The Magic Trick
This article first appeared in Issue 6 of The Green Soccer Journal, March 2014
I have been interested in magic since I was four years old. I wasted the first three years of my life.
In 1979 my parents decided to hire a magician to entertain me and my friends for my fourth birthday – that decision changed my life. By the age of 10 I was doing kids’ shows and, by 15, had a steady flow of work at parties and weddings. By 18 I was performing professionally.
But the one thing I couldn’t conjure was a stage. So I consulted the great magical tome of that age – the Yellow Pages – scanning feverishly for ideas during the many hours I thumbed its jaundiced folds. No notion was too farfetched to me, no setting too inhospitable. I must have made a list of over 100 different places I could perform—from bowling alleys, to restaurants, bars and then, finally, an idea settled like a spell on me: local football clubs.
In 1995, aged 19, I approached Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United in order to try and sell them my services as a magician. My idea— alikazam—was that I would entertain all the corporate guests in the lounges and boxes prior to the matches.
At that point, I had never seen the corporate hospitality areas of stadiums such as this, but my instinct told me it was a good idea; that I was forging my own path rather than picking up someone else’s breadcrumbs.
I never heard back from West Ham. So I wrote Tottenham a letter; a letter so bewitching that they could not fail to be intrigued. It worked, securing me a meeting with the Director of Corporate Hospitality at White Hart Lane – a man named Mike Rollo. Now you don’t see me, Mike; but soon you will.
Just days after writing I got a call inviting me in. Not only that, but I could tell by the tenor of his voice that he was excited. Provoke wonder, that’s what I do.
Our meeting began and he was entranced as I showed him just a fraction of my repertoire. But that fascination soon bled out of the exchange. “That was great,” Mike said. “And I don’t mean to be rude, but can I ask why on earth a football club would want a magician?”
I was armed and quick to respond. “Let me show you what I can do the next match and, if you like it, we’ll talk more, and if you don’t like it, then you’ll never see me again.”
Argue against that if you can.
He had nothing to lose. So, at the next match I performed my magic in the Bill Nicholson lounge for the corporate guests, watched hawkishly by the director of hospitality. Borrowed jewellery vanished and reappeared, selected cards flew through the air, coins were magically put into beer bottles. It was an amazing hour of fun with people laughing, excitedly clapping and generally in rapturous amazement as I did the impossible right before their eyes.
The atmosphere in the lounge was buzzing and my performance was a big part of it.The excited chatter of the lounge mirrored the giddiness I felt inside. And so began a lovely relationship with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.
That was 18 years ago, and I have performed at almost every home game since, entertaining tens of thousands of corporate guests over the years.
During this time I have come into contact with many fascinating people; famous actors, successful businessmen and women, and a great deal of footballers. If you have been lucky enough to enjoy the superb hospitality at Spurs over the years then it is likely you spotted many of the Spurs legends who are often available on match days for autographs, photographs and to chat and reminisce with. These include Steve Perryman, Martin Peters, Martin Chivers, Allan Mullery, John Pratt, Ozzie Ardilles, Mark Falco, Gary Mabbutt, Pat Jennings, Paul Allen, Phil Beal, Steve Sedgley, the late Ralph Coates, Danny Stevens and Cliff Jones.
Having been with these guys every week for over 15 years, I feel privileged to count many of these legends as friends. I remember only a few weeks after starting at Tottenham, Martin Peters (who also frequented West Ham as a Match Day Legend) said to me: “This is great, you should do this at West Ham as well”. I explained I had contacted them but no dice. His eyebrows shot up.“Leave it with me” he said. It turns out I wasn’t the only one who knew how to work a little magic – a few weeks later, thanks to Martin’s influence, I was bamboozling the lounge crowd at West Ham too. Back of the net.
Though it wasn’t to last – after a few seasons, West Ham changed their hospitality around and thus ended my contract. But I still had Spurs, and some fantastic memories.
In the early 1980s my dad, an Arsenal fan, took me to Spurs vs Notts County (nothing has ever come close to the mystery of that decision, Dad) and I became a Spurs fan from that moment on.
But now for the confession of a thaumaturge. I don’t really follow football as much as I perhaps should and my knowledge of players, and teams, is not a patch on my grasp of the rubric and fallacies of human attention, in fact, I’d call it pitiful. Never was this more apparent than during one toe-curling moment in the West Box Holders lounge at Spurs, about 10 years ago. Someone, excitedly, said rather loudly: “Oh look, there’s Robbie Fowler” to which I instantly responded, equally loudly, I might add, with “What? From Eastenders?” Mortificardo! Sufficeit to say there was no disappearing act complete enough to hide the plummy hue which stole across my cheeks.
It seems I am always running into Les Ferdinand on the stairs at the Lane and he is just lovely. He has been at lots of events I have performed at and always has an infectious smile on his face. I have also performed at several Willow Foundation events for Bob and Megs Wilson. They are such wonderful people, but perhaps the most exciting performances I have given for footballers over the years has been at the 1966 reunions. Twice I have been called upon to perform for these absolute legends and their partners at very private dinners held annually both in the north and south of the country. I have great memories of these shows and some wonderful souvenirs too. Namely, a much-treasured signed football shirt complete with signed World Cup photos and pictures of me with the boys who brought it home for England in 1966.
How’s that for a magic trick? Tottenham Hotspur’s Resident Magician…I might just have the coolest job in football.