Monthly Archives: June 2013

Whatever happened to Karl ‘Fatneck’ Power? (Loaded)

The adrenaline was pumping. The roar was getting louder. And as the Champions League anthem rang out across Munich’s Olympic Stadium, Manchester United lined up on the pitch for the customary team photo before facing Bayern Munich in the quarter-final second leg. But something wasn’t quite right.

Somehow, the English champions had gained a 12th man. And for once, it wasn’t the referee.
Roy Keane was glaring in his direction. Andy Cole was shuffling uneasily beside him. And more worryingly still, Gary Neville was pointing accusingly in his direction and demanding an explanation.
They had good reason to be puzzled. Because the man in the United kit, complete with number seven shirt and ‘Cantona’ emblazoned on the back, only bore a passing resemblance to the former King of Old Trafford.
But his response to Red Nev was short and to the point.

“I just said, ‘Shut up, you grass, Eric sent me!’”

Karl ‘Fat Neck’ Power remembers his finest hour very clearly, even though it was 12 years ago. And it’s memorable not just because he got to line up alongside the team he’d supported all his life: For a long time, he wouldn’t have believed he would walk anywhere,  least of all onto a football pitch. Because doctors had told him he might never use his legs again.

Loaded tracked down Karl, now 45, to Prestwich, north Manchester, where, as luck would have it, he’s putting the finishing touches to a new DVD he’s made of his stunts to date.
“It’s kind of like Jackass meets Shameless”, he laughs, and as an imminent autobiography will confirm, he’s cut from the same ducking and diving stock as the characters in the latter TV series.
After growing up on a council estate in Ancoats, Manhester, he showed promise as an amateur boxer before being seduced by the high times on offer in the ‘Madchester’ music scene of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. He befriended similarly, erm, ‘fun-loving’ characters such as Shaun and Bez from Happy Mondays, and his relationship with them was touchingly commemorated on the 1996 single Fat Neck, which they recorded with their new band Black Grape.
“That just came from being out with party people like Bez at the time,” he says. “I was mostly involved behind the scenes.”
Ironically, though, by that time the fun had been brutally curtailed for Fat Neck, after a vicious assault in 1994 left him virtually paralysed.
“I got macheted in a phone box,” he says. “mistaken identity.”
The attack, which happened in broad daylight, was accompanied by someone asking for ‘Neil’, and left Karl with a severed sciatic nerve in his right leg, meaning that doctors gave him a pretty grim prognosis.
“I was in a wheelchair and they said I’d never walk again,” he says. “I was dead on my feet and by the time Munich happened, I’d been going through physio for ages.”
Thankfully, by April 2001 he was walking fairly freely, all be it with a pronounced limp.

In the intervening years, Karl’s childhood friend Tommy Dunn, another mad Man U fan, had begun following the reds to European away games, accompanied by his teenage son Tommy Jr and a video camera.
At one point he’d managed to climb into the back of Sir Alex Ferguson’s limo unchallenged, and even film inside the dressing rooms
So when United were drawn to face Bayern in a two-legged tie, Tommy’s old mate Karl was the ideal choice for a stunt he hoped would make both of them famous. Not only did he bear a passing resemblance to Eric Cantona, but he had the natural born chutzpah to pull it off.
The stunt was plotted, in Karl’s words, “military style”.
In his back garden, he timed himself stripping off his tracksuit bottoms and walking the exact distance he’d need to cover on the pitch at Munich.
Tommy had studied videos of the routine at Champions League games, and they established Karl’s cue to go on as being the moment Andy Cole shook the hand of the last Bayern player.
The plan worked like a dream, and the following day’s papers were plastered with Karl’s mischievous smirk. He lapped up the attention, but behind the scenes, this was only the beginning.
“We’re going to do five world class stunts,” he boasted.
The second was to take place that summer, at the fourth Ashes test at Headingley.
The plan was for Karl to wait until an England batsman was bowled out, then stride out, helmet disguising his identity, hopefully all the way to the crease.
“I wanted to get bowled at by Shane Warne,” admitted Karl. But fate had other plans.
Karl was smuggled into the players’ toilets, and the signal to go was three rings on his phone. When he heard it, he walked out. But there was one problem – it wasn’t Tommy, but Tommy’s niece ringing, to check how the stunt was going. It was only when he was halfway to the crease he received another call from Tommy to warn him off. As it turned out, though, the sight of Karl getting halfway there, turning round, taking his helmet off and answering his phone, all looked like part of the plan. Front pages around the world once more. Fat Neck had struck again.

