Ahead of tomorrow night’s trip to Birmingham City, we’ve taken a look back at a few famous wins at St. Andrew’s. There’s the night Jean Tigana’s French revolution introduced itself to a national television audience, memories of a Mark Pembridge piledriver, when the late Papa Bouba Diop sealed a famous comeback and how Hugo Rodallega lifted the Whites off the bottom of the Championship table back in 2014. I’m sure you have plenty more memories – so feel free to share those in the comments.
Birmingham City 1-3 Fulham (18 August 2000)
This was one of the first indications that Jean Tigana’s Fulham were set to be something special. Trevor Francis lauded the Whites’ wonderful performance as the best he’d ever seen at St. Andrew’s. In a clash billed as Geoff Horsfield’s opportunity to remind Fulham what they were missing out on after the cult hero was shipped out of Craven Cottage shortly after Tigana’s arrival, it was the visitors who made all the running in front of the Sky cameras. John Collins crashed home a first minute opener from the edge of the box before Louis Saha intercepted a dreadful pass from Darren Purse to double Fulham’s lead and, although Danny Sonner halved the hosts’ arrears, a quick free kick from Sean Davis restored the two-goal cushion.
This clash wouldn’t live long in the memory in terms of quality but, at a time when Chris Coleman’s side were struggling to pick up results, Fulham showed real resilience to complete a serious smash and grab raid to reach the fourth round of the League Cup. Mark Crossley made several outstanding saves to deny Dwight Yorke, Julian Gray and Jesper Gronkjaer as Blues dominated the contest, but it was Fulham who progressed despite barely threatening the home goal. The decisive goal was worthy of winning any game as veteran midfielder Mark Pembridge darted in from the left flank and curled an unstoppable 30-yarder past former Fulham keeper Maik Taylor.
Papa Bouba Diop’s late header secured all three points for Fulham as the Whites came from behind to win a fiery fixture at St. Andrew’s. Chris Coleman’s men scored twice in five second half minutes as time ticked away and Birmingham looked to be heading for a crucial home win. The visitors shrugged off the setback of conceding Moritz Volz’s own goal after Edwin van der Sar had saved from Emile Heskey, but the home crowd were furious with referee Phil Dowd after he adjudged that Damien Johnson had brought down Luis Boa Morte inside the box. Andrew Cole converted the penalty and, with the locals still fuming, Diop rose majestically at the back post to head home Mark Pembridge’s free-kick to steal all three points.
This was a meeting of two former Fulham team-mates with Lee Clark in charge of Blues, whilst Kit Symons had been handed the Craven Cottage hotseat following the end of Felix Magath’s disastrous tenure. A late strike from Hugo Rodallega earned Fulham’s first win at the ninth time of asking and Symons’ side showed great character to battle their way to three points after trailing to David Cotterill’s beautiful curling effort. German full back Tim Hoogland rifled home an equaliser just after the hour when Nikolay Bodurov’s effort fell kindly for him at a corner, before Rodallega punished some sloppy home defending to steer home the winner from a tight angle – sparking scenes of unbridled joy amongst the travelling support.
Grief is a terrible and yet necessary thing. It has become much more common over the last few months as we’ve all lost friends, family members and pillars of the community and must still navigate some sort of daily routine in the strangest of the times. The news that Papa Bouba Diop had passed away aged just 42 hit particularly hard this afternoon: footballers have ridiculously short careers and, in totality, they should be just a fraction of a well-lived life. Diop, who packed so much into his own footballing story, deserved to have much more time to enjoy.
I remember being astonished – and extremely excited – that Fulham had won the race to sign Diop in the summer of 2004. The rumoured £6m fee seemed like a snip, especially since he had exploded into the consciousness of the footballing world with that special goal as Senegal shocked France in the World Cup and followed that up with some fine performances for Lens. He added a much-needed physical presence in midfield for a Fulham side that were sometimes far too easily brushed aside and a little passive in their play, but there was plenty of finesse to go with his fortitude as well.
Diop’s first season at Craven Cottage was spectacular. He was an automatic pick in Chris Coleman’s side and seemed to save his most eye-catching performances for the big games. There was a stunning first goal for the club, a ridiculous volley against Chelsea that briefly levelled the scores in a wondrously open local derby against Jose Mourinho’s men, and – of course – the outrageous strike that rescued a point against Manchester United three minutes from the time. Fulham had more than matched Sir Alex Ferguson’s side that night in a display full of spirit and verve but nobody looked capable of beating Roy Carroll until Diop delivered a thunderbolt from Mark Pembridge’s innocuous looking pass and set off on that memorable run towards the Cottage. It holds a special place in my heart, having come as an especially well-timed birthday present.
