Article written by Gordon Mills.
In stark contrast to Fulham's elevation to the top flight 5 years ago when they indulged in a prodigal purchasing binge, their preparation for Division 1 football in 1959 was distinctly austere and low key. Teams then were still very much in the business of producing their own talent – the Busby Babes being the bench mark - and Fulham were actually rather untypical, having bought over the previous few years more than half of their regular starting line-up. In fact, I think the only acquisition between gaining promotion and the start of the new season was the florid faced, perpetually sweaty, overweight former England Under23 and England B striker from Tottenham, Alf Stokes, whose contribution to the campaign was memorable only in its minuteness. He contributed and played far less than the more recent great expensive disappointment, Steve Marlet, and was not on the Cottagers' books for very long. Of course, he was purchased for a mere finger nail of the fee that Marlet cost but in those days ten thousand pounds was big spending for Fulham. However, he did enough in one game to leave most of us wondering what might have been had he managed to keep himself fit and had played regularly.
That one game was an evening encounter with the mighty Wolverhampton Wanderers, the reigning league champions. They came to the Cottage unbeaten in their first five games while Fulham had been hammered in their first game at Blackburn 4 – 0 but had held their own in their next four. Without floodlights, evening games in those days started at the latest at 6.30 and on this September evening we went straight from school to secure our spots behind the Bovril signs so we could climb on them and cheer when necessary – and we had plenty to cheer about that night. Thrilled to see the old gold of Wolves at the Cottage, we watched as the champions attacked us from the start but the Whites had plenty of attacking ideas of their own and, led by Haynes and Leggatt and inspired by some great touches by Stokes, we managed to hold a slender 2 – 1 lead during the second half. My memory is not perfect and I'm not sure who scored Fulham's third goal but we were delirious at the final whistle when Fulham had won 3 – 1. And against the league champions. I can, however, remember a goal from Stokes in that game. I don't know which of the three it was but it was a perfect header from a cross by Haynes that went just inside the post at the Bishops Park end, right in front of where I was standing with a bunch of my 11 year old friends. We genuinely believed we were going to win the league after that and we were sure that Stokes was the answer to our centre forward problem. No more Maurice Cook we prayed. How wrong we were.
Stokes only played about 10 more games for us and managed a paltry 5 more goals before he packed his bags for Cambridge, I think it was. The following Wednesday was the return fixture and Wolves were still seething from the defeat. As it was midweek we couldn't go and when we saw the newspapers on the morning after, we were mighty relieved that we hadn't gone. Wolves, in what was described as a torrent of attacking football beat us 9 – 0. 9 – 0…. And it took me an age to get over it completely because I can remember my 11 year old reasoning telling me that the 3 – 1 win over the champs meant we could win the title. Sometimes I am reminded of that blind optimism when I read some of the unrealistic postings on this site. The sad thing about that defeat was that it sent us spiralling down the table on the back of four consecutive defeats - one a terrible 3 - 1 home defeat to Chelsea! In spite of that loss of confidence, the lads came back well and finished tenth - but we weren't champions!Poor old Alf Stokes was the first in a long line of has been strikers we bought over the years; the likes of Johnny Byrne, Brian Dear, Jackie Henderson, Cliff Jones and Frank Large come to mind. And I'm sure there are more…
Anyone who remembers this era is welcome to reminisce with Gordon at email@example.com