Before a time when Fulham’s academy was producing regular young stars, Paul Brooker broke into the first team as a rare entity, whom fans knew was a very talented individual. Once tipped as the future Ryan Giggs, Paul went on to play a regular role off the bench in the Micky Adams promotion season. But sadly as the club grew under the takeover of Al Fayed, Brooker’s chances as a youngster diminished and eventually the local lad from Hammersmith moved on to have a solid career elsewhere. Daniel Smith spoke to Brooker to look back at his career with the Whites…
DS – How did you get the opportunity to sign for Fulham?
PB – I was released by Chelsea as a schoolboy around 14-15 year’s of age and asked them what I should do next, they suggested Fulham and Brentford as they were local to me and so I got in contact with Fulham, explained my history and situation and they gave me a trial and I got taken on the YTS scheme after a couple of matches!
DS – Coming through as a youngster was there anyone in the first team that you looked up to and/or learned from?
PB – Not really.
DS – Being a local lad from Hammersmith, was it a lot more straightforward getting to matchdays rather than training?
PB – Yes definitely! Training was originally at Ewell East station and so until I passed my test it was a bus from Fulham to Clapham junction, then a train from Clapham to Ewell East. A minibus then started to leave from Craven Cottage every morning so I often took that route but once I passed my test it was a lot easier to get everywhere!
DS – I’ve been told by some of your former teammates that Ian Branfoot was quite a hard manager, a sergeant major type who was all about results rather than making friends. How did he treat the youngsters & what was your relationship with him like?
PB – If I’m honest I don’t really remember much about Ian Branfoot but I think I got on with him well enough. We never had any crossed words but at the time I was probably the youngest in the squad and just really excited about travelling to away matches and being involved so I was never going to rock the boat!!
DS – You were just 18 when we beat Swansea 7v0 in the cup, putting in an outstanding display leading the papers lauding you as the next Ryan Giggs. Was it hard to cope with that expectation at such a young age?
PB – Not really as being the press it was a bit over the top after one good game! Don’t get me wrong to be compared to Ryan Giggs was amazing but I never took it seriously!
DS – What was the contrast between Micky Adams the player vs Micky Adams the manager?
PB – You have to draw a line somewhere when taking the leap from player to manager. I mean one minute you are teammates with him then the next he’s deciding if you play or not. I think at the time when he took over I was still a first-year pro and often training and playing in the reserves so probably didn’t see that much of a contrast as say a first team regular like Simon Morgan for example but we quickly understood how he wanted us to play!!!!
DS – How did you initially feel when Al Fayed bought the club & did the sacking of Micky Adams so quickly get the alarm bells ringing about your future at the club?
PB – It was exciting at first but then I quickly realised that everything was changing and my teammates were leaving on a weekly basis! Mickey was sacked too quickly in my opinion as we were doing ok for a club who had just been promoted but the club where I literally knew everyone was getting bigger day by day! I think I was injured when the takeover happened and by the time I was fit again, the team was completely different to the one that started the season!
DS – Being a Chelsea fan do you have sympathy with their youngsters, given the fact that something similar happened to you? With loads of proven senior players coming in stunting any opportunity for you to develop into a first team regular?
PB – It does annoy me a bit at Chelsea that they don’t promote their youngsters as much as other teams as clearly some of them are very talented and deserve to play more than they have. On the other hand, Chelsea have been very successful with their current approach so it’s hard to moan about it! I also think that the manager at Chelsea is under so much pressure to win a trophy of some sort that they don’t want to take risks with younger players as consistency and mistakes will inevitably happen with young players!
Regarding my situation I feel if I had have been good enough then I would have stayed and played just like Sean Davis did!
DS – So many of your promotion team left Fulham to join up again with Micky Adams and that’s exactly what you did at Brighton. Was there any other offers on the table and was it Micky that swayed your decision?
PB – Actually I was coming to the end of my contract at FFC and was getting a bit worried about what was going to happen to me in the summer but luckily for me my Dad spoke to Mickey at halftime of a reserve match and he asked my plans for the summer, next thing I know I’m on loan at Brighton for the last few months of the season and signed a 3 year contract with them in the offseason! Knowing the manager, assistant manager and 3 or 4 players definitely helps!
DS – Was the experience of being promoted from the bottom tier with Brighton different to the promotion with Fulham for you personally? You made most of your appearances off the bench for us whilst being a regular for Brighton in those seasons.
PB – Yes definitely. I felt more involved in the Brighton promotion as I started a lot of games and contributed a lot more than the Fulham promotion but I was still very young when Fulham got promotion so didn’t expect to start that much!
DS – Who were your closest friends at the club both in the youth setup and then in the first team?
PB – John Hampsher and Alex O’Brien in the youth set up and I got on with everybody in the first team (I hope)!!
DS – Do you still keep in touch with anyone?
PB – Not really. People move, have family’s, change careers, change phone numbers etc and you just lose touch!
DS – Although you made it to the Premier League eventually, again signing for Micky at Leicester City, you found opportunities hard to come by and eventually left for Reading. Do you look back on your career now and feel that you could have achieved a lot more or do you have no regrets?
PB – Tough one. Yes and no really. I mean when I was at Leicester and training every day with top-class players, I knew that the premier league level was a bit above me, and if I’m honest I should of stayed at Brighton instead of leaving for Leicester as I would have got a lot more game time but the lure of possibly playing in the premier league was too hard to turn down! Calling time on my professional career a bit too early was my biggest regret!
DS – Have you been back to the Cottage at all and do you take interest in your former clubs results?
PB – Yes quite a few times actually. My best friend is a Fulham fan and I’ve gone to games with him and other friends especially in the last couple of seasons! If I’m honest Fulham and Brighton are the two teams that I take an interest in. Seeing them both reach the Premier League after both clubs were so close to being relegated from the Football League is a huge achievement and I like to think I played a very small part in both those journeys!
DS – What are you up to now?
PB – I’m kind of a small-time property developer but don’t mind getting my hands dirty when developing a house!
DS – And Finally Paul, pie or pasty, which filling?
PB – Pie definitely!!!