Article written by Gordon Mills
This week I want to feature two players who served Fulham well during their stint in the old Division 1 in the 1960s. Those players are Steve Earle, who came through from the same junior side that developed Rodney Marsh and Fred Callaghan, and John Dempsey who was a product of the juniors the next year. Earle was a beautifully balanced striker who could play on the wing or in the centre. He had a good shot in both feet and could head well. He would have been the star of that junior team if not for Rodney. In one South East Counties league game Fulham won 9 – 1 and Marsh and Earle scored four each! In the 1965 – 66 season Fulham had amassed just 15 points from twenty nine games and were firmly ensconced at the foot of the table when Liverpool came to the Cottage. This was the Liverpool of Ron Yeats, Ian St John, Roger Hunt, Gordon Milne, Peter Thompson and Ian Callaghan and they were on their way to winning the league by six points. Victory against Fulham was seen as a mere formality but Haynes and Cohen and the rest had other ideas and in a tremendous upset Earle scored twice in an amazing 2 – 0 victory. The first was not a memorable goal – something of a scramble and a hint of hand ball as he controlled the ball in the centre of the Liverpool penalty area but the second was a beautiful glancing header from a Haynes free kick that gave Tommy Lawrence no chance.
That victory set Fulham off on 5 consecutive victories and one of the greatest escapes from relegation in the history of the old first division as they gained 20 points from their final 13 games. Earle played a large part in this revival especially in the away game at fellow strugglers, Northampton. This was a real crunch match – a winner takes all affair because the end of the season was only a couple of games away. We went to the cricket ground in Northampton and sat on benches with the cricket square behind us as Northampton took the lead. Earle equalized but the Cobblers regained the lead before Earle scored again. It was nail-biting stuff as both defences were porous but Leggatt put Fulham ahead and then with only a few minutes remaining and with Northampton piling on the pressure, the ball was cleared from the Fulham penalty area and bounced to Steve Earle who was on his own. He ran half the length of the field, dribbled round the Town goalie and slid the ball home to seal a famous win. My friend John and I danced deliriously onto the pitch and were promptly grabbed by the sole bobbie on that side and were marched away. John's dad pleaded with the man in blue and we were allowed back to the bench. Even if we had been ejected it would have been worth it because safety from relegation had been achieved.
Earle also scored five of the eight at Halifax a few years later in the famous 8 – 3 win. John Dempsey was in that team too. He was a tall, sinewy centre half who really blossomed when he moved to Chelsea. In the 65 – 66 season he was tried at centre forward in a league cup match against the same Northampton and scored a remarkable hat trick in a 5 – 1 victory. Unfortunately the rest of the experiment was not so successful. A few weeks after the league cup game Northampton came to Fulham for a league fixture and we were all anticipating another humiliation but sadly it was Fulham who were humiliated. I think it was Macedo in goal who got injured and had to go off. In those pre-substitute days that meant an out field player deputizing. I'll never understand why Rodney Marsh went in goal but he did and promptly proved why he was later called among other things a clown prince. Using nearly all parts of his body except his hands, Rodney managed to let in most of the goals in an embarrassing 4 – 1 defeat. Demsey was back in defence again soon after that and was definitely a major factor in the great run at the end of the season. He had an amazing game at Elland Road where we won 1 – 0 on Easter Monday after losing 3 – 1 at home on the previous Friday. He was good in the air, very tenacious in marking opposing strikers and his distribution was good too. He gained a cup winners medal and a European Cup Winners Cup winners medal with Chelsea in 1970 and 1971. I can't remember if he played for Ireland before he left Fulham but he won a few caps later, I know.
Anyone who remembers this era is welcome to reminisce with Gordon at firstname.lastname@example.org