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Al Fayed’s Jacko statue causes Fulham fan friction

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Fulham fans unhappy with the unveiling of a Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage can “go to hell” and support Chelsea, according to Fulham chairman Mohamed Al Fayed. The statue was commissioned in the wake of Jackson’s 2009 death as Al Fayed hailed the singer a friend and legend.

“He left behind a legacy of music so vast it takes one’s breath away; from a precocious talent to an ingenuity and ground breaking modernity that shall never be repeated,” said Al Fayed. Only one other person has been honoured in such a fashion at Craven Cottage – club legend Johnny Haynes who made 594 appearances, scoring 147 goals, for Fulham. Haynes contribution to the cause is in stark contrast to Jackson, who attended one game against Wigan Athletic in 1999.

Many fans were left scratching their heads describing the decision as “mad” and likely to make the club “a laughing stock”. Some even asked whether it was an April Fools joke. Al Fayed has little time for disgruntled fans though and came up with an unlikely solution – telling them to go and support their nearest rivals.

“If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift this guy gave to the world they can go to hell,” said Al Fayed. “I don’t want them to be fans. If they don’t understand and don’t believe in things I believe in they can go to Chelsea, they can go to anywhere else.

“The last game he attended here with me, he was running like a child, he loved the place. He loved Fulham and he wanted to attend all of the matches. People will queue to come and visit it from all over the UK and it is something that I and everybody else should be proud of.”

Daniel Crawford, of FSF affiliate Fulham Supporters’ Trust, said: “There is a split between supporters and many are disappointed with the situation. Some people think it demeans the Johnny Haynes statue, which was partly supporter-funded, and even the history of the club. It might succeed in alienating fans who have been around a little longer although most know to take whatever Al Fayed says with a big pinch of salt.”

While the majority of online comments from Fulham fans do seem bemused with the statue, and upset with Al Fayed, others argue that the chairman has invested heavily in the Cottagers and should be free to make these decisions for “his” club.

“The key thing about the Michael Jackson statue is that Mohammed Al Fayed, as I understand it, had intended to site it at Harrods, not the Cottage. Having sold his ‘corner shop’, our chairman decided on a plan B. And, given his excellent chairmanship to date – he’s the main reason we’re an established Premier League club after all – he’s got every right to have it at the ground,” said David Lloyd, editor of the excellently named There’s Only One F In Fulham fanzine.

“It’s tucked away beyond the Hammersmith End structure by the river, not on the centre spot, so it’s hardly obtrusive. And, when you’ve overcome the very real threat in the not-too-distant past of your favourite football club folding, rowing over the unveiling of a statue of a pop megastar who happened to be a good friend of the chairman seems very petty indeed.

“That doesn’t mean you have to like it. Nor does it mean that you have to go to hell – or Chelsea! – if you don’t. Get over it. It’s there. Who knows, it might even open up a new revenue stream by attracting Michael Jackson fans from across the globe. ‘Off The Wall’? Oh yes. But ‘Bad’ – really, really bad? Not in the grand scheme of things.”

This isn’t the first cub statue to cause controversy either. In 2007 Southampton erected an 11-foot bronze statue of former player, manager, director and president Ted Bates AKA Mr Southampton. However, the work was branded a “joke” by fans with disproportionate arms and legs, and a face that resembled former Portsmouth chairman Milan Mandaric, being particular bones of contention.

In January 2011 a £25,000 sculpture of an ox at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium was painted bright pink by vandals who scrawled “gotta love art” on the statue’s plinth – by February the club had restored the statue to its previous condition.

See the unveiling of the Jackson statue here on the BBC’s site.

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