by Rollercoaster Ranger
The mutual termination of former club captain Martin Rowlands’ contract after 8 ½ years service for Q.P.R. marks the end of a significant era at the club. He is the last of Ian Holloway’s team to depart Loftus Road. It is true that after Holloway’s departure three of his team have returned to the club; Marc Bircham is now youth development assistant manager, Lee Cook and Danny Shittu, who were both sold to generate much needed revenue to keep the club in business, were re-signed by subsequent managers and are currently registered as players, but to all intents and purposes Rowlands was the last to leave.
The Holloway era was a particularly bumpy ride on the Q.P.R. rollercoaster. A former player for the club in their original Premiership days, Holloway took over the managerial reigns from Gerry Francis as the club were slipping towards not only the third tier of English football, but also administration. In the summer months before the start of the 2001/02 season Holloway’s squad was decimated by the club’s finances and the administrator leaving him with only 7 fit players and 2 long term casualties. Undaunted by the size of his task, he set about building a team with no transfer funds available, he couldn’t even offer re-location expenses. Driven on by Holloway’s infectious enthusiasm Q.P.R. not only ended their slide but finished the season in a creditable 8th position, giving rise to hopes of promotion the following season.
Holloway’s team was built around players that were desperate to play for Q.P.R.
This early season promise was soon replaced by despair as Rangers were dumped out of the F.A. Cup by the part-timers of Vauxhall Motors, Q.P.R. had hit rock bottom. Holloway quickly arranged for the loan signing of Watford’s left winger Lee Cook who instantly sparked life into the team. Cook, a lifelong Q.P.R. supporter, lifted the team who mounted an assault on the play off places which had looked completely out of reach just a few months earlier. Loftus Road erupted when Paul Furlong burst through to score the winning goal in the playoff semi-final against Oldham and, even the bitter disappointment of losing the final in extra time against Cardiff could not quell the passion and desires of the Q.P.R. faithful.
The summer signing of Martin Rowlands was the final piece of Holloway’s jigsaw, as Q.P.R. secured automatic promotion to the Championship the following summer. Q.P.R. didn’t find life in the Championship very easy. Still hampered by severe financial difficulties and beset by off field problems each season was a battle for survival. The arrival of Gianni Paladini was supposed to ease these financial concerns, but only succeeded in turning the club into a laughing stock. Paladini eventually managed to manipulate his way to become club chairman and forced Ian Holloway out of the club.
For me, those days were among the most enjoyable times as a Q.P.R. supporter. Holloway breathed new life into a dying club and restored pride and hope for the long suffering supporters. We have now emerged from this season’s January transfer window having signed some exciting new players and face the rest of this season with renewed hope and expectation, but these are probably all mercenaries. Holloway’s team was built around players that were desperate to play for Q.P.R. Players such as Bircham, Gallen, Cook, Ainsworth, Shittu and, of course, Martin Rowlands were prepared to run through walls for the club, I doubt many of the current team would do the same. The departure of Rowlands marks the end of this era, one I will never forget.