The famous illusionist gives his account of Gary McAllister’s penalty miss, and an unlikely journey from Scottish enemy to patron of a North Berwick amateur football club.  

The ball definitely moves. No matter what else you might think, the ball definitely moves. 

It was 15 June 1996 and Scotland were playing England in the group stage of the 1996 European Championships. Scotland win a penalty and, just as captain Gary McAllister goes to hit it, the ball moves. 

There were 76,864 people in Wembley that day to see it. You can see it on the replay, and you can see McAllister mouthing it afterwards. “The ball moved”. 

It was only after the game Uri Geller claimed responsibility. He had been listening via radio as the penalty was awarded, sitting in a helicopter, floating in the air high above the stadium, holding a crystal orb and memorabilia from the 1966 World Cup, rooting for the English. 

David Seaman saves McAllister's penaltyDavid Seaman saves McAllister's penalty (Image: GETTY)

McAllister hits it to the left, but it’s too close to David Seaman. The keeper dives and punches it clear. England go on to win 2-0. Geller claimed a shadowy cabal asked him to do it, though most available evidence suggests it was the News of the World. 

That much is definitely true, but beyond that, the facts become hazier.  

He tells Nutmeg: “I will not mention who, because it is just unbelievable, the group of people who asked me to do it. There was some concern that England might lose, so they got to me and asked me to hover with a helicopter around Wembley, though you aren’t allowed to fly directly over Wembley on a match day because it is restricted air space. My mission was to make sure England beat Scotland. 

“So I was sitting in the helicopter and suddenly I hear, in my headphones, that Gary McAllister had a penalty. So I said, ‘no way, I will not allow this to happen’. When he started running I screamed ‘one, two, three move!’, and lo and behold the ball moved, and of course Seaman saved the ball and England won. 

“I’ve done these type of things under laboratory-controlled conditions, for the CIA, in America. So there is no doubt – you will have the sceptics, who scoff and don’t believe in these sorts of things – but a ball doesn’t just move from a penalty spot. Fortunately, the cameras were running and you can actually measure how much it moves.” 

Who knows how things could have ended, had McAllister scored. Paul Gascoigne had been due to be substituted off after Scotland pulled level. If the penalty had gone in, he wouldn’t have been on the pitch to flick it over Colin Hendry’s head and smash it into the bottom left. England would never have scored one of their most famous ever goals, there would have been no dentist chair celebration, and Scotland wouldn’t have been knocked out of the group on goal difference.  

Could Scotland have had a run in the tournament? Could it have led to a brighter future? Bolstered by confidence, is there a chance the barren years between the late 90s and the rise of Steve Clarke’s current team could have been averted? 

No one can say. The ball moved and McAllister missed. But for Geller, the consequences were immediate. He attained global media fame following the incident, but just as he did, the hate mail began to pour in from across Scotland.  

More and more came as the days passed – whole bags of the stuff – including from children. Geller himself puts the count at 11,000 letters, piling up in the weeks that followed, including messages too offensive to print. 

The reaction hurt Geller, with his initial feeling of elation replaced by a growing sense of doubt. That was when he decided he had to do something to make amends. Geller has described his powers as fuelled by positivity in the past, and although he rejects the idea that the subsequent negativity would impact on his abilities – “as I grow older I believe I get more powerful” – it was clear he needed to work for forgiveness from a nation he believes he wronged. 

He said: “I felt very guilty. Very disappointed in myself because I did something of this nature. I did it because I lived in England and supported England, but I also wanted to test my powers and it was a great opportunity. Later on, I met Gary on a few occasions and we made up. I have his number and I always send him interesting football messages.” 

He added: “Of course this was something bordering on the illegal, what I had done. Because you can’t interfere with a game, I mean physically. This is paranormal stuff – we’re talking psychokinesis – and doing that in a game is almost tangibly something that is not allowed. 

“At the time I was very excited. I was in a frenzy – elated that it worked. It was only afterwards that it dawned on me it was quite illegal, and definitely unethical. The hate letters were difficult. There were sacks of them, and I won’t mention the words used.” 

Geller knew he had to embark on a journey of redemption. The obvious solution would be to help Scotland against Germany in June, but he had already vowed never to influence a game ever again (even if he does point out “you wouldn’t know if I did”, somewhat pointedly, when asked). 

Instead, he had to find another way to settle the score. So he decided to buy a small island off North Berwick. Sitting two kilometres from the shore in the Firth of Forth and formed by ancient volcanic eruption, Lamb Island is around 100 metres long by 50 metres wide. 