Next up was The Italian Job, as Karl and the two Tommies blagged a Mini Cooper in which to drive to Rome’s Stadio Flaminio, for the Six Nations Rugby Union international between Italy and England.
The plan was for Karl to follow the teams out onto the pitch and front up the England team with an All Blacks-style Haka. Except, it didn’t quite come off…
“The guy who was inside on the pitch told me they’d be coming out of the tunnel on the left,” explains Karl, “so I was all ready to take my top off and go on with my kit, and the England players come running out to the right! It was a bit of a bundle.”
In a panic, Karl just ran on and did his haka in front of a bunch of baffled Italian fans. To uproar and acclaim from precisely nobody.
The boys were gutted. For the first time, they’d really fired a blank.
There was only one way to react to it. Bounce back, bigger and better.
This time, Wimbledon’s centre court was their stage, before an expectant crowd waiting for Tim Henman to come on.
Tommy blagged them into the seating area, posing as security for two players, and while Dunn Snr, distracted the nearest steward, Karl and Tommy Jr stepped over the advertising hoardings in full tennis whites and began to knock up in suitably theatrical style.
It was, by some distance, the most inept display of tennis ever witnessed on Centre Court. Hardly surprising considering they’d only played the game for the first time the day before. Still, no-one intervened. Watching the footage now, it looks as if the whole world of tennis has frozen, unable to fully compute the idea of two northern scallies lobbing a ball back and forth on their most hallowed stage. Ballboys, stewards and police simply stand by, gawping in disbelief.
“We just went on and played, for a minute or so, people loved it,” says Karl. “Then we bowed to the royal box and came off!
“And we only stopped because we’d run out of balls!” he adds.

They followed this up with what Tommy later admitted was their toughest trick of all – squirming himself, Karl and Tommy Jr all their way into the winner’s enclosure at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and getting the trio onto the podium just before Michael Schumacher was due to celebrate another win, to dance a cheeky (and frankly surreal) Riverdance-style jig.
Once again, they had pulled it off, if only for a few brief seconds, and the Fat Neck legend was complete.
After they once again left the venue without so much as a slap on the wrists for their trouble, they confessed to the waiting press that this would be their swansong. Fat Neck had left the building for the last time.

Alas, since Silverstone, life hasn’t all been straightforward for Karl.
The big pay day he and Tommy had hoped for from the stunts never really materialised.  Although, believe it or not they were approached to help sporting events review security at various points, and were even flown to Australia to help promote an energy drink in the wake of their Ashes coup, nothing lasting came of it, even after a 2002 documentary, Britain’s Favourite Hoaxer, appeared on Channel 4.
In the hour-long film (which you can find on YouTube), he reads a newspaper story exposing him for claiming disability benefit during his scams, (“What do they expect me to do? Just mope around?” he complained). That led to a DSS investigation, and he was jailed for six months in 2005 for fraudulently claiming over £26,000. Showman to the end, he waved to friends in the public gallery as he was sent down.

Since then, his old mockers the Dunns have been up to their old tricks.
They were found to have smuggled themselves into Fabio Capello’s England set-up in March 2010, shortly after they had made light of the John Terry/Wayne Bridge scandal by filming themselves asking Terry for an autograph before an England training session, requesting, “Can you put ‘To Wayne, Sorry’?” He declined, with an expletive or two, and wrote ‘To Wayne, best wishes’. What a gent.
More recently, Karl has returned to his first loves – music and boxing. He’s managing a band, The Beats & Cheats, promising that a label will follow. And in November 2012 he took part in a charity boxing competition, Formal Fight Club, and won his bout, to the delight of a packed crowd at Manchester’s Palace Hotel.
“Boxing’s my main sport,” he says, “and if it hadn’t been for my injuries I’d have done more of it. I was dead proud of myself. To be honest it felt like the final chapter in my recovery.”
That encounter is featured in a new DVD he has produced, entitled Fat Neck, for which he’s currently in search of a distributor.
He’s also written his autobiography, Neck, with fellow Mancunian writer Karen  Woods. “She’s written six novels, she’s from the same area as me, we’re both dead common, and she’s ghostwriting it.”
A bigger claim to fame may derive from the design for the front cover.
“Damien Hirst’s done it,” he says. “It’s an animals’ head cut off with blood spurting out of the head with images of all the stunts I’ve done.  It’s pure Damien – fantastic.”
And now, nearly 12 years since he first made the headlines, Fat Neck is threatening to come out of stunting retirement, like a Hollywood action hero, for one last job.
“There’s going to be one in Manchester to coincide with the book,” he says “I can’t tell you what it’s going to be, but it should be good.”
So ultimately, you have to ask: What’s ultimately the appeal of all this? Fame? Notoriety? The feeling of beating the system?
“It’s that first reaction from people I like,” he says. “That’s the buzz of it. And that night in Munich – it’s still the best of my life.”


