Interview: Sharon Duce

Image: Getty

Daniel Smith spoke to Fulham supporter and actress Sharon Duce about her memories supporting the club. Sharon was heavily involved in the fight to save Fulham Football Club from merging with QPR as well as the threat of losing our beloved Craven Cottage. She explains her involvement below amongst many other things in what proved to be a very interesting phone call…

DS – I suppose the best place to start is with how you became a Fulham supporter?

SD – I have to confess, I met my partner (he’s not my partner anymore but we were together for 35 years so it was a long relationship). I met him whilst working for the BBC and he said that he was a Fulham supporter. We went on our first date which happened to be a Fulham match, don’t ask me who they were playing…  He did ask me to go Blackpool away with him and I got away with that, at least I got to go to a home match first. 

What I do remember was that he ignored me for the entire match. It got to half time and I thought well finally he is going to have a conversation with me but he didn’t! He just stood there with his head buried in the programme. I remember thinking to myself…”this is the strangest date that I’ve ever been on.” But I soon got over it as I looked at the team and there was this very attractive, classy player called Tony Gale who entertained me for the rest of the match. I thought to myself “well if you’re going to ignore me I’ll just watch him!” I thought Gale was a wonderful elegant player. 

DS – The next question was going to be “What are your earliest memories of  watching Fulham?” but I guess you’ve just answered that?!

SD – Oh That’s easy… Tony Gale! Tony Gale! Tony Gale! I just couldn’t take my eyes off of Tony Gale.

DS My mum often mentions your name as she remembers you being at the town hall fighting for the future of the club in the eighties. How involved were you in the fight to save the club and how did you feel at the time?

SD – That’s so nice that she remembers. My husband at the time, Dominic Guard started the Fulham Supporters Club with Brendan Gleeson in my kitchen when my kids were only small. We were bashing out badges, I think my daughter was 001 membership number. We started the Supporters Club so that we wouldn’t have to merge with QPR. I remember going to meetings at QPR because neither team wanted to merge. Can you imagine? Fulham Park Rangers?! The thought terrifies me. 

So we started it to fight that idea and what happened was certain people were asking for the minutes of the last meeting. I thought to myself “you’ve got to be kidding?” I’m an actress with a career, I’ve got young children and I’m making badges in my kitchen of an evening when they’ve gone to bed. Now you want to know when the next committee meeting is? 

So, in the end, we eventually said you be the committee, you do it because all we wanted to do was gather the troops. We achieved that and then it became too much for us to run on our own. The whole idea of Fulham Park Rangers never phased me too much, I thought the whole idea was rubbish and never thought for one second that it would ever happen if we could get enough troops to fight it with us. We needed to say “Oi! This is our club!”

Football has changed so much now, Fulham needed supporters on side back then, it doesn’t so much now thanks to all the money. Clubs lower down do but it’s changed. My son goes to watch Djurgardens in Sweden and at the end of each game, the players sing the fans a song to show their appreciation because they need their supporters to survive. It’s a different world to English football, especially the Premier League. It’s very nice to go to Sweden actually because it’s a nice feeling as a fan to feel wanted and respected and I don’t think fans in this country are anymore.

DS What is your favourite Fulham goal?

SD – Without a shadow of a doubt it was Rodney McAree against Carlilse, simply because it meant so much to us. That was the best train journey of my life! We had a police escort with dogs because they were worried for our safety. Someone must have had a word with the train driver and explained how happy we were and that we are a friendly lot because at every station on the way home and there were many, the driver allowed us to jump off the train and sing a song dancing on the platform before reboarding. It was an incredible experience, the best I’ve ever had in my life. Our kids slept in the luggage bay at the top as they were knackered. They were only young back then and it was such a long way to go. I do apologise to anyone that was on that train who wasn’t a Fulham supporter but we were the main core on board and we knew we were going up, it was the best train journey imaginable. 

It was so important to Fulham’s history. Al Fayed broke my heart when he sacked Micky. It changed my passion for Fulham altogether because then you ask the question “who am I supporting here? Is it the manager, the players, the Chairman, the club?” I just didn’t know any more after that decision, it hurt me in a big way. Then he puts Michael Jackson in the Stadium… that says it all for me! 

