The 1980s was a strange period in the history of the club. We started it in the Third Division yet by 1983 had come within a whisker of returning to the top flight.
Malcolm MacDonald had fashioned the best team we’d seen in years but Ernie Clay’s lack of investment was the prelude to relegation again in 1986 and his sale of the club to asset strippers almost led to extinction in 1987. Jimmy Hill rode to the rescue to save the club but we continued to struggle on the pitch. In 1989 we did miss out on promotion in the play offs but the decade ended with us struggling again at the wrong end of Division 3.
Although the decade didn’t have the razzle dazzle and star names of the 1970s we still had a smattering of fine players that live fondly in the memory. My choice of five may not meet universal approval but I’m sure few would complain about their efforts in Fulham colours…
As Ivor is my all time favourite Fulham player (not uncommon for fans of my generation) then he’s the obvious first choice in my five of the 1980s. To be fair, the fact he’s our all time record goalscorer would probably put him in the top five of any decade. Gordon was rejected by Manchester City in his youth and took the long way round back into the professional game via non league Merthyr. These humble beginnings no doubt shaped his attitude to the game. He played with a carefree spirit and his obvious enjoyment of the game meant we took him to our hearts straight away. It also helped that he scored goals for fun; all sorts of goals too. His speed and intelligence meant he was far more than just a ‘fox in the box’. It was a crying shame we didn’t get promoted in 1983 as I’m sure Ivor and the team would have established themselves in the top flight. Sadly he had to go to that lot down the road to get his chance at that level but such was his popularity he was easily forgiven and welcomed back. It was in his second spell at the Cottage that he broke Johnny Haynes scoring record to enter the pantheon of club legends. Gordon was not only a great player but is also a smashing bloke. I had the great pleasure of chatting with him a few years back when doing match day hospitality. There’s an old adage that says you shouldn’t meet your heroes as you’re sure to be disappointed – in Ivor’s case, it couldn’t be more wrong.
Gerry joined Fulham in 1976 as a 20 year old from Burnley, where he’d already made 30 appearances covering for the experienced Alan Stevenson. Peyton went straight in to the team to replace injured Cup Final keeper, Peter Mellor (another ex Burnley custodian), in a famous televised game against Oldham. George Best put in a sublime performance on a frozen pitch and Peyton’s clean sheet in a 5-0 win was a successful start to a career where he rapidly established himself as first choice. Peyton was a model of consistency and was a fixture in the 1982 promotion side and the team that went within an inch of Division One a year later. He saw off the challenge of a young Jim Stannard and was still a regular until relegation befell us in 1986 after Ernie Clay’s lack of investment saw most of the talent leave the club. Peyton left that summer and went on to play over 200 games in a successful Bournemouth side before building a second career as a top goalkeeping coach. He had a short spell with us before really making his mark at Arsenal where he spent 15 seasons. Gerry also won 33 caps for the Republic of Ireland and still remains one of my favourite Fulham keepers.
Stroller was a prodigal talent who made his debut as a 16 year old in the 1976-7 Anglo Scottish Cup. He was seen as the natural successor to Bobby Moore who retired at the end of that season. Tony was indeed a defender in the mould of the England legend having a similarly calm and elegant style; although in his first full season played quite a few games in midfield, contributing a tidy 8 goals to boot. It was at the back that he firmly established himself though, and after suffering the disappointment of relegation in 1980 was an integral part of Malcolm MacDonald’s successful team over the next 2 or 3 years. Tony was undoubtedly a First Division quality player and after we didn’t quite make it up, it was sadly inevitable he’d fulfil that ambition elsewhere. West Ham were the lucky recipients of his talent, paying us £200,000 in June 1984 and he went on to play 300 games for them before he was released in 1994. Tony then signed for Blackburn Rovers and made 15 appearances as part of their Premier League winning squad in 1995. His Champion’s medal was a richly deserved and tangible reward for a fine career in which I felt he was extremely unlucky not to earn full international recognition by England. Tony has worked extensively in the media since his playing days and his regular columns on the club website show he still holds Fulham close to his heart.