Confidence is a preference….
Security people are invariably torn between the need to enforce the rules and the fear of inadvertently turning away someone important. So if you look and act like someone important, you’ve got a good chance of not being turned away.

Look the part
The one thing Karl, Tommy and friends got right all along was attention to detail in terms of their appearance.  Their kit was always faultless (apart from the time Tommy Jr refused to wear white socks for the Wimbledon stunt, but he was still learning).

Don’t panic
Anything can, and probably will, happen, to disrupt your carefully laid plans. But if you keep calm and carry on, the chance is that you will win the day. See Karl’s nerveless reaction to Gary Neville questioning him, and the Headingley misunderstanding.

Distraction is the best form of defence
Many of these stunts would not have been possible without taking advantage of the right people looking in the opposite direction at the crucial moment.  See Tommy’s masterful kerfuffle at Wimbledon in order to allow his friends to take the stage.

Tell no-one
Loose lips sink ships. If what you’re doing is remotely sensational, anyone hearing about it is bound to tell their mate, probably saying ‘Don’t tell anyone, but…’ Before you know it, the authorities have cottoned on and they’re waiting for you.


Romantically-challenged ivory-lover breaks down the walls of heartache

When Tom Odell approaches the bar at an old-school South London boozer, he is greeted with suspicion.

“Can I see some ID, please?”

His Chelsea boots and charity shop duffle coat may reflect the bohemian flat-sharing 22-year-old he is, but his barely stubble-troubled young face could just as easily pass for a 15-year-old’s.
By rights, the Chichester songwriter’s newly-acquired Critics’ Choice Brit Award should have earned him a drink on the house, but let him enjoy his anonymity while he can; his forthcoming debut album showcase a voice full of wounded soul behind the blond boy-band looks, singing startlingly immediate love-and-loss songs that recall Chris Martin at his most nakedly emotive.
“Someone once said, ‘All good things that have been done in the world are off the back of being dumped.’ He smiles, as he sips lemonade through a straw and fiddles twitchily with his iphone. “And if I hadn’t been painfully in love, then dumped, when I was 17, I’m not sure I’d be sitting here now.”
Thise scars are certainly visible within the EP’s titular track Another Love, a slow-building piano confessional that admits “All my tears have been used up on another love”.
No such girl trouble when he began writing songs in order to avoid practising classical piano scales at age 13, while immersing himself in ivory-tinkling pop from Elton to Cat Power. “I LOVE piano,” he insists, with the same imploring passion he gives his performances. “It’s not seen as sexy like strutting about with a guitar. But I want to make piano cool again.” He smirks mischievously and adds: “Roll over, Elton.”
He certainly seems to have luck on his side. After only a handful of gigs, a friend of Lily (nee Allen) Cooper saw him and recommended him for her Columbia imprint In The Name Of.
He’s as skilled with slow-building midnight confessionals such as Can’t Pretend as he is with upbeat, yearning soul-stirrers like forthcoming single Hold Me. And meanwhile, the songwriting fuel keeps coming…
“I had another brutal break-up recently,” he says. “And ironically, she implied that Another Love was about the fact that I loved music too much and didn’t have any emotions left for her. That was harsh.”
He’s unashamed about being autobiographical, insisting, “I want to write songs people can relate to. I want people to cry, or be in ecstasy. So it has to be real.” And therein lies his appeal – tapping into the lesser-documented minutiae of human relationships to touch highly resonant heart strings. No need to tell Mr. John the news just yet, but it’s a fine ‘how d’you do’.

