In case anyone forgets, Romark was a legend in his own crystal ball during the 70s. A man with just as much psychic ability, Malcolm Allison, had uncovered this mysterious Shayman (pun coming in 7 paragraphs) during his spell as head honcho at Crystal Palace in the mid-70s. Big Mal, hands more than full with champagne bottles and blondes from the Playboy Club, forgot to pay Romark's modest bill, however, and the soothsayer got the hump, revolving his eyes in different directions and placing a curse on Palace. On the eve of Palace's 1976 FA Cup semi-final against Southampton, Romark -evidently a man who enjoyed looking into the past as well as the future- contacted Lawrie McMenemy's secretary and arranged to meet up with the Southampton supremo. McMenemy could hardly refuse a man with such an obvious penchant for storing grievances. He is widely quoted thus:
"When he came in, his eyes immediately struck me. He had peripheral vision, both eyes staring in different directions. He surprised everyone by asking for two chairs to be placed in the centre of the room facing away from each other two yards apart, then got an apprentice to put his head on one and heels on the other. When he took the chairs away, the lad stayed suspended in mid air. I was even asked to sit on the lad's stomach and still he stayed suspended. George Horsfall, our reserve-team trainer, came in shortly afterwards and, after telling him what had happened, he did the trick all over again. He wouldn't tell us how it had been done, but George was born in India and it may well have had something to do with the old Indian rope trick."
Whether the apprentice was suspended by the golden filaments of Mordor or Romark had a set of bathroom mirrors stashed in his underpants, the trick worked a treat on Southampton, filling them with an "energy" that not only saw them past Allison's strangely unblinking Palace, but imbued enough turquoise light in the players to see off staunch favourites Manchester United in the Wembley final itself. I well remember as a schoolkid, watching Bobby Stokes stroke the winner. The pass through to him had arrived in his stride from Jimmy McCalliog, who, when afforded an intimate close-up after the goal, appeared to have a middle eye shining brightly on his forehead. In an instant, it was gone. It was that fast. I may have been the only one watching Cup Final Grandstand that day that actually saw it. My nurse says this is an entirely possible scenario.
Romark's work was not yet done, however. The curse, as these things often do, transferred itself to Allison himself, who went back to City in the late seventies with startling failure and abject embarrassment just a funny glance and an oddly pointed finger away. On the eve of the infamous FA Cup third-round tie at Fourth Division Halifax, to be played at The Shay (told you to look out for it) the Halifax manager George Kirby enlisted Romark's assistance once again. Not being a man to miss a pay check or an opportunity to get revenge on previous poor payers, Romark accepted and brought his mirrors and rope set north to West Yorkshire.
Halifax striker John Smith recalled an odd meeting two days before the tie:
"I'm sat there with this guy called Romark, and he was saying … 'you will go to sleep now, John Smith, and then you'll overcome the power of Manchester City. You will play the greatest game of your life, John Smith. When I count to three, you'll wake up again.' I was trying not to laugh and I'm thinking, what's all this about? What a load of nonsense."
|Mal with yet another gypsy ref|
Romark later tried to prove his powers to the unforgiving public on Ilford High Street by driving blindfolded down the road. His intrepid journey reached a rather predictable (unless you couldn't see the future too clearly) end after approximately 20 yards when he drove miserably into the back of a police van.
"That van was parked in a place that logic told me it wouldn't be," he said afterwards, looking at the wretched vehicle, slotted hopelessly alongside the pavement, parallel with the curb, within the little yellow lines and with its hazard lights flashing for good measure.
It was too late to save Big Mal, however, who got the bullet from City shortly after. Unlike Mel Machin, Peter Swales may well have claimed at the time that Mal had too much "repartee" with just about everyone. This was the problem. After being imprisoned for embezzling his mother, Romark died of a stroke in 1982. Didn't see that one coming. Was this the end of the curse?
|You only owed me tuppence, Mal|
When City left Maine Road, it was felt that this was another moment of release, as unhelpful gypsies had been said to have buried an upside down horseshoe with a picture of Gary Neville's great grandfather Neville Neville Neville attached to it. Surely, the move to a new stadium would also bring an end to the Gypsy Curse laid so many eons ago?
Well, maybe, maybe not. What we do know is Manchester City have at last laid the ghost of the FA Cup semi final to rest. The fading images of Paul Power gleefully waggling his arms over his head as he set off for the Holte End fencing, already awash with amateur mountaineers and escape artists in blue scarves, can be put to one side. In the name of Romark and old man Neville, let us hope there is no dark stranger with a wall eye and a bag of spoons at the entrance to Wembley Way on the 16th April. City, after all, are wholly capable of mucking things up without help or hindrance from a higher plane.