A statue of Michael Jackson that stood at the Fulham home ground since 2011, but was taken down when the team was sold before the start of the current season, was a lucky charm for the club and it is no coincidence that, once the statue was removed, Fulham had a disastrous season that ended up with the club being relegated.
That, anyway, is the theory put forward Tuesday by former Fulham owner Mohamed al-Fayed, a personal friend of the late King of Pop who once attended a game at Craven Cottage, the stadium on the banks of the Thames River in London where Fulham plays it home games.
The now-85-year-old al-Fayed is an Egyptian billionaire and former owner of the famed Harrod’s department store in London. He now owns the Hotel Ritz in Paris. He bought the Fulham club in 1997, when the club was still playing in England’s lower tiers of professional football (aka soccer).
Under al-Fayed’s ownership, the club won the Football League Championship — the second tier — in 2001, earning promotion to the top flight Premier League, where it remained ever since. But after the 2012 season, al-Fayed sold Fulham to Pakistan-bor American billionaire Shahid Khan, owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
Khan ordered the Michael Jackson statue removed before the 2013/14 season began. But Fulham proceeded to have the worst season of its Premier League run, winning just nine games, drawing four and losing 24 for a paltry 31 points, with just one game left to play. A 4-1 loss to Stoke City Saturday mathematically sealed Fulham’s demotion to the Championship.
In English football, as in most pro soccer leagues, the bottom three teams after each season are relegated to the lower division, while three teams from that division join the top tier in their place.
“This statue was a charm and we removed the luck from the club and now we have to pay the price,” said al-Fayed at a ceremony donating the 7 1/2 foot statue to the National Football Museum in Manchester. “When (Khan) asked me to move it I said: ‘You must be crazy’. 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’. It’s really upsetting. This was a lucky place. Fulham never go down. Now they are relegated. Now he’s crying.”
Mohamed al-Fayed lost his son, Dodi, in 1997, in car crash that also killed Britain’s Princess Diana. He later became a close friend and unabashed admirer or Michael Jackson, who did in 2009.
“Michael Jackson had a charm, had a touch,” said al-Fayed.