This was supposed to be a straightforward blog about hypnosis in sport – but the more I researched the more I came across the intriguing figure of the self styled “Romark”.  So it’s a blog about him – and about Malcolm Allison, Crystal Palace, a curse, Muhammed Ali, the evil eye, Man City, an unforeseeable car crash, and more besides.

Romark (real name Ronald Markham) was a hypnotist and illusionist in the mid 1970’s.  He not only had a successful stage act but a private practice in Harley Street.  He was an author of two books, The Sins of the Fathers and The Curse of the Children, based on his twenty five years as a hypnotherapist.  And he’d even appeared in an episode of Mannix playing a hypnotist.  In short, he had a real media profile.

Romark and Crystal Palace

Just the sort of person then to come to the attention of Malcom Allison.  “Big Mal” had become manager of Crystal Palace in 1973.  He swept through the club like the proverbial new broom.  He changed their longstanding nickname of ‘the Glaziers’ to the rather more aspirational ‘the Eagles’, and threw out the 68 year old club colours at the same time.

Part of his new thinking was to bring in Romark to work with the Crystal Palace players.  At first this seems to have gone well, but things soon took a turn for the worse as relations between Romark and Big Mal started to sour.  Perhaps Allison’s failure to turn up and pay for an appointment at Romark’s Harley Street rooms was the catalyst.  Perhaps two such huge egos were always destined to fall out. 

The end result though was that at the parting of their ways Romark let it be known that he had placed a curse on Crystal Place.  Still a topic of occasional conversation at Selhust Park, the curse was placed at a time when their season started to falter, eventually seeing them relegated to the old Division Three. 

Romark and Southampton

Even Palace’s successful FA cup run in 1976 a couple of years later was allegedly brought to an end by Romark’s intervention.  Just before Crystal Palace faced Southampton in their first ever FA Cup semi-final Ronald Markham asked to see Lawrie McMenemy, Southampton’s manager.  “I took the coward’s way out and agreed to see him,” McMenemy reminisced in May 2005 in the Southern Daily Echo.

“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 result of an illusion, a curse on Crystal Palace, or something else altogether, Southampton went on to win 2-0 before beating Manchester United in the cup final. 

Romark and Muhammed Ali

1976 was a busy year for Romark and sport, as he was also involved with Richard Dunn, a British boxer fighting Muhammed Ali for the world heavyweight title. 

He claimed to have used his ‘evil eye’ before the fight- this time on Muhammed Ali.  Whether this accounted for the ring dramatically collapsing under Ali at the weigh-in, the cracked planks tumbling him and his entourage into an ever widening hole, is a matter of belief.  Some think it may simply have been the sheer size of Ali’s entourage, twenty five of them gathered in the aged ring.  In any event what it didn’t do was cause any harm to Ali.

Undaunted Romark decided to bring his influence to bear directly on Richard Dunn.  Tucking him up in bed the afternoon before the fight he told him a bedtime story about Cinderella to send him into a deep a restful sleep.  Dunn admitted later that he had only pretended to fall asleep.  “The bloke was completely barmy”, he recalled.  “He kept telling me I had fists of iron.”

During the fight Dunn put up a tough performance, hitting the canvas five times before the fight was eventually stopped in the fifth round and Ali declared the winner.  After the fight he was embraced by an emotional Romark “I let you down, Richard,” he cried. “I made your fists turn into iron, but I forgot about your chin.”

Interlude in Ilford

As befits a man whose stage act involved hanging himself as a finale Romark exuded confidence, even as we’ve seen when it could somewhat misplaced.  One memorable public display of his powers saw him driving a car blindfolded the fifteen miles from Ilford to London.

Solemnly placing two coins, dough, and a thick swathe of material across his eyes he took the wheel of a yellow Renault and set off confidently down Cranbrook Road.  Twenty yards later he drove straight into the back of a police van.  “That van” Romark explained to the crowd, “was parked in a place that logic told me it would not be.”

Romark and Halifax Town

We skip forward four years now to January 1980.  Malcolm Allison is now managing Manchester City, and all is not going well.  An expensive transfer season hadn’t stopped them from dropping as low as 18th in the First Division, and Allison needed FA Cup success.  The 5th January saw City travel to Halifax for their latest FA Cup draw. 

However, for Allison it was also to be a meeting with his old nemesis – Romark.  His curse, or rather his animus, had now extended from Crystal Palace to Allison personally.  When Halifax’s manager George Kirby asked for his help he saw a chance to have his revenge.

Speaking in the Lancashire Evening Post, the striker John Smith recalled that, 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.”  Romark also hypnotised Halifax’s Paul Hendrie, to convince him that he was the country’s best midfielder.

The match was played on a cold wet afternoon at Halifax’s ground, the Shay.  Snow, which had covered the pitch, had been hosed off with gallons of water from fire hoses.  The pitch rapidly became a quagmire, living up to the origin of the Shay’s name – a s**t heap.

After 75 minutes of grinding play Smith passed to Hendrie.  Hendrie, one on one with City’s keeper Joe Corrigan, temporarily Britain’s best midfielder, confidently placed the ball right in the corner of the net. Allison, sat in the dugout, was stunned as Halifax’s players celebrated.  For all their expense City’s players couldn’t bring the game back.  The final whistle saw them dumped out of the FA Cup by the Fourth Division’s Halifax Town.

Before the trip to the Shay Allison had declared that “Defeat will not be the end of the world, but it will be bloody close to it.” Coupled with not a single win in the first 12 league matches that year Allison’s fate was sealed and he was sacked. 

Romark let it be known that his curse had worked.  However, John Smith had a different view.  “All the headlines were about that hypnotist, but we beat Manchester City through courage, hard work and belief.”

Post script

Romark wouldn’t live to enjoy his victory for too long.   A little over two years later he died, following a stroke and four months in prison for embezzling from his mother while she was in hospital.