Interview: Alain Goma

Image: Jamie McDonald/ Getty

Alain Goma made 152 appearances for Fulham between 2001-06. He was appropriately nicknamed ‘The Rock’ courtesy of his solid defending and played a big part in helping Fulham establish themselves as a Premier League club. Daniel Smith had the privilege of speaking to the Frenchman, to look back on his time in a Fulham shirt…

DS – Growing up, who were your footballing heroes and which team did you support?

AG – I used to support FC Nantes as a kid, they were playing quality football. I was a big fan of their playmaker, Jose Toure. He was a skilful player nicknamed “The Brazilian.”

DS – How did you get your first opportunity in football? Have you always been a centre back?

AG – I started playing football at age 11, when I signed for the local club – RC Versailles. I used to play what we called at the time “libero”, which is basically as a centre half. I also played as a defensive midfielder occasionally.

DS – Your first club in England was Newcastle. How different was life as a Geordie compared to life as a Londoner?

AG – The people were amazing when I moved to the North East. They are passionate about football, which is their main distraction. Moving to London was a revival. I discovered a fantastic city, vibrant, multicultural, and one that I fell in love with.

DS – How did the move to Fulham come about?

AG – It came at a time when I was not feeling well. I was not fully fit and the team was not doing great. I started questioning the training methods, which led to a fall out with the manager. The week after, I was given permission to discuss a move with Fulham as they had made some enquires about me. I had a long conversation with Jean Tigana and it didn’t take long for me to make my decision.

DS – What was your relationship like with Jean Tigana? 

AG – I nearly played under Jean when he was coaching Monaco in 1997, but my club at the time (AJ Auxerre) didn’t let me go. I liked his style of football, based on passing and movement, and also his professional approach of the game.

DS – Can you clear up the goldfish story for us please?

AG – This is a pure invention! I never had a goldfish in my life. It came from a joke made in the press room that a journalist in lack of inspiration relayed in the papers. It became very popular for some reason…

DS – You got to experience playing for Fulham at both Craven Cottage and Loftus Road. From a players point of view, was there a difference between the two?

AG – I have to admit that it was a difficult move. I loved playing at Craven Cottage. The proximity of the fans, the atmosphere, this stadium is special to me. Playing at Loftus Road was much different, it never felt like our home ground…

DS – You were the only player to play every minute of our successful Intertoto Cup campaign. Was you aware of that?

AG – I didn’t know that! I won the Intertoto in 1997 with Auxerre, so I had a bit of experience in that competition. It is a tough competition because it takes place during the pre-season, straight after the break, and there is not much time to get ready before the start of the competition.

DS – How did the players feel about the sacking of Jean Tigana?

AG – This was a shock to me. I was gutted as I felt that the adventure was only just starting and all the work we had done would have paid off in the coming seasons.

DS – What was your relationship like with Chris Coleman?

AG – I met him as a player and later he became my manager. We got on well until I was removed from the team after I reported off sick for a Boxing Day game. I finished the season on the bench and then in the stands with no explanation. It is a shame because I felt I had more to give to the club.

DS – During the 2003/04 season, we were still in the Champions League places approaching Christmas. We ended up 9th which was still our highest league finish at the time. If we had kept hold of Louis Saha in January, would we have finished higher?

AG – We had a great squad at the time. Louis was on fire, he was a great asset for the team and the club. With him until the end of the season, we would have certainly finished higher in the League.

DS – What was your favourite match in a Fulham shirt?

AG – Probably when we won 3-1 at Old Trafford.

DS – Who were the strongest personalities in the dressing room and the most likely to give the team talks?

AG – Andy Melville, Lee Clark and John Collins.

DS – Who were your closest friends at the club and have you kept in touch with anyone?

AG – I got on well with most of the players at the time. I am still in touch with Martin Djetou and Abdes Ouaddou. Once a year I speak to Boa.

DS – You had a few partners at the heart of our defence. Which centre back did you enjoy playing alongside the most?

AG – Andy Melville. He was not the quickest but he was always in the right position. We had a good understanding.

DS – Who was the best player at Fulham during your time at the club?

AG – Probably Louis Saha.

DS – Was it a hard decision to leave the club?

AG – Very hard! I would have loved to stay but the last 4-5 months at the club led me to another path.

DS – You earned 2 caps for France, the second came in August 1998. How close was you to making the World Cup squad for the famous 1998 home triumph just a couple of months earlier?

AG – I was not far from the squad, unfortunately there was top players like Laurent Blanc, Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desially and Frank Leboeuf in the same position.

DS – I know you still attend games. Does Fulham play a big part in your life?

AG – Yes. I enjoy taking my sons to Craven Cottage. It is a special place to me, and my kids love it!

DS – What have you been up to since retiring?

AG – Soon after retiring I set up a property development company: ALGOM Property Ltd. We have done quite a lot of projects around Wimbledon Village. I am now helping my wife to launch her Swedish Sami bracelets:

DS – Finally Alain, pie or pasty – which filling?

AG – Sausage roll!