There were many magical nights in Fulham’s incredible run to the Europa League final but one Craven Cottage evening that doesn’t get discussed as much as it arguably should is the night – eight years ago today – when Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff combined to defeat Wolfsburg in the quarter final first leg.
Going into the game, I remember being particularly worried that the Whites might not be able to match the phenomenal performance levels they produced in the previous round to complete that still scarcely believable comeback against the mighty Juventus. Wolfsburg, the reigning Bundesliga champions, travelled to London in good form despite mounting a poor defence of their title, which saw Felix Magath (remember him?) sacked, having won one of their last ten fixtures.
The first half was a nervy and rather pedestrian affair – as the enormity of the occasion had got to Roy Hodgson’s side. Fulham did well to largely nullify the visitors’ dangerous striking duo of Edin Dzeko and Grafite, but struggled to create many clear-cut chances themselves. It wouldn’t have been difficult to imagine Hodgson plaintively asking his players for more during the half-time team talk – and the Whites obliged with a much more adventurous and penetrative second half showing.
Zamora’s partnership with Zoltan Gera was pivotal to Fulham’s remarkable progress in Europe that year – and the pair combined beautifully to break the deadlock. The Hungarian’s perceptive pass to find Zamora floated fully 30 yards across field. It might not be remembered as instantaneously as his wonder strike against Shakhtar Donetsk, but it was a beautiful piece of finishing all the same – with the forward stirring yet more England talk with another lovely curler off his left side, making the most of a clever decoy run from Duff, who had intelligently drawn defenders away from the Fulham forward.
This correspondent felt Duff’s consistent excellence didn’t get the credit it deserved throughout that European adventure. His experience of the big occasion proved invaluable for an unfancied side who suddenly found themselves in the latter stages of the competition. Duff was always a handful for defenders – and the loss of that trademark pace that made him such a devastating winger at his peak – actually turned him into a more intelligent footballer. Like Zamora, the Irishman was on fire that year. Had the pair been fully fit for the final I firmly believe the outcome would have been different against Atletico Madrid.
It was Duff and Zamora who combined so smartly for the goal that gave Fulham some breathing space. The often underrated Paul Konchesky drove the Whites forward with an ambitious run down the left and Zamora held up the ball brilliantly before cushioning it perfectly into Duff’s pass – and the winger fired home clinically, as he often seemed to do, with a modicum of fuss from twelve yards. The joy was unconfined and the way Fulham were able to turn on at will against one of the continent’s leading sides convinced many that Hodgson’s men belonged at this level. People also forget that Simon Davies, lauded for his efforts later in that European run, turned in a great display at right back that night.
My match report that evening fretted about the consequences of Alex Madlung’s late header from a corner that handed Wolfsburg – whose squad featured future Fulham favourites Sasha Riether and Ashkan Dejagah – a precious away goal, but another Zamora moment of magic seconds into the return leg happily rendered that particular piece of sloppy defending academic. Those European nights at the Cottage were so special – and I’m sure I’m not the only Fulham fan who savours the memories of the Whites putting Europe’s best to the sword even now.
This week saw the announcement from former Fulham captain Danny Murphy that he was retiring from Professional Football.
In an age where a club like Fulham is often a stepping stone for players on the way up, or the way down, it is rare for players to ever achieve legendary status amongst the fans. Danny Murphy is one such player.
With the modern player stays are often short, exits can be acrimonious and performances often wavering. Not with our Danny. When Martin Jol decided to call time on Murphy’s Fulham career after five years, Danny showed immeasurable class in not speaking out, despite obvious and justified disappointment.
The last leg of his career saw him drop down a division with the promise of a two year contract from fallen former Premierleague champions Blackburn Rovers. It seems an ill-fitting end that such a top performer and footballing gentleman’s last professional appearances were under-appreciated and largely unseen in a division where brute force dominates ahead of wisdom and guile.
As ever, though, Danny, the model professional, simply got on with life in the Championship. Symbolic of a career where under-appreciation was a recurring theme; despite 170 league appearances for Liverpool, Danny was often overshadowed in the eyes of some by the meteoric rise of some of those around him, in particular Steven Gerrard. While Gerrard, now England captain, made an early career living out of 35 yard wonder strikes and 60 yard passes, it was Murphy that made Liverpool tick. Like Fulham fans, Liverpool fans would never forget Danny.
A Liverpool supporting friend of mine would always come to Fulham once or twice a season with me when Danny was at Craven Cottage, only to spend 90 minutes watching and cheering Murphy’s every move. As a Liverpool fan, Danny was one of them.
He is also one of us. His leadership, desire and ability made him a favourite amongst the Fulham Faithful. That goal at Portsmouth, one of the single most important in Fulham’s history, can never be forgotten.
That goal alone would have led Danny to go down in Fulham folklore. It was what followed that made him a legend.
The run to the Europa League Final saw Danny lead Fulham on our greatest ever adventure. There was a goal at home to Basel that I remember, but furthermore it was his leadership. A talisman, Danny symbolised all that was good about Roy Hodgson’s Fulham. Honest, hardworking and with a touch of flair.
Danny also had that special something that the rest of football would kill for – the uncanny ability to beat Manchester United. There were the free kicks at Old Trafford in his Liverpool days and then there were the victories for Fulham. For two glorious years the biggest team in English football were surreptitiously beaten and forced to leave Craven Cottage with their tails between their legs. Oh those were the days.
Since his departure there has been a void at Fulham. Whether it’s the on field leadership, the role of the off-field figurehead, the Murphy turn that always won him time on the ball or the ability to play a pass when you needed it most, he’s never quite been replaced. To suggest he could be would be remiss. Players like Danny don’t come along very often. Thankfully, we could call this one our own.
Thanks for everything Danny and best of luck for the future. You’re welcome back any time.
I’ve written a couple of non-Fulhamish posts for another good blog site, Off the Post. I’ve managed to sneak a couple of Fulham-related references into one, but feel free to read both and spark up a lively debate. Or not.
Me on the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regs and Manchester
Me on the daftness of tempting fate
That blasted volcano in Iceland has already wreaked havoc with a few Fulham fans’ travel itinerary and might now put paid to the Europa League semi-finals as well.
UEFA are meeting on Monday to discuss their plans, according to the BBC.