Interview: Danny Bolt

Danny Bolt came through the youth team at Fulham and made 21 appearances for the first team, scoring 2 goals. It was a time of struggle for the club financially and a compete contrast to the Fulham of today. Focus’ Daniel Smith interviewed our former midfielder as he shares his Fulham story…

DS – Which football team do you support and who were your idols in the game growing up?

DB – I’m still a massive Spurs fan. My Dad took me to my first game in 1983 and I’ve been Spurs ever since. I remember my first Fulham game was at the Cottage in 1984 when Fulham drew 0-0 with Tottenham and Graham Roberts had to go in goal. I used to go and watch Wimbledon quite a lot as well, when I was about ten years old. The Dons were my local team, so we used to go Spurs one week and Wimbledon the next. As I got older, a few of my mates were Fulham fans, so I used to tag along with them to some games now and then. So I had experience of Craven Cottage before I eventually joined the club.

My idols growing up were Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne, the latter is my favourite ever player.

DS – How did you get the opportunity to sign for Fulham?

DB – I was scouted by Spurs when I was about eight years old and I stayed there until I was sixteen. They decided I wasn’t quite good enough to be offered an apprenticeship, so they put me in touch with a few other clubs. Ipswich, Norwich, Charlton and Leyton Orient. But then I found out that the Fulham youth team coach (Terry Bullivant) had been watching me since I was nine years old and had approached Spurs about me in the past, but was knocked back. So I called Terry and he asked me to come down to Fulham for a trial. I only played half a game before he pulled me off and offered me an apprenticeship which I accepted straight away.

DS – The club was experiencing its worst years whilst you were a youngster. Can you describe what it was like to be an apprentice at the time?

DB – To be honest, I absolutely loved it down at Fulham. The club didn’t have any money and I remember when the first team were given their new kit, we went to speak to the kit man and he gave us their kits from the previous season to wear. Our training kits were made up of old ones from the past five seasons. They used to put it all in a big box and you would pick out what you wanted and that was your training kit for the season.

As for the way we were treated. We were valued by the club and they looked after us as much as they possibly could. Where the club had little money, they were keen on brining through the youngsters. Michael Mison, Robbie Haworth and myself were training with the first team at seventeen and Duncan Jupp had been pushed up into the first team too. So, there was definitely an emphasis on bringing through the youth, because the club was very poor.

I remember travelling away with the first team for matches, Ray Lewington would buy all of the players a breakfast cereal out of his own money and for dinners back at the hotel, all of the players had to chip in with a tenner each to pay for their evening meal. I was an apprentice on £29.50 per day and even us apprentices had to chip in which I didn’t mind, but it was a very tight ship back then. I believe that Bill and Andy Muddyman saved us quite a few times from going out of business, so this was a completely different era to the one the club are experiencing now. However, despite how hard it was financially, I loved every minute of being a youth player at the club, it was a fantastic experience.

DS – Was there anyone in the first team who you looked up to?

DB – I was first assigned to clean the boots of a left winger called Mark Kelly. He was a good player but if my memory serves me right, he left three or four months after that, but I looked up to him whilst he was there. From the senior first team regulars, it was Gary Brazil, Terry Angus and Simon Morgan. I won’t name names but there were quite a few players who didn’t set a very good example and couldn’t wait to get off the training pitch. Those players didn’t last very long but it was lucky that we had the likes of Gary, Terry and Simon to steer us youngsters down the right path. 

We then started bringing in quality players like Terry Hurlock, Alan Cork and Micky Adams, who I really enjoyed learning from. Particularly Micky as he was my reserve team manager whilst he was a player in the first team. I had a really good relationship with him. 

DS – Do you remember being told that you were going to make your first team debut and how did you feel going into the game?

DB – I got told a week before the game that I was going to be making my debut. We had two games left of the season – away to Exeter and home to Rochdale. I’d been in the reserves for the whole campaign but we were safe in the league with nothing to play for, so they decided to give me a chance. Micky told me first and then I had to go and speak to Ian Branfoot who confirmed it. 

They told me to tell my family that I was definitely going to be playing and I was really excited in the days building up to it. My dream was always to be a professional footballer and I knew I would have to make my debut at some point, so it was a really big deal for me. I got home from training the day before the game and went to bed at 3pm because I was so excited and was desperate to get a good sleep, which I didn’t!

DS – You scored 2 penalties for Fulham. Were you the designated penalty taker? What was it like to get your first professional goal?

DB – Yes, I was the designated penalty taker at the time, even though I was still a teenager. I only missed one penalty in my time at Fulham and that was against QPR in the youth team. I was the penalty taker for the youth side and the reserves. Micky Adams was the first team penalty taker but he was injured at the time.

Scoring the first one was the best feeling! I can’t describe it but coming off the pitch knowing that my name was going to be in the paper and on Sky Sports was something I’d always dreamed of. I couldn’t wait to see my parents afterwards, to see their reaction and I was straight on the phone to Rob Haworth, who is still my best mate now, to tell him all about it. It was pure elation to be honest.

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

DB – Rob Haworth was the person I was closest to. We lived together for a while and we are still best mates now. I kept in touch with Terry Angus and Gary Brazil for a while after leaving Fulham because we played together at Slough and I’m still in contact with Duncan Jupp. But I’m mainly in touch with the lads from our youth team. We have a Whatsapp group and the majority of us are in it. We try to meet up once a year when we can and it’s nice that we’ve all managed to keep in touch.

DS – Do you have any funny stories to share?