It was obvious after such an immediate impact that Diop would become of the Cottage’s cult heroes. Famously, the cry of ‘shoot’ would ring out for years afterwards – even if he had barely crossed the halfway line. His goals were rather more prosaic after that, but he popped up with vital ones throughout his Fulham career. There was a header at Birmingham City and a gorgeous whipped free-kick against Norwich City on the final day of the season – he scored seven in total in his first year with the Whites and was easily the club’s player of the year. Those celebratory dances will live long in the memory too.
Diop was a pivotal figure on the field, breaking up play and providing protection for a defence that was sometimes brittle against the league’s larger lights, but he was just as important off the pitch too. His persona when not playing was very different to the one you saw on the television: he was warm, happy and a gentle soul. He took very seriously the idea of looking after the young players coming through the club’s academy, as you can see from the messages on social media this evening. The idea that someone as imposing as Diop wasn’t a fan of flying – and would frequently be holding hands with a club employee to settle his nerves as a plane took off or landed – seems prepostorous, but I’m told it is absolutely true.
There was a sense that Diop’s Fulham career never fully flourished. He struggled for both form and fitness towards the tail end of his time at Craven Cottage and was allowed to leave for Portsmouth by Lawrie Sanchez on transfer deadline day in 2007. The man himself certainly subscribed to that view, saying subsequently that he hadn’t felt ready to leave Fulham and was sad that he couldn’t say goodbye to the Cottage faithful. His subsequent career still saw plenty of highs, winning the FA Cup with Pompey and the Greek Cup with AEK Athens, as well as earning promotion back to the top flight with West Ham.
You’ll have your own memories of Diop in a Fulham shirt. Mine comes from a trip to Motspur Park when I was much younger. I was there to meet someone else but he noticed me in the car park. We’d never met before but he strode over with purpose, perhaps noticing that I had cerebral palsy and was struggling to walk that day. He offered his hand, flashed that wonderful smile and said, ‘Keep smiling, young man’. I told him I would and, even if it will be tough after today, I’ll be true to my word. After all, that small exchange – mundane as it may be – rather sums up the man.
Fulham and Everton are among a host of European clubs considering testing Toulouse’s resolve to hold onto their talented young centre half Issa Diop, according to a Daily Mail report this afternoon.
The 21 year-old centre back has previously caught the attention of the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan, Arsenal and Tottenham with a string of composed displays for his club and at youth level for France. Fulham scouts have watched him several times since January. The athletic defender, who would certainly fit Slavisa Jokanovic’s ball-playing mould for centre halves, is highly thought of in France and enhanced his burgeoning reputation by helping Toulouse avoid relegation from Ligue 1 this season. He had previously performed similar heroics when being thrust into the heat of another relegation battle in 2015, at the age of just 18.
Diop, who made 41 appearances for Toulouse and scored three goals this season, is valued at more than £25m by Toulouse, who consider his leadership qualities as just as important as his undoubted potential. He has impressed as club captain despite his tender age and has made more than hundred appearances for his hometown club, whom he joined aged nine. With another two years to run on his Toulouse contract, it would take a substantial offer to prise him away and there would be a number of leading clubs in the queue for his signature.
Fulham are certainly in the market for new centre backs ahead of their return to the top flight. Slavisa Jokanovic has already been linked with a move for longstanding target Aden Flint and is also reportedly considering trying to conclude a permanent deal with Chelsea for Czech international Tomas Kalas, who has spent the last two seasons on loan at Craven Cottage.
Fulham’s midfielder powerhouse Papa Bouba Diop has explained why he left Fulham to join Portsmouth on the last day of the summer transfer window.
The Senegal international had been one of Fulham’s leading lights under previous boss Chris Coleman, believes he has now joined a club capable of pushing for honours and qualifying for Europe, which he didn’t see happening at Craven Cottage.
“Portsmouth have the squad and management to push for honours and are good enough to be playing European football next season,” Diop told the Daily Star on Sunday.
“I didn’t get that feeling at Fulham and when the new manager Lawrie Sanchez came in, it was best that I moved on.