By way of introduction, this list is a personal choice with the players I’ve selected and not necessarily based on their ability alone.
When reviewing my choices, I can hardly forgive myself for not including Mousa Dembele (the first) as he is undoubtedly one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen play for us. He glided round the pitch like a vintage Rolls Royce and was a joy to watch. Five is a very small number though, so some real greats haven’t made the cut. Apologies if your favourite isn’t included!
The decade started with what was without doubt the finest achievement in our long and illustrious history. There was a ‘tidal wave by the Thames’ as our humble club reached a European Final just 14 years after being 91st in the League. The magnitude of this feat still seems almost surreal and consequently 4 of my 5 picks were integral parts of that glorious side. It was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show following this as Sir Roy departed and many of the squad were allowed to leave with still much to give. We trod water for a while under Mark Hughes and Martin Jol, but after Shahid Khan took ownership of the club we swiftly paid the price for not replacing the quality players we’d lost. The mistake was compounded by a revolving door in the manager’s office and relegation was confirmed under the tutelage of Felix Magath who had been touted as our saviour. When ‘Felix bingo’ and the healing powers of cheese were exposed as a fraud, Kit Symons steadied the ship for a while before deliverance was offered by the appointment of Slavisa Jokanovic. We played beautiful football for two seasons, with the crowning glory being our Play Off victory at Wembley in 2018. Consequently, my last pick is our captain and match winner from that occasion. Unfortunately, Slav didn’t last long upon our return to the PL as the Khans repeated the same mistake by replacing him with another ‘experienced saviour’. Claudio Ranieri was arguably not as mad as Magath, but his methods were similarly unsuccessful. The decade ended with us in the midst of another Championship campaign under rookie boss, Scott Parker. I wonder how that turned out…
Clint was signed in January 2007 from New England Revolution and was to become the most successful of the host of Americans who’ve plied their trade for Fulham over the last 20 years or so. Dempsey made a slow start at the club as his opportunities were limited by a nosedive in the team’s form that ended in Chris Coleman’s sacking. Clint did get his chance under caretaker boss Lawrie Sanchez, and in the final home game of the season delivered his first goal in our colours. It proved to be vital as his winner against Liverpool delivered the result that saved us from relegation.
Another battle against the drop ensued the following year and although Clint ended the season as top scorer with 6 goals, he was far from a regular in a season of chop and change. It was the same story at the start of the following campaign as after the ‘Great Escape’ Zamora, Johnson and Gera had been brought in to fill the attacking roles. Dempsey was patient and forced his way in to be a regular member of a squad that finished in our highest ever placing of 7th.
This was the prelude to our amazing Europa League run that was to put Dempsey in the world spotlight when his exquisite chip proved the winner in our stunning fightback against Juventus. He came off the bench that night as he did in the Final in Hamburg, which was indicative of his status as a valued squad member but not an automatic starter.
This was to change over the next couple of seasons as his reputation and goal tally continued to grow. Clint finished the 2010-11 season as top scorer with 12 goals and was also voted Player of the Season by the fans. The next campaign was even better with goals galore including hat tricks against Charlton in the FA Cup and Newcastle, with his season finale against Sunderland being his 50th Premier League goal for the club.
Interest was now rife in the American and there were rumours of a deal with Liverpool that would have brought Jordan Henderson to us. However, we weren’t impressed with the underhand approach of the Merseysiders so it was Tottenham who finally clinched his signature in August 2012. Like others to have travelled that route (Davis, Malbranque and Sessegnon spring to mind), Clint was not an unqualified success in North London and only remained there a year before heading back across the pond to Seattle Sounders.
He further enhanced his reputation there and 141 caps and 57 goals in US national team colours are testament to his legendary standing in the game Stateside. Whilst not quite accorded that status in SW6, a brief unsuccessful return loan spell in 2014 did nothing to tarnish the fondness Deuce is held in here.
Murphy had started his career at Crewe who had a great reputation for developing young players. His last game for them was a winning appearance in a playoff final with Brentford; in the process making himself popular with Fulham fans ten years before his arrival at the club. From there he joined Liverpool where he established himself as a key and versatile midfielder. His standout season there was in 2000-1 when he was part of the side that won a cup treble (League, FA and UEFA Cups). He also gained international recognition and was called up for the England World Cup squad of 2002, only sadly to miss out due to a metatarsal injury.
