Article written by Gordon Mills.
Back in the 1950s and 60s Fulham had an impressive record of producing top class players from their junior ranks who played long and impressively in the old first division. One such player who came into the team during the promotion season 58 – 59 to join other home produced legends such as George Cohen, Johnny Haynes, Tony Macedo and Tosh Chamberlain was Alan Mullery. He was only about 18 when he made his debut and he immediately impressed us with his non-stop midfield performances, strong tackling accurate passing and all-round ability. He learnt a lot about passing the ball from Haynes who was in his prime when Mullery emerged but he was a real natural who worked very hard and never seemed to be off form.
He took over at number 4 from Roy Bentley who moved to centre half and he was so consistent that its difficult to pick out many individually memorable incidents during his first spell at the club but let me mention a couple: the first is unusual because it hardly flatters him. It was a home game against Sheffield Wednesday and Fulham were to kick off. Now Fulham had a well rehearsed kick off routine that they repeated at least 42 times a season – Cook rolled the ball to Haynes who, in turn, rolled it back to Mullery who was somewhere around the edge of the centre circle and he would loft it towards the opposing penalty area where the aforementioned Cook or another forward would challenge for it. It was hardly rocket science but it had the virtue of sending the ball deep into the other team’s half. However, on this particular day Mullery for some inexplicable reason was unprepared to receive Haynes’ pass and miscontrolled the ball badly, letting it bobble past him. He was immediately challenged by a Wednesday forward who might have been the famous match fixer, Bronco Layne, and in desperation hoofed the ball back towards Macedo in the goal. Tragically, Macedo was not between the sticks at the time and could only watch and flounder ineffectually as the ball bounced into the back of the net. I don’t know if quickest own goals have ever been timed but this had to have been conceded in little more than 10 seconds and it led to one of our least auspicious performances in which the 1 – 6 scoreline was actually quite flattering – to Fulham!
However, there were so many fine performances from our young right-half during those seasons in the first division such as the headed goal from outside the penalty area in a 2 – 0 victory against West Ham, the fantastic display in the 0 – 0 draw at Chelsea when he seemed to be competing against the Chelsea midfield on his own and a shot at White Hart Lane from outside the area that bounced off the crossbar. Had this last effort gone in it would have leveled the scores against the great Spurs side of the early 60s. I remember reading in a programme at the time that Mullery spent one summer working on the roads and running to and from work to build up his fitness. He was certainly the fittest player in the team along with George Cohen.
He was my favourite player and I was devastated when we sold him. Back in those days there was not much media coverage and transfer speculation rarely seemed to claim the headlines but I remember the transfer because it came out of the blue. We had gone home after a brilliant victory against Liverpool and had recreated the winning goal in Bishops Park on the way home. Haynes took a corner along the ground to Langley who was about 10 metres outside the angle of the area on the left side. Jim hit it low and hard into the middle where Reg Stratton – yes, the amateur international winger making one of his rare appearances at centre forward – deflected it like a bullet past a surprised Tommy Lawrence. Bedlam ensued.
We were so happy that evening but it all evaporated the next morning when The People’s headline revealed the news that Fulham had accepted Spurs’ offer for our hero. It was rumoured that Bobby Robson who formed part of the half back line triumvirate with Mullery and Keetch was so incensed in the dressing room after the game when the players found out that he marched out to accost the directors and had to be restrained by some of his teammates!! I think it was about 7 years before Mullery returned to eventually lead us to Wembley but I had already gone into exile by then, although I did see the Semi final and final, but they’re another story.
Anyone who remembers this era is welcome to reminisce with Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org