The prospect for Queens Park Rangers of being docked points to deprive them of a return to the Premier League is just the latest outlandish episode in the stormy modern times of a club always previously regarded as one of London's most amiable.
That air of Shepherd's Bush cosiness was shattered 10 years ago when Chris Wright, the Chrysalis music impresario who bought QPR in 1996, was forced to put the club into administration shortly before it plummeted to the the third tier.
There followed an agonising period in which the west London club was genuinely threatened with going out of business, sustained with a high-interest £10m loan from a Panamanian company, while its neighbours Chelsea and Fulham were reaping the fruits of the Premier League.
Yet when, after years of struggle, the club was suddenly bought in November 2007 by the then Renault Formula One team principal, Flavio Briatore, with smaller stakes also soon bought by the F1 commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, and Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian steel magnate, QPR were instantly hailed as the richest football club in the world. That billing was down to Ecclestone's and Mittal's huge fortunes but they have never poured their money into the club in the way Roman Abramovich has across the way at Chelsea or Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City.
In December Ecclestone announced he had bought out Briatore, becoming the 62% majority owner of the club. "We're not changing anything, just tidying a few things up," Ecclestone said enigmatically then.
Briatore and Ecclestone had persuaded Mittal to buy his 20%. The businessmen were attracted by being able to buy a club which had realistic prospects of reaching the TV multimillions of the Premier League, even though QPR itself had missed out for a decade and is still in 19,000-capacity Loftus Road.
They retained as a director of their holding company, and chairman of the football club, Gianni Paladini, the Italian former players' agent who arrived at the club during one of its many crises in 2005. There was suspicion of Paladini from fans who had seen their club hobble towards extinction, particularly because he arrived in tandem with unidentified investors represented by Antonio Caliendo, another Italian agent who had been convicted of attempted corruption in 1991.
Yet until he was charged personally by the FA on Wednesday for allegedly submitting false information in the documents relating to the renegotiation of Alejandro Faurlín's contract last October, Paladini has dug in to drag up QPR. Yesterday Paladini said: "I have worked so hard for the club, seven days a week. I do not believe we have done anything wrong and nothing will happen. But I cannot say more because the case is with our lawyers."
Ecclestone, Mittal and Briatore have said their plan is to rebuild QPR and see the club into the Premier League sustainably, not by throwing vast fortunes in – but competing for promotion in the Championship is not a cheap venture. QPR recorded a loss of £19m in 2008-09, which got them to 11th in the division, and £14m last year, when they finished 13th.
Faurlín, who signed in a deal the club said was worth £3.5m – money which it is now understood was not paid to Faurlín's Argentinian club Instituto de Córdoba – was their highest-profile signing of 2009, and this season the Moroccan Adel Taarabt, a free from Tottenham Hotspur, has been the club's star performer.
The 2009-10 accounts, the club's most recent, show that Sarita Capital Investments, Briatore's company, had loaned QPR £13.6m, while Ecclestone personally had lent £1.4m. Last week QPR confirmed that "preliminary discussions" have begun over a sale of the club, which brought an instant statement from Amit Bhatia, Mittal's son-in-law who is the holding company vice-chairman, that the Mittals are not interested in selling their 20%.
That has left the assumption that Ecclestone is the one considering selling his stake, which looked odd considering QPR, seven points clear at the top of the Championship under Neil Warnock's management, are finally on the threshold of promotion. The club is denying that the sale discussions have anything to do with the FA investigation into the charges over Faurlín which, if proved, could cost the club points – and Premier League status. Calls to Ecclestone at Formula One were not returned.
Bhatia said last week the Mittals "remain passionate about QPR," and this week the club has said they and Paladini are "confident that there has been no deliberate wrongdoing involved". QPR fans, who have been watching a side set to return to the top flight after a 15-year absence, can only wait nervously for the next dramatic chapter.
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