The strange tale of TV magician Paul Daniels, Doncaster Rovers' pitch and a priest's exorcism
As the world of showbiz mourns the death of TV magician Paul Daniels, the infamous tale of the pint-sized conjuror owning Doncaster Rovers' pitch has resurfaced once more.
A story that has become muddied in the midsts of time, we've delved back into the archives to uncover the truth behind the tale about the star, who has died from an incurable brain tumour at the age of 77, and the day he forked out for the famed Belle Vue turf.
Now ripped up and lost as a new housing development takes shape on the site of the club's former stadium, the story dates from 1992 when Rovers' were in dire financial straits.
A Save The Rovers campaign had been set up to raise £200,000 to avert winding-up proceedings after the Inland Revenue slapped the club with an unpaid tax bill.
At that time, the club were plying their trade in League Division Four and by January 1992 had only won two games and were in perilous position at the foot of the entire league.
Boss Billy Bremner had resigned with Steve Beaglehole given the job of holding the fort, who, dismayed at a 5-1 thrashing by Lincoln, placed the entire squad on the transfer list.
With Rovers five points adrift and the crisis deepening, the PFA was called in to pay players' wages and only the sale of Nicky Limber for £75,000 to Manchester City was enough to fend off the taxman - for the time being.
And that's when the popular television magician rode into town to spearhead the fighting fund.
"Rovers opt for a bit of magic," wrote our sister paper The Doncaster Star on January 29, 1992.
"A little bit of magic and a touch of divine intervention are the latest ideas to help save cash-starved Doncaster Rovers," said the article.
It revealed how Daniels, then one of TV's biggest stars, had agreed to pledge £25 to sponsor a square yard of the Belle Vue turf to help boost the fighting fund.
Supporters were told they too could purchase sections - and would be allowed to inspect their own chunk of turf on matchdays.
Daniels, whose agent Mervyn O'Horan was a former director at Belle Vue, purchased the ten yards around the centre spot and then chairman Jim Burke said: "We are very grateful to Paul and hope other supporters take up the chance to help us over this difficult time."
The appeal raised £6,000 within a month and former Rovers ace Charlie Williams also did his bit when starring in a fundraising night at the Belle Vue Social Club, drawing in £2,000.
However, the financial woes continued - and in March of 1992, the brass nameplate from a 1936 steam engine named after the club and which had hung at the entrance to Belle Vue for more than 30 years was flogged off for the sum of £10,000.
And so Rovers' turned to religion to ease their woes - local priest Father Jack Harris being called in to carry out an exorcism at Belle Vue.
Father Jack spent several days at the stadium working to lift a curse allegedly placed on Rovers by an office worker sacked 20 years' previously, according to the Doncaster Star.
The club somehow stumbled on to the end of the season and eventually finished 21st, only staving off relegation from the Football League after fellow strugglers Aldershot were wound-up and their record expunged.
Over time, the Paul Daniels' tale became a mixed one - with fans believing the star owned the entire pitch, the penalty spots and puzzling whether he'd taken up the option to collect his section of turf when Rovers' played their final game at Belle Vue in 2006 before moving to the Keepmoat.
It wasn't Daniels' only connection with Doncaster. His grandson Lewis was born at Doncaster Royal Infirmary on Christmas Day, 1998.
His son Martyn, who followed in his dad's footsteps as television magician, saw his wife Joanne give birth to the 8lb 6oz youngster on December 25 - one of eight Christmas Day babies born in Doncaster that year.
The couple lived in Westwoodside in the Isle of Axholme and the star was a regular visitor to the area, along with wife Debbie McGee. He also had a huge industrial unit in the area where all his stage props and magic tricks were stored.
News of the star's death was reported this morning by his publicist.
He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour in February and had returned home recently following the shock news.
He was reputed to keep an eye out for Rovers scores and often cropped up alongside Jeremy Clarkson and Tony Christie in lists of the club's celebrity fans.