An apology

Almost 10 years ago we played Liverpool in the Carling Cup at Anfield. It was a fairly cold late October evening and I had to sit in the ‘home’ end having not secured tickets in time. We lost, although Paul Peschisolido scored a peach of a goal that, at one stage, allowed us to dream.

As the minutes ticked down with Michael Owen & Co well in command, the Fulham fans as one started singing: We’ll be back in two years’ time. It even drew a round of applause from our hosts and illustrated the great spirit we have at this club.

I was reminded of this during the depths of my mini-depression during the past 10 days following our painful – tho predictable – defeat at the hands of United. The defeat had sent me into a sulk from which I’ve only just emerging.

I haven’t even been able to summon the enthusiasm to keep the blog updated. Sad? Yes. Pathetic? Undoubtedly, but football brings out the irrational animal in most of us. Or does it? Roy Hodgson, it appears, is above all that.

You don’t hear him bemoaning his lot; whinging about the state of the pitch or the fact that the referees were against us. He just quietly, confidently, gets on with the job in hand. No fuss, no fanfare, no histrionics. I, for one, am glad that he is at the helm.

Now, quite frankly I think our number is up this season but I intend going to every match I can – home and away – to support our boys. Having the backing of the crowd might just swing the pendulum in our favour, and if it doesn’t? Well, as we sang back in ’98 we’ll be back again.

A tribute to Johnny Haynes

It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since the Maestro was taken from us. When I recall the shock of reading the tragic news on a newspaper website, it still invokes in me a pang of deep sorrow. I can remember hoping that the story referred to another “Haynes”, but knowing this was unlikely to be the case.

For me, and thousands of other Fulham fans, it was a real ‘Diana’ moment: Pride in his achievements, mixed with sadness and anger that they weren’t more widely acknowledged. It was an injustice I found hard to swallow. At a time when MBEs and Knighthoods are handed out like confetti, the fact that Haynes was overlooked is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Sadly, our own great club is not immune from criticism here. Talk about erecting a statue outside the Cottage has so far come to nothing – and although there is encourating talk on the main site’s messageboard about the issue being discussed with the planning authorities, progress has been painfully slow. And while I am pleased they renamed the Stevenage Road stand in his honour, I still feel it happened years – if not decades – too late. The fact that only fans with match tickets in that area received the commemorative Johnny Haynes T-shirt was also a bit of a PR disaster for the club in my book. Much better to have given every season ticket holder a shirt or even sell them and give the proceeds to a charity nominated by the Haynes family.

Hopefully the shortcomings reference the statue will be rectified so that new fans and old can pay tribute to a man who will be forever linked with the club.

Like many other second and third generation Fulham fans, his death held a particular resonance with me because his was a name that I had grown up hearing about. From an early age I can recall my dad, for whom Haynes had been a football idol, telling me about the accuracy of his passes and his barely-concealed irritation when less gifted team mates failed to live up to expectations.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing the man himself in early 2001 for a newspaper article (click here to read it) I was writing about Fulham’s climb up the divisions. After being given his home telephone number, I cold-called him expecting to be given the brush-off, but he couldn’t have been more gracious and willing to help. That 20 minute chat will remain one of the undoubted highlights of my life.

At that time he was very excited about the prospects for Tigana’s young team, looking forward to our clash that weekend with Manchester United in an FA Cup tie, and confident that we could clinch promotion back to the top division that season. I remember being particularly impressed with his refusal to make comparisons between his generation and the modern day stars, particularly considering the number of ex-players who are only to happy to state how much better it was in their day. “Fulham has always had the reputation of being a special club,” he told me. “In the 1950s and 60s the stars of stage and screen used to go there. When we had dodgy times, they switched to Chelsea. It will be interesting to see what happens if we get into the Premiership. This side is very, very good and I wouldn’t say it’s completely down to money. Tigana has a lot of experience and he has done a fantastic job.” After our chat he kindly offered to sign a book for my dad.

To my immense regret, time moved on and I never got round to sending it through to him. Ironically, only just before his accident, I remembered again and vowed to do so. Sadly, I didn’t act quickly enough, and thinking about my failure to get this done for my dad is enough to bring a lump to my throat as I write these words because I feel that I really let him down.

Of course, being born in the seventies meant that I never had the privilege to see the great man play in the flesh – and in some ways this makes me feel a fraud for writing such a tribute – but he was a hero of the FFC family to which I’m proud to belong so I hope you will indulge me. We miss you Maestro; may you rest in peace.

If you want to read some of the tributes that appeared at the time of Johnny’s passing, then please follow the links: The Times, The Independent, The Telegraph and Football Poets.

* Our grateful thanks to Ken Coton for allowing us to use his photographs.

Nostalgia: Feature on Fulham’s rise up the leagues

Here is a piece that I wrote back in January 2001 about Fulham’s rise up the divisions for the sports section of a national newspaper called Sunday Business. During its compilation I was fortunate enough to interview Johnny Haynes.

