Skip to content

Time defeats tradition as Fulham’s MJ statue comes down

Sep 19, 2013, 2:51 PM EDT

Fulham v Blackpool - Premier League Getty Images

Traditions become traditions the same way that people win dance marathons. Traditions simply outlast detractors. A tradition simply keep going, through all of the “that’s stupid” and “we should stop doing that” and “can’t we just find something new?” that everyone casts its way. Tradition’s aren’t necessarily SMARTER or BETTER than the fads that disappear. Traditions are just more stubborn.

I remember the first time I heard Kansas’ “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant. It is really kind of a creepy thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it for the history and the passion it evokes, it’s absolutely one of my favorite things in college sports. But objectively, let’s be honest here, it’s a bit disturbing, you know, the way everyone does those yoga motions and moans “RAAAAAAAAACK … CHAWWWWWWWWWWK …. JAYYYYYY … HAWWWWWWWWK …. KAAYYYYYYY … YUUUUUUUUUUUUU.” If you saw and heard people doing that anywhere but a basketball game, you’d be convinced you walked in on a weird cult meeting.

But it has lasted. They’ve been chanting Rock Chalk Jayhawk since the 1880s. At no point through it all has one generation of kids said, “Naw, let’s try something else.” That’s what makes it a tradition. Conversely, a few years ago Kansas tried this other chant where they brought out a garbage can they called “The Sound Machine” and told fans to cheer when the lid was open and stop the instant the lid was closed. If I remember right, they called it “Kansas’ newest basketball tradition.” This game but absurd effort lasted exactly one game.

MORE: Michael Jackson statue set to be removed from Fulham FC

Was the Sound Machine any less viable a concept than Rock Chalk Jayhawk? Maybe, maybe not. But it did not come close to standing the tradition time test.

That’s really what’s happening. A tradition time test. A tradition survival of the fittest. Time is a harsh judge. When I was a kid, we used to attack each other with various insults based on “Welcome Back Kotter’s” classic “Up your nose with a rubber hose” banter. You know: In your ear with a chandelier. In your face with a a brown briefcase. Up your butt with a … we fully expected that stuff to last forever. Shockingly it did not. Time took one look at that bit of stupidity and said, “Um, let me just erase that nonsense from the world as soon as possible.”

Time defeated parachute pants. Time defeated golf knickers. Time defeated the tennis victor leaping over the net and baseball players leaving their gloves out in the field between innings. Time defeated people dressing up and wearing cool hats to sporting events. Time defeated barefooted kickers and long hook shots and high jumpers who tried to leap forward over the bar and the Macarena. Charlie Finley gave the Kansas City A’s a mule mascot named Charlie-O. Time stepped in. Bill Veeck tried to dress up the White Sox in shorts. Time stepped in. The Yankees used to play “Cotton Eyed Joe” at every seventh-inning stretch. Time stepped in.

But here’s the other side of time: Once something DOES defeat time, once it crosses that finish line and become a tradition — not unlike that cartoon bill becoming a law in “Schoolhouse Rocks” — it becomes pretty close to invulnerable. Take the Washington football team. They’re just sticking with the name. They know the history. They know the meaning. They know that Washington Hogs would be such an awesome name. Doesn’t matter. It’s a tradition. And like all traditions, once they’re in, they’re in. Traditions get “Favored nation” status. Time has been trying to wipe out the wave for decades … hasn’t done it yet.

All of which leads to this sad bit of news: They’re moving the Michael Jackson outside the stadium at Fulham of the Premier League.

I like Fulham. A few years ago, I asked Brilliant Readers to send in their suggestions for which Premier League team I should root for, and the Fulham fans were convincing. Fulham is the friendly team in London. While Tottenham and Arsenal rage at each other and Chelsea spends billions of dollars, Fulham just plugs happily along at Craven Cottage, the Wrigley Field of England, which is charming and old and right by the River Thames. Everyone has a good time. Fulham has never actually won a Premier League championship or any other major trophies, but they keep going, happy to be a part of things. optimistic that someday they’ll have their big moment, welcoming to all. They are the only Premier League team to have a section reserved for neutral fans who just want to enjoy themselves. Yes, I like Fulham a lot.

