Interview: Fred Callaghan

Image: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fred Callaghan was a local lad who signed for Fulham as a schoolboy in 1962 and went on to make 335 appearances, playing alongside some of the most iconic players in our history. The left-back experienced his fair share of ups and downs in the famous White shirt. From scoring the heroic goal during the original great escape to suffering back to back relegations as well as being promoted back to the second tier in 1970/71. Daniel Smith spoke to the former fullback to reminisce on such an eventful career on the Banks of the Thames…

DS – Am I right that you were born in Fulham? If so, growing up were you a Fulham supporter?

FC – I came from Parsons Green, so I was on the other side of Fulham and I lived closer to Chelsea. I used to watch Chelsea play as a youngster with my Dad who supported them.

DS – Did you have any role models in football growing up?

FC – Duncan Edwards in the fifties was special. Of today’s players, I admire anyone who can kick themselves out of trouble and boss the field.

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

FC – I was picked up by a scout who asked me to come along when I was 16 years old. I could have gone to West Ham instead as I was playing in the same youth team as John Sissons. He went on to be the wonder boy for the Hammers and we grew up playing together for both West London schoolboys & the district of Fulham & Parsons Green.

Instead I was picked up by another youth team & that’s where I was spotted by the Fulham scout. I went down on a trial and I was selected to go on the ground staff earning £6 a week. It doesn’t even buy a coffee now does it?!

DS – Which position did you play in originally?

FC – I started out as a left winger but the manager of the youth team at Fulham, George Milton decided that I was more suited to left back, so I dropped back and remained there for the rest of my career.

DS – Was there anyone in the first team when you were a youngster that you looked up to for guidance?

FC – Yeah, I looked up to Johnny Haynes, George Cohen & Alan Mullery when I was an apprentice and they were all very helpful.  

DS – Who looked after the youth team back then and did you have any interaction with the first team?

FC – I was 16 & an apprentice, so I would train with the first team but I also had to go back & train with the youth team on Tuesday & Thursday nights.

The youth team were kept separate and we never did much ball work, it was mainly running. We would train in parks sometimes, but we also had an area by the Cottage which was a car park and we used that for training most of the time. It’s in between Bishops Park & the Putney End (the last gate by the Putney End), the space is still there but it’s got portacabins now.

The first team trained at a few places. I remember training at Putney Vale & Ham Common, then we eventually ended up in Tolworth. In those days you would just play matches in training, it wasn’t any of this coaching that you see now, we just played and relied on the senior pros to take charge.

DS – You played with so many fantastic players at Fulham and the three that spring to mind are arguably our greatest trio.  What were Johnny Haynes, George Cohen and Graham Leggat like?

FC – Haynes is the best player you will ever see that could use both feet, he could pass the ball perfectly with either foot and he knew where you were or what he was going to do before he had even received the ball. He was so good that he would get very frustrated on the pitch with his teammates but off it he was a gentleman. A very nice, quiet individual who was respected by everyone. So, although he was quiet, if Johnny Haynes was speaking in the dressing room, everybody listened.

George was a similar personality really, a quiet fella and the perfect gentleman. He would have a quiet word in your ear if he had something to say, he wouldn’t scream and shout. I played with George for a long time, we were always on opposite flanks to each other and he was a great fullback.

Leggat was a great player, a proper goal scorer. Again, a gentleman but he was a fiery character with plenty to say, a typical Scotsman. We didn’t have many like him, most of the squad were a relatively quiet bunch. But Graham could back it up with his performances.

DS – Going back to George Cohen quickly, did the club do anything for him when he returned from the ’66 World Cup to celebrate or congratulate him?

FC – Not really, it was nice for George & his family. He went away with England, got his medal, he came back and we congratulated him of course but he hadn’t won it for Fulham. It had nothing to do with us so it was business as usual. Funny enough, they celebrate it more with him now.

DS – What do you remember about the original Great Escape?

FC – The relief when it was over! There’s a lot of pressure on you, I’m sure most fans can relate to that from the more recent Great Escape the club had in the Premier League. I don’t remember a great deal about the season as a whole but I remember being frustrated that we always sold our best players. Our job was always made harder in that sense, as soon as we had a decent side, other clubs would pinch them off of us and Fulham always agreed to sell. If you keep doing that then eventually you will only go one way.     

DS – How did the team feel about Bobby Robson getting the managers job after Vic Buckingham?

