Tucked away towards the bottom of an entertaining interview in Saturday’s Scotsman with Don Mackay is the 72 year-old’s take on how his ill-fated time as Fulham manager ended.
Mackay spent three years at Craven Cottage and things deteriorated pretty quickly after a fairly promising start. Many fans held him responsible for the club’s lamentable descent down to the old Fourth Division, although the man himself still feels badly let down by chairman Jimmy Hill, who stormed into the dressing room to lambast his manager at half time during a London derby at Leyton Orient, having already appeared by the visiting dugout during the first half.
Hill couldn’t help himself. At half-time, and with Fulham trailing 2-0, he barged into the dressing-room.
“I have been here for so long, I deserve my say,” he informed Mackay. “He told the players, you are not doing this right, you are not doing that right. Then he went out of the door, and pointed at me and said: ‘you sort it out’.”
He did to an extent, with Fulham managing to score twice before conceding an equaliser at the end. Still, it was a point. According to Mackay, just nine more were needed from ten games to avoid relegation. He was not given the chance to earn them; he was let go the following day, and Fulham ended up a point shy of safety.
“I always used to go up to the boardroom to thank the opposition directors, manager and none of the Fulham directors were there, which was unusual,” he recalls. “On the Sunday morning the vice-chairman came to see me. He said: ‘you are no longer manager, we are taking it from you’.
“The thing that annoyed me is that Jimmy Hill never even told me, he went off to the League Cup final, I saw him on television. We haven’t spoken since.”
Just reliving that unfortunate episode makes it easy to reflect on just how far Fulham have come in the last twenty years. Mackay comes across as a thoughtful man with plenty of amusing anecdotes in the interview, but he had inherited a pretty promising side and oversaw a sorry slump. One of the gentleman who sits near me in the Hammersmith End still hasn’t forgiven Mackay for signing Mark Cooper, who scored one of the goals that relegated Fulham when playing for Exeter, after two years at the Cottage that were both frustrating and forgettable.
If you’re a Fulham fan, you’ll never tire of reading about the Maestro. Dominic Bliss has penned some terrific reflections on Johnny Haynes over at The Inside Left, which features some lovely recollections from his good friend and team-mate Tosh Chamberlain as well as the thoughts of a man who had the difficult job of marking Haynes, Tommy Docherty. It’s well worth a look.
The Birmingham Mail carries a moving interview with former Fulham striker Geoff Horsfield, who is recovering after blood clots on his lungs left him close to death for a second time.
Horsfield, who has already fought a successful battle against cancer, was rushed for emergency hospital treatment last month after experiencing excruciating pain. Doctors discovered potentially life-threatening blood clots on both of his lungs – which they believe could have been caused by Horsfield’s habit of exercising on a treadmill. Horsfield, a father of four, admitted he had never felt any like the terrible pain that woke him up early in the morning last month:
I am very, very lucky. This came from nowhere. I’ve never known pain like it, and after what happened with the cancer I know I’ve had an escape again.
It was about 4am and I was crying my eyes out, I couldn’t breathe. From my shoulder blades down to my backside, it was if there was someone stabbing me in the back. I told my missus, Tina, that I’d just take a couple of tablets and hopefully it would go away. But she could see I was in a state.
She called an ambulance and I was taken to Burton Hospital. They injected my leg with morphine on the way there and it was thought I may have cracked a rib and punctured my lung. I said “but how have I done that?”, though, and had a scan. When the results came back they told me they had good news and bad news: the good news was that I hadn’t broken any ribs, the bad news was that I had blood clots on my lungs.
I had several on my left hand side, several on the right, including a very big clot. I couldn’t believe it. And I wasn’t aware of how serious it might have been until the nurses told me that had circumstances been different, had the clots not gone to my lungs but straight to my heart, it would have been game over.
In the last two weeks I’ve had morphine, tramadol, codeine and paracetamol. I’ve lost one-and-a-half stone in weight and can’t do anything. I’m out of breath even if I go upstairs. The tablets have turned me into a zombie and I’ve not been able to sleep. But I am just so thankful that I was rushed in to hospital when I was and the treatment I received was first class, I can’t thank the consultants and nurses enough.
I know my own body, I know when I’ve had a pull when I’ve played football. I felt something but it didn’t hurt and I carried on. That’s when it started. Five to seven days later, I was taken to hospital. I’ve been told something like this is hereditary. When Tina [his wife] rang my mum to tell her what had happened she collapsed on the kitchen floor as my nan died 12 months to the day from a blood clot to the lung. So, so scary – I am just thankful I’m still here.
