Dion Fanning: Out-of-tune QPR returning to face the Championship music
How much suffering can a people take? At the Etihad today, unless they do something extraordinary, Queens Park Rangers will be relegated from the Premier League or, to put it another way, they will be relegated from the Premier League.
It is hard to see QPR as a tragic tale. They are not Newcastle United, full of dramatic lurches and stuffed with doomed and villainous characters. Newcastle is an epic tragedy combining all the traditional elements that have made people mad before they added some of the modern ones as well.
QPR, on the other hand, are more like the plot of a television ad that murmurs along in the background, an incessant noise you only notice when you realise they've stopped running it.
But they, too, have supporters who have endured much. (During QPR's previous relegation season, I met a man at Loftus Road who was back to witness the final weeks of misery even though he'd recently had his spleen removed but that's another story.) They are a hidden tragedy, a club which has managed to combine all the worst elements of Premier League excess while reaping none of the dividends.
Unlike Mike Ashley's Newcastle, QPR have not embraced austerity. They have a wage bill which would make them title challengers in many European countries but they have the feel of a low-budget side. This season they have never shaken off the sense that they shouldn't have been promoted at all. It was something which happened on a freak afternoon at Wembley and they've been going along with the idea reluctantly ever since.
QPR always appealed to the members of the diaspora who found themselves in a certain part of London. They were the club for those who gathered in Shepherd's Bush or Kilburn and for those who ended up in Kensal Rise, Ladbroke Grove or along the Harrow Road.
In his memoirs, the former Labour minister, Alan Johnson, he talks about his days growing up off Ladbroke Grove. Johnson was a QPR supporter and his father spent his time in the pubs around Notting Hill, including the Kensington Park Hotel or the KPH, known, Johnson says, as 'Keep Paddy Happy'.
Paddy lost himself in the KPH or in the Earl Percy or the Kingdom on the Kilburn High Road. He lost himself in the Shepherd & Flock on the Goldhawk Road or in any of the places he could be guaranteed a welcome, anywhere he could be guaranteed to feel safe in the uncaring universe known as London. These places kept Paddy happy but, at times, they also made him very, very sad.
Johnson would have been a good leader of the Labour party in that he gives the impression which also happens to be true that he has lived among normal people. He has more important things to worry about this weekend, although perhaps he has given up on QPR now, knowing there is no way back.
The KPH was where Stan Bowles used to drink with Phil Lynott. In his autobiography, Stan talked about their friendship and says Lynott would often wonder why Stan and his friend Joey Leach blew so much money gambling. "He offered us the rights promoting t-shirts and all the other Thin Lizzy merchandise," Bowles wrote. They were too busy enjoying themselves, Stan says, to take up the offer of this lucrative business. "In hindsight," he adds, "we could have earned millions of pounds had we taken Phil up on his offer." That is one scenario. In hindsight.
Like the idea of Stan Bowles turning into a sated and wealthy man on the back of a merchandising agreement with Lynott, the notion that QPR could survive in the Premier League is seductive but equally hard to imagine in the real world.
The reality is likely to be painful. Relegation to the Championship where they will have to contend with the fine for previous failures to conform to Financial Fair Play regulations is next on the agenda.
For QPR, the time in the Premier League has been like Ronnie Biggs' time in Rio, a pleasant way to spend a life avoiding punishments waiting in another jurisdiction. Unlike Ronnie, QPR rarely seemed too bothered about going back, playing with a lack of urgency which suggested they were safely in mid-table rather than close to extinction which is a possibility if no deal can be made with the Football League.
They may find a means of negotiating away from that drastic fate but nothing says that they were prepared for life in the Premier League except their refusal to consider what life would be like outside it.
They may look back and regret their failure to appoint Tim Sherwood when Harry Redknapp's knee made it impossible for him to carry on. Sherwood has done a good job at Villa, helped by succeeding a man who was as unlike Sherwood as it is possible to be. Paul Lambert, morose and seemingly convinced about the futility of nearly all human endeavour, might have existed in his final days only as a way of making Tim Sherwood's arrival as glorious as can be.
Roy Keane's comments about Sherwood last week were unsurprising and managed, as Keane so often does, to be cutting while missing the point. Sherwood could have shown up in the stand with a sign saying 'Gun For Hire' and it would have no effect on what Villa had become in Lambert's last days.
Sherwood has provided technicolor, demonstrating, in this instance, the wisdom in appointing a manager who is the exact opposite of what went before.
If he had taken over from Harry Redknapp, there would not have been such a contrast but he might have harnessed the home support in a way that has escaped Chris Ramsey, who has closed the gap between QPR's home and away performances by making the home displays as bad as those away from Loftus Road.
Like John Carver, Ramsey looks like an appointment made until something better came along. Unlike Newcastle, QPR were not in a position to wait for something better to come along. Ramsey's appointment reflected QPR's late conversion to prudence when they probably needed one last shot at extravagance. The prudence is waiting for them, with none of the illusion of warmth given to those who once lost themselves down the Goldhawk Road.
Sunday Indo Sport