In A Nutshell:

Chichester singer-songwriter channelling relationship traumas into timeless piano pop

You might like Tom Odell if you like: Coldplay, Ben Folds, James Blake

Get This Track: Another Love (iTunes)

More info:

Manchester United and Arsenal – the players they have shared

For much of the first century of their existence, Arsenal and Manchester United might as well have existed on different planets. Because apart from the twice yearly occasions they passed into each other’s orbit and played each other in the football league – at first in the second division as Newton Heath and Royal/Woolwich Arsenal – they were never really rivals, and very rarely did transfer deals. Hence the roll call of players who have been transferred directly between the two clubs is a modest one, barely long enough to fill a squad list on the back of a programme.

Yet long before Robin van Persie became what may yet prove to be United’s greatest ever signing from North London, players made important moves in the same direction, and latterly, from north to south. More often than not, their transfers made their mark, if not always on the field. Yet all the while, somehow relations between the clubs have rarely been anything more than luke-warm, like that between two families from opposite sides of town who feel they have little in common and are happy to have as little to do with each other as possible.

Weighing in at 14st 4lbs despite being only 5ft 10ins, Caesar Jenkyns certainly made an impact when he became the first man to join Newton Heath from fellow second division outfit Woolwich Arsenal in May 1896.
Opposition players could surely testify to that. The tough-tackling 29-year-old half-back had a reputation, mainly earned during seven seasons at Small Heath in Birmingham during which he was sent off four times in an era when dismissals were very rare. He was finally packed off to London in April 1895 when he attempted to strangle a Derby County fan after being verbally abused for violent play. Then again, he was in a particularly bad mood, having scored an own goal in a 4-1 defeat.
He was equally combative off the field. One Sunday, after staking a quart of beer on a bicycle race and losing, he knocked his opponent off his bike and punched two bystanders. He was convicted of assault.
But like many other temperamental but talented stars that would succeed him, he was a fans’ favourite, and during his year as Arsenal captain he impressed enough to become the club’s first international player in March 1896. But only a few weeks after he was capped by Wales against Scotland, he was on the move again, this time to Newton Heath, where he was once again immediately installed as skipper.
He repaid this honour by helping the Heathens to second place in the lower division, (all be it with another sending off en route) and scored in a 2-0 home leg win in the club’s promotion play-off ‘test matches’ against Burnley. The other scorer that day was another Arsenal signing, Henry Boyd.
He too had been a star down in Plumstead, and it cost Heathens secretary Alf Albut a cool £45 to take him to Clayton in January 1897.
United fell at the final play-off hurdle that season, and Jenkyns moved back to the Midlands with Walsall the following November, before retiring to become (naturally) a policeman.
But Boyd really hit his stride in 1897-98, as he became the first NH player to score 20 goals in a season, netting 22 times in 30 games.
However, the men in green and yellow still couldn’t secure promotion, and Boyd seemed to be getting a little too big for his baggy shorts when he missed training during the 1898-99 season. After being suspended for a week, he went missing again, and was put on the transfer list, before returning to his native Scotland with Falkirk.

Over the next 60 years, there were no direct moves between the clubs. Nor were there any battles for silverware until after the second world war. As Matt Busby rebuilt the Reds he led United to the 1948 FA Cup and the 1952 League Championship, and the Gunners also topped the pile the following year, to add to their 1948 title and 1950 FA Cup triumph.

However, Arsenal faded as the Busby Babes rose and and so tragically fell, and by the time David Herd became the next man to transfer north, both teams were struggling in mid-table.
All the same, Arsenal’s top scorer for the past four seasons had a gripe that would become a familiar refrain: He felt they lacked ambition, and saw rosier prospects in M16. So it proved after his £35,000 move, as the Scottish international scored twice in the 1963 FA Cup Final. Two league titles followed as he notched a highly impressive 145 goals in 265 appearances that means he is still 13th on the club’s all-time goalscorers list.
After he was sold to Stoke in the summer of 1968, the two sides’ fortunes went in opposite directions once again, as the North Londoners won their first domestic double, but United sank into post-Busby mediocrity.
Ian Ure was the next Arsenal signing for United, in 1969, and Wilf McGuinness’s first, but the tenacious defender’s limited powers were fading by the time he moved. More was expected of his fellow Scot George Graham when, in December 1972, new reds boss Tommy Docherty signed the player he had previously managed at Chelsea. But ‘Stroller’, despite being made captain for the first half of 1973-74, became a terrace scapegoat for United’s dismal campaign, and found himself dropped by the Doc as he scrambled unsuccessfully to avoid the drop, before being offloaded the following term.

