It has happened. On 9 January 1932 41,097 watched Queen’s Park Rangers play Leeds United in an FA Cup third-round tie. That must be the latent support Tony Fernandes hopes to tap into with the new 40,000-seat stadium proposed for Old Oak Common.
Having transformed Air Asia from a failing company with $11m debt and two ageing Boeings into a successful 132-plane operation, Fernandes has earned the right to have his dreams respected. But turning QPR into a club capable of filling a 40,000 stadium is going to take a generation of success.
When citing record club attendances it is customary to suggest that fans were “packed in”, but there was plenty of room on the White City terraces to watch QPR win 3-1 81 years ago. At the time the Olympic venue was pulling in 90,000 crowds to watch boxing.
QPR, meanwhile, were averaging 13,000 in the Third Division South. That figure is QPR’s historical average, roughly on a par with Huddersfield and Bristol City.
Rangers soon gave up on White City and, aside from another poorly-attended season three decades on, have stayed at Loftus Road, their main home since 1917. Their best season was 1975-76 when Dave Sexton’s superb team of Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis et al attracted average gates of 24,000.
Fernandes is right to argue that Loftus Road, now constricted to 18,439 often cramped seats, is too small to sustain a Premier League club, especially with Financial Fair Play restricting owner subsidies. But it has taken Fulham (historically a marginally larger club) 12 years in the top flight, and a European final to edge their gates up to 25,000. Only now are they planning to expand to 30,000.
In a sane world Fulham and QPR, instead of planning separate developments, would investigate ground-sharing. It happens overseas, but given the antipathy shown in Bristol and on Merseyside it appears to be a non-starter in England.
So Fernandes plunges into a £200m gamble on a continuing boom in English football, and a surge in popularity for QPR. Realistically, as with West Ham’s move to the Olympic Stadium, the only way he can fill the ground is with cheap tickets and the hope of ancillary income from merchandising and catering. If that allows those excluded by modern prices a chance to see live football, good luck to him. He will need it.