When Fulham entertained Scunthorpe on a wintry January evening in 1996 they lost 3-1, watched by the smallest crowd in the club’s history. A paltry 2,176 turned up, and trudged home in the knowledge that Fulham were close to slipping out of the Football League.
Life in south-west London could barely have been more miserable. For a club that once boasted England captains Johnny Haynes and Bobby Moore, as well as the skills of Rodney Marsh and George Best, the thought of losing league status was unbearable.
Five years on, and fortunes have changed in SW6. When the team runs out at Craven Cottage this afternoon, it will be in front of a sell-out crowd against Manchester United, in a glamour FA Cup tie being screened around the world.
Fulham are clear at the top of the First Division and the past few seasons have seen them take the scalps of Aston Villa, Tottenham, Southampton and Wimbledon. Even their problems are spectacular – captain Chris Coleman broke a leg last week after crashing his Jaguar.
“This has the potential of being the biggest turnaround in the history of football,” enthuses David Lloyd, editor of Fulham’s fanzine, There’s only one F in Fulham. “We have been so used to the downward curve that everything happening now has left us short of breath.”
The glory days, it seems, are back with a vengeance, but the 21 years since United’s last visit have seen varied fortunes for the sides. When United arrived in 1979, again for an FA Cup tie, they were a mediocre, mid-table outfit in the old First Division, while Fulham were in the top six of the Second. Since then, United have become the world’s richest club and accumulated a vast array of silverware, while Fulham have yo-yoed between the bottom three divisions and faced losing their ground in a merger with Queen’s Park Rangers in 1987. Despite a mini-revival in the early 1980s, success has been rare.
Dennis Turner has been a Fulham supporter for 45 years and is the club’s official historian. As one of the hardened few on the terraces that day against Scunthorpe, he has witnessed the club’s darkest hours. The proposed merger, quashed when a group led by former player Jimmy Hill bought the club, and the prospect of losing Craven Cottage to developers a decade ago, rank among his worst memories. “In January 1996 we were second from bottom of the Fourth Division and one place off being relegated,” he recalls. “The recovery started that month. What we are seeing now is the best Fulham team of my lifetime. They are now capable of competing with the best.” The man credited with the resurgence is Mohamed Al Fayed, the Harrods owner, who bought the club in 1997 and installed Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins as its management duo, ousting Micky Adams. But it was Adams who dragged Fulham from the bottom of the League. At the time there was bitterness about his treatment. “People wondered what was in it for Al Fayed, but now believe he’s got their best interests at heart,” says Turner. “He’s one of the few chairmen who doesn’t want to pick the team.”
Al Fayed has ploughed over £50m of his own fortune into Fulham with a raft of improvements, new training facilities, coaches, a shop, club magazine and subsidised travel to away matches. But the moneybags title with which Fulham are branded rankles with Michael Fiddy, the managing director. “It is inappropriate as we haven’t spent vast amounts on players,” he said. “You can’t buy yourselves out of the First Division. Only a football team can get you out and the key is the manager and the training staff.”
That manager is Jean Tigana, part of the midfield engine of France ’s legendary 1984 European Championship-winning side. With Tigana has come confidence, a free-flowing style and players of the calibre of Louis Saha, Nicolas Sahoun, John Collins and Luis Boa Morte.
Even Johnny Haynes, the link to past glories, is impressed. “Fulham has always had the reputation of being a special club,” he said. “In the 1950s and 60s the stars of stage and screen used to go there. When we had dodgy times, they switched to Chelsea . It will be interesting to see what happens if we get into the Premiership. This side is very, very good and I wouldn’t say it’s completely down to money. Tigana has a lot of experience and he has done a fantastic job.” Yet, despite the resurgence, full houses are rare at Craven Cottage, even though the number of season ticket holders has increased from 2,000 to more than 8,000 in recent years. Games are often played with up to 2,000 season ticket holders not even taking up their places.
Football analyst Frank Buchan, of Brewin Dolphin Securities, believes this will change if Fulham get into the Premiership, with promotion providing a further £20m from television money and sponsorship. “They are on a very sound financial footing,” Buchan said. “They will never be as big as Chelsea, but if they manage to get a good ground with 25,000 supporters regularly, they will be very healthy.”
A planned redevelopment of Craven Cottage into a 30,000 all-seater stadium is facing opposition from some residents, with a hearing expected within weeks. The historic Stevenage Road façade may be staying, but some fans resent any demolition of the cottage. Fiddy believes the future is reliant on the planning decision going in the club’s favour. “If they don’t give permission there will be irreparable damage. It will be catastrophic,” he said.
But while the stadium and promotion remain the priorities, for a few hours today they will be replaced by a trip down memory lane. And this time the prospect of a Fulham victory doesn’t look quite so ridiculous.