HARRY Redknapp put QPR’s plight last season down to a “culture of decay” in a squad filled with too many Jose Bosingwas and not enough Clint Hills.
Hill himself, a Tranmere academy graduate who used to clean the boots of Kenny Irons, is just as scathing about why Rangers dropped out of the Premier League – but things appear to be on the mend at Loftus Road.
Snippets of Redknapp’s upcoming autobiography reveal the extent to which the dressing room was split last term, with Hill leading the hard-working faction who were irritated by highly-paid team-mates not doing enough for the club.
So it comes as a refreshing turn-around that before this weekend Rangers had conceded just two Championship goals in ten games, and had just set a new club record of eight consecutive clean sheets.
The difference, says Hill, is the players who have replaced the likes of Bosingwa, who refused to sit on the bench for QPR’s game against Newcastle last December.
Richard Dunne, Karl Henry and Charlie Austin now help form the spine of the side that has lost its rotten core.
And while Redknapp may have gone back to basics when identifying new recruits this summer, Hill doesn’t feel he has compromised on quality.
“I think we’ve all had our say on last season. We didn’t have the right mix,” said Hill, who signed on a free from Crystal Palace in 2010.
“I think the mix this season is a lot better; Richard Dunne, Benny (Benoit Assou-Ekotto) and Niko Kranjcar – they have all come in to the dressing room and picked up our ethic, our way of playing, and adapted very well.
“There are two things that they bring, quality and experience. They have played in the highest league and for their country as well and to come here and be a massive part of the team already, and show their quality, has improved us massively and it’s a great platform to build on.
“To go eight clean sheets in a row in any league is a great achievement.
“But it’s a team effort as they say, it’s not just the back five because the midfielders and strikers have been class as well. It just clicks sometimes. You need a bit of luck, certainly, there have been occasions when players have missed half-decent chances against us, but as a whole, we have defended well as a team when we have lost the ball.
“The players that were here previously obviously were quality players, with way better technique and ability than I’ve ever had.
“But it hurts when the other side of it isn’t right, the commitment and the will to train hard. When you don’t see that it can be annoying. It wasn’t just me who felt that, there were plenty of other players who felt others weren’t pulling their weight.
“We all know what the Championship is about. It will be a difficult fight to earn the right to play, but the bits of quality we do have could give us the edge.
“In the games that they have played they have definitely fought and scrapped and shown the right spirit.”
Hill’s career has been a fight to the top, from cleaning toilets at Prenton Park to winning QPR’s players’ player and fans’ player of the season in 2011/12. That was the season that ended so dramatically at the Etihad Stadium with Ranges staying up by a point in spite of losing to two stoppage-time goals.
But the 34-year-old, who had never previously played in the top flight, thought he had blown his big chance when he was sent off on his Premier League debut against Bolton and being shipped out on loan to Nottingham Forest by the then Rangers boss Neil Warnock.
“I thought that was me done, to be honest,” he added. “I thought my chance had gone. The sending off then not
playing for the next four or five games. I spoke to Neil at the time and the chance came to play for Forest, which was fantastic. It wasn’t a good time for the club because they were around the bottom, but it reinvigorated me. It got me back enjoying my football.
“I was recalled to QPR, started in the 1-0 win against Chelsea, then I won player of the season. It’s been a roller-coaster here.”
While Hill can look back with a smile now about his red against Bolton, it’s more painful to recall being sent off for two bookable offences as a 21-year-old in the League Cup final for Tranmere.
“That was a tough moment for me to be honest, I’ve not looked back to any of it, never watched any video footage or anything,” added Hill, who saw his Rovers teammates beaten 2-1 by Leicester.
“It was a full house at Wembley, I got a little bit too excited, too hyped up for the occasion and I let a lot of people down. It was a dark moment,and it took a few months to get over. it I started my career at Tranmere at about 14, and luckily enough I came right the way through. Obviously it was a lot different to what the YTs or academy have got now, but it was a grounding.
“We were cleaning boots, cleaning toilets, dusting – everything. It was great, because you do appreciate when you did play football, you had that upbringing and level-headedness.
“I had Kenny Irons’ and he was a tough bloke. If you didn’t clean his boots properly you got well and truly found out, there were a few beatings handed out!”
Now Hill is just concentrating on getting back to the Premier League, and, being a Liverpool fan, the Huyton-born defender would love another crack at the big time.
“We’ve just got to keep it going, build on what we have started here now,” he continued. “It was tough the last time we were in the Premier League. It was a very tough two years.
“The first year we got away with it, and the second year was really tough. I’m a Red, I’ve been a Liverpool fan all my life so to lead the team out at Anfield on the last day of last season, on Jamie Carragher’s final appearance as well, meant a massive amount to me and my family.”
Given Hill’s preference for graft over guile, it comes as no surprise that Carragher ranks up among his favourite players, but he could easily be describing himself when he talks about the Sky Sports pundit.
“He’s a player that didn’t have real quality but he’s shown throughout his career that he had the right attitude,” said Hill. “He was a leader and always gave 100 per cent which fans can appreciate.”