- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

And now for something completely different.This is a story concerning Michael Jackson, Darth Vader, Uri Geller and me. It started last May when Geller, the famous spoon-bender and psychic to the celebrity world, decided to invest in a soccer club. No, not Manchester United, but tiny Exeter City. Geller’s 21-year-old son, Daniel, set up a shrine to Exeter in his bedroom after watching a highlight show. Soon son and father were driving to England’s southwest coast to check out the team located in the famous cathedral town of 110,000. Geller, 55, believes his son, now the club’s vice chairman, lived in the town during a previous life, but whether it was as a soccer player, is uncertain.With little talent on the field, Uri felt that a sprinkle of star power in the directors’ box might help the struggling team. Having just renewed his marriage vows, the soccer-mad Geller invited his best man, pop icon Jackson, to visit his new acquisition. So the royal train was corralled, and the King of Pop was escorted down from London for his first taste of “the world’s game.” As the train pulled away, Jackson was asked if he liked “football.”“Oh, you mean soccer,” he replied. “I know nothing about it.”Jackson not only ran out onto the Exeter turf before a rare capacity crowd of 10,000 but also was made an honorary director of the team, which is nicknamed The Grecians. (You know how Michael just loves buying those Grecian vases.) As a club director, Jackson is allowed to vote on player decisions and is entitled to free tea and sandwiches at all the stadiums in Division Three.”I know nothing about your sport, but I believe you,” Jackson told the crowd. “One other thing: England is going to win [at the World Cup].” Shouldn’t this guy be rooting for the American team? And get this: A copy of the club’s quarterly financial records is actually mailed to Jackson’s home at Neverland. Along with Jackson, Geller also named another friend, British actor David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the “Stars Wars” films, as an honorary director of the club. “I can see the rival team looking at David and thinking, ‘Oh no, they have Darth Vader on their side,’ ” Geller said. Geller’s next act of wizardry will be to get World Cup champion Brazil to come and play at Exeter to help the hosts get over their financial problems. (The club will be evicted from its offices next week by debt collectors.)And there is meaning behind Geller’s madness. Back in 1914, Exeter was touring South America and actually played Brazil. It was a historic game because it was Brazil’s first international match. Are you connecting all the dots here? Geller has even written a personal letter to Brazilian star Ronaldo, who in his time has had a few spells hexed from his fragile knees.But the Israeli-born Geller has not always gotten his way. The club made an unsuccessful attempt to sign English World Cup star and D.C. United reject Paul Gascoigne. And it was Geller who told Sports Illustrated before the 1998 World Cup that the Americans would reach the second round and beyond. The U.S. team went 0-3. So where do I come in? Well, I have a sentimental connection to Geller’s club. I was born in Exeter, and my grandfather, who conveniently named his four sons, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, worked in the famous cathedral. In his sober days, my dad was an ardent fan of the Grecians. Now, you might expect a club backed by the gloved one, the dark side of the force and a man who says he healed David Beckham’s foot with mind power to be storming up the standings. Not so. Exeter is languishing at the bottom of the Third Division and fighting relegation from the Football League. Today is the day of reckoning. Exeter must beat Southend in its last game of the season and trust events elsewhere to avoid a drop into the nether gloom of non-league soccer.If the team does go down today, Geller had best be careful. In the 17th century, the people of Exeter had a notorious habit of burning witches. Send Stange packing — Bernd Stange, who was hired by Baghdad to coach Iraq last year, is seeking to round up the national team now that the war is over. But Iraq’s new soccer bosses should void this guy’s contract.There’s compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, who ran the Iraqi soccer program, used torture on his own players after a bad result.Stange, however, disagrees. “Everyone in Iraq told me that it is exaggerated propaganda, and I have to believe that,” he told the London Observer.This is typical of a man who was accused of cooperating with the Stasi secret police back in East Germany’s communist days.

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