This is probably the most difficult article I’ve had to write since joining the Fulham Focus team; I’ve been asked to pick the 5 players of the decade for each of those since I’ve been following the club. There are no particular criteria involved. All I’ve tried to do is select five players that I feel have been most influential for each period in question.
It’s a very subjective judgment so apologies in advance if I’ve missed out your favourite. However, the piece will hopefully trigger some good healthy debate amongst the Focus readers and remind us how blessed we’ve been to see such a galaxy of stars wearing our famous white shirt.
The 1960s is particularly difficult as my first-hand knowledge of the decade is limited. I was born in 1962 and didn’t see my first game at the Cottage until 1969 when my Dad took me to see the Testimonial of a player who is undoubtedly considered our all-time greatest. I am of course talking about The Maestro himself, Johnny Haynes. I did see him play a League game at the start of the following season but these were my only glimpses of him playing in the flesh. However, it’s clear from all I’ve read about him how highly regarded he was. It’s, therefore, a simple task to make him the first player on this list…
Johnny joined Fulham on amateur forms in 1950 as a 15-year-old and made his debut against Southampton on Boxing Day 1952. He soon became an integral part of a side that reached the FA Cup Semi-final in 1958 and got promoted to the First Division in 1959. He famously became the first player to earn £100 a week on the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961 and finished 3rd place in the 1961 Ballon dOr awards, making him the third-best player on the planet at the time. He had by then become a regular in the England side and was the second player after Billy Wright to captain England at a World Cup, leading the Three Lions during the 1962 tournament.
However, a car crash in 1962 in which he broke bones in both feet and badly injured a knee was to bring a premature end to his England career. Haynes had played in two World Cups, earned 56 caps (22 as captain) and scored 18 times. Johnny was fit enough to resume his career with a Fulham team that were perennial strugglers in the First Division. We dodged several bullets but were finally relegated in 1968 and were struggling again the following season when Johnny took over as Player-Manager after Bobby Robson’s sacking. He wasn’t comfortable in the role and only did it for 18 days as things went from bad to worse and we were relegated again. 1969-70 was to prove his last for the club and his final game was a Third Division fixture with Stockport in January 1970; quite an unfitting end to such a glorious career.
Johnny was later to become involved with the Fulham 2000 campaign, lending his support to keep us at our spiritual home. Haynes sadly suffered a brain haemorrhage whilst driving in 2005 and passed away the day after. A marvellous tribute was paid to him at the next home game with Liverpool which appropriately we won 2-0 and the fabulous statue of him in Stevenage Road was unveiled in 2008 as a permanent memorial to our greatest player.
Pele once said that Johnny was the greatest passer of the ball that he had ever seen, we are privileged to have had such a legend of the game as one of our own.
George is the second player on the list and is a selection that should brook no argument as not only was he a consistent performer for the club but was also one of the 1966 World Cup-winning side. Cohen joined Fulham from school and showed such promise, that he was thrust into the side for his debut against Liverpool in 1956 at the tender age of 17 before becoming a regular the following season. Like Haynes, he was a staple fixture in the side that got promoted in 1959 and spent most of the 1960s in the top flight. He was highly regarded by his peers; George Best described him as the ‘best full backs he ever played against’.
Alf Ramsey obviously took note when looking for a replacement for Jimmy Armfield as England right back and gave him his debut in 1964. Cohen established himself as the first choice in the approach to the World Cup on home soil. Ramsey’s line up became known as the Wingless Wonders as he liked a much more solid midfield with two orthodox central forwards up front. It meant there was much more responsibility on the full-backs to get forward in overlapping positions and it was a role that suited Cohen down to the ground with his strength, speed and stamina.
George went on to play every game in the tournament as England became World Champions. He returned to Fulham a hero but in December 1967 suffered a terrible knee injury that was to effectively end his career at the age of just 29.
George has remained a familiar figure at the club and in recent years has been hosting matchday hospitality and like his old buddy Haynes now has a statue in tribute to his achievements, in the Riverside corner of the Hammersmith End. George’s status has grown immeasurably the longer we’ve gone without repeating the feat of 1966. Unfortunately, no England manager since has realised we can only win the World Cup with a Fulham player in the team.
