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As a typical man, I like football, and follow my chosen club with an unbridled passion. This results in a wide scope of emotions based on their success and failures. It's ridiculous really, but that's what our national sport can do to us men (and sometimes women of course). My club is Shepherd's Bush based Queens Park Rangers FC, and while this documentary film is focused on QPR, it is more for all football fans, businessman, social viewers and nearly all people over the sporting world, not just QPR fans. If your team is Arsenal, Derby, Celtic, Northampton or even Chelsea, this is a film that will be of interest and importance, as it is the most deep, uncovering and truthful behind the scenes look at a football story that ballooned over the last 5 years. Here are my thoughts on this superb documentary of what really happened at that West London club.
--From Binbags to Moneybags...--
Firstly, I'm not going to bore you with the entire history of Queens Park Rangers, this is a review about the film about the club, not the club itself, but I feel I have to lay some foundations about how and why this film was made. In 2007, the then Championship football club QPR were in a very perilous financial position, and were on the verge of liquidation until F1 racing Tycoons Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone bought the club, restructured it's debt and drastically changed it's management at boardroom level. The duo secured a new future for the club, and even brought in Lakshmi Mittal as a key shareholder, with his son-in-law Amit Bhatia on the club board. The fans, I for one included, thought massive investment and success would come quickly with the wealth these guys shared. For example, Mittal is the sixth richest person on the planet, so from a fans point of view player investment was imminent. Shortly after this takeover, an action plan was announced that the club's objective was to get back to the Premier League, the top flight of English football, within four years. This became commonly known to QPR fans, the media and football pundits as The Four Year Plan.Sheffield Wednesday fan and film-maker Mat Hodgson, who was involved with the Mittal family at the time, saw an opportunity to make a documentary about the next four years of the events at QPR. He wanted to make a film about the ugly side of English football, the business, and he saw that this had the potential to be an incredible story. Whether the Four Year Plan was a success or not was purely academic. Although nothing was made official, he started filming behind the pitch as it were, focusing on the non-football side of things, and eventually became almost invisible to the owners and directors as time went on. This enabled him to capture some amazing footage and strictly private moments from inside the club. The result of this was thousands of hours of footage shot over a four year period, and what transpired to be a story that even soap opera writers couldn't dream up.
--Key People Involved--
Flavio Briatore - The major player and shareholder in the QPR takeover of 2007. Overall organiser of the backroom staff and finances. Ruthless, unforgiving but true to his word for the most part, he was the linchpin in this whole saga. For good and bad.
Gianni Paladini - Previous chairman to the club and hereafter the takeover. Was a major link into getting Briatore and Ecclestone involved. equally as eccentric and excitable as Briatore.
Bernie Ecclestone - hugely rich F1 mogul. Key shareholder partnered with Briatore. Took a back-seat in the clubs proceeding for the most part, but still had his say on numerous occasions.
Lakshmi Mittal - Initially a 20% shareholder brought in by Briatore. A multi-billionare in the steel trade, Mittal mostly stayed in the shadows and let his son-in-law be the voice of his investment.
Amit Bhatia - Son-in-Law to Lakshmi Mittal who had a primary role in running the club from the boardroom, and was elevated to Vice-chairman in later years.
Alejandro Agag - Chairman of QPR Holdings, the created parent company to the club. He became Managing Director later on when Briatore took lead of QPR Holdings himself. Heavily involved in the decision making alongside Briatore.
Ishan Saksena - Placed in as Managing Director after Briatore took a back-step away from directly controlling the club. Had a strong bond with Bhatia and was popular with the fans.
Neil Warnock - Brought in by Amit Bhatia as First Team Manager in the forth year to finally get the club promoted. Six full time Managers and two caretaker Managers had proceeded him since the 2007 takeover.
As a season ticket holder and a lifelong fan, I was aware of certain events that happened over the four period, and whilst most were dismissed as rumours, I knew that things were not all that great in the running of my beloved club. After watching this, I was actually surprised at the amount of rumours that I heard proved to be true, or at least partly. We all hear stories about football club owners picking the team, making substitutions, overriding the manager etc etc... You never really think that it's really that truthful, but in this case it was, at least for three years anyway.
The film is presented in a timeline style, with graphics and time lapsed scenes of the matches and training periods accompanied by dates and times of the events. This is also underlined by the frequent display of the Championship table as it stood at any given point in the film, and highlighting key changes in the back-room staff supported by the very in-your-face footage. No flashy slow-mo or clever quips are used, just real footage of what transpired. It's very easy to watch because of this, you really get the idea of what going on quickly, and it's relatively simple to follow albeit gob-smacking to see what things were said and done off the pitch. The occasional bits of media footage help this too, and you can see some familiar faces from Sky Sports and voices from TalkSPORT, reporting what happened at the time. It's a very real thing, and you don't get any hamming up for the camera or showmanship from anybody involved, they were all under far to much pressure to notice anyway!
