Michael Jackson and Football: A curious collaboration
Exeter City and Fulham had connections to the late pop star14:42 Wednesday 19 October 2016, 14:42 19 Oct 2016
Many of the biggest football clubs in the world have a statue or a bust of one of their great players inside or outside their stadium.
On the other hand, Fulham had a statue of someone who achieved iconic status without once (at least to our knowledge) kicking a football in earnest.
In 2011, the club unveiled a statue of the late Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage.
The 7 foot 6 block of plaster and resin portrayed the performer in full on-stage mode with a microphone in one hand and a silver glove on the other.
Quite why Mohamed Al Fayed commissioned it to sit outside a football ground is anyone's guess.
He and Jackson were friends, granted, and the original plan was to erect the statue outside Harrods, only for the former Fulham owner to sell the London store, which left Craven Cottage as the most convenient location.
The Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage in 2013. Picture by: Nick Potts / PA Archive/PA Images
Jackson had also apparently attended a Fulham match at Craven Cottage in 1999 against Wigan which maybe ticks one box in the club-legend-deserves-a-statue-at-the-stadium box.
Al Fayed also informed critics that they could "go to hell" if they had a problem with the statue.
Either way, it was met with a bemused reaction from fans and observers, who perhaps were not put off by the prospect of hell.
As one Fulham supporter told The Guardian in no uncertain terms "Why? Why us? Fulham football fans do not want a statue of Michael Jackson. It's completely mad. He's got nothing to do with us. To be honest, he's the last person you'd want there."
Pop legend Michael Jackson (centre) accompanied by David Blaine (left) and Uri Geller attends a fundraising event at Exeter Football Club at St James Park, Exeter in Devon. Picture by: Barry Batchelor / PA Archive/PA Images
The fans and critics had to put up with the statue until 2013 when Al Fayed sold the club to Pakistani-American businessman Shahid Khan who made the decision to take it down that September.
But later in that 2013-14 season, Fulham didn't so much experience hell as the Premier League equivalent of the drop into the abyss and in Al Fayed's mind relegation that season was down to one thing: the removal of the statue.
As, the Egyptian businessman said as he presented the Michael Jackson statue to England's National Football Museum in Manchester, the case was as clear as daylight.
"This statue was a charm and we removed the luck from the club and now we have to pay the price. When [Khan] asked me to move it I said: 'You must be crazy.' This is such a fantastic statue which the fans are crying out for. But now he has paid the price because the club has been relegated. He called me because he told me he wanted Michael to return. I told him, no way."
Listen to the full interview on non-league stories with authors Nige Tassell and Simon Carter on the podcast player or iTunes:
Turns out the statue wasn't the only time, Jackson or his likeness had a minor involvement in the world of football.
Did you know that Jackson was an honorary director of Exeter City FC?
On this week's Newstalk's Team 33, lifelong Exeter City FC fan and Southern Daily Echo sports editor Simon Carter joined us and The Bottom Corner: A Season with the Dreamers of Non-League Football author Nige Tassell to talk about some of the characters and stories to be found in lower division and non-league football.
And Carter, who has penned, Gus Honeybun... Your Boys Took One Hell of a Beating: Life in the Lower Divisions of the Football League about Exeter's highs and lows touched on how Jackson ended up becoming a tiny part of the club's history.
"Michael Jackson was our honorary president I think because we had Uri Geller as our executive chairman for a couple of years and that's a very long story," said Carter.
"But anyway, during Uri Geller's time in charge, Michael Jackson came down to St James Park during the summer for kind of like a tour and a speech on world peace."
Carter continued: "Michael Jackson was on the St James Park pitch on a nice sunny day with an umbrella above his head and he was wheeled around in one of these Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang cars. Even by Exeter's standards, it was pretty surreal."
As he also pointed out, Exeter briefly had an honorary board of directors full of famous names including Darth Vader (well, more accurately actor David Prowse) and magician David Blaine among others.
As Carter joked: "We had the richest board of directors in Football League history and we got relegated owing about £500,000. So work that one out!"
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