To these owners, it’s just a toy, a hobby. But to us fans it’s a passion and a way of life and we’ve been left behind. There’s a stark contrast between an owner like the Muddyman Family who actually cared and those that followed. 

DS How about a favourite player or is that a silly question given your first few answers?

SD – Have you heard of a player called Tony Gale? Haha. Tony early on and then, of course, the whole Micky Adams promotion team, I can’t seperate them. They are classed as one in my eyes.

DS Obviously the 1990’s was still a sensitive time for our fans especially when the thought of new owners was concerned and whether to trust them. Do you remember your initial thoughts with the rumours that Al Fayed was going to buy the club? Was the idea exciting or did you think “here we go again”?

SD – I was very alarmed at the time. I wanted to know why? “What is your knowledge of Fulham Football Club?” I was just so heartbroken for the sacking of Micky, we had a banner that said: “you’re taking the Mick!” when he sacked him. 

I remember playing Bournemouth and we had all this money and the fans were really excited. “We’re gonna make it to the Premiership and we’re gonna win the league comfortably”. We became cocky and I didn’t like that. It wasn’t Fulham. So I remember playing little Bournemouth who were like us a couple of years prior and I remember feeling that I didn’t care if we beat them because I didn’t want to win games this way. Poor little Bournemouth with no money and now we are blowing them away because we do have the cash. I couldn’t have been less enthusiastic at the time. I couldn’t forget that if it wasn’t for the heroes that got us up we wouldn’t be in this position anyway. It was sad that they weren’t part of it with us. 

DS Do you still manage to get to games? Your career must make it difficult to work around the fixtures?

SD – Yes I do but not as often as I’d like. My son lives in Sweden and I’m divorced so I don’t like going on my own all the time. I’ve lost my crew that I used to go with and football is about that camorardory and I don’t really have it anymore so I don’t go as often as I’d like to. 

DS You were a poster girl for a certain generation, was there anyone in the Fulham team that made it onto your wall?

SD – Haha! Well, I was on television and I did a programme called ‘Big Deal’ with Ray Brookes who just so happened was also a big Fulham supporter. So wherever we could we would get Fulham involved in the programme somehow. We would have Fulham scarfs on the clothes rack and little things like that. Because in those days everyone took the piss out of Fulham, my poor son was bullied at school by QPR fans because Fulham were in the dulldrums and now karma has come back to work its magic. At 34 my son still looks for their results to get his own back on them! 

As for a poster boy, no not really. My daughter had a poster of Gazza crying after the semi final in 1990 but that’s about it. I was too old by the time I started supporting anything like that.

DS – Don’t be silly, you’re never too old for a bit of eye candy. My wife follows Fulham and is always winding me up every transfer window, saying that “Fulham need to re-sign her Siddy” (Steve Sidwell).

SD – She’s naughty haha. But at least she’s honest! 

DS – You mentioned that you co starred alongside fellow Fulham supporter Ray Brookes in Big Deal. Did you ever go to Fulham together?

SD – No but I remember him sitting in the wooden seats above the Enclosure which is where we were standing. And I remember seeing Ralph Mctell the famous folk singer there too. There were a couple of other actors there but their names escape me which is annoying. Anyway, Ray handed one of them his gin and tonic so that he could dive across to catch the ball (I mean those were the days). So I remember looking up to Ray and shouting “I’m going to be playing your Mrs” and he looked at me thinking “who’s that mad woman down there?!” He clearly hadn’t been told at the time that I had got the job which was unfortunate. But Ray always sat in those seats and we always stood on the half way line.

DS – Any funny stories from your time going to Fulham?

SD – Yes I’ve got a story. Back in the eighties, there was a show called the ‘Six o’ Clock show’ hosted by Michael Aspell and Danny Baker. They heard I was a Fulham supporter and asked me to come on the show as a guest because it was so rare to have female fans especially celebrities. This was before the days of Delia Smith so they invited me on and one of the questions they asked (cos they loved taking the piss out of Fulham) was “In all your time supporting the club have you ever encountered any trouble?” Obviously, they wanted some salacious gossip so I said: “yes I’ve experienced some trouble.”

