I started supporting Fulham in 1975, just before we played in the F.A. Cup final against West Ham. I was almost 7 and don’t remember having seen football on the telly before that or even having much awareness of different football teams. My Dad must have told me about Fulham and that we had reached the Cup Final but I don’t think it really made much impression on me until he brought home two posters (one of each team) from the ESSO garage. Those two posters took pride of place on my bedroom wall and remained there for a long time after the final was over.
My knowledge of Fulham then was completely based on what information I could glean from those posters. For a very long time I confused Alan Mullery and Bobby Moore and it was some years later when I realised my mistake and had to convince my brain to reverse the faces I knew as Bobby and Alan. I also developed something of a soft spot for West Ham, knowing almost as much about their team as I did about ours. Strange that over 30 years later I would end up marrying a West Ham supporter. Before the Cup Final was played my Dad also brought home a souvenir copy of the Evening Standard, which had a full colour spread on both teams, and my Gran gave me a Fulham rosette which went up on my wall next to the posters.
I don’t remember the game at all though I’m sure I must have watched it but from then on we would watch the Cup Final every year. With televised football a rarity, and Match of the Day on too late, this was probably my only exposure to what was happening in Football. I don’t remember ’76 or ’77 but the 1978 final really made an impression. Ipswich the unfancied underdog’s took on the might of Arsenal, the Blues 1-0 win showed me how unpredictable football could be and how you could support a smaller team and still find it enjoyable. It wasn’t so easy to pick a team to cheer when Arsenal met Manchester United the following year so in the end I plumped for the London based side. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game as much, but I was unprepared for a game that eventually proved to be one of the most exciting matches I’ve ever seen. As Alan Sunderland scored that late winner for Arsenal I was hooked. Football was great and I wanted more of it.
My knowledge of Fulham increased a little further in 1979 as I completed that years Panini sticker album. Despite only being a 2nd Division team there was still a Team photo and a silver club badge to collect. Next to these was a short summary of Fulham facts and figures. I now knew that our capacity was a staggering 42,000 (another fact that stuck with me long beyond the point when the GLC stepped in and started introducing more realistic levels) our record signing was Peter Kitchen, for £100,000 from Leyton Orient, and our record sale was Richard Money who went to Liverpool for the unusual figure of £333,333.
I don’t remember badgering my Dad to take me though maybe by then I knew other kids at school had seen real football games and had might talked to him about going one day. However, when it happened it was completely out of the blue. I remember walking up the stairs, on the way to my bedroom, when Dad stopped me and asked;
"Would you like to go the match this afternoon?"
"What match?" was my nonplussed reply,
"Fulham!" Dad said,
"Really? … err yes please!"
Before I knew what was happening we were in the car and driving, the same route we used when visiting my Grandma and Granddad in Barnes. We carried on across the Hammersmith Bridge and I discovered a part of the world I had never seen before. I took in the whole journey, the places we passed the people we saw, and eventually, as we neared the ground, the crowd. We parked in a side road, walked down to the ground and entered the turnstiles for the Hammersmith Terrace. I think I got in for 50p and the programme was only 25p. By the time we were in there seemed to be a vast crowd probably more people than I’d ever seen in one place. Actually the attendance that day was 6,533 not bad, though nothing exceptional, but for an 11 year old at his first ever football match it seemed completely packed and very noisy.
It was 15th September 1979 and Fulham were about to face Burnley on a gorgeous sunny afternoon. I don’t remember many details about the game itself, Peter Marinello got sent off (possibly in the 1st half) and the crowd sang "There’s Only One Marinello" for the rest of the game. They also sang "The referee's a wanker" quite a bit. I had no idea what a wanker was but I figured it wasn’t a good thing. Next to us there was a huge skinhead with big lace up DM boots and drainpipe jeans. He joined in the vitriol screaming "Challis you’re a wanker". Challis, it transpired, was Ron Challis (Tonbridge, Kent) the unfortunate referee. He had become a Football League referee in 1968, the year I was born, and in 1975 was senior linesman to Pat Partridge for the FA Cup Final. He then took charge of that amazing final I'd enjoyed in 1979. In the end we beat Burnley 3-1, with two goals from Gordon Davies and one from Kevin Lock. I thought it would be like that every week. However, it was December before we won at home again and we were relegated at the end of the season, a fact that was probably more indicative of the years to come than that first victory.
After the game Dad walked me round the ground, under the Eric Miller stand and along the Putney Terrace to take a look at the famous Craven Cottage. As we were about to head home Peter Marinello came out from the changing rooms, heading for the players bar, and someone stopped him to ask about the Old Firm (I didn’t know what that meant either but it sounded quite exciting). Marinello headed on his way every inch the dashing hero. He was my new favourite player, though I wasn’t to know that he wouldn't play many more games for Fulham, falling out of favour as our season went from bad to worse before moving on to Hearts via Pheonix Inferno. I would have a new a more lasting hero pretty soon, he'd already scored two goals in that first match, but for now Marinello was the greatest. I’d had a great day and as we finally left to go home I knew I’d be back.