Number 1 – Fulham

Fulham FC programme from way back when

Finally, I’ve got round to doing the league ladders blog, where I will be posting my thoughts on the 92 ‘league’ sides (and beyond), for no other reason than perhaps I’m a bit bored and need some focus!

As with real league tables, teams’ positions can and will change. This could be drastically. Perhaps dropping two / three leagues, Swindon Town / Glasgow Rangers-stylee. Due to this, I have made the decision to start with my club, Fulham (1st) as it will be the only constant, top of the pile, the Dynamo Berlin of the Cult Zeros’ League Ladders. Leaving you other fans desperately awaiting your team’s position… though unlikely.

The early years 1973-80.

As far as supporting Fulham goes, there was never really a choice, it really did just happen. Organically some may say rather than through an iron fist. I never was at a junction contemplating who my team would be, unlike most of my peers in secondary school who switched from Liverpool (91st or 92nd) to Wimbledon (top 40ish).

I know through my parent’s anecdote that on the 3rd May 1975 (at not quite two years old), I was paraded around the shops in North Cheam, Sutton, wearing a massive – in comparison to my size – FULHAM FC Wembley rosette. It was Cup Final day. For years, particularly in the real dark old days, I could not forgive my dad for not taking me with him. But on reflection, why would you want to take a toddler to such big game even if you weren’t interested in drinking vast amounts of Ben Truman’s or Ram Rod and Specials pre and post-match.

‘We’ lost 2-0 to West Ham (around 80th). No doubt I cried that day, unknowingly.

Until my first unconfirmed Fulham match at home to Leicester City (50th-ish) in 1979, my love for Fulham grew in part to a fascination with the programmes my dad brought home. The ‘bronze’ cover with a Western-style typeface and iconic photographs by the legendary, Ken Coton, captivated me. A few years later I would make tapes of myself pretending to be the stadium announcer, reading the teams out from the back page.

Wild west (London) hero, Gordon Davies with tache.

April 1979, my first Fulham match (unconfirmed). I was in the Riverside stand along with my dad and grandad. Cruelly, this was the first and last time the three of us went together as my grandad was killed a month later by a hit and run driver on Putney Bridge. The virtual Fulham-suppporting baton had been passed and I wasn’t going to drop it.

The 1980s

Being a Fulham-supporting school kid in the 1980s, was quite frankly, challenging, or should I say, a bit shit. Even when there were times to celebrate (like a promotion to the old second division in 1982), my bubble was burst by my mates’ ribbing of my OSCA home kit, with the roundel badge and ‘Third Division Runners’ Up’, typed within it. Despite my secondary school being around 8 miles from the Cottage, there were only two Fulham fans in it or at least, went regularly. However, it must be put into context that football attendances in the mid 1980s were extremely low. If Fulham were playing up north, I’d go to Sutton United (2nd) or on one-off occasions go in the away end at Palace. I did even go to the Bridge to watch Chelsea (85th-90th) lose to Charlton Athletic (25-35th-ish) just to experience the Shed. No need for advanced planning of tickets. Pick a game and go.

The Osca Third Division Runners’ Up shirt. Isle of Wight, 1982.

The 1985-86 season brought about a seismic shift in local football. Wimbledon, that team who play next to the greyhound / banger racing track, had not only defeated Fulham home and away, but had gained promotion to the first division, whilst we went back to the third. Suddenly all the kids at school that supported Liverpool and Manchester United were now opting for the Dons. They were now agreeing with me that you should support a local side, but in truth this probably wouldn’t have come about without their success on the pitch.

– “What’s the time?”

– “Ten past Fulham”.

A reference to our defeat at Anfield in 1986. Home league defeats to Port Vale (0-6) and Chester City (0-5), made for uncomfortable Monday mornings at school, but hey, I was now going to the odd away game. Stick your Plough Lane, I’ve got oblique views at Gillingham (75th-85th). Whilst the whole school went to see Sutton United’s fine win against Coventry City (undecided after last season), I was at the Cottage experiencing a fine 4-1 win over Chester City. (What is it with Chester? A few years later we lost 7-0 up there in a night game. They were also the opponents in the coldest night I’ve ever witnessed). No one wanted to hear my match report. It was all about Matt Hanlon!

We did manage to make the play-offs in 1988-89. A narrow 1-0 defeat in the first-leg to Bristol Rovers (top 30) at Twerton Park brought hope and non stop renditions of the Wurzels, Drink up thy zider, “We’re off to Rovers, to do the bastards over…”

Those bastards won the away leg 4-0.