Graham is another obvious choice in my five bearings in mind his goals to game ratio and his contribution to establishing ourselves in the First Division in the first half of the decade. Leggatt was signed for a bargain £17,000 from Aberdeen in 1958 and slotted straight into the team like a dream, scoring in his first 6 games and going on to total 21 goals as we clinched promotion. Graham took to the top flight like a duck to water and carried on scoring regularly. He is part of the magnificent seven players to score over 100 goals for the club and remains the only player in our history to score 100 top-flight goals.
Leggatt’s stand out achievement was probably his contribution to our record 10-1 victory against Ipswich Town on Boxing Day 1963. He scored a hat trick in just 4 minutes; a record that stood until 2015 when Sadio Mane took just under 3 minutes to score one for Southampton against Aston Villa.
Vic Buckingham made many mistakes as Fulham manager and his selling of Leggatt just after he had scored 5 goals in 2 games over Christmas in 1966 was foremost among them. He may have turned 30 by then and was perhaps starting to lose his lightning pace but his ability to find the back of the net was still obvious. Graham’s career ebbed away thereafter and within 18 months of his departure, we were relegated and on a downward spiral.
After retiring from the game he emigrated to Canada where he became a journalist and TV presenter, before sadly passing away in 2015.
Bobby gets into my top five of the 1960s although arguably he could feature in such a list for the 1950s too where he formed a legendary front line with Bedford Jezzard and Johnny Haynes. Bobby spent two spells playing for the club first joining as a 17-year-old from his native North East and establishing himself as an attacking midfielder in a team scoring goals for fun in the Second Division. West Brom signed him for £25,000 in 1956 and he went on to win 20 caps while at the Baggies, featuring in the England squad in both the 1958 and 1962 World Cups.
He returned to Fulham after a salary dispute with WBA in 1962 and became an integral part of our midfield again; albeit now in a more defensive role. This is evidenced by the fact his first spell yielded 68 of his Fulham goals in just 152 games whereas he scored just 9 in 40 more games second time around. He retired from playing in our colours at the end of the 1966-67 season and went to Canada to play and coach in Vancouver. However, by January 1968 he was back at the Cottage as Manager with the team once more at the wrong end of the table. The inexperienced Robson couldn’t fashion a revival out of his old teammates and we were finally relegated after years of struggle. When we again laboured at the start of the following season Bobby was unceremoniously sacked by a short-sighted board.
Robson was undeterred and went on to forge a stellar managerial career both at home and abroad and came within a whisker of guiding England to the World Cup Final in 1990. He passed away in 2009 with his status as one of the most successful managers and more importantly most liked figure in the game intact.
Without being disrespectful Stan would probably be seen as the odd one out in my list of five. Haynes, Cohen and Robson are all legends of the English game and Leggatt too played internationally for Scotland and as a goalscorer always had his name in lights. By comparison, Brown’s career slipped under the radar but not at Fulham where his tireless efforts were recognised and appreciated throughout the decade.
He began his career as a centre forward before making wing-half his more regular position. Stan was so adaptable though that over the years he played virtually every role; one of the earliest examples of what became known as utility players. Brown wasn’t a prolific scorer; his first goal for the club being probably his most memorable – the winner over high flying Everton in 1962. He was a regular in the side that stayed up against the odds many times before our successive relegations in 1968 and 1969.
Stan had a richly deserved Testimonial match in 1970 before helping us to promotion back to the Second Division in 1971. He left the club on loan to Brighton in 1972 and then joined Colchester before playing for many more years in non-league football in his native Sussex. Stan was the embodiment of loyalty and professionalism; qualities not quite as common in the modern game. He still held the club close to his heart before sadly passing away in 2018.
These then are my five players of the 1960s although this isn’t to ignore the contributions of other greats such as Tony Macedo. To pick just five players is not easy and if your favourite isn’t there I apologise. Before people are too quick to criticise though, remember that some players careers stretched across two decades.
Just a tease to see who the Focus Five are for the 1970s in a couple of weeks…