Football: Dodi's dad gets a result from cash for kicks

The Wrong Correspondent... In the second of a series in which specialist reporters venture outside their normal field, Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, finds Mohamed Al Fayed the centre of attention again, this time as the chairman of Fulham Football Club
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The Independent Online
Dodi Fayed failed to turn out for Fulham's first home match of the season on Saturday. Wrexham Football Club, whom they were entertaining at home, cannot compete with the Princess of Wales.

His father, Mohamed Al Fayed, has moved from giving MPs cash for questions to paying football players cash for kicks, after taking over as chairman of the club from Jimmy Hill.

With the prospect of snapping Di's boyfriend, there were more paparzzi at Craven Cottage than the club normally sees in a season. Their long lenses were trained on the director's box, where Mr Fayed held court with his personal press officer, Michael Cole. The publicist Max Clifford, who has sold many a pop newspaper story, was among the VIP guests. Mr Fayed's team duly won, 1-0, in a scrappy match.

Micky Adams, the young, ambitious manager, who steered Fulham to promotion last season with a five-man backline, will not change his system, and was unhappy about the pre-match "hype".

"I was worried before the game," Adams said. "There was a carnival atmosphere. I will be glad when it settles down. This time last year I was talking to one man and a dog, but if we are going to be a high-profile club, we are going to have to get used to it."

Mr Fayed was greeted by the fans like a saviour when he arrived to kick- off the season. One, in front of the press box, sported a red fez in celebration. The Harrods boss is putting pounds 20m into the refurbishment of Fulham, a friendly club, and one fan moaned: "I am really disappointed now there is a door on the toilet downstairs... They haven't French polished the seats, though." It is not clear what Mr Al Fayed would have made of the home fans constantly chanting at their visitors: "Sheep, sheep, sheep shaggers."

The team is also sponsored by the General and Municipal Workers' Union and bear the GMB logo on their shirts, which would be dangerously "Old Labour" for Tony Blair. It can only be a matter of time before the Harrods logo appears on their chests but, so far, the Harrods connection is discreet.

There are three Harrods advertisements behind either goal, and the players have all got free suits from Harrods men's department. Craven Cottage must be the only ground in the Second Division to sport corporate advertising by Punch magazine, which Mr Fayed also owns.

The only goal of the game was scored by Mick Conroy, a talented Scottish No 9, and last season's top scorer with 23 goals. He latched on to a second attempt by Steve Hayward and carefully chipped it over the Wrexham goalkeeper, Andy Marriott, from six yards out.

"Jimmy Greaves used to say you could score more goals by passing it into the net, than blasting them," Conroy said after the match.

Asked what the bonus was for scoring, Conroy said: "Three points for the team. And my dad in Glasgow will be happy." That would have made Labour's spin-doctor-in-chief, Peter Mandelson, proud.

There are rumours of expensive signings such as Ian Rush to take Fulham towards the dream of Premiership football. Conroy is confident of seeing off the newcomers but I would not fancy his chances when Princess Diana is put in the front line.

Goal: Conroy (39) 1-0.

Fulham (5-3-2): Walton; Herrera, Blake, Morgan, Cullip, Watson; Hayward, Smith, Carpenter (Cockerill, 79); Newhouse (Scott, 76), Conroy (Moody, 83).

Wrexham (4-4-2): Marriott; McGregor, Jones, Carey, Brace; Chalk, (Watkin, 85), Phillips, Ward (Brammer, 73), Russell; Connolly, Skinner.

Sending off: Wrexham Watkin. Bookings: Wrexham Connolly, McGregor.

Man of the match: Morgan.

Attendance: 8,789.

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