Born in Nottingham to an English mother and a Scottish father, Tom Cairney’s first professional football environment was at Leeds United, joining as a seven year old. After nine years on the books at Leeds, Cairney was released at the age of 16 for being ‘too small,’ however, his footballing career kept him in Yorkshire as he joined Hull City. After two years representing the Tigers at academy level and winning their Young Player of the Year award, Tom Cairney made his professional debut in the League Cup, scoring for (what was) Phil Brown’s side against Southend United. In the season Fulham reached the Europa League final, Cairney finished his debut campaign with a handful of Premier League appearances including a club Goal of the Season winner for a strike in a 5-1 loss at Goodison Park against Everton (a gorgeous left footed volley from the edge of the box). Hull City were however relegated at the end of that season, coincidentally, Steve Wigley and Tim Flowers (now of Fulham of course) joined Iain Dowie in the unsuccessful effort for Premier League safety.
Hull failed to bounce back straight away, with Cairney proving to become a useful squad player in two seasons which saw two more new coaches in Nigel Pearson and Nick Barmby. It was with these sporadic appearances that the midfielder came into the Scotland set up, representing the Scottish under 21 national team on more than one occasion. Former team mate George Boateng saw the potential of the maturing midfielder, describing him as ‘potentially a huge asset to the England national team.’ Another year, another new coach, 2012-13 was set to be a potential break out season for Cairney, but a ‘horror tackle’ from future team mate James Husband saw Tom suffer a serious knee injury and his season disrupted, losing time to impress new manager Steve Bruce.
After struggling to return to semi-consistent first team action in a Hull City shirt, Tom Cairney joined Blackburn on an initial loan in the summer of 2013 where he quickly became a key figure under Gary Bowyer creating the second highest amount of goals for Blackburn as they floated to an 8th place finish. His early season performances convinced Rovers to make his loan a permanent one in January; a move justified by being named Blackburn’s Player of the Season ahead of top scorers Jordan Rhodes and Rudy Gestede. Despite largely playing in wide positions, his performances at Blackburn showed enough for Fulham to make the commitment to purchase the Scotsman for £3m in the summer window of 2015.
In his first season at Fulham, Cairney’s promise continued to show as he tallied his best figures for goals and assists notwithstanding mostly playing on the right of midfield. Slavisa Jokanovic became Cairney’s seventh head coach of his career, and after squeezing Championship safety out of Fulham between his appointment and the end of Cairney’s first season – Slavisa rebuilt the football club to play his style – with Tom Cairney being a focal point of this new look team. A flowing, attacking and possession based footballing philosophy, Cairney’s confident care of the football on top of his ability to score goals and create chances has benefitted him and Fulham in this push for promotion. As we speak, the recently rewarded Scottish international has completed the most passes in the Championship, with the highest passing accuracy whilst also creating the most chances and is the only player in the division to reach double figures for both goals scored and created.
A classy footballer and a presentable young man, Slavisa Jokanovic’s influence on Tom Cairney continued; as Scott Parker’s lessening contribution saw the Serbian put the captains armband on the Scotland international. This move has seen Cairney grow with the belief put into him by Jokanovic, growing in the role game by game, and has now become a strong in-game leader; highlighted by ignoring all previous issues from the penalty spot, to grab the ball and dispatch two massive penalties at Norwich and Huddersfield in this late surge of form. Cairney has become the face of Slavisa’s Fulham side and whilst other players also deserve credit, Tom’s style, technique and creativity has made him the catalyst for the clubs’ success: holding abilities that is rare to find on the transfer market. His starring second season has made him one of the best players in the Championship, a viewpoint agreed by his peers as he was placed in the PFA Championship Team of the Year for 2016-17.
Tom Cairney’s rise to captaincy of Fulham Football Club has been littered with the typical highs and lows of a professional football but the right player, at the right football club under the right head coach has seen Tom Cairney play close to the potential that George Boateng once pondered.