Hall of Heroes: Brede Hangeland

Image: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Fulham had earned promotion to the Premier League in 2001 and our first few seasons were relatively trouble free. Although we never really threatened the upper echelons of the table it did seem that whenever we looked like slipping into trouble, we found a way of winning the next match. This started to change in 2006/07 when a poor run of form sent us perilously close to the trapdoor and cost Chris Coleman his job…

Lawrie Sanchez just about kept us up and was given the reins full time for the 2007/08 season, but our travails continued. He was relieved of his post in December after defeat by Newcastle left us in the bottom three with just two wins from 17 games. Roy Hodgson arrived as his replacement to little fanfare and although his first few games showed the team were developing more cohesion, results were still proving elusive. One of the main problems had been the lack of defensive stability. We’d tried a number of players at the back including Dejan Stefanovic who we’d signed that summer from Portsmouth. Unfortunately, it seemed the Serbian was some way past his best and it was clear we desperately needed a dominant centre back to shore things up.

Fortunately, Hodgson’s career had taken him around the highways and byways of the European game and a spell at Viking Stavanger in Norway had made him aware of a talented youngster who had by now developed into a commanding central defender. Brede Hangeland had joined Viking from his local club Vidar and had established himself first as a defensive midfielder. His physique and height made it almost inevitable that he’d make an ideal central defender, and this is where Brede was making his mark.

Image: Michael Regan/Getty Images

In January 2006 he was snapped up by F.C. Copenhagen and over the next two years won two Danish titles as well as making regular and notable appearances in the Champions League. There had been rumours of Premier League interest in him in the summer of 2007, but Brede had said he was content to remain in Denmark. This changed in January 2008 when his old boss came calling. Hodgson must have used all his powers of persuasion to get Hangeland to join what seemed to be very nearly a lost cause in the fight against relegation.

Brede made his debut on a cold Tuesday night at Bolton and made an immediate impact as we withstood all the Trotters could throw at us and emerged with a clean sheet and the first point gained under Hodgson. His home debut was also a success with a vital come from behind win against Villa courtesy of a late free kick from the returning Jimmy Bullard. Brian McBride was also returning from a long-term injury around this time and with these two back and Hangeland fitting in seamlessly we at last had real hope we could beat the drop. It was never going to be straightforward though as lady luck was deserting us in a series of disappointing defeats.

Image: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

When Sunderland beat us at the Cottage at the start of April, we looked doomed. With 5 games left we were 6 points adrift of safety having won just 4 of our 33 games. A glimmer of hope was restored at Reading a week later when we finally won away for the first time in 33 fixtures, but it was immediately extinguished when we lost at home to Liverpool. When we were 2-0 down at half time at Manchester City in the next game, we were effectively gone but a miraculous comeback engendered fresh hope. Brede had by now established a partnership with Aaron Hughes at the centre of our defence which at last had given us some stability at the back. Indeed, clean sheets were to be all important as our bid for survival went to the wire. Brian McBride and Brede’s compatriot Erik Nevland scored in a vital 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Birmingham which left us going to Fratton Park for the last game of the season with fate in our own hands. However, with other results going against us and time running out hope was beginning to fade until Danny Murphy popped up with an unlikely header to give us the lead. Nerves were still in shreds though as one slip at the other end would have meant disaster. Fortunately, in the sweltering conditions we had an ice cool Scandinavian at the heart of our defence and with his able lieutenant Hughes beside him we saw the game out to scenes of wild jubilation amongst the Fulham faithful. If Hangeland had harboured any doubts about his move, then that glorious day on the South Coast must have gone a long way to removing them.

