On the18th November 1998, Fulham spent one of the finest £600,000 they’ve ever spent. Steve Finnan was signed from Notts County and took to life at Fulham like a duck to water. Unlike players who either take to Fulham quickly simply because they get what Fulham are about or others who are slow to settle in at a new club. Steve fit in simply because he was top class at everything.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that he’s the most unlucky player we’ve had to not feature in our greatest eleven because of a certain legend that is George Cohen. That’s not a reason to think any less of Finnan, its more a compliment to suggest he was so good it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that someone could prefer Steve. He became a regular straight away forming one fifth of a mouth watering back 5 under Keegan alongside Symons, Coleman, Morgan and Brevett. A complete fullback who wasn’t the quickest but yet never seemed to get beaten by any wingers regardless of how fast they were. His positional play was spot on and I’d expect nothing less from a player with such a good footballing brain. But defending wasn’t the only string to his bow, Steve had the best cross of any player I’ve come across following Fulham in my 27 years as a supporter. Pin point accuracy meaning he set up many goals as a result. At this level it was obvious to us all he was too good and that it was only a matter of time before he rose through the league’s. A rise that would see him go from Non league football with Welling Utd through every division to the very top with Liverpool and a champions league medal.
Why is Steve a hero? It’s rare to have a player like Steve, so good and yet not in the slightest bit arrogant or acting like he was ‘bigger’ than the team. Instead, he was the ultimate professional and an example to so many young players, some even quite recent who would throw the toys out in order to force through big moves or to get noticed elsewhere. But not Steve, he kept his head down, celebrated a promotion as champions back to the Old Division One with 101 points and simply let his ability get him noticed.
That form only grew as it took just one season to settle into life in the second tier. Jean Tigana came in with his total football philosophy, extremely fortunate to inherit a core group of players with the likes of Finnan in it. Now playing in a back four the addition of Bjarne Goldbaek down the right wing developed into a strong partnership. Both on the same wavelength and both capable of putting the ball on a sixpence. In fairness there were partnerships all over the pitch in the 2000/01 season and it proved to be such a strong side that Finnan found himself in a team on 101 points again, twice in three seasons and another league champions medal to go in his cabinet. A huge amount of success in such a short space of time which is the perfect way to sum up Steve Finnan’s rise to the top.
Onto the Premier League we went with the whispers that the gulf between the two divisions is the biggest in the English pyramid. If that’s true then nobody told Steve as he just got better. 13 years in the premier league and the only Fulham player to be voted by his own peers into the PFA Premier League team of the year was Finnan. There’s no accolade more telling than being appreciated by your fellow professionals especially as both Fulham and Steve were Premier League virgins. To get noticed ahead of the media loved darlings of the bigger clubs shows it was impossible to ignore Steve’s ability. The attention he was now getting resulted in a deserved move to Liverpool but he left Fulham with another medal as he started in the famous Intertoto Cup triumph. A medal that I have no doubt is at the very top of his cabinet cherished more than Liverpool winning in Istanbul. After all they “won it 5 times”, “we won it one time” therefore it’s more unique.
It’s hard watching your best players leave but with Steve his service and attitude whilst at the club meant I was pleased for him. He deserved that opportunity and it was one we weren’t ever going to be able to offer him. He left for a dream move the way it should happen. Quietly, no fuss, just dealt with behind the scenes. I remember being up at Anfield as the rumours of Liverpool started to emerge. Did it affect him? Not in the slightest, he just carried on being the top class fullback that he was. Jamie Carragher, then the regular Liverpool right back got close to the Fulham fans as it went For a goal kick and a Fulham fan shouted “What you gonna do next season Jamie, Finnan is better than you?!” Carragher turned and looked at the fan with a grin on his face as if to agree and they were right as Finnan took that spot immediately with Carragher adapting into a centre half. I’ve never been more happy for a player to win the champions league before and no I don’t mean bloody Jamie Carragher lol. I wish he’d stayed with us but we couldn’t have asked more of Steve as a Fulham player and he deserved everything he got out of football.
It wasn’t just Fulham who benefited from Steve. Republic of Ireland enjoyed success with Steve in his familiar right fullback slot getting to the 2002 World Cup. They went out to Spain in the last sixteen on penalties with Steve scoring a superb pen into the top right hand corner, finished with ease. Our current squad could learn a thing or two from him from the spot!
You never hear of him now he’s retired, he’s just gone back to living a normal life (a property developer) and that is exactly what I assumed would happen. I have nothing but good memories about Finnan, a player who oozed class in every sense and but for George Cohen is the greatest right back a club could wish to have.