Richard Sutcliffe: Life behind scenes at Rangers no laughing matter for Briatore

FOOTBALL documentaries have a habit of throwing up classic scenes.

Graham Taylor’s uttering of ‘Do I not like that’ as England laboured to a draw against Poland in a vital World Cup qualifier has to be the most famous, the phrase immediately passing into legend and one that, even now almost two decades on, continues to define his reign in charge of the national team.

Other programmes featuring Sheffield United under Dave Bassett and Peter Reid’s Sunderland were an enjoyable glimpse into life in a dressing room, as was my particular favourite, Club for a Fiver.

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Featuring Leyton Orient. the documentary made an unintentional star of John Sitton, whose colourful rants at his players included the memorable offer to fight two of them before adding: “And you can bring yer ****** dinner, cos by the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll ****** need it.”

I never believed Sitton’s amazing outburst would be eclipsed but following last Sunday’s screening of QPR: The Four Year Plan I have to admit it has been. And not just once, either.

For those not fortunate enough to have caught the programme on BBC2, it tells the story of how an unfashionable club in a rundown area of west London are taken over by three of the richest men in the world.

Flavio Briatore, Amit Bhatia and Bernie Ecclestone are the trio in question but there can be no doubt Briatore’s ability to be an unintentional comic genius is what steals the show.

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The tone is set very early on as Briatore lambasts not only manager Iain Dowie but also Rangers player Martin Rowlands, whose abilities are dismissed by the comment, ‘Who is this man? I want to ****** sell him’.

Over the next four years, a variety of Rangers personnel are referred to in a similarly unforgiving manner to leave the viewer wondering just who Briatore rates apart from, of course, himself. His rants also underline why Len Shackleton leaving a page of his autobiography blank under the headline ‘The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football’ remains as topical now as when first written in the Fifties.

No-one was safe with even Neil Warnock being described as an “idiot” after a home draw with Derby County, the fact Rangers were eight points clear of third with four games to play doing little to abate Briatore’s anger.

Club chairman Gianni Paladini came across only marginally better than Briatore, especially after the two men were captured discussing how best to impart instructions to the dugout mid-game.

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Text, phone call or even passing a message via the masseuse are all considered before Briatore then orders Paladini to tell caretaker manager Gareth Ainsworth to bring Gavin Mahon off the bench.

The cameras then cut to Mahon waiting to come on with Paladini standing straight behind him in the tunnel, looking more owner’s lackey than club chairman.

Later, Paladini plumbs to a new depth by responding to defender Fitz Hall’s complaint about top scorer Dexter Blackstock being loaned to Nottingham Forest by saying with a straight face: “It’s not me, innit.”

As hysterical as that was, however, perhaps the most laughable part is that QPR: The Four Year Plan was funded by the men running the club, making it quite possibly the least effective piece of football propaganda of all time.

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