Murphy then headed south to join Charlton in 2004 and from there went on to Tottenham in January 2006. Curiously Danny didn’t show the consistent form he’d demonstrated at Liverpool and amidst rumours of discontent, Spurs allowed us to take over his contract in August 2007. Lawrie Sanchez got quite a lot of stick in his spell in charge, but hindsight shows he made a lot of very good signings in his brief tenure. Aaron Hughes, Paul Konchesky and Chris Baird all went on to make huge contributions for the club with Murphy probably proving his best signing of all.
It was far from plain sailing to start with but with Roy Hodgson engineering the unlikeliest route out of the mire, it was left to Murphy to become the hero with his header at Portsmouth in the season’s finale giving us the win that kept us up. Following Brian McBride’s departure, Hodgson rewarded Danny with the captaincy for the next campaign which was to prove a massive success with a 7th place finish. To start with, Murphy had to play a holding role with the maverick Jimmy Bullard roaming free. However, when Bullard left for Hull, Hodgson delivered the masterstroke of pairing Danny with Dickson Etuhu. Most fans feared this would be a huge downgrade but Etuhu was far more comfortable doing the dirty work, which freed Murphy up to take on the playmaking role he was best at.
If 2008-9 was a success, the following campaign was to enter folklore as we not only comfortably maintained our Premier League status, we effectively played half another campaign on our way to the Europa League final. Murphy was a cornerstone of the side that shook the continent with a succession of unlikely victories in the knock out stages. Murphy is on record as being devastated by our loss to Atletico Madrid, but he should be proud he was the man who led us out that night. It was an achievement that not even the most deluded Fulham fan could have imagined.
Murphy remained a marvellously consistent performer over the next couple of seasons but when Martin Jol couldn’t agree another contract with him in 2012, he was allowed to leave for Blackburn on a free transfer. In my mind it was a mistake as although he was in the twilight of his career, it was his speed of thought rather than his limbs that made him such a fabulous player. For 4-5 years he was the man who made Fulham tick. We were privileged to see him in our colours.
Brede had been forging a decent reputation for himself, first in Norway then with FC Copenhagen where he’d won Danish titles and played in the Champions League. To be fair though, he wasn’t a name on many of our lips when Roy Hodgson was looking for a commanding centre half in January 2008. Fortunately, Roy was aware of Brede’s ability from a spell he’d had at Viking Stavanger and was able to persuade him to join our relegation battle. With five games of the season left, Hangeland must’ve been regretting his decision as it seemed certain he had traded Champions League football for the Championship. However, a miracle was in the offing, thanks in no small part to the giant Norwegian and his partner in crime, Aaron Hughes.
These two were to form the bedrock of a defence that leaked just 34 goals the following season as we turned 17th place into 7th. Hangeland was excellent in the air but was equally adept with the ball at his feet and with Hughes reading the game superbly alongside him we had a centre back pairing as good as any in the country. Domestic success was to translate into glory on the continent in the next campaign as Fulham took the football world by storm with our epic march to the Europa League final. Hangeland’s abilities meant there was interest rumoured in him on a constant basis, but it was clear that Brede had taken Fulham to his heart as he remained focused on life in SW6.
Brede remained a consistent and regular performer over the next three seasons under first Mark Hughes and then Martin Jol. However, in the 2013-14 season Hangeland’s troublesome back started to limit his fitness and appearances as the club made a series of catastrophic mistakes that culminated in relegation. Felix Magath was the final architect of our demise and saw no place for Hangeland for the next campaign. This decision, and the shoddy way Brede was informed, was a terribly sad way for his time at Fulham to end. Magath was the major culprit and it was wonderful to see Hangeland return to the club, taking his place in the Hammy End with the fans for the first game after the German’s departure. It showed how much affection Brede had for the club, a feeling that is certainly reciprocated by the Fulham faithful.
There will be fans spitting their tea out when they see the name of Robert Zamora in my selection. He was a ‘marmite’ man in his spell at the club and still opinions are divided about him. Much of the unpopularity came about as a result of the stick some fans gave him early in his stay at the club and Bobby’s reaction to it.
