Every Fulham fan has a Kevin McDonald memory. From that scrambled, scrappy goal at Barnsley that went in off his backside to the blockboster at Millwall, some will be decisive moments in matches. Others will be deeply personal and hint at the Scot’s unique character. One Fulham fan I know tells me of how he shared the news that he’d contracted coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic with a WhatsApp group that contained over a hundred fellow Fulham fanatics. Two hours later, he received a message from an unknown number. It was a video from McDonald expressing his sympathy, wishing him well and telling him it was nothing to worry about.

That was typical of McDonald, who made a decisive difference on and off the pitch almost as known as Fulham finally concluded their two-year pursuit to bring the Carnoustie-born meticulous midfielder from Wolves to Craven Cottage. Knowing what we now do about his remarkable battle with kidney disease after he publicised the impending – and thankfully successful – transplant provided by his brother in his final months with the club, McDonald’s entire career seems incredible. You’d never have known he was fighting his own body at the same time as he provided security, reassurance and no little intelligence at the base of a midfield magically reshaped by Slavisa Jokanovic.

The understanding between McDonald, who revealed recently that he had never played as deep as where Jokanovic deployed him in a storied career that saw him win promotions with Wolves, Sheffield United and Burnley before decamping from the west Midlands to the capital. In typical McDonald fashion, he turned up for the medical after a heavy night and there was worry from both sides about whether the deal to bring in the defensive midfielder Fulham badly needed would go through. It did and the rest is history. The understanding between our three midfield musketeers – McDonald, Stefan Johansen and Tom Cairney – appeared almost telepathic at times and was a key reason why the Whites suddenly looked like promotion contenders in Jokanovic’s first full campaign at the helm and then put together than remarkable 23-match unbeaten run that took a stuttering side to the brink of automatic promotion.

The play-off final at a sunkissed Wembley was a day that will live long in the memory of those who were lucky enough to witness. There was the gnawing nervousness at the pit of our stomachs as we waited for the 5.30pm kick off time. We all marvelled at the magnificence of the white wall. Then came the euphoria of a Fulham goal at Wembley, with Cairney classily converting Ryan Sessegnon’s superb through ball. For a brief moment, it looked like it might be plain sailing. But Fulham don’t do things that easily. Denis Odoi’s sending off sent my heart rate into the stratosphere. Marshalling a slender lead against the favourites with ten men called for calm.

We all remember Marcus Bettinelli saving from Jack Grealish, but McDonald’s sliding challenge denied the man who’s now one of England’s most creative players a clear shot on goal. He was there organising the back four, bellowing out in instructions, screaming at the midfield to drop deeper and pointing at his forehead demanding concentration in the closing stages. Ollie Norwood’s perfectly timed tackle to thwart Conor Hourihane was iconic, but – not for the first time – Fulham would have been dead and buried without McDonald’s leadership.

Cairney wore the armband – and has grown in the captaincy – but McDonald was the heartbeat of this and several other successful Fulham sides. He was the one who led the celebrations in front of the Fulham faithful once the trophy had been lifted, exhorting us all to enjoy one of the finest days in the club’s history. He could often be seen given the final words in the huddle before kick off that season and the same was true after promotion had been secured in the Wembley dressing rooms. One of my favourite photographs – taken by lifelong fan Javier Garcia – captures McDonald talking to his team-mates and praising the unsung heroes, the club staff not in the dressing room, the volunteers, coaches and the fans who had done so much to take the Whites to the top flight.

Elite sport rarely provides fairytale endings and, in Fulham’s dash to try and compete after that magical day in north west London, big money signings replaced the backbone of a side who understood the fabric of London’s oldest professional football club without any of the application. McDonald rarely featured in the campaign that followed, split between three managers, but proved his worth again the following season as the Whites bounced back from relegation. His tumble down the stairs after Joe Bryan’s brilliant free-kick against Brentford is arguably as iconic as anything else he managed in the white shirt.

My own encounters with a man whose influence was legendary were limited but instructive. He once spotted me walking out of Motspur Park after a meeting and accompanied on foot almost all the way to the station, even though he was probably going the other way after training. We talked about football, my cerebral palsy and Scotland. Fiercely patriotic, McDonald was proud to have played for his country. He certainly should have had more caps.

His time at Fulham came to a low key end, with his need for dialysis and a transplant throwing his playing career into significant doubt. It is a testament to McDonald’s strength of character that he returned to his home city to play for Dundee United last term. Plenty of fans signed the card that the Fulham Supporters’ Trust put together as he prepared for his transplant, but we haven’t had the opportunity to pay tribute to a man who is more than his mere statistics until this afternoon. McDonald, who has been training with Fulham’s under 21s as he continues to amass coaching experience, will receive a richly deserved Forever Fulham award from the club’s non-executive director David Daly at half-time this afternoon. I know the stands often empty ahead of the interval for people to get liquid refreshment, and normally Kev would heartily approve, but we should all stay in our seats to give the big man the rapturous reception he deserves.

Thanks for everything, Kev.