About two and a half years ago, they put this Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage. It’s not a statue as you might imagine one would look outside a stately place like Craven Cottage — you know, made of white stone or dark bronze or whatever. No, really, it looks more like something you would see in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It’s colorful and gaudy, MJ is holding a microphone and wearing one glove and tight pants and apparently is about to moonwalk.*

*Another tradition time defeated — we used to try and moonwalk all the time!

The statue is there because Fulham’s former chairman, Mohammed Al-Fayed, wanted it there. He was friends with Michael Jackson. He brought Michael Jackson to a Fulham game, I guess, or maybe even more than one, and the King of Pop had a good time or something. To be honest with you, I don’t see why this kind of madness doesn’t happen more in sports. If I spent hundreds of millions (or a billion) to buy a sports team, you better believe I would do all kind of crazy stuff like this. I’d put statues of Bugs Bunny and Duane Kuiper and Ric Flair at the entrance. I’d have them play “Badlands” twice every game. I’d have my baseball players wear those old wool uniforms and my basketball players wear those really short 1970s shorts every so often. The question to me is not how Bill Veeck or Charlie Finley ever got to own baseball teams. The question is why there haven’t been many more like them.

Anyway, Al-Fayed loved Michael Jackson, and he wanted to do something to honor his memory, and so he had this statue done and placed outside the stadium. It made no sense to anyone. I doubt that there’s a clash at any sports venue in the world quite like that ridiculous Michael Jackson statue outside charming old Craven Cottage. It would be like putting a giant Rubik’s Cube outside Fenway Park or a statue of a box of Jujubes outside Lambeau Field. It was patently ridiculous, and there was an uproar about it for a while … but that’s the amazing thing about being the owner. Nobody really could do anything about it. Al-Fayed wanted a Michael Jackson statue there. And so there was a Michael Jackson statue there.

This year, Al-Fayed sold the team to American automobile parts mogul Shahid Khan — who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars — and almost immediately questions about the statue came up. Khan, apparently, had no idea what kind of hailstorm he had entered. He seemed to be leaning toward taking it down. Al-Fayed said if Khan even tried it, he would personally come and shave off Khan’s somewhat famous mustache. Then there was some indecision. Some worry. Khan at one point talked about praying for answers. He seemed generally distraught about it all.

And here’s the thing: I was kind of rooting for the statue to stay. It’s not that I like the statue — I don’t. It’s not like I think it belongs — I don’t. But the way I figure it, if that statue could have lasted for even five more years, it had a real shot of becoming a tradition. And once that happened, it would have to stay. People would get used to it. More, they would unconsciously begin to accept it. And then, even people who DESPISE it would fight for it. It would be a tradition. For generations of kids, that weird Michael Jackson statue by one of England’s most cherished stadiums would not represent the King of Pop but instead it would be a symbol of Fulham soccer. It would come to represent not the Thriller video and Billie Jean and the 1980s and general strangeness but great goals and outings with family and spectacular victories and horrible defeats.

Alas, it is not to be. Apparently the statue is moving to one of Al-Fayed’s countless other properties. They got rid of it just in time, just before it started to stubbornly become a tradition. And so instead of becoming an odd but gradually beloved part of Fulham Football, it will instead be remembered as this extremely weird thing one of Fulham’s more eccentric chairmen did back around 2011 or 2012. And time wins again.

Latest Posts
  1. Preview: DC United, Montreal back in CONCACAF Champions League action

    Aug 20, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT

    Philadelphia Union v DC United - Disney Pro Soccer Classic Getty Images

    D.C. welcome Jamaican side Waterhouse to RFK, while Montreal head to El Salvador in CCL group stages.

  2. Marcus Rojo officially signs for Manchester United in $26.5 million deal

    Aug 20, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    Source: Manchester United Source: Manchester United

    Red Devils finally land their man as Argentine defender signs five-year deal.

