The football club that keeps brushing with the law

Times Online, February 16, 2007

It seems that Pete Doherty enjoys appearing in court as much as he does performing on stage. This week the Babyshambles frontman paid his respects to Thames Magistrates Court, where District Judge Jane McIvor fined him £300 and disqualified him from driving for two months for driving without insurance and an appropriate licence. Doherty admitted both charges in what was his umpteenth appearance before a court but - as far as I know - the fact that he supports Queens Park Rangers football club was not mentioned when asking for leniency.

It should have been. The humble West London club has developed an affinity for tangles with the law that make Doherty look like a semi-professional toiling in the lower reaches of the Ryman League. I admit that QPR’s unerring ability to generate legal work pleases the lawyer in me. What could be better than a client that seems condemned to spend its meagre resources not on players but on lawyers? But as a QPR supporter since the age of 10, with my own roots in West London, the club’s seemingly inexorable metamorphosis into little more than a lawyers’ cash-cow is depressing. It is not difficult to believe that Doherty is similarly afflicted.

Consider the following recent examples of QPR’s brush with the law. Last week, the “Great Brawl of China” occurred when the club played China in a friendly. This low-key fixture would barely have made the local papers had it not degenerated into a scrap notable for who didn’t throw a punch or attempt a karate kick. China’s Jiang Ning was left with a broken jaw and this week the police arrested Richard Hill, QPR’s assistant manager, on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm.

One photograph widely published in the press suggests that Hill enthusiastically embraced tips from the club’s sports performance manager, Joe Dunbar, who previously trained Lennox Lewis. The conflagration with China followed a fracas during QPR’s FA Cup defeat by Luton Town last month. The Football Association is currently considering a charge against the club of failing to control its players.

So far, so feisty – perhaps. After all, the club is fighting relegation and a bit of spirit among the players is no bad thing. This approach might be sustainable were it not for the fact that after the Great Brawl, QPR capitulated without even a whimper to Southend United, losing 5-0 in what football pundits like to call “a six-pointer.”

The club’s recent history is so scarred by legal drama that it is no wonder that six-pointers are being thrown away. On November 23 last year, a Vietnamese student was tragically killed when he fell onto the tube tracks at Earl’s Court. Three members of QPR’s youth team were questioned and released on bail after the death. Last May Kiyan Prince, a gifted 15-year old QPR youth team player, was stabbed to death outside his London School. Last year also saw the remarkable trial of seven men on charges of conspiracy to blackmail, false imprisonment and handgun possession, after club chairman Gianni Paladini alleged that a gun was held to his head before a home game against Sheffield United. The men were acquitted.

Against all this, Pete Doherty’s predilection for courtroom drama seems prosaic but, as his lawyers should note, slightly more comprehensible. He, at least, flirts with the real world, while – as he wrote in an anthem to QPR – the club enjoy “a life on Mars.”

What on earth will come next in the saga of insanity that is QPR FC? Perhaps the club will do something really daft, like appoint an in-house lawyer. One who is a fan. And who will do the job for nothing. This is, after all, Mars that we’re talking about. Here on Earth’s nearest planet, I am open to offers.