Sven-Goran Eriksson vs Michael Jackson

LET’S get one thing straight. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s arrival at Notts County is not the most surreal event ever to hit what is now League Two. I write as someone who once saw Uri Geller bend a spoon in the directors’ box at Macclesfield Town.

Sven’s meet-and-greet at Meadow Lane this morning also has nothing on the bizarre spectacle of Michael ‘King Of Pop’ Jackson giving a speech at a fundraising day at Exeter City in 2002, and urging the assembled crowd to help the people of Africa find a solution to stop the spread of HIV.

I’ll deal with Jacko and Uri first, then Sven. Back in 2002, Geller became co-chairman of Exeter City. (He gave an interview promising not to use his paranormal powers to influence matters on the pitch. He was as good as his word; Exeter were relegated to the Conference the following season. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

In a bid to raise funds for Exeter, who were struggling for cash at the time, Geller organised a spectacular event at St James Park, featuring three of his friends – soul singer Patti Boulaye, magician David Blaine (who did a few card tricks) and the King Of Pop himself.

Jackson gave a brief speech, which began with the greeting “Hello to you wonderful people of Exeter” (how polite), finished with a prediction that England would beat Denmark in that day’s World Cup match (he was right) and featured, in between, a series of appeals to the crowd for world peace and cures for various deadly illnesses.

It was a well-intentioned speech, if not necessarily directed at an audience able to provide the answers Jackson was looking for.

(Then again, perhaps I’m just a crusty old cynic, and if only I could learn to feel the love, the world really would be a better place.)

The whole speech is now on YouTube – with my favourite bits being:

1) The moment Jackson tells the crowd: “We have to stop the prejudice. We have to stop the hating. We have to stop living in fear of our own neighbours.” This met with approval from the crowd, but I suspect it was all forgotten when the next Exeter-Torquay derby came around.

2) The moment when Jackson pauses and a disembodied voice – presumably taken from the feed of the live radio broadcast – jumps in from nowhere to announce with Alan Partridge-like authority: “You’re with BBC Radio Devon live. Michael Jackson speaks to the people of Exeter.”

Jackson never attended an Exeter match, but Geller became a regular. In January 2003, I was mooching about in the press box at the Moss Rose about 45 minutes before Exeter’s game at Macclesfield, when Geller appeared a few rows below me, in the directors’ box.

In the company of Macclesfield’s then-chairman Rob Bickerton and a small group of supporters, Geller then proceeded to bend a spoon. As Bickerton wrote in his programme notes: “My eyes saw that he bent the spoon by gently stroking it. However, my brain said: ‘Not possible.’ On telling Roy Higginbotham, our new Life President and resident club cynic, about what we had seen, all he could say was: ‘If he’s that good, why aren’t Exeter top of the division? And what about turning this one pound coin into a two?’”

Geller’s attempts to help Exeter ended in disappointment. I can only hope for Notts County’s sake that the arrival of their own curious international celebrity brings them more fortune.

It is, of course, tempting to react to the news of Eriksson’s arrival at League Two’s most resolutely mid-table team by repeating the words “Sven?”, “Why?” and “Blimey!” over and over again in various combinations until your brain starts squirting out of your ears and all of your friends disown you.

However, I’d like to think this blog is capable of slightly more insight than that. (God knows why. I’ve been blogging for three years, and I don’t think I’ve managed to come up with anything remotely insightful in that time.) So, having tracked Eriksson’s fortunes during his year at Manchester City, I can predict that at least some of the following things will happen during the next 12 months.

1) At least three of the journalists attending any Sven press conference will attempt an impression of staggeringly poor quality while waiting for him to enter the room. (This impression will consist of saying the word ‘Welllllll-a’ in a cod-Swedish/Italian voice.) Eventually, the club’s employees will find themselves doing this too.

2) A Sunday tabloid will claim that Eriksson is romancing some Nottingham lovely or other in an article accompanied by a grainy photograph.

3) The local newspaper will speculate as to which of several luxury homes in the Nottingham area Eriksson might move to, while he remains based in an expensive hotel.

4) The Sun’s Bizarre column editor Gordon Smart will produce a series of stories claiming that Eriksson is learning to play the accordion, or is introducing Greco-Roman wrestling to training sessions, or some such nonsense. These articles will serve no purpose other than to allow Smart to use a wide repertoire of Sven-related sexual innuendo. Smart may or may not try to gain entry to a Notts County game dressed as a sheikh.

5) Swedish television will take up residency in Nottingham, interviewing anything that moves. The Nottingham Evening Post’s Notts County reporter will become hugely famous in Sweden.

6) Sven will be incredibly popular with Notts County’s fans, even if the club finish in the bottom six next season.

7) Against the fans’ wishes, Eriksson will be sacked after a season, and replaced as director of football by Steve McClaren.

Any or all of these things happening would be very entertaining. But it still wouldn’t beat Jacko at Exeter.

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