  3. Manchester United to pay Nani’s $8 million wages, in full, during loan spell

    Aug 20, 2014, 2:35 PM EDT

    Manchester United's Nani is challenged by Chelsea's Lampard for the ball during their English FA Cup quarter-final soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester Reuters

    Nani is being paid his Manchester United wages in full… to play for Sporting Lisbon.

  4. Unsung hero: Luka Modric signs new four-year deal at Real Madrid

    Aug 20, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    Before! Before!

    The diminutive Croatian midfielder will remain at Real after proving himself in the Spanish capital.

  5. Queens Park Rangers sign Dutch international Leroy Fer in $16 million deal

    Aug 20, 2014, 1:25 PM EDT

    Source: Queens Park Rangers Source: Queens Park Rangers

    Fer, 24, is back in the Premier League as QPR capture box-to-box midfielder.

  6. Atlanta’s new MLS franchise has already sold 14,000 season tickets

    Aug 20, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT

    Don Garber AP

    Set to arrive in MLS in 2017, the league’s newest franchise has already sold a staggering number of season tickets.

  7. No Turkish delight for Arsenal: Ramsey sent off, Arteta injured, Wenger fumes

    Aug 20, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT

    Arsene Wenger, Slaven Bilic AP

    Wenger: “It’s very difficult to understand but, in the second half, the performance of the referee was very bad.”

  8. Thomas Muller reveals he rejected “astronomical” offer from Manchester United

    Aug 20, 2014, 11:01 AM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C1-MAN CITY-BAYERN MUNICH Getty Images

    Muller: “The amount that foreign clubs were offering me was astronomical. But Bayern are my club.”

  9. Swansea City sign Argentine defender Federico Fernandez

    Aug 20, 2014, 10:31 AM EDT

    Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina: Group F - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Fernandez arrives from Napoli as Swans sign Argentine center back.

  10. Newly appointed Italian soccer president probed by UEFA amid racism claims

    Aug 20, 2014, 9:50 AM EDT

    Italy Federation Racism AP

    Following his alleged racist comments, leader of Italian soccer facing lengthy ban.

  11. Wednesday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Carvalho to Chelsea, Zaha to Palace

    Aug 20, 2014, 9:10 AM EDT

    Sporting Lisboa's William Carvalho celebrates his goal against Porto during their Portuguese premier league soccer match in Porto Reuters

    Arsenal to miss out on Carvalho, Nastasic, as rumors continue to swirl. Check out the latest gossip, here.

  12. No signings in 2015: Barcelona’s transfer ban upheld, FIFA rejects appeal

    Aug 20, 2014, 8:28 AM EDT

    Manchester City v Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Getty Images

    Barcelona banned by FIFA from signing any new players from September 2014 to January 2016.

  13. Report: Tottenham set to raid Manchester United, line up Fellaini, Hernandez deals

    Aug 20, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

    Manchester United v Los Angeles Galaxy Getty Images

    Spurs set to hand Red Devils duo escape route from Old Trafford?

  14. CONCACAF Champions League Roundup: Champions fall in Panama; Sporting slips at Estelí

    Aug 20, 2014, 1:47 AM EDT

    concacaf champions league logo

    Portland victorious in CCL debut,while Club América affirmed their place as one of the competition’s favorites.

  15. Where in the world is Juan Agudelo? “Munich” may soon be the answer

    Aug 19, 2014, 9:53 PM EDT

    Agudelo Getty Images

    21-year-old striker may turn to the 2.Bundesliga to get his young career back on track.

  16. Moor’s season-ending injury sends Rapids’ defense into upheaval

    Aug 19, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT

    Colorado Rapids v Philadelphia Union Getty Images

    Injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for slumping Colorado.

  17. Spanish Super Cup: Late goal allows Atlético to claim first leg draw at Real Madrid

    Aug 19, 2014, 7:22 PM EDT

    gareth_bale AP

    James Rodríguez’s opener is pulled back in the 81st minute, sending the rivals to the Calderón even.

  18. UEFA Champions League Roundup: Arsenal held; Athletic takes 1-1 draw out of Naples

    Aug 19, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT

    arsenal_besiktas AP

    Steaua Bucharest, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg earned first leg wins.

Featured video

Top five PL goals, Week 1