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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ian Holloway on His Time at QPR and Other Perspectives

Another review/profile of Ian Holloway's new autobiography.

The Observer - Anger management

A football book launch with a difference took place in Bristol recently. Instead of it being a deadening plug by a reluctant footballer and an embarrassed ghost writer overseen by a PR with blonde highlights, this was a genuine affair.
The star was delighted to be there and thrilled to be among so many good friends. He thanked his mother, 'aka Short One'. 'She takes more tablets than Moses climbing the mountain and I swear I can hear her rattle when she walks, but she's 74, and an absolute star - and she still works at a chemist in Bristol, which is quite handy because she's also their best customer!'

He apologised to his wife, Kim, for leaving her 25 years ago and promised never to do so again. He remembered his dad who died at 'just 59, which is no age at all, is it?' He thanked his ghost for producing a book that 'My wife says is like me without all the bullshit. If David [Clayton, the ghost] had kept that in, it would have been four times longer.'

The book is Ollie: The Autobiography of Ian Holloway (Green Umbrella). Holloway is now manager at Plymouth after a journeyman career as a player. The book is refreshingly honest and pricks the pomposity and pretensions of footballers and those who employ them.

When he arrived as a midfield player at Queens Park Rangers in the 1990-91 season, he found it something of a culture shock after a decade more on than off at Bristol Rovers. 'One of the lads said, "Oh, I can remember the days when I used to buy my suits from Burton's," and I was thinking, "Christ! I've got one at home I got from Asda!' I hadn't progressed as far as Burton's yet.'

After an interview for the manager's job at Millwall in 2006 he recalled: 'If we couldn't agree on the basic issue of how good Barry Hayles was, then I doubted we'd be able to agree on a number of things.'

In 2005, when he was having difficulties with the chaotic Gianni Paladini regime at QPR, never more so than when guns were brandished in the boardroom, he issued the directors with a vote of confidence saying: 'They're inexperienced, but I'll give them time to get it right.' The board 'weren't too impressed'.

A leitmotif of the book is Holloway's anger. As an adolescent he gouged holes in the walls behind the football posters that decorated his room. As a 40-year-old he trashed fruit stalls with supermarket trolleys. Between, he had a right go at Roy Wegerle after he failed to make much of an effort in the first half of a QPR game away to Manchester City.

'How dare you say that to Roy Wegerle?' said QPR captain Alan McDonald.

'Fuck off!' said Holloway.

'Sometimes it's just meant to be, Ollie,' said Wegerle.

Holloway, now 44, was in danger of moving from angry young man to grumpy old man without a moment's pause for relief. 'When I was 41 I had an anger-management feller help me be a better person,' he says as we have a coffee the morning after the launch. 'It was very enlightening. My wife only ever saw the angry side. I didn't want to keep giving her that.' Shortish and slightish, he can appear spiky, but is more curious than combative.

'I could be sitting at home having a meal and I was thinking about what my striker Paul Furlong was doing in training,' he says. 'My anger was such that we could win 10 in a row but if we lost the eleventh I was not a happy person. The feller said to me, "Even Arsene Wenger has lost one this year. Do you think he would moan? You would." He proved to me that I didn't believe in free speech. He proved I was a problem-causer, not solver. And all I needed to do was to talk to myself the way I did to the players because my self-talk had become very negative.

'So now every morning I look in the mirror, which ain't a nice thing to do, and remind myself that the world's a nicer place when you are all right on yourself.'

He seems calm, perhaps because he no longer has to cope with the pressure of managing Rovers. 'It was a great learning curve, but everything was just too important,' he says of his time with the club he supported as a child. 'It taught me how not to do the job.' The chairman who sacked him had queued to have five books signed the evening before. Holloway bears no grudge. 'Geoff Dunford gave me the chance to be a manager. Without him, I might never have got started.'

Now he is at Plymouth, which 'is a pleasure because there is only one club in the area and wherever I go I don't have to look over my shoulder.' He is fully aware of the absurdity that for the past 11 years football writers have been noting down everything he says. 'It's just ridiculous. There are only three outcomes - you win, you lose, you draw - and there is only so much you can say about football, really.

