This afternoon Craven Cottage welcomes back one of the most pivotal figures in Fulham’s history. Micky Adams made only have managed 35 appearances in three injury-hit seasons after being lured to south west London from Southampton by Ian Branfoot, but he made a decisive difference after replacing his mentor in the dugout after the Whites had slumped to 91st in the league and were beaten by the only side lower than them in a dismal defeat at Torquay in February 1996.

Adams, embarking on his first managerial role, quickly gained an understanding of how brutal life in the hot seat could be when Fulham allowed former captain Alan Mullery to castigate his appointment from inside their historic home ground. He was still something an enigma to most of the Fulham faithful, who knew him best for bending in brilliant free kicks in his sporadic first-team appearances, but he quickly made an impression on both the fans and his former team-mates. Adams’ programme notes, which ended with the familiar exhortation of ‘keep the faith’, were always enlightening, sprinkled with proverbs and Latin references, whilst he also opted for uncompromising approach with the press, which made for good copy.

Most importantly of all, Adams had an immediate impact on the pitch. The Whites drew his first three games, gaining the club’s first clean sheet in four months at Cambridge United, before a Rob Scott brace secured a vital win over Exeter City in front of more than 4,000 fans – double the gates of a month earlier. Fulham then won at Doncaster Rovers, came from 2-0 down to draw with Darlington and won 4-1 at Cardiff City. Three successive defeats didn’t dent Adams’ belief in his players as they beat Leyton Orient and put four past promotion-chasing Plymouth Argyle at Craven Cottage. By the time, the Whites had held Gillingham, who would go up in second place, to a goalless draw in the final home game of the season, Fulham were seventeenth and Adams was telling the newspapers to judge him on what he did next season.

That proved a prescient instruction. The manager publicly backed the misfiring Micky Conroy, who scored 23 goals as Fulham raced to a remarkable promotion, and coaxed stellar seasons out of skipper Simon Morgan, whose brilliant On Song for Promotion book chronicled the campaign, Terry Angus and Mark Blake. Adams’ real genius came in a transfer market where there was no cash to splash. In came Paul Watson from Gillingham’s reserves to play a pivotal role at full back, the shaggy-haired Darren Freeman also arrived from Prestfield, whilst the talented Danny Cullip signed from Oxford United to bolster Fulham’s defensive options. The classy Matt Lawrence arrived later in the season to add competition at right back. The combativeness of Fulham’s engine room went up several notches with the acquisitions of Glenn Cockerill from Leyton Orient and Richard Carpenter, another shrewd signing from Gillingham.

Consolidation of their place in Division Three was considered to be the target after a tumultuous few seasons, but Adams had other ideas. He had a preferred starting eleven with thirteen players starting at least half of the league games and the success of several honest professionals made them cult heroes. Robbie Herrera, who played in the 1993-94 relegation season, made have looked like a Colombian drug baron but he was one of the most consistent left backs in the league, whilst Nick Cusack was transformed from a forward into a holding midfielder.

Fulham got off to a flyer, losing just two of their first nine league fixtures as well as registering six straight away wins between August and October, and never looked back. There are many memorable days, starting probably with Freeman’s first Fulham goal – a glancing header to seal a midweek win at Exeter City, the week in which the Whites scored three goals in all of three matches to see off Doncaster, Cambridge and Hull City, and, of course, the 6-0 thumping of Darlington in the New Year. Legendary away days included when Angus led the singing at Leyton Orient as the Whites won a feisty London derby, the incredible day at Carlisle when Fulham came from behind to win courtesy of that goal from Rodney McAree and when promotion was clinched on an emotional night at Mansfield.

Within twelve months, Adams and most of Fulham’s promotion heroes had departed. The manager was harshly treated at the start of the Mohamed Al-Fayed revolution, especially as he had solidified the club’s future (Fulham were able to conclude a deal with the Royal Bank of Scotland to secure the long-term use of the Cottage) and put the club on the Egyptian’s radar courtesy of winning our first promotion in fifteen years. There would have been no remarkable rise through the divisions, no Great Escape or two trips to Hamburg, without the building blocks put in place by a plain-speaking lad from Sheffield.

Adams gave London’s oldest professional football back its pride – and, just as importantly, allowed some long-suffering fans to dream. He deserves the most rapturous of receptions this afternoon when he collects his richly deserved Forever Fulham award from David Daly, if only because the Cottage never had the opportunity to pay tribute following his sudden departure. There’s only one Micky Adams.