To be honest, taking my QPR hat off, I have never seen a football documentary like this that pulls no punches and covers everything so vividly and brazenly. Scenes from the boardroom, secret and personal meetings, financial deals and dressing room talks are all shown uncut, and shows all the participants in a very true way, and gives you the opportunity to judge their actions. These are very rare things to see, as all football clubs keep their dealings private for the most, and focus the fans attention on the playing aspect of it all. It's a privilege to view this really, and certainly makes you think about your own club and how it is run without your knowledge. We all know the game has changed over the years, but it's shocking to see that them wild stories you heard and brushed aside, eyes tinted with your club colours, making to blind to what is really going on. If anything, this film will surprise you about the business side of football, even if you have been pessimistic previously.
Obviously, individual viewer can make their own conclusions on the people highlighted in this film, but for me, the star of the show is Briatore, closely followed by Paladini. These men a vastly eccentric and louder than life, and it's both shocking and amusing to see them in the way they conducted themselves. Personally, I admire Briatore for saving the club of course, but abhor the way he ran things with such a selfish and non-respectful vision, and his treatment to other staff and particularly the first team managers is incredible. It's difficult to describe, but he is definitely one of a kind, and you just become engrossed with his personality and behaviour. While I hate the idea of an owner dictating what goes on on the pitch, it's a funny moment when he orders a substitution from the manager, and then the player who came on scores the winning goal! This is a fun bit with serious undertones, but the outbursts towards the fans and managers (out of their earshot of course) is unbelievable and equally stunning.
With all the madness displayed by the owners, the voice of reason to emerge, and as we know now be successful, is Amit Bhatia. I admired this man before a watched this, and even more so now. He was the only person who kept a calm head, had proper thought out solutions, had a thirst for footbal knowledge and connected with the fans. Also, and this maybe a bitter pill to swallow for some people, is how above it all Neil Warnock is. It's clear to see from the film that with Briatore in the shadows and Bhatia and Warnock at the helm, the club changed almost instantly, and the upshot of this was promotion to the Premier League at the end. Warnock is like marmite to many football fans, but I'm serious when I say you will see him in a different light watching this, and how dedicated, straightforward but very strong he is. He is a dying breed in the football fraternity unfortunately, and this just highlights how important men like this are to the game.
--Presentation and Production--
Although this is a documentary, it's hard-hitting and contains bad language and violent outbursts, and there is very little actual football footage, so if you cannot stand the game itself, don't be put off, it's the business side things are focused on. The filming is a mixture of set-camera shots, and gathered footage from the media, but mostly is it done with a steady-cam, filming up close and personal to the people involved.
The disc loads instantly, there are no trailer or advertisements, and you are presented with a selection screen based off the QPR logo. Predictably, it's all coloured in blue and white, with a black cursor within the stripes to make your selections of Movie, Extra's and Scene selection. It's all simple, clear and easy to navigate, with no running or loading problems.
Year of DVD Release - 2011
Region - 2, 4 and 5
Picture - 16:9 Widescreen
Age Rated - E
Discs - 1
Languages available - English
Sound - Dolby Digital 5.1
Total Feature runtime - 96 minutes
DVD release by Adhoc Films
Produced by Daniel Glynn
Directed by Mat Hodgson
--Price and Packaging--
This film comes to you in a standard simple DVD case, no insert, with the image of a silhouetted man carrying a briefcase that looks like a mock Subbuteo figure. The background is of shaded cheering fans in dark blue. The typeface is plain white, and all clearly printed, with the QPR crest in the top corner. A brief back-story is told on the back, but doesn't uncover any of the surprises in the film. The disc is printed in the same colours and typeface, everything is neat and tidy with being too overblown or over hyping the film. The DVD is available on most on-line shops, you can pick it up for under £10 on Amazon or buy it directly from the QPR website or superstore for the same price.
The film has been shown on TV, but the DVD does have more footage to see despite the amount included in the feature. These are slightly more for the QPR die-hard fan however, and would not fit into the theme and flow of the film, maybe except for Paladini talking on the phone about the striker shortage. The short clip about QPR's game at Old Trafford with Manchester United is nice though, at least for me!
Well, if I were to be honest, like this film is, I would say this is the most interesting, thoughtful and important documentary about the 'beautiful game' we have ever come across. It is a real eye-opener into the modern football game for not only fans, but for anybody with an interest in sport management. Even fans of fictional dramas can enjoy this, as it's the real side of a massive industry we very rarely get to glimpse at. It kind of makes you laugh that when you see a post match interview with the manager, or a player on a sports phone-in, most of what they say could be a long way from the truth about their given club. I say 'could', I still have faith that on the whole the game is run mostly well, and certainly do about QPR now this era has ended and a new owner is now at the helm.
To witness these events is a far cry from the players antics both on and off the field, and makes it seem all the more sinister in some ways, but on the other hand, all the more enthralling. Amusing in parts, surprising in others but thoroughly entertaining all the way through, this is a terrific and brave film, not afraid to show the truth. I know some die-hard fans of other clubs would refuse to watch this because it's about QPR, but don't let that deter you as a football fan, whatever club you follow. It could be focused on any club who went through a period like this and would still be just as well done. I wholeheartedly recommend you see The Four Year Plan, as I believe there won't be a similar film for years to come, if ever again. Football club management is still a firming closed shop, but this lets you take a peek in the window.
Thanks for Reading. © Novabug