Even now, the mere mention of Gary Brazil’s name sparks a huge debate amongst my group of Fulham followers. One of the Fulham faithful who took me under their wing on the Hammersmith End when I first went to the Cottage still swears that Brazil barely tried in a white shirt and was simply looking for a final pay day. My response, that he could have gone literally anywhere else to get more money when he left Newcastle in 1990, cuts no ice with Glenn. He’s the sort of the guy who is hard to shift from a viewpoint when he’s made up his mind.
Brazil was what you might call a marquee signing when he arrived in SW6 for a substantial (for us, at any rate) fee from the north east. I think the fee might have raised expectations but, the harsh truth is that, he was far better than any of his team-mates. Some of his passes went astray and that was all it took for some in the Enclosure (who didn’t take to the gifted midfielder/forward) to get on Brazil’s back. In an era where almost everybody looked to get the ball into the mixer, Brazil’s deft touches, eye for a pass and ability to prise open defences wasn’t as widely appreciated as – say – Tom Cairney’s is now.
Brazil moved to London for regular football, having dropped out of the first team picture with the Magpies, but any hopes that a big signing would reignite Fulham’s fortunes were shortlived. Indeed, the new man was pivotal to keeping the Whites afloat in his first season at the club – as run-ins with relegation cost Alan Dicks (‘Dicks Out’ remains one of the funniest Fulham chants I’ve ever heard) his job eventually. Two more mid-table finishes followed before Fulham did go down, despite Brazil’s fourteen league goals.
The peerless playmaker, deployed often in midfield as well as an auxiliary forward, stayed with Fulham through the very dark days of nearly dropping out of the league. His 50 goals in just over 200 appearances represents a serious strike rate in an underperforming team and, although assist stats just weren’t gobbled up gleefully those days, he was the most likely source of a goal. It seems harsh that Brazil didn’t experience the superb Micky Adams’ promotion campaign of 1996/97 – he had moved on to Barnet by then – the closest he came to experiencing any sort of glory with the Whites was when Ian Branfoot’s side finished three points off the play-off places in 1995.
Brazil was known as a nurturer of young talent in his playing and non-league days and it is arguable that he had just as big an influence on Fulham’s academy – in a very different way – as he has at tonight’s opponents, Nottingham Forest. He took over the under 18s in 2007 when John Murtagh, now director of youth development at Manchester United, was reshaping the youth set-up. Many of the Dallas Cup winning side of 2013 had their talent honed by Brazil’s innovative training sessions, including Marek Rodak, Jack Grimmer, Lasse Vigen Christensen and Cauley Woodrow.
He described the decision to relocate to the Midlands to be closer to his family as one of the toughest he has ever made. Brazil, whose daughter Ellie signed for Tottenham Hotspur this summer after four fabulous with Brighton Hove Albion, has genuine affection for the Whites and remains invested in the club’s success. His stock in youth development has soared following his work, alongside two encouraging caretaker manager stints, in steering a succession of young talents through to senior football at the City Ground. The list of names is quite something: Ollie Burke, Ben Osborn, Joe Worrall, Matty Cash, Jordan Smith, Ben Brereton-Diaz, Djed Spence and Brennan Johnson. He has overseen Forest’s successful pursuit of category one status and there are a host of superb talents for Steve Cooper to keep an eye on.
I was always an impassioned Brazil advocate in those early pub arguments. Funnily enough, it has got easier to make the case for Fulham’s creative hub as the years have gone by. His achievements in youth development are extraordinary – and I’m sure he isn’t finished yet.