Focus Fives: Players of the Decade (1970s)

PLAYERS OF THE DECADE: 1970s

Image: Fulham FC

There was a broadly positive reaction to my five picks for the 1960’s although this is probably as much an appreciation of how difficult a task it is to choose just 5 players, rather than universal agreement with my choices…

The 1970’s is a bit easier for me to make my selection as from the 1971/72 season I was a regular on the Cottage terraces and can therefore make my choice from first hand experience. That said, it is still a fiendishly difficult task to get it down to just five as in my formative boyhood years it took next to no time to accord a player hero status. However, my first pick is an easy one to make as he was the first player to captain Fulham to the Cup Final and, in fairness, could have been one of my picks from the 1960’s in recognition of his first spell at the club. I am of course talking about Alan Mullery. 

ALAN MULLERY

Image: Evening Standard/Getty

Appearances: 412 (1958-64 & 1972-76)

All-Time Appearances Ranking: 15th

Goals: 42

All-Time Goalscorer Ranking: 41st

Alan joined Fulham from school and such was his talent that he was given his debut at the tender age of 17 on Valentine’s Day in 1959. The pressure was on as we were chasing promotion to the First Division but Mullers acquitted himself so well he kept his place for the rest of that triumphant season. He quickly adjusted to life in the top flight and was a fixture in the side as we established ourselves, although in the 1961/62 season we had a close shave with relegation despite reaching the FA Cup Semi Final. He received England under 23 recognition and bigger clubs started circling around the tenacious midfielder. In March 1964, the Board accepted a bid from Spurs, behind manager Bedford Jezzard’s back which disillusioned him so much it eventually triggered his departure from the club and the game. Mullery went from strength to strength at Spurs winning the FA Cup in 1967, skippering them to the League Cup and ending his stay in 1972 with a UEFA Cup victory. He also became a regular in Alf Ramsey’s England squad, winning 35 caps despite being the first player to be sent off in England colours in the 1968 European Championship Semi Final with Yugoslavia.

Bill Dodgin had brought him back to Fulham on loan at the end of the 1971/72 season which helped him recover match fitness for Spurs and also abetted our fight against relegation. Alec Stock brought him back permanently that summer and immediately installed him as skipper. We had a couple of uneventful seasons but Mullers did win the Goal of the Season award in 1973/74 with a thunderbolt against Leicester City in the FA Cup. The Cup was even kinder to him in 1974/75 as we embarked on an epic record breaking run that ended with Mullery getting the Footballer of the Year award and being the first man to captain a Fulham team at Wembley. It was to be 43 years before this feat was equalled. The following season was his last as a player although it was rumoured he’d be staying at the club in a managerial or coaching capacity. Mullery was known to be peeved at the let down but went on to make a stellar start as a manager at Brighton getting them promoted from the Third to the First Division. After leaving the Seagulls he never quite achieved the same success again and eventually found work as a TV pundit. However, it is as a player that he remains best known and for what he did in 1975 is an obvious pick in my Focus Fives of the decade.

Check out John Clarke’s tribute to Alan Mullery in our Hall of Heroes here.


LES BARRETT

Appearances: 491 (1965-77)

All-Time Appearances Ranking: 3rd

Goals: 90

All-Time Goalscorer Ranking: 9th

Like Mullery, Les could also have easily featured in my five of the 1960’s. Les made his debut in January 1966 when at the age of 18 he was thrust into the heat of a relegation battle. We were in such trouble that it could have been considered a last throw of the dice putting faith in such precocious youth but Les was equal to the task as his sparkling wing play helped us get 20 points from the last 13 games (2 points for a win) and dodge the hangman’s noose. Barrett became a regular in the team thereafter and picked up an England under 23 cap in 1967 as his talents were recognised across the game. When we were finally relegated in 1968 after years of struggle it would have been easy to see Les move on but he stayed loyal only to endure another relegation a year later. Barrett was far too good for the Third Division and was both scoring and assisting goals for fun. He was an integral part of the promotion side of 1970/71 and Les carried on in the same vein over the next few seasons back in the Second Division. We just escaped relegation in our first season back but from then on we were a pretty unremarkable mid table side.

It was therefore a wonderful reward for Barrett’s long years of loyal service when we embarked on that Cup run in 1975 which was to prove the undoubted highlight of his time with us. Being the model of consistency that he was, Les was ever present in the 11 game run that took us to Wembley for the first time in our history. Barrett remained at the club for another couple of seasons and had a richly deserved Testimonial in 1976 before leaving for Millwall and then a long and successful swansong in non league football. Fulham fans were blessed to have Les’s wing wizardry and skill as a staple part of their diet for so long. They don’t make players like him any more.

Check out John Clarke’s tribute to Les Barrett in our Hall of Heroes here.


