- The Washington Times - Friday, January 14, 2005

In 2003, I wrote a column about the plight of Exeter F.C., a small, struggling team in England where Uri Geller — the spoon-bending psychic to the celebrity world — was chairman and pop star Michael Jackson an honorary director. At the time, the Grecians were on the verge of being relegated out of the Football League after an 80-year stretch. I had a sliver of concern because I was born in the cathedral town.

Alas, Geller and Jackson could not save Exeter, which dropped out of the league to languish in the Nationwide Conference. The team also faced bankruptcy and the possibility of folding.

That should have been the end of the story. Now, amazingly, Exeter is back in the news.

This season, the club has enjoyed a memorable FA Cup run and last week faced Manchester United, the richest club on the planet, in the third round of the Cup. Exeter is 94 places below United in the football pyramid and on paper should have been pummeled by the Red Devils.

Not so. Exeter not only stunned the soccer world by holding United to a scoreless tie before nearly 70,000 in torrential rain but tested a United defense featuring two Americans, goalie Tim Howard and defender Jonathan Spector. For its efforts, Exeter now will face another lucrative game against the current FA Cup holders at its 9,000-seat stadium in the replay on Wednesday night.

Exeter’s coach, Alex Inglethorpe, was coaching a youth team just a few months ago. Now he gets another shot at the biggest club in the world.

The game is such a hot draw that it will be televised worldwide by BBC. In total, Exeter will reap a staggering $1.4million from the two games against Manchester, wiping out the club’s entire debt.

Just imagine if the Bowie Baysox played host to the New York Yankees in a major competitive game, and you’ll get some idea what the soccer gods are cooking up here.

In last week’s match, United coach Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a weakened team against the minnows, but on Wednesday he will make sure he starts his big guns — Alan Smith, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney — to win and escape further embarrassment. It could be a slaughter. But if Exeter by some miracle beats United, which has won the FA Cup 11 times, it would be the biggest upset ever in the world’s oldest tournament — and my grandfather, a Grecian fan, certainly would roll over in his grave.

Exeter then would play another Premiership club, Middlesbrough, in the fourth round and earn another bundle of money. We live in hope.

RFK moves — As reported in The Washington Times, it will take a minimum of 48 hours to reconfigure RFK Stadium from its baseball format to hold D.C. United games. The Washington Nationals and United have designed their schedules so that 72 hours is available for each changeover.

The seats that cater to the soccer fan clubs (the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava), now in left field, will be moved back on rails for the soccer games.

Corner kicks — Ace Spanish striker Fernando Morientes, who has been sitting on the bench at Real Madrid, has made an $11.3million move to Liverpool. Real Madrid star David Beckham was appointed as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador this week and has made a worldwide television appeal on behalf of tsunami victims. Also, a charity exhibition game, called “Football for Hope” and involving many of the world’s top players, will be held at the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona on Feb.15. …

“Play Soccer — Make Peace” was the motto of a tournament recently in the Gaza Strip involving 16 teams, some representing the refugee camps of Rafa and Jabaliya. The event was funded from profits generated at the 2003 Peace Cup in South Korea. … The U.S. under-20 men’s team beat Trinidad and Tobago 6-1 in its opening game of CONCACAF qualifying Wednesday. D.C. United’s Freddy Adu scored a goal on a penalty kick, and MetroStars striker Eddie Gaven scored a first-half hat trick. …

MLS and Adidas launched “Generation Adidas” this week, an initiative that will replace the league’s current youth development program, Nike Project-40. MLS contracted 12 youth players to the program Thursday, including three players currently on the U.S. under-20 team. … Italian side Inter Milan was down 2-0 against Sampdoria on Sunday with just two minutes of regulation time left, and many fans had left in disgust. But in a stunning recovery, Inter scored three goals in three minutes to win the game.

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