It may be approaching the two-year anniversary of his death from cardiac arrest in Los Angeles, but as of this weekend there will be a corner of suburban south-west London that is forever Michael Jackson.
On Saturday, to a chorus of outrage from supporters and disquiet even from Jackson loyalists, a six-foot high golden statue of the King of Pop will be unveiled at Fulham football club, creating an incongruous permanent shrine to a pop culture icon of the 80s and 90s.
The statue is at the behest of the Fulham chairman and owner Mohamed Al Fayed, a close friend of the singer. "Michael Jackson was truly a legend, a term used too often in this modern world," Fayed told Fulham's website, when news emerged of the unveiling. "I hope that Fulham fans will appreciate seeing the finest performer in the world in and among them."
Football clubs have their own loyalties, however, and the unveiling of the statue – which depicts Jackson draped in ammunition belts and wearing what has been described as "his underpants outside his trousers" – has caused disquiet. Hundreds of supporters have signed a petition in protest at the club honouring "a controversial American pop star, who has no links to Fulham Football Club … causing heated debate and much unrest". A demonstration is being planned to mark the unveiling tomorrow before the home match against Blackpool.
"Why? Why us? Fulham football fans do not want a statue of Michael Jackson," said Fulham supporter Lee Robinson. "It's completely mad. He's got nothing to do with us. To be honest, he's the last person you'd want there."
From the outside there is little to connect the two. On one hand, the most commercially prolific recording artist of the modern era, a man who almost single-handedly popularised the moonwalk. On the other, London's sleepiest Premier League football club, whose starriest encounters have tended to be the odd appearance in the stands by Hugh Grant. Indeed, this is something of a marriage of convenience: Fayed originally planned to erect the statue outside Harrods, which he sold to the Qatari royal family for £1.5bn shortly after commissioning it.
"The whole thing is bizarre," said David Lloyd, editor of the club fanzine, There's Only One F in Fulham. "If I was asked: did I want it? I would say no. But we've got a chairman who has done so much for us if he wants a Michael Jackson statue, so be it. What we don't want is the ridicule that will come with it."
Jackson's effigy will not be alone. Fulham's stadium, Craven Cottage, already plays host to a tribute to the club's greatest player, the legendary 1960s midfielder Johnny Haynes. For some, the confluence of the two has added to the affront. As Fulham supporter Andrew Lawford said: "I'm not sure fans will delight in the contrast of Johnny Haynes, Fulham legend, a man of standing and dignity who inspired generations of young supporters, and Michael Jackson."
The Haynes statue was a supporter-funded effort, erected in 2008 with planning permission from Hammersmith and Fulham council. By contrast, the council's planning department said the Jackson statue had been "discussed" and was deemed not to require permission, despite the fact that Craven Cottage is a Grade I-listed building. "It's not a black and white issue," said the council's duty planning officer, echoing one of Jackson's most memorable lyrics.
With the unveiling imminent, even Jackson's famously devout fans seem disquieted. "I think what Mr Al Fayed wants to do is a great thing and really nice," said Matt Blank, spokesman for Michael Jackson World Network, an online fan group. "It's lovely for Michael Jackson fans over the world to have a statue in such a public place. But I understand the anger of the football fans too. I think there are lots of locations in London that would be more fitting to the legacy Michael left behind."
A group identifying itself as The United Michael Jackson Fans of the World has posted a counter-petition calling for the statue's relocation, noting "as has been clearly demonstrated by the awful comments on the club's website, FFC is no place for Michael to reside and certainly no safe place for MJ fans to visit him".
In Fayed's defence, Jackson did at least visit the club once, attending a home game against Wigan as Fayed's guest in 1999. Lloyd was there to witness Jackson's pre-match lap of the pitch. "I thought he was an impersonator so I didn't take much notice."
Jackson has also appeared as an effigy in London once before. In 1995 a gold statue of the singer was floated down the Thames by his record company to mark the release of the album HIStory.
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