London: For decades, Michael Jackson was known for his elaborate entrances and glittery stage shows. On Wednesday, the King of Pop was hauled away in air-bubble packaging by four burly stonemasons.
It was an unceremonious end to his nearly three-year run at Fulham’s stadium, Craven Cottage. After 90 minutes of chiseling, sawing and hacking, Jackson left the building, horizontally, on the back of a truck.
He will not be missed by Fulham fans. Since April 2011, a nearly eight-foot statue of Jackson, made of Jesmonite, stood facing the Thames, behind the home stands. A large sign that read “Michael Jackson the Tribute” hung next to Jackson, who stood atop black granite with a sequined jacket, an ammunition belt and a glove on his right hand.
His presence was incongruous in the extreme. Mohamed al-Fayed, the team’s eccentric former owner, who called Jackson a friend, had the statue built even though Jackson seemed to care little about soccer and attended only one Fulham match.
Fulham’s fans were happy with Fayed, who spent lavishly to lift the club’s fortunes. They helped pay for a tasteful and far more expensive bronze statue of Johnny Haynes, perhaps the team’s greatest player, which stands at the other end of the stadium.
While Jackson’s fans travelled from far and wide to pay their respects, in the masculine world of English soccer, the homage to Jackson was considered a joke.
“It’s rubbish,” said Andy Hunt, a longtime fan who stood near the statue before Tuesday’s League Cup game against Everton, drinking beer with his friend, Malcolm Apted. “I don’t object to the person. If it was in bronze, maybe. But it’s tacky.”
Fayed — who bought Fulham in 1997, a few months before his son, Dodi, died in a car crash with Diana, Princess of Wales — was unrepentant. Asked in 2011 about whether a statue of Jackson made sense at the fabled stadium, he said: “If some stupid fans don’t understand or appreciate such a gift, they can go to hell.”
For good measure, he invited these unbelievers to root for Chelsea, Fulham’s archrival, which play two subway stops away.
Fayed got his way until he sold Fulham in July to Shahid Khan, the billionaire owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. At the news conference announcing the deal, Fayed threatened to cut off Khan’s signature handlebar moustache if the statue was removed.
Two months later, Khan made perhaps the most important decision of his young tenure as owner: Jacko would go. “Our supporters’ views on the statue have been made clear,” he said in a statement last week. Removing the statue, he said, was “the right thing for Fulham Football Club.”