Interview: Alex White (Club Historian)

Alex White is the club’s historian, a title that his dedication to researching Fulham’s history as well as his love for the club deserves. Daniel Smith spoke to Alex a few months ago before he’d been appointed in his new role to find out more about his Fulham story…

DS – When did you first go to Fulham and why did you pick them?

AW – I saw my first game in December 1962 against Wolverhampton Wanderers. They lost 5-0 and it chucked it down with rain so I’m still not quite sure why I went back! When I was a kid I quite liked Spurs in Junior School. They were my mate’s favourite team, so I used to like them too.

Over time I gradually started to become a Fulham supporter and I started going regularly in about 1965. The reason I chose Fulham, in the end, was for several reasons. First and foremost, it was a local club, I loved the atmosphere, I loved the ground. I went to Spurs a handful of times beforehand and they were such unfriendly supporters, it wasn’t a very friendly place to go and watch football, Fulham was just a more pleasant experience. I also gave it a go at Chelsea for a little while taking it in turns with Fulham watching whoever was at home, but Stamford Bridge was an awful place to watch football. You were miles away from the pitch, it was like watching a Subbuteo game! At Fulham, you are closer to the pitch and you just feel part of the experience a lot more than you did as a fan of other clubs.

DS – Have you ever known anyone at the club on a social front?

AW – Well, I’ve met quite a few in my time but they’ve always been players to me. I wouldn’t say that I knew any of them on a social level. I tended to bump into quite a few when we had book launches. That’s how I met my favourite player at the time Jim Langley, I also met Alec Stock the same way, but it was only ever briefly. My friend used to be one of the directors at the club, Dave Gardner. He used to have a box and he would always ask ex-players to join us. That’s how I met the likes of Johnny Haynes, Graham Leggat & all the big favourites from when I was a kid. It was great really.

DS – You were involved in the production of many books by Dennis Turner. How did you first get into researching the clubs history & what was your role in the production?

AW – I did a degree before I had met Dennis and I needed to do a lot of research. Part of my research was to search Fulham’s history. That’s how I met Dennis, in a Fulham library researching Fulham FC’s history in 1978/79. He noticed that I was researching similar things as him and we got chatting. We were talking so loudly that we got chucked out of the library! But we kept in touch and before long became friends and it went from there.

Then Dennis took over as editor of the matchday programme and he invited me to join in 1981. Then we went onto produce the ‘First Fulham complete record’ book in 1987 and followed it up with a few others like ‘Fulham the theme’, two other complete records and a few other things. I did a few on my own too such as ‘Fulham who’s who?’, ‘Fulham miscellaneous’, ‘Fulham 1879-1979 photographs’ book.

We did about 50/50 each with the books we wrote together. I tended to do most of the research for the earlier years because I was working shifts at the time. So, I was able to get down to Colindale Library during the day. The early 1930s was difficult to track down as was the period during the Second World War, it became very time-consuming. I always did the research on the players too which I still do to this day. Dennis also did a lot of research, he managed to find a lot of information from the 1920/30s and we both did from 1950 onwards. I went back a bit further than Dennis and did all the research as far back as 1879 and everything through to the end of the first world war.

DS – The Early Years book 1879 to 1907 must have taken some considerable research. How did you go about this, in particular, the number of photographs? How were you able to source these and how much time did this take?

AW – It took 40 years to get all that research together in the end. Like I said it was very time-consuming! I found all my research through a combination of things. Colindale Library was the place I got most of it. I also picked bits up from eBay, we went to the Hulton-Deutsch photo agency. We got most of the 1920/1930s photos from a magazine from that period. We had to pay to use the photographs for our own use, it wasn’t a lot, but we had to pay it because it was vital for our research. We needed good photos, accurate photos and mug shots and these were the best we could find. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t work on the research 40 years continuously. It was done in dribs and drabs along the way. I worked alongside a bloke called Morgan Phillips, he started up my interest in Fulham’s history because he used to write for the supporter’s magazine called Cottage Pie in the sixties about the southern league years and things like that. He writes a blog on Fulham FC for their website and contributed quite a few of the photos for the material that I was working on.

DS – Do you research the history of anything else or is it just Fulham?

AW – Well I’ve done other books; a friend of mine Bob Lilliman has an amazing collection of old football ground photographs and we wrote a book on ‘London Football Grounds’ which sold pretty well. I also did another book with Dennis Turner about Football Managers called ‘Who’s who football managers’ covering from 1888-1993. That was released in 1993 but for some reason, it didn’t do that well. I don’t understand why because it was filled with loads of interesting facts and there were loads of interesting managers around in the period.

Away from football, I’ve done some research on railways but it’s mostly football. That’s all I know really…

DS Which has been your personal favourite season watching Fulham?

AW – Well I loved going in the sixties, even though we got relegated two seasons in a row it was still great fun back then. Even though it seems like a strange era to pick we had some top players in that side and they are fondly remembered.

Obviously getting to the Europa League Final must be up there but I think the highlight for me would be getting to the FA cup final in 1975. I went to the Carlisle game, the Birmingham City games and of course the final itself. I wish I had gone to more of the earlier rounds in that cup run but I was a student at the time, so I didn’t have much money. We hold the record for most games played to get to the FA cup final and it’ll never be beaten now they’ve done away with all the replays. Hull City 3 times, Forest 4 times, Carlisle Utd, Everton, Birmingham City twice and West Ham in the final.

