In 2004, while Fulham were enjoying a steady stay in The Premier League, The Football League underwent a rebrand. The First Division, the league Fulham had won with a record points total in 2001, would now be known as The Championship, while the Second Division, won by Kevin Keegan’s Whites in 1999, became League One, with the fourth tier of English football now labelled League Two. When Fulham fell out of the top flight in 2014 they became a Championship team for the first time. In the seasons that have followed, many players have represented the club outside of the football pyramid’s top tier. Here I have listed my top-5 Championship Cottagers.
5 – TIM REAM
There are three things that you can count on in life. Death, taxes and Tim Ream in The Championship. Fulham had already spent a season in the second flight before the American arrived from Bolton Wanderers, as part of a summer rebuild focussed on recruiting players with experience of the league. Of the eight permanent arrivals with such track records, only Tom Cairney remains at the club. That alone speaks of the impact Ream has had in his five completed seasons with The Whites. A key member of two promoted sides, he played 44 times in each season, and is one of only four players to have started both Wembley successes. Ream’s composure on the ball and ability to play out from the back has made him integral to the possession-based tactics of two play-off winning managers. Upon our most recent return to the league, Ream has again reasserted himself as a first-choice in the heart of Fulham’s defence. Although not always carrying his Championship prowess into The Premier League, Ream has rarely let the side down at the level at which he entered the club, and he continues impress into his 30s.
4 – KEVIN MCDONALD
The Scottish enforcer arrived in SW6 for Slavisa Jokanovic’s first full season in charge, and was an integral part of the club’s change of fortunes in the division. Having flirted with relegation in each of the two seasons prior, the 16/17 campaign was the first of two play-off pushes under the Serbian head coach, and McDonald’s influence on that upturn cannot be overstated. He formed one third of the midfield triumvirate that would dominate the leagues possession and passing stats for the next two years along side Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen. Providing the insurance for his teammates attacking exploits. Always on hand to break up a counter attack, and win the physical battle in the ferocious Championship, his influence also extended beyond the pitch. A leader of the dressing room, he captained the side in Cairney’s absence, and was at the centre of the camaraderie on show from the side that won at Wembley in 2018. He appeared in all but six games across those first two seasons, and even though he was a more sporadic presence in the side later, owing to his kidney condition, his contributions to the club will go a long way to ensure that he is always fondly thought of, with many keen to see him return in a coaching capacity at some point in the future.
3 – ROSS MCCORMACK
The Scottish forward turned heads when Fulham parted with a reported £11 million to acquire him from Leeds United. With 28 league goals in the previous season the Whites knew they were getting a ready-made Championship goal machine, and that’s exactly what McCormack proved to be. In his two years with the club McCormack netted 17 and then 21 league goals, proving crucial in the sides fight to avoid falling through the trap door to League One. He scored all sorts of goals, from set-pieces and 20-yard screamers, to clinical one-on-ones and tap ins. He acted as a talisman for the team, wearing the captains armband and helping to guide an inexperienced squad through the rigours of a league where relegated clubs have a target on their back. He was never shrunken by his price tag and proved to be worth the investment. A hefty offer from Aston Villa, allowing the club to make a profit on his original purchase proved to be the end of his stay in West London, but the clubs standing could be very different had it not been for his goals. He may not have won promotion, but having seen an array of high-profile strikers with big price tags fail to perform in our famous black and white, McCormack fulfilled his end of the bargain. It’s a shame he didn’t have the requisite support to mount a promotion push during his time, something we would have all expected upon signing a striker for such a fee. But little blame can be apportioned to him for that. He helped keep the club afloat during a difficult spell, allowing the next steps in the rebuild to bear the fruit fans so desperately craved.
2. TOM CAIRNEY
McCormack’s departure created a vacancy for the role of Captain, and Tom Cairney was the man to fill it. In his first season as skipper Cairney lead the team to the playoffs, achieving double figures for both goals and assists, confirming his position as the most influential player in Jokanovic’s free-flowing team of the 16/17 season. It was a season that produced many memorable moments. There was the goal at Griffin Park that sealed a first league victory over our West London rivals since falling out of the top flight, having failed to do so on the first four attempts. No one in attendance could possibly forget the stunning equaliser against Leeds in front of the Hammersmith End or the screamer at St James’ Park that set us on our way to a dominant win over the would-be league winners. The following season was mildly less fruitful on an individuals level, as he notched five and five for goal involvements in the league, but it was capped off with that Wembley winner. In arguably the club’s biggest moment of the last twenty years, the captain came up trumps and sent the white wall into raptures. After an injury-plagued Premier League campaign, he returned to the second tier with Fulham, and once again captained the side to a playoff final victory, with eleven goal involvements across 39 appearances. His style of leadership splits opinion, but what can not be denied is that Cairney has been a massively influential figure during the clubs years in The Championship. A constant in the side since our second Championship campaign, he has seen the club hit some lows, and been central in some of the highest highs of the modern era. Injuries have limited his impact more recently, but his contribution should live long in the memory for anyone who has followed the club in the last 6 years. After all, there ain’t nobody like Tom Cairney.
1 – ALEKSANDAR MITROVIĆ
Has any player impacted The Championship more than the Serbian hitman ever since he first caught ablaze in the black and white of London’s original? A team that was starting too gather some momentum in January of 2018 found it’s missing piece on deadline day when Jokanovic convinced Mitrovic he was best off with his countryman by the Thames. He went on to play in 17 matches of the 23 unbeaten run, helping himself to 12 goals in the process. He lead the line at Wembley, and then proved his quality with 11 goals in an ultimately unsuccessful Premier League campaign. On the club’s return to the Championship Mitrovic pledged his loyalty to Fulham by signing a new contract, and then taking The Championship by storm once again, top scoring with 26 goals. Unfortunately he would experience relegation for second time, and it looked as though we may lose the talismanic front man after he fell out of favour withScott Parker. But the arrival of Marco Silva has reinvigorated Mitrovic and he has once again put pen to paper, confirming his allegiance to The Whites. Back at the top of the Championship scoring charts in the early stages of the current season, it looks like it will be another campaign defined by the Serb, as the Fulham Faithful eye up another successful season in the world’s most competitive league. If that is to be the case, you can bet The Cottage that a certain Serb will have played a vital role in it all. For that reason he has to be considered the most important, and the best player to have worn the shirt for Fulham Football Club in The Championship.