Horsfield, a firm crowd favourite at every club he played for due to his energy and work rate, signed for Fulham after then manager Kevin Keegan was impressed the former brick-layer’s start to professional football, scoring seven goals in his first ten Third Division appearances for Halifax, whom he had helped fire to the Football League. Horsfield, who joined Fulham for £300,000 in October 1998, had an immediate impact at Craven Cottage. He scored fifteen goals in 28 games as the Whites romped to the Second Divison title – and when Keegan took on the national team job, chants of ‘Horsfield for England’ could be heard from the terraces.
Having made the PFA’s Second Division Team of the Year, Horsfield’s physicality aided Fulham’s start to the First Division season under new manager Paul Bracewell. He scored twice at St. Andrew’s on the opening day of the season and was sent off for violent conduct and, although he was less prolific in front of goal at a higher level, Horsfield still finished the 1999-2000 season as Fulham’s top scorer with fourteen goals. Seven of those goals came in the League Cup – including a sublime strike in the third round win over Tottenham – as Fulham reached the quarter finals before losing on penalties at Leicester City.
Bracewell’s replacement Jean Tigana felt Horsfield was too one-dimensional to fit his more continental style and replaced the burly forward with Louis Saha. Horsfield joined Birmingham for a club record £2.25m, becoming the Blues’ top scorer in his first season at the club and he scored twice in the League Cup semi-final to fire Birmingham to a showpiece final against his boyhood club, Liverpool, which they lost after a penalty shoot-out. The following year, Horsfield was voted Birmingham’s player of the year after helping the club return to the top flight via the play-offs, scoring the equaliser against Norwich in the final.
Horsfield scored his first league goal in a famous derby win against local rivals Aston Villa and, in the return fixture, he ended up replacing the injured Nico Vaesen in goal after Blues’ had used all of their substitutes. Despite being used largely as a substitute by Steve Bruce, Horsfield’s partnership with French World Cup winner Christophe Dugary helped keep Birmingham up as the club managed four wins and a draw in the final five games.
After a brief spell at Wigan, Horsfield joined West Brom for £1m in December 2003. He enjoyed an excellent January, winning the First Division’s player of the month award, and his seven league goals were crucial in propelling Albion back to the top flight. Horsfield struggled to make much of an impact on his return to the Premier League, but he played a starring role in West Brom’s great escape on the final day of the season. He scored with his first touch as a substitute against Portsmouth and then made the winner for Kieran Richardson and described the day ‘as the best achievement of my career’. Horsfield also featured for Sheffield United, Leeds and Lincoln before becoming player-coach at Port Vale.
We wish Geoff all the very best in recovering from his illness.
Ironically, given Dimitar Berbatov’s choice of t-shirt on Boxing Day, calmness is in short supply among the Fulham faithful at the moment. Given the hysterical reaction to what was another ultimately disappointing display three days, you could have been forgiven for thinking Martin Jol’s side had been trounced by Southampton rather than actually picking up a point. I’ve long since given up posting on the various Fulham forums and messageboards and, due to a difficult pre-Christmas period of my own, haven’t been able to string sentences together here, either but, hours before what has again been billed as ‘must-win’ game by some sections of support, a sense of perspective is necessary.
There’s no denying that Fulham are on a dismal run. The Whites have won just one of their last eleven fixtures and haven’t kept a clean sheet since the short journey down the Fulham Road a month ago. The fluid, eye-catching football that set pulses racing in the early weeks of the football has been glimpsed briefly, but is fleeting rather than frequent. Jol’s adoption of a more attacking mind-set has left previously reliable defenders, like Brede Hangeland, alarmingly exposed – and injuries have ruptured the spine of what was a strong side. Without high quality understudies, any team will look weaker without Mahmadou Diarra, Damien Duff, Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov.
But the problems aren’t insurmountable and Fulham’s plight is far from terminal. The Whites might have picked up one fewer point than at this stage last season, but there is a six-point gap between their current position and the relegation zone. This isn’t a situation reminiscent of when Lawrie Sanchez was sacked just before Christmas five years ago – or, in my view, comparable to when Mark Hughes’ team lingered above the drop zone, a little more recently. Jol’s side have played some scintillating football this season – think back to that afternoon at Arsenal six weeks ago – and can rediscover their joie de vivre.
Furthermore, managerial changes aren’t the way to achieve success. The three changes in management in over the last two seasons have seen a dizzying turnover in players, coaches and philosophies as well as scuppering any realistic chance of using that remarkable run to Hamburg as a springboard. Patience might have left the footballing lexicon of late, but those who exercise it are often rewarded. English football would look a lot different today had Manchester United’s board parted ways with Sir Alex Ferguson early in his reign – and, if Martin Jol should be looking anxiously over his shoulder after eighteen months at the Cottage, then it would imply that Roman’s Russian roulette wheel brand of stewardship is contagious.