DB – The one that us apprentices always talk about is a game away to Ipswich. Our physio Stewart Smith was also the physio for the first team, so as soon as our game finished, he was in a hurry to get back to The Cottage for the first team game. He was the driver for the team minibus and we noticed that his med bag was open whilst he was driving. So I got out the vaseline and smothered his face in it whilst he was trying to drive. He didn’t find it funny which made it even more comical for us, so we did it again. This time he pulled over onto the hard shoulder, got out and told the person responsible to get out of the van for a bollocking. Our keeper took the blame for it (not sure why) and as he’s having a go at him on the field, we drove the bus 500 yards up the hard shoulder and it was the funniest thing watching him running after the bus panicking. It was so bad when I think back now and we could have got in a lot of trouble!

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

DB – The best player was without doubt Duncan Jupp. Great ability, powerful and obviously got his move to Wimbledon off the back of his performances for us. He was the total package and an absolute machine of a player. Obviously we had quite a few players at the back end of their careers. Micky Adams was one, you could tell Terry Hurlock was a good player back in his day but he couldn’t move bless him. I think he was about 36 when he came to Fulham.

The best first team player at the time was Gary Brazil. I thought he was an unbelievable player. He trained hard and had this nasty streak in him where he used to stud people. He hated getting beaten and as I said earlier, I played with him at Slough and got to know him really well. He was a proper winner and a really nice bloke. The fans would probably associate Gary Brazil as the most important player of that era but Juppy certainly had the most ability.

DS – Who were the strong characters in the squad?

DB – The strongest character in the first team would have to be Terry Angus. He was a strong voice, a top man and a born leader! Simon Morgan wasn’t such a leader in terms of shouting and hollering in the dressing room, but through his performances on the pitch, he lead by example. Shoutouts to Gary Brazil, Micky Adams and Kevin Moore too. 

DS – Is there anyone from the youth side that you played with who you are surprised never made it at Fulham?

DB – There were a couple of boys there at the time that were quite unlucky not to become professionals. Stuart Girdler was a good footballer but he was very unlucky with injuries. He was a central midfielder like Michael Mison and at the time and Mison would probably agree with this, Girdler had more ability. But, for a young man, Mison was able to physically compete in men’s football. He was 6f’ 4’’, strong, up and down, powerful and I think to make the transition into the first team at that time, that is what you needed to have. Therefore in theory Mison blocked Stuart’s path into the first team.

Colin Omogbehin was also unlucky because he only got a short term deal because he suffered with knee injuries. But other than that I would say that everyone that was expected to make it did.

DS – What was your relationship like with Ian Branfoot?

DB – It was quite good. He was quite scary to be honest with you. He had come from Southampton who were in the Premier League down to our level and as I was a young player, that made him quite intimidating. He was motivating and I had a few good chats with him on the way back from the ground when he would give me a lift in his car. Before games he used to play platoon videos on the coach and liked to make sure we were up for the fight before the game. I liked him and thought he was a nice bloke. A proper football man and very passionate about the game.

DS – Were you surprised that the club were promoted in 1996/97 or did you see the potential in the group?

DB – Yeah I was surprised to be honest with you. During that summer Micky had let a load of players go, myself included. Micky Conroy the season before wasn’t firing, didnt look like he had a goal in him. He didn’t appear fit, didn’t look confident and then all of a sudden they played a system that suited him and he became unstoppable.

They brought in some fantastic players like Darren Freeman, Richard Carpenter and Paul Watson if my memory serves me right. I certainly wasn’t surprised that Micky had achieved it because he was a fantastic coach, but his downside was that he wasn’t a very good man manager. He upset quite a lot of people. In fairness the side that I left that summer was a completely different team to the one Micky took up, I guess it was more of a shock at how quickly they did it.

DS – Have you been back to the Cottage since you left?

DB – I didn’t go back for a very long time and when I did it had totally changed! It was a good 11/12 years since I’d left Fulham and then one of my mates rang me up and offered me a ticket to a game in the Premier League against Everton. Fulham won 1-0 and Brian McBride scored a header.

I also took my son to a game against Man United a few years ago. Other than that, I’ve been to every visit Spurs have had to the Cottage in the past decade or so. Fulham away is always a fixture I looked forward to.

DS – The clubs fortunes have transformed over the past 20 years. How has it felt looking on from the outside and seeing the contrast from the Fulham of the early-mid 1990’s to the present day?

DB – It’s been unbelievable! It makes me proud to see where the club are now, thinking that I once played for them. Remembering back to the dark days when I was there. The Eric Miller Stand was falling down and as apprentices we had to take all the weeds out in front of the away end, where a lot of the terracing was closed down.

I love what they’ve done to the ground though. I think it’s romantic now and having been to loads of grounds around the world including the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, I can hand on heart say that Craven Cottage is the best football ground in the world and I’m so proud that I got to play my home games there.

It’s a proper family club, a proper football club. You feel so much warmth when you go to Fulham and with the River on one side and the Johnny Haynes Stand on the other, it’s such a beautiful place to enjoy your football.

Everyone knows who Fulham are nowadays and it’s nice bragging that I used to play for the club. People don’t realise that the club was on its knees when I was in the team but they don’t need to know that!

DS – What are you up to at the moment?

DB – I gave Vets football a go for a while but I’m not involved in football anymore. I’ve been a London Black Cab driver for the past 15 years and other than that I’ve got a season ticket for Spurs and spend a lot of my time following them with my son.

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

DB – I’m a South London boy and grew up for the first part of my life in Tooting. So it has to be pie, mash and liquor.