Tuesday night’s tie with Tottenham will be the fourth time we’ve faced them in the League Cup. We were knocked out by them in the 1981/82 and 2001/02 seasons but beat them on a famous night at the Cottage in December 1999. This victory proved to be the high water mark of Paul Bracewell’s reign as manager and also drew a certain centre forward to the nation’s attention…
Spurs arrived in SW6 as the League Cup holders in an era where the big clubs still fielded their best side in the competition. Their team was packed with internationals including England’s Sol Campbell at centre half and the mercurial David Ginola in the forward line. Fulham were in the third season of the Al Fayed era so were hardly paupers themselves with a trio of Welsh internationals at the heart of defence in Chris Coleman, Andy Melville and Kit Symons but when comparing the two lineups, overall we were clear underdogs.
However, there was plenty of reason for optimism amongst the Fulham faithful. Paul Bracewell had taken over as boss in the summer after Kevin Keegan’s trailblazing triumph in getting us promoted as Champions the previous term had led to him landing the England job. Bracewell had overseen an excellent start to life in the Championship with us going unbeaten in the first 10 games. Progress had stalled a little by the time we faced Spurs but we were still in a healthy 6th spot and very much in the promotion picture.
We were clearly up for the occasion from the start and Chris Coleman’s early clattering of Ginola raised hackles on the pitch and the decibels in the crowd in a fantastic Cottage atmosphere. There was one player in particular who seemed inspired on the night and it was his cross that led to Fulham’s opening goal in the 10th minute. Geoff Horsfield was an old fashioned style centre forward who Keegan had signed from Halifax Town just over a year earlier. He’d been a bricklayer and part-time player until helping Halifax back to the Football League and by our standards at the time was acquired relatively cheaply. He’d already made a great impression on our support in the promotion season but this was the night he really made his name. His cross found Wayne Collins in the box whose shot was half saved by Ian Walker only for Barry Hayles to snap up the rebound.
Confidence soared with the goal and we remained utterly dominant until Maik Taylor made a rare mistake in our goal a couple of minutes before half-time. He scuffed a clearance straight to Steffen Iversen and the Norwegian striker brought Spurs level. This could have been a real downer but for the fact we went straight back down the other end to restore our lead before the interval. A slick Fulham move saw Lee Clark find Wayne Collins in the box who drove a low shot past Walker to make it 2-1 at the break.
Spurs boss George Graham was clearly rattled by the first half display and took defenders Chris Perry and Justin Edinburgh off at half-time and the visitors did improve after the break. Even so, they had no answer to ‘Super Geoff’ up front who was leading Sol Campbell a far merrier dance than some of the international strikers he’d been up against in England colours. Indeed, it was Horsfield who got the goal his display deserved 13 minutes from time to seal victory. He sprang the Spurs offside trap before steering sublimely home from the edge of the box to cue delight in the Hammy End and cries of ‘Horsfield for England’ as we saw out a famous victory.
Curiously we never built on this glorious night as the wheels swiftly fell off the Bracewell bus. A run of five games without a goal followed. Four 0-0 draws and then a 2-0 defeat at Sheffield United saw us drop down the table and at the end of March with the play-offs pretty much out of reach, Bracewell paid the price with his job. Ironically, his demise also effectively ended Horsfield’s Fulham career. The appointment of Jean Tigana that summer revolutionised our playing style and with the arrival of Louis Saha, Horsfield’s typical English centre forward style was rendered redundant.
Even though his Fulham career was short he will always be revered and remembered in particular for this game against Spurs. I’m sure Sol Campbell still has nightmares about that night as well!