You may notice that the flow of transfers between the two clubs was distinctly one way up to this point. In fact it wasn’t until the 1970s that a United player was transferred to Highbury.
Goalkeeper Jimmy Rimmer had spent six seasons as Alex Stepney’s understudy, and won a European Cup Winner’s medal on the bench in 1968. Yet he went on to make only 46 appearances, and a move to Arsenal in October 1973 worked out well when he succeeded Bob Wilson as first-choice stopper there, then moved on to Aston Villa where he won a league title in 1981 and another European Cup winner’s medal (despite playing only nine minutes of the 1982 Final before getting injured).

A more celebrated medal-winner from Wembley 1968 followed him when the reds were relegated in May 1974. Brian Kidd’s form was rekindled by the move, and he became Arsenal’s top scorer in 1974-75, and after two seasons he returned north with City. And somehow, he remains fondly regarded by all three clubs. That perhaps reflects the way in which these transfers were fairly straightforward.
Frank Stapleton changed all that. The Irishman had been given a trial at Old Trafford in 1972 but wasn’t taken on, and went on to star for Arsenal in the late 1970s, scoring in the Gunners’ 1979 FA Cup win over United.
However, within a couple of seasons he felt undervalued and undermotivated, and so began a saga that made Stapleton “the Robin van Persie of his day”, according to recollections he gave The Daily Mail last summer. He too quit North London because of the club’s apparent lack of ambition.
“Liam Brady had left the year before,” he said. “They tried to replace him but it was impossible. They should have looked after him and kept him at the club.
“There was this big hullabaloo when I left, but when Liam left it was OK because he went into Europe with Juventus, not another big team here.”
The transfer was made more acrimonious by the fact that the two clubs couldn’t agree a price. Arsenal wanted £2 million, but United were only offering £700,000. In the end a tribunal decided on a £900K fee in August 1981. Stapleton was duly branded a traitor by Gunners fans.
He went on to do United proud, and scored in the 1983 FA Cup Final, making him the first player to score for two different clubs in the Wembley showpiece.

Those frosty relations between the clubs didn’t thaw much in the years that followed, as it would take another tribunal in 1987 to finalise a £250,000 move for the Gunners’ pacey left-back Viv Anderson.
Like Stapleton, Anderson had had a trial with United as a
schoolboy but hadn’t been taken on. He was Alex Ferguson’s first signing as manager, and Fergie felt his teetotal lifestyle as well as his ability would be a good influence, given the well-documented drinking culture that pervaded the United dressing room at the time.

But these moves are rarely painless affairs, and that was the case when out-of-favour reds ‘keeper Jim Leighton went out on loan to Arsenal for two months at the end of their title-winning season in 1991. He never forgave Alex Ferguson for being frozen out of Old Trafford.
He may well have brushed shoulders in the dressing room with a youngster named Andy Cole, who, despite two substitute appearances for George Graham’s men in December 1990 and the Charity Shield the following season, was sold to Bristol City. The teenager soon began to make a name for himself as a prolific goalscorer, which earned him a move to Newcastle and then, of course, a £7million transfer to Old Trafford in January 1995.
You wonder if any Arsenal fans thought about what might have been when the winner went in at Old Trafford against Spurs in May 1999 to effectively deprive his old club of back-to-back titles.

The regrets weren’t so long-lasting when United lured promising England U17 international centre-half Matthew Wicks away from Arsenal’s youth system in 1995. Arsenal complained to the FA, but failed to get the player back. However, as it turned out he soon became homesick and returned to London anyway, and subsequently never made the Premier League grade.

After Arsene Wenger arrived and Arsenal began to challenge United’s dominance of the English game, the clubs’ rivalry really began to ignite. And perhaps unsurprisingly, there were no significant moves in either direction during the era of mutual enmity that reached its height with ‘pizzagate’. In fact, the only actual transfer before van Persie was Mikael Silvestre’s move in 2008. Even then, there was a touch of cloak and dagger about it all, as Wenger hijacked the defender’s proposed move to Mark Hughes’ Manchester City to join his Francophone dressing room. Unsurprisingly, fans never warmed to him during his two years in London.

And then there was Robin.
Arsenal’s era of consistently challenging United on the field may well be over for the time being, but something tells us that there will be more van Persies in the future, and that any transfer between these two Premier League giants will always ruffle a few feathers. And really, who would have it any other way?