushi and wine to replace sausage rolls and pies in football catering. What one step do you feel QPR or the football authorities should take to improve the matchday experience of the ordinary supporter?
Cleaning up the point I’ve made above would be the best way to improve the matchday experience. But I do believe catering in many grounds needs stepping up a gear. The staff always seem so slow and useless and some of the food is dreadful. I was amused when I went to Newcastle v QPR on December 22nd and we got pies for £1 as we were leaving the ground because the catering staff didn’t want to throw them away. That’s a good idea.
Club versus country: who wins for you and why?
Club v country – I’ve followed England to lots of away games including Italia 90 semi final – the best day of my life – so I’m very passionate about my country. I’m not one of those fans who says their club always comes first – I think I have a healthy balance between the two. Of course, I love QPR and want them to win but I think my greatest pleasure would come from seeing England win a major championship.
And will you be at our game? What will be the score?
I won’t be at the game as I’m away ski-ing. I think QPR will win 2-1 – only because I think we’ll win a couple of games, all get our hopes up and then see them cruelly dashed when we end up being relegated.
Matt Bell on himself: I’m, 43, a journalist and run my own business called Ferrari Press Agency. I’ve supported QPR since I was five. I live near Charlton FC so should support them but when I was five my grandad took me to see Arsenal, who he supported, and I said I would cheer for the other team … QPR! Silly, I know, but that’s how it is. My mum is a big QPR fan too. We went to the 1982 FA Cup Final and the replay and we went to the 1985 (or was it 84?) Milk Cup Final.
** John Byrne’s ingterview can be seen at the formidable Roker End website of the former players’ association: http://therokerend.com/interviews_tre/byrne_john.html
Interview: Colin Randall