It’s soccer madness time in the UK again and the season has burst into life even more rapidly than usual on the corporate front with budget airline Air Asia tycoon Tony Fernandes set to tie up a deal to buy Bernie Ecclestone’s 51 per cent stake in newly-promoted Premiership club Queens Park Rangers.
This will be a great relief, if it happens, for QPR supporters who have seen their traditional working class club in West London become the plaything of Ecclestone and former Renault Formula One team boss Flavio Briatore who have been asking a ludicrous £100m for the club they bought for £14m in 2007 while declining to put any of their own money into it to buy players or improve its tiny !9,000-seater stadium.
Supporters were surprised to see a sign saying ‘QPR – a boutique club’ on their way into the stadium, further evidence of Briatore’s plot to turn the club into a semi-private entertainment for his rich pals (although it’s unlikely he has 19,000 of them).
The club had already antagonised its frazzled supporters even further by sharply increasing ticket prices to between £47 and £72, a ridiculous amount to watch what is essentially a Championship team almost certainly heading for instant relegation.
Observing all this was Fernandes (although not Ecclestone or the other big shareholder Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal).
Fernandes knows very well the appeal of soccer in the Far East and the benefits association with a successful team could bring for his Kuala Lumpur-based businesses.
He has already made several failed bids for East London club West Ham (run by the equallly unappealing trio of David Gold, David Sullivan and Karren Brady) so Ecclestone may finally have found a way of getting out of football, a sport he clearly never liked much and saw as yet more quick bucks.
Let’s just hope that the diminutive tycoon (who has a few other issues at the moment, including a bribery case in Germany and the likely loss of his control over Formula One to News Corporation) doesn’t trouser anything like £100m for his pains.
As for Fernandes, assuming his fortune is really as large as it’s reported to be, he finds himself with a potentially valuable property in West London, home to millions of increasingly prosperous Brits of South Asian origin. Southall, up the road, is the curry capital of the UK.
But he’ll need to invest in the team and, probably, a new stadium, something Ecclestone and Briatore were never willing or (in Briatore’s case perhaps) able to do.
And forget about all this ’boutique club’ nonsense.