He says: “It was amazing, so I thought ‘if I buy the island, I will give back to Scotland what I took away. It will make me part-Scottish’.” 

But while Geller says he bought the island in order to give back, there was an additional attraction: buried treasure. 

(Image: Newsquest)


He said: “There is no doubt [on the treasure]. Mohamed Al-Fayed directed me to a 500-year-old Scottish book, called the Scotichronicon. The mythology around my island is simply amazing. It said that thousands of years ago, ancient Egyptians managed to sail to north Europe, and some of the ships moored outside of certain Scottish islands, including mine.  

“The ship that sailed to Lamb Island had the daughter of one of the Pharaohs – Scota. Scotland was named after her, and it is more evidence that validates that Ancient Egyptians managed to sail all the way to Scotland.  

“Scota ordered her soldiers to bury treasure on my island. I know this because I do remote viewing – I have done it for quite a few intelligence services – that means being able to send your mind through space and time to bring back information. When I slept one night on my island, I remote viewed the island and I know where the treasure is buried.” 

But while Geller is yet to extract the treasure – he points to a range of logistical challenges, ranging from his concerns over potential environmental protections, to the difficulty in shipping a digger over, to the presence of witch bones on the island – his plans for the place continue to develop.  

In fact, he has now announced his plans to establish Lamb Island as a micronation, with its own constitution, anthem and – most importantly – football team. 

Jack Fish, 27, was one of the founders of North Berwick Amateurs three years ago, having started off as a centre-back, before making the switch to centre-forward. Playing in the Lothian and Edinburgh Amateur League, the team were formed during a Zoom call in one of the Covid lockdowns. 

“I don’t know what Uri told you, but we’re utter shite,” he says. “We all grew up in North Berwick, and we’ve been playing football together since primary school. It’s the same guys, we’re just doing it at 27 years-old rather than seven years-old. 

“It’s a really strange connection. Uri Geller had featured in the back pages of the East Lothian Courier, after he’d been speaking to Alan Brazil on the radio about Lamb Island, and Alan Brazil had suggested he set up a football team. One of the guys in the team’s mum spotted it. I reached out to speak to Uri and within about half an hour he called and said he’d be happy for our side to represent his island. Everything kicked off from there.” 

Geller was immediately keen on the idea, setting out his vision to establish the side as representatives of his new island nation – offering to buy them a full-size puffin costume to use as a match-day mascot (they refused due to the fear an amateur club with its own mascot might attract ridicule) and even designing a new badge for the team.  

Geller actually has a surprising degree of interest in graphic design – he claims to have also designed the logo for 90s boyband NSYNC – with this one created in the hope the team could wear it on their shirt if they ever managed to enter the World Cup. 

He says: “The team badge is my logo, that I painted about 50 plus years ago. I showed it to Salvador Dali and he said ‘Uri, why don’t you put an eye in the middle of the pyramid?’, so I did. That was Dali’s idea, but it is my design. I worked with Dali – I even painted with him.” 

The Dali-Geller connection is yet another strange turn in Geller’s journey through history, though in fairness to the North Berwick Amateurs’ Chairman, he can back it up with photos. Geller did know Salvador Dali. 

But while he has clearly been very supportive of the team nicknamed the ‘North Berick Ammies’ – he calls them his ‘Lambies’ – the arrangement is linked more closely to providing positive support, and excellent PR, than in any more formal relationship. 

Fish says: “He does nothing. I mean, he is incredibly enthusiastic, he messages all the time. He is always getting in touch before games, on Fridays or Saturday mornings, he’ll be on the on the phone afterwards asking how we got on. He is genuinely interested in how we do, but he doesn’t have anything to do with the club in terms of day-to-day running. 

“We got promotion last year, and drunkenly called him from the pub. He gave us £1,000 to say congratulations – that was his only financial involvement – and we spent that in the pub in about an hour.” 

Yet while Geller has been unable to come and watch the team himself – he is currently in Jaffa, searching for the Arc of the Covenant – it seems there has been a positive impact, with the team winning back-to-back promotions, even if they have not yet managed to establish themselves as an international team in their own right. 

Fish says: “When he joined, I think we won five or six games in a row, so there was an immediate Uri Geller impact. A new owner bounce, when he came in.  

“We had him on Facetime during our first penalty shootout. We went second, so when we scored it was matching up with the opposition – 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 2-2 – he was celebrating every one like we had just won the game.”  

North Berwick Amateurs have not lost a penalty shoot-out since Geller’s involvement with the team.