'I don't like it when they call me madcap. I'm not mad and I don't wear a cap.' He is surprised people take so seriously his attempts to break the routine with a little comedy. The best-known example was his explanation for a convincing victory for QPR: 'It's like when you meet a bird who's not the best-looking. You talk, things go well and she gets in a taxi with you, get her back home and lovely jubbly, let's have coffee.'

This caused a predicted furore, which is exactly what he intended because he wanted to cover up the fact that he was having problems with his defender Clarke Carlisle. 'Behind some of my jokes there is a more serious me,' he says. But the jokes keep coming because the reporters expect him to write their copy for them and he, unlike more circumspect managers, cannot help himself.

His style of management is simple. 'I believe all of us can shine and I think we're all good at something and if I have one talent, it's that I think I can spot that shining within people and I can get to it and encourage it and take away some of the worries and concerns so that they can go away and shine.' The film Coach Carter, apparently, exemplifies this.

And it is one with which fans identify. At Plymouth, QPR and Bristol Rovers he has become a local hero. 'I won't tolerate anyone not trying their best,' he says, speaking like a true fan.

However great his commitment, though, football has always come a distant second to family. At QPR, the other players' wives would look around baffled before asking Kim: 'Where's the nanny?'

'I wouldn't want to give responsibility of bringing up the children to someone else,' Holloway says. 'What else is there? We are here to carry on the species and educating our children is the biggest job we will ever do. My wife agrees.'

He may have chosen her, but initially he relied on best mate Gary Penrose - who has been at his side throughout most of his career - to relay the invitation, which Kim initially declined. Finally, Holloway plucked up the courage to speak for himself and they spent their first date watching All Creatures Great and Small on television at her parents' house. Holloway was really nervous and that was before 'old James Herriot soaped up his arm and then, on my life, wham! Right up the cow's arse.

'All of a sudden Kim's younger sister pipes up, "Mum, do cows have a clitoris?" Her mum didn't bat an eyelid. Had I misheard her? Had she asked if cows like liquorice?' Later the 15-year-old Ollie returns home and asks his mum what a clitoris is. He still hasn't found out whether a cow has one.

Kim and he had some bad times. When he was 18, while she cutting his hair, he boldly told her he was leaving her and: 'She shaved it up the back and left a big lump on the top and I looked like a member of Kajagoogoo - she did a right number on me. But good on her because I deserved nothing less.'

When Holloway was struggling at Wimbledon and Brentford in the mid 1980s, Kim developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy. 'What's it like dating a baldy bird?' asked the ever-charming Wally Downes, a team-mate at Wimbledon.

To their surprise and delight Kim recovered so well that she gave birth to a son, William. And shortly thereafter identical twins, Chloe and Eve. The twins - and a third daughter, Harriet, born later - are profoundly deaf. 'One of the things I got very wrong was thinking that deafness would mean quietness. It was quite the opposite. They can't hear a sound so they make the most awful noise.'

And nothing was funnier than an Ollie tantrum. If you cannot hear someone, watching them losing their temper is a hoot. They would wind him up and then settle back to enjoy the show.

The current bane of his life is the Bosman ruling and its unintended consequence that, with freedom of movement after the age of 24, players are being offered 'five- or six-year deals and we are creating a monster. The challenge of being a human being is playing a game and then trying to play it better. If you are promised a good salary for a long time it is easy to let standards slip.

'We are encouraging players to be disloyal. It's not freedom of contract it's bloody stealing. It's only a loophole. Why not close it down?

'We have a right and duty to bring these young fellows up. I'm very concerned about them not being good human beings. I don't want to watch kids throwing stones at cop cars, for Christ's sake.'

Holloway's wife has also done some writing. 'She's written a children's book about a deaf girl, but someone said it was too similar to JK Rowling. Now she's started an adult-humour one, a bit like Shirley Valentine, called The Ring, The Bling and The Rabbit.' It is about two sisters - one married to a football manager, the other working in a sex shop, which is a promising premise.

Holloway, somewhat surprisingly, ends his book with: 'Now, as the great Robert Shaw once said when portraying Quint in Jaws, "Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies."' Let's hope Kim doesn't end hers with 'Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...' The Observer

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