So they were on the edge of their seats with excitement waiting for the juicy gossip and they asked: “What was that then?”. So I said…”Well, it was getting through the turnstiles being 9 months pregant. That was a lot of trouble for me, our turnstiles are very small.” And it was, I gave birth to my son 10 days later. And I remember that I couldnt celebrate when we scored because when you’re that pregnant you cant lift your arms up, it’s just too much. 

They didn’t know what to say after that!

DS – That’s incredible commitment. Was it crowded that day? Did you have enough room?

SD – It wasn’t empty, it wasn’t full. I had plenty of room. It didn’t start packing out again until Micky Adams took over and we must not forget that! Al Fayed would not have looked twice at Fulham Football Club had it not been for Micky Adams getting us promoted, he’s the true hero. He created a team spirit just like Leicester City did when they won the Premier League. Sometimes you can have eleven individuals who are outstanding but they will always be beatable if they dont have that togetherness and unity to be a team. 

DS How do you feel about the Cottage? Did you prefer it with the terraces or as it is now and why?

SD – I can’t begin to describe how it feels. Although I’m a newbie really because I’ve only been going since I was 28. It’s such a romantic ground with its Cottage in the corner. That’s why Americans love it so much, “Oh my God, it’s got a Cottage!” [attempt at an American accent]. I just don’t know any other ground that’s got a walk to it like Fulham has. It’s beautiful, drink in the Crabtree, pizza at Sam’s. I have my traditon and I always stick to it. I have to do the walk before a game otherwise it isn’t the same.

I loved the terraces, Hammy End or the Enclosure because we used to stand for a start which makes a huge difference. I’ll tell you a story, I was asked to do a radio interview in the days when the mobile phone was a bloody big brick. They said that they would send a car for me and will meet me up in the press box. So, I said “hang on a minute, no you won’t. I’m not having a car chaffeur me. I’ll make my own way there down from Hammersmith along the River because that’s what we’ve always done and I’m not going in anyone’s press box either. I’m in the Hammy End so if you want this interview then you can come to me. You’ll just have to give me a mobile phone.” So they did, a great bloody big thing it was. So I’m standing at the Hammy End and as luck would have it, I rather fancied Julian Hails to score a goal because I thought he was doing rather well. So I just said it as it was “I think Hails will score because he’s in form blah blah blah” and blow me he went and bloody scored! So they thought I was an expert when it was just a guess but I wasn’t going to tell them that!

DS How did you get into acting and did you have any role models in the profession?

SD – I got into acting through school, my drama teacher introduced me to amateur dramatics and they introduced me to the local theatre. I was told to go to London and learn to talk properly, I never did learn to talk properly and thank God I didn’t because I made my money out of being from Yorkshire! 

My role model was Albert Finney, he was from Manchester. I thought “well if he’s from Manchester and has been in loads of films then I stand a chance.”

DS – What’s your favourite role that you’ve portrayed in your acting career?

SD – It’s got to be Jan from Big Deal, obviously I had the Fulham connection with Ray but the script was so well wriiten. The audience loved it and it was a really successful show and it takes success as you know with Football to create happy memories.

DS – What are you up to at the moment?

SD – Well I’m talking to you haha… I still audition for parts but I do a lot of travelling. My sons live abroad so I’m always flying somewhere, I’ve always liked travelling because of the job so it’s nice to continue doing that. I also watch Djurdgden in Sweden when I visit my son.

DSWhere do you see the club in 5 years time and why?

SD – I think it’ll hang in there because Football makes money and there are enough billionaires out there who will want to have it as a hobby. So it’ll always be attractive enough for someone to keep it going. I can’t see it being outside the Championship and I think Fulham will always survive because of its unique history. The owners at the moment, for example, I bet they love it, they love the fact its got a Cottage. 

DS – Finally Sharon, we ask everyone this question. Pie or pasty, which filling?

SD – Oh God… it’ll have to be a cheese and onion pasty I reckon.