No Fulham fan will ever join in a chorus of criticism when it comes to Roy Hodgson, who celebrates his 77th birthday today. What he did for our special club will never be forgotten. Hodgson, close to taking a job at his old club Inter Milan as director of football, was a surprise appointment to succeed Lawrie Sanchez at Craven Cottage in 2007. He had unfinished business in England, having been sacked by Blackburn Rovers, but was seen as something of an oddity by the domestic press pack, who had largely encountered him in European cities not known for their football sides, despite twice coming close to getting the England job.

The common consensus amongst the commentariat was that Fulham were down – something which only hardened when it took more than two months for the Whites, low on confidence after Sanchez’s shocking stint in charge and humbled in the FA Cup by Bristol Rovers, to record their first win under the new management team of Hodgson and another Fulham hero, Ray Lewington. Even after a flurry of fine victories, it looked bleak following defeats at home to Liverpool and Sunderland. But we all know what happened next. Brian McBride, that crossbar and Erik Nevland sealing the rarest of away wins at Reading. The still scarcely creditable comeback from the dead at Manchester City, beating Birmingham at the Cottage and Danny Murphy’s header at Fratton Park to secure survival. Talk about a Great Escape.

Of course, Hodgson wasn’t down there. He reshaped his squad with a series of shrewd summer signings, including Mark Schwarzer and Zoltan Gera on Bosmans and a double deal for West Ham duo, Bobby Zamora and John Pantsil, that had the red tops sniggering. There was a big money purchase in the shape of Andy Johnson and the arrival, just before the transfer deadline, of Dickson Etuhu. All of those men would play a huge part in what was to come. Fulham finished seventh in 2008/09, playing some lovely football and qualified for Europe, which set in train probably the most memorable season in the club’s history.

Hodgson freely admits that his initial target was merely to qualify for the group stages of the inaugural Europa League – which Fulham did, despite a few nervy moments in Perm. They were handed a tough group, but were close to beating Roma twice and secured safe passage to the knockout phase following an unforgettable night in snowy Basel. I don’t need to recount in detail what followed: safe to say that the nights against Shakhtar, Juventus and Wolfsburg and Hamburg were magical. Hodgson’s team of heroes were so close to winning it all – but his transformation of the club from relegation certainties to European finalists was remarkable. That it did it all with intelligence, dignity, passion and an unquenchable thirst for the game made the fit between a classical manager and London’s oldest professional football club all the more perfect.

Happy birthday, Roy, and thanks for the memories.