FC – Bobby Robson was well respected with all the players for what he achieved as a player and the way he conducted himself. So, we were very pleased for him. He was sacked far too early and wasn’t given a chance to turn things around which I believe he would have done.

DS – What was your relationship like with your other managers?

FC – Vic Buckingham was a know it all. He didn’t care about your opinion as a player and we weren’t treated very well by him. You were lower class citizen in his eyes and that’s how he spoke to you. As players we were only there to do as we were told but it didn’t work out well for him.

Alec Stock was another one that I didn’t particularly like. He went on to do wonders for Fulham reaching the FA Cup Final but as a manager, I didn’t like him. I can’t stand people who act all Sergeant Major. He would rarely give you any insight into how he thought you played, what you did good, what you need to work on. If you played well, he would come up to you and say, “well done” and that would be it. No advice or anything like that and he was always very serious.

DS – Eventually we were relegated to the third division. What was that season like to play in?

FC – Frustrating! As I said earlier, we kept selling our best players, the likes of Johnny Key, Alan Mullery & Allen Clarke, loads of good players. We still had some top class players in the team like Cliff Jones (Welsh International) & Les Barrett but eventually selling all of our best players caught up with us. Plus we had Vic Buckingham as manager who was the worst I played for in my career.

The worst thing that happened to Fulham was losing Dave Sexton who was our coach. He’s the best coach that I played for and it all went downhill after he left to join Arsenal. We went 13 games unbeaten in the League when he was in charge of coaching!

DS – Your highest number of appearances in a season came during our promotion back to the second division. What are your memories from that year?

FC – Yeah we finished runners up to Preston North End. The problem was we celebrated too early because we knew we were going up and we took our foot off the gas which allowed Preston to win it but at least we still went up. I remember having a good night with the whole team, staff, wives etc celebrating in the Criterion in Piccadilly. It’s a restaurant/night club & it’s still there now.

DS – 335 appearances, that’s some tally! Do you have a favourite match?

FC – My debut against Aston Villa away, they were a class team at the time. The other one that stands out is when I saved the club from relegation scoring a last-minute header against Charlton Athletic at the Valley during the original great escape. That was a great feeling.

DS – You scored 11 goals in total, do you have a favourite?

FC – My favourite goal would be smashing in a 40 yard freekick against Gordon Banks in the league when he’d just signed for Leicester City but the Charlton goal was the most important.

DS – Were there any jokers in the dressing room?

FC – Me! Only joking, nobody can compete with Tosh Chamberlain. He was the top joker, better than a comedian. Forever telling jokes and trying to make people laugh, he’d be the top character in any football club.

DS – Who was the best player you came up against in your career?

FC – Definitely George Best, he was in his prime when Fulham were facing Manchester United in the top division and as a fullback, it was usually my job to mark him! A special player.

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

FC – John Dempsey was my best friend, we were best man at each other’s weddings but I’m not in touch with him anymore sadly. You should try to speak to him about Fulham, he has loads of memories! I was also mates with Les Barrett & Steve Earle, the four of us would go on holiday together at the end of the season with our wives. I got on well with Paul Went too, he’s sadly passed away now.

DS – You’re a one-club man but was there ever an opportunity to leave Fulham or ever a time where you were tempted to leave?

FC – Yeah towards the end of my career under Alec Stock. Dave Sexton was managing Chelsea and he rang me up and asked if I would be interested in playing for him again and that he’d just put a bid in for me. I know you aren’t supposed to speak to other clubs’ players, but I’d known him for years. I would have gone because I really liked him but the club wouldn’t let me because they had just let John Dempsey join Chelsea.

DS – How do you think you would have coped playing in today’s game?

FC – Easy, no problem whatsoever! The pitches are like carpets, the boots are like slippers and the ball is so light compared to in my day, that it would feel like a beachball to me. 

DS – You’ve had a few spells in management, mostly with non-league clubs but you did have 4 years at Brentford. Did you enjoy management?

FC – I enjoyed it at Brentford under Martin Lange, it was an experience. But Woking was my favourite venture into management. I liked the club, nice friendly people.

DS – You became a cabbie when you hang up your boots. What was that like?

FC – Hard work! I much preferred being a footballer, much less hours. But I had to stop playing quite young. I injured my back in a preseason tournament in Bristol where I slipped a disc and it forced me to retire at 29.

DS – Finally Fred; pie or pasty, which filling?

FC – Steak & Kidney pie