Obviously getting to the Europa League Final is on par but what sways it is the fact it’s the FA Cup Final and I’ve always loved the FA Cup. It’s not so popular now but at the time the FA Cup was massive.

DS – If you could go back in time to watch a Fulham player that you never got to see live who would it be and why?

AW – Well I’ve got a report on nearly every single game Fulham have ever played and the one that has always stood out to me is a keeper called Arthur Reynolds. He played in the 1910s and 1920s and he was amazing. He virtually saved Fulham match after match and he played over 400 games for the club. He didn’t play many during the First World War either which makes the tally of appearances even more incredible.

DS – Who would you regard as your favourite ever Fulham player and why?

AW – It’s a tossup between Johnny Haynes and Graham Leggat but I’ll go with Leggat. I couldn’t believe it when Vic Buckingham sold him! He’d just bagged 5 goals in 2 games and then the next thing we knew he was sold to Burnley.

I met Graham a few times and he was a very nice man. But what a player! So versatile, he could head the ball, score all types of goals. He played on the wing quite a lot and could beat players for fun. He was lethal in front of goal and he was quick too. Basically, he could do anything on that pitch. Haynes and Leggat, in my opinion, are the 1 & 2 greatest players we’ve had post-war. It’s hard to include and compare pre-war because I never saw them play.

DS – Who would you consider your favourite player in the current team and why?

AW – Hmmm, probably Tom Cairney. He reminds me a bit of Johnny Haynes funny enough. The way he dictates the game and conducts everything. If he’s not playing, then Fulham don’t tick so well, and it was the same with Johnny Haynes. He’s certainly got the Johnny Haynes swerve, that’s for sure.

Mind you some of the players went into their shell when Haynes was playing, and you don’t see that from Cairney so they are different personalities on the pitch. Haynes was less patient with his teammates and would give a few of them a hard time if they made mistakes. He particularly wasn’t that great with young players.

DS – Using your knowledge of the club’s history, what in your opinion is the clubs all-time greatest eleven?

AW – It’s difficult for me to pick the greatest eleven because there were a lot of players that I never got see play. So, I’ll pick the best eleven I was lucky enough to witness and a best eleven of players that were before my time that I would have liked to have seen.

Best players from teams that I have seen:

1 – Edwin Van der Sar
2 – George Cohen
3 – Jim Langley
4 – Alan Mullery
5 – Brede Hangeland
6 – Tony Gale
7 – Graham Leggat
8 – Gordon Davies
9 – Louis Saha
10 – Johnny Haynes
11 – Luis Boa Morte

Subs: Mark Schwarzer, Steve Finnan, Paul Parker, Chris Coleman, Allan Clarke, Ray Houghton, Les Barrett.

A team of the best players that I never saw:

1 – Arthur Reynolds
2 – Joe Bacuzzi
3 – Mike Keeping
4 – Arthur Collins
5 – Syd Gibbons
6 – Jim Taylor
7 – Arthur Stevens
8 – Jim Hammond
9 – Ronnie Rooke
10 – Bedford Jezzard
11   John Arnold

Subs: Jack Fryer, Harry Ross, Len Oliver, Billy Goldie, Frank Osborne, Frank Newton, Charlie Mitten.

DS – Do you get to many games now?

AW – I must have been to well over 2000 games at the Cottage. If you include reserve and youth team games too. I haven’t been as often lately due to health problems. Overall though, the only time I’ve ever missed a home game is if I wasn’t in the country because of work or a holiday which was only a handful of times. If I was in England, then it’s a safe bet where I would be if Fulham were playing!

DS – If you could go back in time to change the outcome of one Fulham match which would it be and why?

AW – Well straight away Derby away in 1983 springs to mind. I was there, and it was bloody dreadful! Such an awful experience that I wish I hadn’t gone!

I’m trying to think… there are a few semi-finals but they were all before my time. I think I’ll have to go with the Europa League Final. We were second best on the day in 1975 vs West Ham so no complaints, plus it was just incredible getting to Wembley in the first place. But against Atletico Madrid, we were a match for them and to lose in the 117th minute and having such a long way home afterwards was horrible. Plus, I think we would have beaten them on penalties too so I’m going to have to go for that game.

DS – What is next for you, any other publications / specific projects in the pipeline?

AW – I’m currently working on something with Ken Coton and Martin Plumb, that should be out in the Autumn. It’ll be a book with photographs of every team photo since 1903 with a few additional action shots here and there.

DS – What are the one positive and negative about the way the game has evolved from your first season compared to the present-day experience?

AW – Well the good thing now is that football hooliganism isn’t as bad anymore. Back in the day, there used to be a few punch-ups and that doesn’t happen now which I’m pleased about.

The negative would be that as football has evolved and Fulham have grown as a club, the fans have become more distant from the players. Back in 1981 when I first got involved there were about 10 people running the whole set up. Now there seems to be a good 200. The players are kept away from the fans and I suppose that’s the biggest change that is a negative for me personally.

DS – Finally Alex… pie or pasty, which filling?

AW – I like both actually! But if I must choose I suppose it’ll be a steak pie, please.