Image: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With Premier League status secure Hangeland started his first full season hopeful that Hodgson’s summer signings would ensure the campaign would be less of a struggle. However, what followed must have surpassed his and everybody else at the club’s expectations. Hangeland and Hughes were still at the heart of the defence with Paul Konchesky again at left back. Joining as the last line of defence was the super reliable Mark Schwarzer, although we were less sure about new right back John Pantsil. Any fears were misplaced though as these five would be regulars in a rearguard that conceded just 34 goals in the entire season. With this bedrock we were able to grind out results in consistent fashion which meant we ended the season a remarkable 7th in the table and in the last qualifying spot for Europe. Brede had scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 win over Arsenal in the first home game of the season and although he wasn’t a prolific scorer his height meant he was always a threat in the opposition’s box. It was at the other end where he did his most notable work though, where he was not only dominant in the air but comfortable with the ball at his feet. Brede was a brilliant centre half who was made to look even better by his able sidekick Aaron Hughes. The Northern Irishman had something of the Bobby Moore about him in his ability to read the game and snuff out danger. Our own version of the Thames Barrier were in my opinion as good as any centre back pairing in the League over the next 3-4 seasons. They complemented each other perfectly and as their disciplinary records would attest didn’t have to resort to foul tactics to thwart the opposition.

Image: Javier Garcia/Shutterstock

If 2008/09 was a high-water mark for Fulham in terms of league position what followed next was beyond our wildest dreams. 7th place meant we had to start in the qualifying rounds of the newly christened Europa League in late July. To begin with Roy Hodgson mixed and matched his line ups with the focus very much on ensuring our Premier League status was not compromised. However, he did pick his strongest team for the marquee fixture of the Group stages at home to Roma and Brede obliged with a towering header that would have given us a famous victory but for a last gasp equaliser. A controversial defeat in the return meant we had to win in Basel to progress but a famous night in Switzerland and consistent league form meant we could give Europe our best shot in the knockout stages.

Image: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

We did amazingly to earn a narrow win over Shakhtar at the Cottage but few gave us much chance in the return in Ukraine. However another Hangeland header gave us a buffer and a marvellous rearguard action saw us through to a last 16 tie with Juventus. This is when the fun really started as an epic comeback at the Cottage saw us through. We then saw off Wolfsburg before we usurped the high of the Juventus game by coming back to win the semi-final against Hamburg and so send us into a European final just 14 years after we’d been 91st in the league and on the brink of oblivion. It was a surreal story, but we were denied a fairy tale ending when a tiring Hangeland could only deflect Forlan’s effort past Mark Schwarzer at the end of extra time of the final with Atletico Madrid. No blame could be attached to the Norwegian though; for my part, the overriding emotion on that night was one of pride rather than disappointment. Hangeland and his teammates had assured themselves legendary status for what they achieved that year.

Image: ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Looking back the Europa League run could be seen as another watershed in Fulham’s history as Roy Hodgson left immediately having had his head turned by Liverpool. Mark Hughes and Martin Jol did keep the ship steady for a while but any thoughts of building on Hodgson’s remarkable achievements went by the wayside as good players were allowed to leave too soon without Al Fayed investing in sufficient quality to replace them. Hangeland remained a model of consistency though and on the face of it league positions of 8th, 9th and 12th over the next three seasons were more than acceptable.

Image: Julian Finney/Getty Images

However, our position in 2012/13 rather flattered us as we ended the season with a run of defeats. The cracks were papered over in the next close season as Shahid Khan took over the club. There was probably still enough talent in the squad to have survived but panic set in as first Jol and Meulensteen were sacked before our alleged saviour Felix Magath was appointed. What exacerbated our problems was that Hangeland was afflicted by a persistent back injury that curtailed not only his appearances but also his mobility. The goals against column rocketed as a result. The 34 goals conceded in 2009 were a distant memory as we shipped a catastrophic 85 goals on our way to relegation after 13 years in the Premier League.

To add insult to injury Magath was left in place that summer and felt that Hangeland was surplus to requirements. The fact that he was allegedly informed by email must have left a bitter taste for a player that had served the club so well. Hangeland joined Crystal Palace but injuries continued to take their toll and he finally retired from the game in 2016.

For his part Magath was sacked after a disastrous start to our first season back in the Championship and with him gone Brede made his affection for the club clear by immediately returning to Fulham to cheer the team on from the Hammersmith End. This act elevated him even higher in our estimation and leaves no doubt that he fully deserves to take his place in our Hall of Heroes.

Image: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images