The title of the piece comes from the phrase with which Micky Adams, who started Fulham’s climb from the abyss, used to finish his programme notes. It is as apt now as it was in the weeks after a feisty full-back stepped into Ian Branfoot’s shoes with the oldest club in London position perilously close to the Football League’s trap door. A more recent parallel would be when a lone voice at the back of the Hammersmith End implored his fellow Fulham fans to ‘stand up if you believe’ as Hamburg look likely to end that magical European run. I don’t need to remind anybody of what followed.
Watching Fulham can be frustrating but we’re lucky enough to be watching two real artisans, in Ruiz and Berbatov, in one of the most idyllic settings in the country. Not too long ago, Premier League football didn’t look like it was returning to Craven Cottage. When the new league broke away in 1992, the men in white coats would have ferried you away if you suggested it ever would. Jol has brought a classy Costa Rican and a brilliant Bulgarian to Fulham as well accelerating the development of Kerim Frei and Alex Kacaniklic through first-team football. His work’s obviously unfinished – so let’s keep calm and keep the faith.
It started shortly after Arsenal surrended that two-goal lead in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday night. Another Arsenal crisis, more woeful Wenger wailing and some of publicity-hungry members of the punditocracy pounded arguably Arsenal’s greatest every manager. Everybody knows that it’s been a while since the Gunners were aiming their fire at England’s elite – never mind the cream of the continent – but the belief suddenly coarsing through a few Fulham veins, as illustrated by the text messages I’ve received from some of my fellow travellers to north London this afternoon, makes me very nervous.
When good teams go through slumps, they usually pummel some poor opponents into submission. Fulham have played that role against some of the poorer sides in the Premier League, but they’ll need to be playing at a level we’ve not seen away from home since the tail end of last season to break their Arsenal hodoo. The Whites have never won at Arsenal in any competition – some 26 fixtures – and, although, the statistics look a little better since the red half of north London said an emotional goodbye to Highbury, it provides only the slightest crumb of comfort.
Furthermore, Martin Jol’s not beaten Arsene Wenger on his own patch. The Dutchman, who will be forever seen as a former Spurs manager in Arsenal eyes, probably never enjoyed anything Bobby Zamora did quite as much as the injury-time strike that tipped a tempesturous tie Fulham’s way last January. Fulham have only picked up four points in more than a century of visiting Arsenal: one of those was an outrageous heist overseen by Chris Coleman which owed an enormous debt to the goalkeeping of Edwin van der Sar and another was a far more expansive display when Roy Hodgson’s showed a little more elan that was usually offered away from home.
Last season’s point was the closest Fulham had come to heading back home with an overdue victory. It owed much to Jol’s persistence with Bryan Ruiz, whose encouraging hour and a bit showed there was plenty more to look forward to despite a spluttering start to his stint by the Thames, as well as an awkward Arsenal defence. They were prized upon by a Danny Murphy pass (the former Fulham skipper will be replaced by Dimitar Berbatov this afternoon as the object of the Emirates’ ire, I supect) and John Arne Riise’s cross was turned into his own net by Thomas Vermaelen. Only eight minutes remained when the Belgian burst forward from the back to make amends – heading home with aplomb.
The restlessness in the red half of Highbury and Islington is understandable after seven years without a trophy. You’d have got extraordinary odds on Fulham reaching a European final before Arsenal on the night the Gunners were shot down by two late Barcelona strikes in Paris in 2006. But after the insipid display at Old Trafford and the sloppy squandering of a strong position against Schalke in midweek, even a mild philosopher like Wenger will demand a response from his charges. What better way to banish the talk of their worst start under the Frenchman than with a stylish showing against their fellow Londoners who start the afternoon on the same number of points.
The tuteledge of Steve Bould was widely credited with shoring up a creaking defence earlier in the season, but in the aftermath of Old Trafford, it seems to have been forgotten that Arsenal have the best defensive record in the divsion. Only eight goals conceded suggests that when Wenger is able to select his strongest back five, the back door might be bolted firmly shut. The evidence of the past fortnight suggests that it probably shouldn’t include Andre Santos for any number of reasons.
Even without the suspended Jack Wilshere this afternoon, the Gunners have quality in forward areas that others could only marvel at. Lukas Poldoski’s problems acclimatising to the English game could be a thing of the past come five o’clock, such is the German’s talent. It would also be a brave man who bet against Oliver Giroud scoring Arsenal’s first league headed goal, such has been Fulham’s fraility in the air so far this season. Wenger could still call on Walcott’s searing pace and the answer to Arsenal’s lack of penetration in central areas might be to try the England international through the middle, which has often appeared his most natural position.
Chris Baird might be right to suggest the pressure’s all on Arsenal. But the hand of history only points to this fixture finishing in either in a creditable stalemate or enducing numbing disappointment. The hosts will be keen to assert their supremacy once again. Fulham had better be prepared to resist an early flurry at the Emirates this afternoon.