50 Years of Ups and Downs

Image: Fulham FC

My first visit to Fulham came in 1969 when my Dad took an innocent 6 year old to Craven Cottage to see Johnny Haynes’ testimonial match. I had no idea at the time what a legend he was, nor was I aware that the club had just been relegated for the second time in successive years.

I got taken to a few games over the next couple of seasons and in the second of these we were promoted back to the second division. The next season was my first as a regular. 1971-72 was a season of struggle as we just stayed up by the skin of our teeth with a last day draw at home to Sunderland. It was no matter though; like so many other football fans I was hooked. I quickly accepted that success was an optional extra when it comes to truly supporting a team.

That first proper season of mine is now 50 years ago and in that time I’ve witnessed many highs and lows. Indeed the first half of that time saw a lot more lows than highs. There was of course the epic run to the 1975 Cup Final and a brief period when Malcolm MacDonald almost piloted us to the top flight. However other than that we generally struggled. We even almost managed to go down when Bobby Moore, Rodney Marsh and George Best were gracing our colours!

We almost went under completely in 1987 and by 1994 found ourself in the fourth division and in early 1996 were 91st out of the 92 League clubs and on the edge of oblivion. 1997 was a watershed moment with Micky Adams steering us to promotion, which led to Mohamed Al Fayed’s purchase of the club. It’s meant the second half of my half century has coincided with the most sustained period of success in the club’s history. Keegan and Tigana both won titles, with the Frenchman crafting a breathtaking style of football I’d never witnessed before. Fayed’s 5 year plan to reach the Premier League was achieved in 4 and we spent the next 13 years dining at football’s top table. Miraculously under the stewardship of Sir Roy Hodgson we even reached a European final. Those of us privileged enough to have lived through those times have been truly blessed.

Sure the last 9 years have seen a few lows. Three relegations in our last 3 PL seasons is not a hat trick anyone would’ve wanted. However without them we wouldn’t have had the silky football of the Jokanovic era which led to my all time personal Fulham highlight In seeing us win at Wembley with my family and friends. Sharing the love of your team like that is what makes football so special and that is why the last couple of Covid affected years haven’t been the same. Of course I was overjoyed when we beat Brentford in the 2020 play off final, but there’s nothing like being there.

If there was a good season to miss though, it was surely last year’s turgid effort under Scott Parker. For a time his cautious tactics gave us a chance of beating the drop but in the end we went down with a whimper and with many of the squad alienated.

Like 1997, the summer of 2021 was shaping up as another watershed moment in our illustrious history. After a long impasse Parker’s long rumoured move to Bournemouth happened and the club appointed Marco Silva to replace him. The Fulham fans jury was initially out on the Portuguese with his fairly checkered recent record. However he quickly got the faithful onside by appointing club legend Luis Boa Morte as his assistant and by assuring us that Aleksandar Mitrovic was an integral part of his plans.

When I trooped to the Cottage for our first game with Middlesbrough in August I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just overjoyed to be back at Craven Cottage in the bosom of our extended Fulham family. The game ended in a disappointing draw but the style of play was a breath of fresh air after watching Parker’s stifling tactics. It reminded me of Tigana’s early days when the players quickly embraced his methods and positivity.

Results swiftly started to flow and although Silva had enhanced the team with the arrival of Harry Wilson and the proper introduction of Fabio Carvalho. He was doing it with many of the players Parker had rejected. Mitro was regalvanised, Ream was restored and Kebano was a revelation. There were a few bumps in the road at Blackpool and particularly Coventry but each time they happened the team came back stronger. The most remarkable result in the first half of the season was a 7-0 win at Blackburn. Little did we realise at the time that this sort of score line would become routine.

We had another poorish run of results around Christmas which combined with a few Covid postponements saw Bournemouth and Blackburn usurp us at the top. Any fears the campaign was about to go off the rails were swiftly calmed by another 7-0 win on the road at Reading and the joy of six in successive home games with Bristol City and Birmingham. Our record breaking was making the football world sit up and take notice. As Fulham fans, we weren’t taking anything for granted but I’m sure most Championship fans had us down as promotion certainties.

Again there have been a few blips on the way to the finish line, but fittingly we clinched the deal on an epic evening at the Cottage against Preston. It just left one box to be ticked in confirming the title we richly deserved and again we teased the faithful by passing up two opportunities at Bournemouth and against Forest. It left a few nerves prior to kick off against Luton Town, but we needn’t have worried as it proved third time lucky against the hapless Hatters.

In truth, with a depleted line up, it was always going to be hard for them to rain on our parade. However, once Tom Cairney sent us on our way it would have been hard for any team to live with us, such was the quality of football on show. We ended up in seventh heaven with goals from every angle including two from our record breaking pyrotechnic Serbian. It was a night dreams are made of and in my 50 plus years of going to the Cottage is up there with the very best. In the immediate glow of last night I’d easily argue it was the best. Although I’d seen us clinch titles before, trophy presentations came at later matches. To do both together is truly special and to be there and share the experience with my two children made it even better.

Certainly next season will be another tough one but for now let’s just celebrate one of the best Fulham seasons of all time. Thank you to Marco Silva and all the players for giving us such special memories. As an old Fulham Chairman, Tommy Trinder would say we are truly “lucky people”.