Monday 18 December 2017

'Premier League no ordeal – you know what to expect'

Green focused on big picture after some tough times at QPR, writes Dion Fanning

Rob Green: 'It was beyond football.' Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Rob Green: 'It was beyond football.' Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Dion Fanning

Rob Green recalls the moments when his life in football went "beyond football". In the summer of 2010, a girl he had been on one date with called and asked him a question he couldn't really answer: "Why is there a woman in my office trying to get a quote from me?"

Green had an answer but it didn't seem to explain all that was happening. Green had failed to hold a simple shot from the USA's Clint Dempsey during England's opening World Cup game and the ball had rolled over the line, denying England victory.

"The day after the World Cup game my parents went out for a walk to clear their heads and got a phone call telling them 'Don't come home'. They didn't come home for two days because of all the press outside," he recalled without self-pity but added, "They are normal people."

Green was dropped by England for the next game but by then the story had moved on. "The England thing and the stuff that went on was an attack on my family. People were trying to climb into my sister's back garden. It was beyond football. Unfortunately a lot of the time the people I sit down and talk to now are not the people who were writing the stuff, it was not the back pages I was trying to deal with."

In the way of these things, Green dealt with it a few months later by making a gesture towards the press box after West Ham had beaten Spurs. Naturally the FA, wary of all human emotions, wrote to Green to remind him of his responsibilities to the game.

Green was not part of Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad which was named last week. Instead he prepares for a Championship play-off final at Wembley next Saturday with QPR where he has experienced his worst moments as a professional.

The England stuff was strange, Green says, but what happened at QPR last season was worse. "I've been in teams that have struggled and in teams that have been relegated but I have not sat on the side and watched a team implode or disintegrate into nothing."

Last year was his worst in 20 years as a professional. Green arrived at QPR in the summer of 2012 as their manager Mark Hughes promised they would never again go into the last day of the season threatened with relegation as they had on the final day of the 2011/'12 season. By the time the season was over QPR had been relegated with three games remaining and they had spent £36m on players over the course of two transfer windows with two managers.

Green had arrived on a free transfer from West Ham. He was settling in when the club went out and signed Julio Cesar, Brazil's first-choice goalkeeper at the last World Cup. There were plenty of others arriving, attracted by many things but not the reality of a relegation fight. Green remembers a conversation in his early days at the club which anticipated what was to come.

"We sat in pre-season and there was me, Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Jamie Mackie, Heidar Helguson [who was sent out on loan]. I'd only been there a few weeks and I said there will be a week at one point in the season when we'll be there and that will be when we know we're in trouble and it's really hit the fans because that's what happens. The guys who come and go have come and gone in a space of six or three or four months."

Green might not have anticipated how quickly it had happened. "We played a game in December and we were all playing in the same team and we realised we were bang in it because if we were playing we knew something was going terribly wrong."

Mark Hughes was dismissed and Harry Redknapp came in but the club kept sinking. Cesar is now on loan in Canada – "I haven't seen him off yet" – and even if QPR do get promoted, there will be tough times ahead.

"I'm not fighting other people's battles but there are people at the club, in higher echelons than me, who are still fighting fires and come the summer will have a lot of headaches because of previous decisions. You have a group of guys that have gone out on loan and are coming back and realistically won't want to be at the club. And the financial burden that you undertake with the guys that have gone away and come back will be to get them off the books asap."

On Wednesday as he spoke at QPR's training ground near Heathrow, a journalist put it to Green that he had been to "hell and back". Green wouldn't provide the headline because he didn't see it in those terms.

"In the last four years I've got married and had two kids. You take the rough with the smooth, professionally as well as personally, so it's been the best four years of my life. My wife went for lunch on Monday with neighbours and the neighbour said, 'My husband's really sorry for what happened at the World Cup.'

"Why? Christ, we're still surviving. I'm still a professional footballer living an amazing life and I'm still doing what I'm doing. It's not like I've suffered. It's been tough, professionally, and tough personally because your pride gets hit but in the overall scheme of things, crikey, it's a big picture."

Green has a chance to return to the Premier League on Saturday. Somebody wondered if he would be apprehensive about a return, knowing what he knows about football.

"I wouldn't call going into the Premier League an ordeal. I would say the Championship is more of an ordeal than the Premier League. The easiest game of the season is playing Arsenal away because you know pretty much every pass they do is going to be calculated. Whether you stop the shot or not is another matter. We played Barnsley the other week. You've got a bunch of guys who are doing their utmost, but they're an unknown quantity. You walk into the game thinking: 'I've got no idea what's going to happen here'."

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