JIMMY CONWAY

Image: Joe Bangay/Daily Express/Getty

Appearances: 360 (1966-76)

All-Time Appearances Ranking: 20th

Goals: 76

All-Time Goalscorer Ranking: 13th

My third selection Jimmy Conway was a contemporary of Barrett and my first years of watching the club were blessed watching these two fantastic wingers flying down the flanks. Jimmy joined Fulham as a 19 year old from Bohemians for £12,000 in 1966 and scored on his debut in a 5-0 League cup win over Wolves. Conway quickly established himself as a regular but was unfortunate to find himself part of a struggling side. By 1969 we had dropped two flights but like Les he remained loyal to the cause and had a brilliant first season in the Third Division finishing as the club’s top scorer with 23 goals. Conway had injury problems the following season but still contributed a vital 9 goals to our promotion cause. Intermittent injuries continued to plague Conway, but when he was fit, he remained a regular as we readjusted to Second Division life. He was rewarded in 1975 with that glorious cup run and although he missed both Semi Finals with Birmingham City due to injury, he recovered in time to take his place at Wembley. Jim left for Manchester City in the summer of 1976 before emigrating to the USA where he played and coached with distinction. Very sadly, Conway suffered with dementia in later life before passing away earlier this year.


LES STRONG

Image: Ed Lacey/Popperfoto via Getty

Appearances: 427 (1971-83)

All-Time Appearances Ranking: 11th

Goals: 6

I’d become a regular on the terraces in 1971/72 when we stayed up by the skin of our teeth. Even though we were struggling, the tried and trusted XI were persevered with which suggested there might be a paucity of up and coming talent in the ranks. It was therefore a breath of fresh air at the start of the following season when new boss Alec Stock threw a couple of youngsters in the side. Centre forward John Mitchell made an immediate impression and later found his way into Fulham folklore with his goals against Birmingham in the 1975 Cup run. Les Strong made his debut a couple of weeks after Super Mitch and had a somewhat slower burn to his Fulham career. He’d been on amateur forms at Crystal Palace when Ken Craggs, who was assisting George Cohen with our youth team, persuaded him to sign pro with us. He was thrust in to the first team on the right wing when Jimmy Conway was injured and managed a couple of goals in his first ten games. He was on the periphery of the squad though once Conway recovered and it wasn’t until January 1974 that he finally established himself. At the time, stalwart Fred Callaghan was reaching the end of the road with the club and his left back position was proving problematic to fill. The slight and spindly Strong we’d seen before had by now been transformed into an athletic and reliable defender and he nailed down the position as though he’d played there all his life.

His first full season as Fulham’s number 3 ended at Wembley but, tragically for Les, an injury sustained a couple of weeks before meant he missed out on what would have been the highlight of his career. The club did manage to get him a medal minted although this was little consolation. Neither was his appearance in the Anglo Scottish Cup Final later that year when Les netted the only goal scored in the two legs – in his own net. Strongie was known as a bit of a character, although his renowned sense of humour must have been sorely tested at the time. He would surely have enjoyed lining up alongside the likes of Moore, Best and Marsh though as we attracted something of a galaxy of stars in the second half of the decade.

The 1980’s were to start badly though as Bobby Campbell managed to pilot a decent squad to relegation. By now Les was the longest serving player and was confirmed as club Captain by new boss Malcolm MacDonald. Super Mac transformed our fortunes and, at the end of the season after, Strongy was on the Cottage balcony celebrating skippering his side to promotion after a nail biting draw with Lincoln. A richly deserved Testimonial game with the England team took place a few days later. Les started the first three games of the following campaign before losing his position to Kevin Lock in a side that went so close to successive promotions. He is however fully deserving of his place in my five of the decade.

Check out John Clarke’s tribute to Les Strong in our Hall of Heroes here.


GEORGE BEST

Image: Fulham FC

Appearances: 47 (1976-78)

Goals: 10

Although George is undoubtedly the finest player I’ve seen in the flesh, he could well be the most controversial selection in my five. I would really have liked to split my 5th choice between him and another utter legend of the game, Bobby Moore. In fact, Moore achieved more with the club, being an integral part of the side that reached Wembley in 1975 and spending over 3 seasons with the club. By comparison, Best’s stay was brief and was littered with controversy. However, from the moment he scored within 71 seconds of his debut against Bristol Rovers I was hooked. It wasn’t only the fact that he was a genius on the ball but it was for his attitude off it. He didn’t act like a prima donna that he was too good for this level of football, which he assuredly was. Best was the consummate team player who’d get kicked black and blue yet still come back for more. He took severe punishment in the Boxing Day derby as Chelsea’s hard men kicked him off the park. George was the one banned for complaining too harshly to the referee about the treatment, yet got his revenge in the best way possible in the return fixture on Good Friday. Chelsea were in line for promotion while we were struggling desperately at the wrong end of the table. It mattered not to George as he gave a master class that day, scoring a scrumptious volley in a 3-1 victory. He played briefly again for Fulham at the start of 1977/78 before returning to the USA and his sad descent into alcoholism and premature death. Flawed he may have been, but I can only remember him for that unlikely year in our colours when he was an utter hero to me. I’m sure Bobby Moore would understand why I plumped for Best as the last choice in my Focus Fives of the 1970’s. I’d like to imagine the pair of them propping up a bar somewhere sharing their happy memories of playing for our wonderful club.