Ray started his career at Chelsea and was part of Eddie McCreadie’s young promotion side of 1976-77. Chelsea struggled in the top flight though (no sniggering at the back) and when he found himself out of the side, Lewington left for Vancouver in 1979. After winning the NASL Soccer Bowl with them, Ray returned for a loan spell with Wimbledon before signing permanently with us in the spring of 1980, just in time to be relegated. However once Malcolm MacDonald took over things looked up and he was an integral part of the success that followed. The midfield quartet of Lewington, Ray Houghton, Sean O’Driscoll and Rob Wilson named itself in the side that nearly took us back to the First Division and is one I still remember fondly some 40 years on.
When we didn’t make it up Ernie Clay pulled the plug and Ray joined the exodus of talent in 1985, leaving for Sheffield United. He was only there a season before surprisingly being invited back by our new owners to be player manager at the age of just 29. We had by then been relegated, but this was the least of our worries as Marler Estates tried to merge us with QPR and cash in on the Cottage for its real estate value. Ray conducted himself with great dignity in such untenable circumstances and remained at the helm after Jimmy Hill rescued us from this fate. The team continued to struggle though apart from one decent season in 1988-89 that faltered at the play off stage. In 1990, Hill appointed his old pal Alan Dicks as manager but Ray stayed on to assist and stepped in as caretaker when the ‘Dicks Out’ (no sniggering at the back – you’ve been warned already!) campaign succeeded in 1991. Ray was again demoted to assistant when Don Mackay was appointed but stepped in as caretaker again upon his sacking in 1994. Unfortunately it was too late to reverse our fortunes and we ended that season with relegation to the bottom tier of the league. Ray left the club with his head held high and went off to coach and manage at Crystal Palace, Brentford and Watford with some distinction before coming back to his spiritual home in 2005 to manage Chris Coleman’s reserve side. Ray got his third stint as caretaker in 2007 when Lawrie Sanchez was sacked and remained to become Roy Hodgson’s able lieutenant as we dodged the drop before amazingly reaching the final of the Europa League in 2010. Ray remained at Fulham after Hodgson’s departure but when Sir Roy got the England job, Ray justifiably found the call to be his assistant irresistible and left in 2012. That double act has continued to work wonders at Crystal Palace and, to date, Ray has not returned to work here. However, in view of his track record it would be foolish to rule the prospect out. He assuredly would be afforded a King’s welcome.
Roger was like Gordon Davies: a late starter to the professional game spending his early days on the non league circuit in his native Midlands, predominantly with Leamington. Curiously Harry Redknapp played alongside him after coming back from the USA and recommended Roger to Bournemouth manager, John Benson. The Cherries signed him in 1978 and Brown made his League debut at 25. He quickly impressed and before long had earned a move to First Division Norwich, but with us in desperate trouble in 1980, Bobby Campbell paid £100,000 for his services in the hope he’d shore up our leaking defence. Unfortunately Brown was injured in his debut against Chelsea and didn’t play again in a season that ended in relegation. When Roger played his next game for us in the third tier, it meant he had the statistical anomaly of playing his last three games of football in three different divisions.
Once Malcolm MacDonald took over after Campbell’s sacking, Fulham’s form improved and Roger swiftly formed a wonderful partnership with Tony Gale at the back. Brown was immense in the air and would happily head a brick wall. His strengths blended perfectly with the cultured Gale and in 1981-2, Roger added the bonus of 12 goals – an exceptional tally for a centre half. The last of these was the vital one against Lincoln that clinched promotion on a glorious night at the Cottage. He again impressed in 1982-3 when only a late-season drop in form and the scandal at Derby on the last day of the season denied us successive promotions.
Roger started the next season in his customary role but the emergence of Paul Parker, who particularly impressed in the League Cup saga with the mighty Liverpool side of that era, saw him lose his place. He was sold to Bournemouth in December 1983 where he impressed again before finishing his career back in non league football. Roger tragically passed away from cancer in 2011 but will remain lodged in the memory of those that saw him play. He may only have been at Fulham for three and a bit years but that night against Lincoln, and the iconic images captured that night, afford him legendary status.