Critics were scathing about his poor goal return in his first season at the club; just 2 League goals in 35 games. However, he was playing in a Roy Hodgson side that required total teamwork and a willingness to defend from the front. Bobby did huge amounts of unsung work that helped the team to the club’s highest position of all time. That was the yardstick I measured him by. I get that some fans felt disrespected but if the angst got Bobby going and performing then that was alright by me.
There were some rumours he’d be following Bullard to Hull in the close season that followed but fortunately the move didn’t materialise. In the first half of the season, Bobby’s game was going from strength to strength. Jamie Carragher was grateful to be sent off as Zamora’s performance helped send Liverpool home with the tail between their legs. Then in successive games just before Christmas, Bobby’s goals helped see Basel off to book our place in the knockout stages in Europe and then thrash Man United at the Cottage.
Better was still to come as we returned to the European stage in February. Bobby’s Exocet saw off Shakhtar at the Cottage to earn us a tilt at Juventus. We looked doomed after their early goal in the second leg, but Bobby immediately got us back in the game and was bullying Fabio Cannavaro so remorselessly that he too must’ve been secretly pleased to take an early bath. Bobby dovetailed beautifully with Zoltan Gera in the European games and netted another couple of pearlers to see off Wolfsburg in the last eight. Fabio Cappello was rumoured to be interested in him with the World Cup finals that summer. If so, he was right as at that moment I felt Bobby was the most complete centre forward in the English game. It was his bad luck and ours that a persistent achilles injury derailed him at just the wrong time. He was nursed through the semi with Hamburg and valiantly tried to play through the discomfort in the final. We heartbreakingly fell just short against Atletico, but I’m convinced that with a fully fit Zamora (and Duff) the outcome would have been different.
Bobby was capped by England at the start of the next season but a reckless tackle by Wolves’ Karl Henry broke Zamora’s leg and stalled any hopes he had of establishing himself as an international. He returned for the last part of the season but a change of manager that summer was to lead to his departure. Martin Jol didn’t seem to see eye to eye with Bobby and sold him to QPR on the last day of the January transfer window. In my mind it was a foolish move as Zamora still had plenty to give, as evidenced by his last-minute winner against Arsenal earlier in the same month. One of many special memories he gave us, whether you liked him or not.
Cairney started in the youth system at Leeds but like a lot of players that went on to forge great careers he was let go because he was ‘too small’. Hull took young Tom on and he was just 17 when he made his first team bow. He immediately made an impression with his stylish play and wand of a left foot. A bad injury at the start of the 2012-13 season slowed Tom’s progress though, and when the Tigers were promoted at the end of that term he was allowed to join Blackburn back in the Championship on loan. Tom impressed sufficiently for Rovers to make the deal permanent and over his two seasons at Ewood Park he firmly established himself as a top-quality attacking midfielder.
It was therefore quite a coup for Fulham to get Cairney to sign in the summer of 2015, bearing in mind how much we’d struggled in our first season in the Championship after relegation. Tom’s first term with us wasn’t much better as again we struggled at the wrong end of the table. The good news was that we now had a manager in place who was about to transform our fortunes. Slavisa Jokanovic was an obvious fan of Cairney’s style of play and made him captain for the 2016-17 campaign. For my money we were the best footballing side in the League, but some sketchy early season form meant we had no chance of making the top two. However, we finished the season so well I was fully confident we’d make our way through the play offs. Unfortunately, we were denied by a Reading side whose use of the dark arts was aided and abetted by complicit refereeing.
The huge disappointment hungover in to the next season but with Cairney again pulling the strings, we put together a 23 game unbeaten run that almost secured us second spot. I was nowhere nearly as optimistic this time, but an epic night at the Cottage saw us overcome Derby to book a spot at Wembley, some 43 years on from our only previous visit.
Proud Tom therefore followed in Alan Mullery’s footsteps in leading the team out, but went one better by not only skippering us to victory but scoring the only goal as well. The following season was a huge disappointment as at no time did Tom or the team really do themselves justice. Cairney made up for it in the best way possible by reaffirming his commitment to the club and then skippering us to another play off success. As I write, we are once again struggling to establish ourselves back in the Premier League and Tom has temporarily lost his place in the starting XI. Hopefully there is time for Tom and the team to turn the season around but whatever happens in the future, his contribution over the last 6 years or so and in particular that day at Wembley in 2018 assures him of his place in our hearts forever.