x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Premier League club Fulham are April's fool

Two stories from yesterday's sporting news - but can you spot the April Fool's prank?

Mohammed al Fayed, right, says he will honour Michael Jackson with a statue at Craven Cottage.
Mohammed al Fayed, right, says he will honour Michael Jackson with a statue at Craven Cottage.

Two stories from yesterday's sporting news - but can you spot the April Fool's prank?

In the red corner, a report that Manchester United FC was planning to hold every other home game in London's Olympic Stadium from 2015, to appease its many fans who hail from the south of England.

In the blue, turning mysteriously white, corner, the news that Fulham are preparing to unveil a life-size statue of Michael Jackson, the deceased singer, outside Craven Cottage.

The prank story was the one about Manchester United. Do not feel too bad if you guessed wrong. I did too, albeit briefly (OK, 20 minutes) and through a fugue of sleep.

Like all good lies, the United one was credible. It is an international brand owned by businessmen from the US, where professional sports franchises are transferred between cities at the drop of a 10-gallon hat.

Plus, United is a club with form for riding roughshod over tradition and fans' wishes, as they proved by withdrawing from the FA Cup in the 1999/2000 season, in favour of the World Club Championships.

The Fulham story, however, seemed too far-fetched. The very idea of the club bypassing historic figures such as Johnny Haynes or George Cohen or Bobby Robson or, well, anyone who either played for, managed or actually supported Fulham, in favour of Michael Jackson, was simply ludicrous.

How will the travelling Fulham fans - yes, all 25 of them - feel when they see that bronze Bill Shankly outside Anfield or Sir Matt Busby keeping vigil over Old Trafford, knowing that their statue equivalent of those legends is a man who sang to a pet rat?

OK, on current form, the Cottagers have won just one of their past five league matches, and sit three points above the relegation zone, so perhaps they need not worry too much about trips to Anfield and Old Trafford. Still, Portman Road has Sir Alf Ramsey and the City Ground has Brian Clough. There will be no respite from statue envy in the Championship.

Despite his friendship with the Fulham owner, Mohamed al Fayed, and despite efforts to rewrite history (did you know that Jackson's Off the Wall album was named after a deflected free kick scored by Jimmy Hill against Doncaster Rovers in 1952, or that his single Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough Points was a rousing call-to-arms to Malcolm Macdonald's promotion-chasing Fulham side of 1981?), Jackson was clearly not a proper Fulham fan. If he was, he would never have named his chimp after West Ham United's club anthem. To make matters worse, the statue has the lyrics of Jackson's hit record, Thriller, engraved upon its base.

Of all the words one associates with Fulham, "thriller" is not high on the list, although it is quite possible to feel like a zombie after watching them dredge out another low-scoring 90 minutes on Match of the Day. Altogether now, de dum dum do do do, de dum dum do do do …

It's close to midnight

Something evil's lurking in the dark.

On TV highlights,

Fulham go to Goodison Park.

You try to scream,

But boredom takes the sound before you make it.

You make some tea,

As Hughesy keeps a high defensive line,

Biding his time.

 

Cos this is filler, Thriller-lite.

And no one's gonna say,

"That was a football feast" tonight.

It's a one-niller,

Thriller-lite,

You're waiting for the end,

Cos next it's Villa, four-niller, with fight, yeah!

 

Neymar proves racism goes each way

There is an organisation, funded by the English Premier League and Football Association, called "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football".

It encourages a zero-tolerance policy towards racist behaviour in English football stadiums and encourages decent supporters to report those responsible.

So what action will they be taking against Neymar, the Brazilian wunderkind, following his racial slur against Scotland fans following an international friendly match at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on Sunday?

Neymar scored two wonderful goals but was jeered by Scotland fans for his play-acting.

The player, who also had a banana thrown toward him, told Brazilian television: "The entire stadium was jeering.

"This atmosphere of racism is totally sad.

"We leave our country to play here and something like this happens."

Neymar has since issued a pathetic denial, but this is a clear case of a young man making some rapid conclusions based on the colour of a group of fans' skin.

Is his automatic tarnishing of white Scottish fans so different from the moronic fan who accuses black players of being lazy or stupid?

I am not demanding that Neymar be punished harshly.

Racism against black players does exist, and the banana incident did seem suspect, although it later emerged that the fruit was thrown by a German student, without racist intent.

However, perhaps it would be helpful to hear some acknowledgement from official bodies such as "Let's Kick Racism Out of Football" that racism can be a two-way street.