Hall of Heroes: Alan Mullery

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Alan Mullery holds a unique place in the club’s history having been captain of the 1975 Cup final side. No other Fulham player has had the honour of skippering his teammates on the Wembley turf in an F A Cup Final although Tom Cairney did captain us at the new Wembley in last year’s playoff final and went one or two notches better by scoring and leading us to victory. Mullery achieved so much in his three spells at the club that he deserves to be remembered as a club great although his prickly character meant he was never regarded with as much warmth as other Fulham legends.

Mullery was born in Notting Hill in 1941 and joined the club from school. His precocious talent meant it wasn’t long before he was knocking on the door of the first team and on Valentine’s day in 1959 he got his chance at home to Leyton Orient. We strolled to a 5-2 win that day with the incomparable Johnny Haynes helping himself to a hat trick. We had a very decent side at the time and were in the thick of the promotion race but the 17-year-old Mullery made such a good impression that he retained his place for the remainder of the season. We lost only 2 of the final 14 games he played in and eventually comfortably sealed promotion in second spot behind Sheffield Wednesday.

Bedford Jezzard was by now manager having seen his career cut tragically short by injury and was only just turned 30 himself. Perhaps his comparative youth made him more comfortable blooding young players or maybe it was that Mullery’s talent was so obvious that it demanded a place in the side. Jezzard obviously had no qualms that the step up to the topflight would be too much for the teenager and he donned the number 4 shirt that was to become so familiar in the season opener at Blackburn. A thumping 4-0 defeat ensued but we quickly settled into First Division life and Mullers got his first goal for the club in a 5-2 win over Manchester City at the Cottage in our next game. Mullery went on to play 36 games that season as we finished a creditable 10th in the table.

Mullery was still a regular in the side the following season which was more of a struggle as we finished a mere 4 points clear of relegation. That flirt with the wrong end of the table looked a piece of cake though as in 1961-2 a run of 11 consecutive defeats in mid-season left us on the brink of disaster. However, in a style that was to become familiar, we then managed to win 6 of the last 11 games to dodge relegation by a point whilst at the same time embarking on a run to the F.A. Cup semi-final where we met high flying Burnley. Only a scandalous decision by the referee in denying us a match-winning penalty late in the game stopped us making the final and we slipped to a narrow defeat in the replay. Little did Mullery know at the time that 13 years that he would get his chance of redemption.

The following season was a comparative breeze as we finished a mammoth 7 points clear of the drop with Mullery still a fixture in the team. In fact, the contrast with the previous season was stark as in midterm we had a run of eight successive wins which unsurprisingly remains a club record in the topflight. By now he had earned International recognition in the form of three caps for the Under 23’s. Mullery was not a silky ball-playing midfielder but he was quick and combative with a ferocious shot on him and he was a very good foil for our imperious playmaker Johnny Haynes.

He was an ever-present in the side the following season until a big-money offer of £72,500 from Spurs was accepted by Tommy Trinder in March 1964. Mullery’s last game was a fitting send-off as we beat eventual Champions Liverpool 1-0 at the Cottage. The transfer left a bitter taste though as it was apparently engineered behind manager Jezzard’s back. The first he knew of it was when Mullery told him and the rest of the team at half time in the Liverpool game. Jezzard must’ve felt severely let down to lose the club’s best young player whose career he had moulded from such an early age. It was probably no coincidence that he resigned in October that year and was thereafter lost from the game.

Mullery settled quickly at Tottenham and by December 1964 had earned his first full England cap. He didn’t feature in the 1966 World Cup-winning squad but went to Mexico in 1970 and went on to earn 35 caps for the national side. He was a reliable member of many of sir Alf Ramsey’s squads so it’s unfortunate that he will be remembered as being the first full England international player to be sent off. It happened in the 1968 European Championship semi-final against Yugoslavia when an act of retaliation earned the referee’s wrath and was an indication of Mullery’s feisty persona. Mullery eventually became captain at Spurs and played over 300 games in his eight years there when they were usually comfortably placed without ever really threatening to win the league. They were a good Cup side though and Mullers got an F.A. Cup winners medal in 1967 and captained them to a League Cup victory in 1971. He was to get one more winners medal there in 1972 but first had a brief sojourn back at his boyhood club in March that year.

Bill Dodgin’s side had really struggled to adjust to Second Division life after promotion and we were in a pretty desperate position as the season neared its conclusion. Mullery had been out of the Tottenham side recovering from a long-term injury so it suited both parties when we acquired him on a month’s loan; although it didn’t go down quite so well with our relegation rivals. They were right to be peeved as we picked up 6 valuable points in the 6 games he played and eventually survived on the last day of the season by a solitary point. The fitness he gained also worked out well for Spurs and he was back in their team that lifted the UEFA Cup in a two-legged Final with Wolves. It was a glorious end to his Tottenham career as new Fulham Manager Alec Stock lured him back to the Cottage on a permanent deal that summer.

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He was immediately made Captain and his experience meant a far more comfortable season ensued. A tidy 8 goals from midfield was another bonus as Stock led us to a creditable 9th place with the hope of a promotion tilt the following year. Unfortunately, that never materialised, and the only real highlight of that mid-table season was Mullery’s thunderbolt at home to Leicester in the F A Cup which earned him the Goal of the Season award. The only other thing of note was when Stock got Mullery to persuade his old friend Bobby Moore to join us in March 1974. The erstwhile England teammates lent a mid-table Second Division side a dusting of star quality, but little did we know the excitement that was to follow in the next season.

Once again Stock had moulded a decent team, but we lacked the consistency to mount a genuine promotion bid. However, in January 1975 we embarked on a legendary Cup run that ended with Bobby Moore facing his old side at Wembley with Mullery picking up the Footballer of the Year award. The 11 games we took to Wembley will forever remain a record and as the run progressed the romance of two old England stars potentially taking little old Fulham to Wembley captured the hearts of the nation. West Ham’s victory spoiled the fairy tale ending but getting to the Final was more than we could ever have dreamed off. There is a lovely image of the two old warhorses leaving the pitch together that is etched in my memory forever.

The following season proved to be Mullery’s last as a player. Sadly, once again we fell short of the consistency required for a promotion bid and Mullers wasn’t even selected for the last few games as Stock blooded some younger players. It was a sad way for his career to finish and was maybe a portent of Stock’s mindset. He had apparently told Mullery the Manager’s job would be his when he finished playing but come the following season Stock was still in place. He obviously wasn’t ready to step aside then although within a few months he was gone to be replaced by Bobby Campbell. By then Mullery had been appointed Brighton manager and initially was very successful as a boss. He took them into the top flight for the first time in their history but once he left there never experienced real success as a manager again. After this career petered out Mullers switched to punditry and will be familiar to younger fans from his stints on Sky Sports. For us older supporters we will remember him for his achievements on the pitch. I fondly remember the ‘Mullery is God’ graffiti painted on a wall next to the ground in Stevenage Road and will forever be grateful he helped get my team to Wembley. For that reason alone he must go down as one of our all-time greats.

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