Mohamed Al-Fayed is a name that will ring around the stands of Craven Cottage for many a year to come. Mohamed Al-Fayed is a name that will go down in Fulham’s history as quite possibly our greatest ever Chairman. Mohamed Al-Fayed is without doubt, alongside Johnny Haynes, one of the Clubs most influential and important people.
If for a moment you have perhaps completely forgotten what Al-Fayed has done for Fulham, let me remind you. In the year before Al-Fayed took over we were in a bad state- perching precariously on the brink of financial ruin and only having the saviour of Micky Adams taking us someone brighter. Craven Cottage was run down, and the team of ’75 looked like a long-lost distant past that would never be recovered. Enter Mohamed Al-Fayed, wealthy owner of Harrods and apparent Fulham fan. Buying the club for a hefty (at that time, considering league positioning) £6.25 million, Al-Fayed promised a return to the golden age of Fulham and promptly installed a management “dream-team” of Ray Wilkins and Kevin Keegan. Success soon followed, and Fulham gained promotion to the Premier League under Jean Tigana, playing some succulent football along the way, and gathering a massive 101 points. Craven Cottage was renovated (under some quite controversial circumstances) and we remained a solid force in the Premier League until one man who will not be named or go down into any history books decided to carry out a little experiment. It failed. Spectacularly. But who were we to doubt Al-Fayed? One to spot a top manager, in comes one Sir Woy Hodgson. Cue the Great Escape, the Great Season and the Europa League Final. Today we find ourselves with a healthy looking squad, a beautiful stadium which is being expanded and more ambition than Mark Hughes can put in a sentence. During that, Al-Fayed has given us almost £187 million pounds worth of loans, and all of it is soft. He has said that he will not force the club to repay it. In short, Al-Fayed doesn’t want a penny back. To sum up- Mohamed Al-Fayed has certainly achieved his aim of returning the glory days back to Craven Cottage and he has done it in some style.
But I have always had one niggling problem in the back of my mind. Al-Fayed is, and let’s not be beating around the bush here, an old man. He is 79. And, until today, he apparently had not given a link to what future we had- a secure helm with him for a minimum of roughly 6 years, but what after that? New ownership? Fans trust? Today, that problem was sorted. In a move that I’m sure has been carefully thought over and planned, Fulham appointed Karim Fayed (his son from a second marriage) to the position of Vice Chairman, signalling his future ascent to the head of Fulham. This indicates two things to me- firstly, Al-Fayed has Fulham at the forefront of his attentions. His indication that he wants his family to carry on with the club after he has gone gives a strong indication that he believes the best way forward is for the continued ownership of the club and I agree totally- we have seen first-hand what problems managerial changes create at pitch level, and new owners could be a nightmare, especially in the Premier League. We see the likes of Blackburn, Newcastle, Aston Villa, and Arsenal getting new ownership that has thrown up new problems that they did not face before. For me, the only way forward is through the continued backing of the Al-Fayed family and for that, I am grateful.
Secondly, it indicates that he hasn’t finished with us yet. You only have to look at the team to see the level of investment that Al-Fayed has put in- Schwarzer, Riise, Ruiz and Diarra are players that no doubt took a lot of attracting to sign. Recent plans for a new stand where put forward, with current estimates standing at £30 million to complete this. If Al-Fayed didn’t want to carry on he would slowly be winding down his business side of it, slowly stopping putting such money in and slowly selling shares. But the fact that he has appointed his son indicates that he wants him to carry on the investment that he has started, and in the future continue to look after Fulham.
It is a wise business move from Al-Fayed and a wise move for Fulham. It gives us stability and reassurance that he is totally behind the team, and that he will be, in one form or another, after his demise. And after all, stability is vital not only to a boardroom but also to a football team. It gives us the reassurance that we can grow and prosper but still know that he will be there to catch us if we fall. It gives us a reassurance that we have a chairman who cares passionately for the club.
Mohamed Al-Fayed may be a fantastically inspirational and flamboyant business man, but he is without a doubt a true Fulham Legend and Icon.
When’s that statue being built?
For more Fulham related ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @willpaul25
NB. Some Fulham Fans including myself have started a petition calling for the New Riverside Stand to be renamed the Mohamed Al-Fayed stand in honour of a true Fulham Legend. If you agree and would like to add your name to the petition it can be found here: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/alfayedstand