From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch...
BUILD UP TO LIVERPOOL
Over the years, there has been a terrible inevitability about what's going to befall Fulham in the various guises of the League Cup. As you wait with baited breath for the draw to be made, as the bag with the balls is given one last shake, you know with a stone cold certainty, and a horrible sinking feeling, who's going to come out of the hat - Liverpool.
The incredible sequence started in 1983, in the then Milk Cup. Malcolm Macdonald's fine young team took the Reds to two replays before finally succumbing to a one-goal defeat in what were probably the finest performances ever by a Fulham side against one of the top teams.
Next up, and most dismally, was the 10-0 reversal in the 1986 Littlewoods Cup. With the Club approaching its lowest ebb, humiliation was total. The second leg at the Cottage was conceded only 2-3, but Liverpool probably fielded their under-12's for that one.
Seven years later in the Coca Cola Cup, the scoreline was halved to just 5-0 at Anfield, with a 3-1 defeat at the Cottage. Robbie Fowler made his debut in those games and scored six of the goals.
Things started to improve with the arrival of Kevin Keegan, and when he took the team to Anfield for the Third Round of the Worthington Cup in 1998, they were unlucky to go down 3-1, a Simon Morgan own-goal and a Michael Owen dive for a penalty contributing to the defeat. Paul Peschisolido's curling strike from the edge of the box will live long in the memory.
And then last season, Jean Tigana's champions took the Reds to extra time, again at Anfield, before the experience and depth of squad of the Premiership side proved just that little bit too much.
There's been one constant at the Club throughout all that time. From his early days as an apprentice, to the position he now finds himself in as part of the backroom staff, Chief Scout John Marshall has seen it all - from the highs of that promising team of the early eighties, through the depressing years of the Club nearly folding, right to the present, where the Club stands on the threshold of true greatness.
He took time off from preparing for Saturday's game to reminisce about his career and in particular the games against Liverpool. Some of the memories are good and some are bad, but all are precious.
"Those first three games against Liverpool were incredible," he remembered, "We did really well. The first game was at the Cottage and I ended up playing up front. I'd only played a handful of games previously, and I'd got to the ground about 5.30 and coach Ray Harford said I was playing in attack!
"So I was up front for the first game, and then I was switched to the right-wing halfway through the second half. In the second game up there, I was again on the wing and then moved to right-back. Finally there was the third game where we lost 1-0 to a twenty-five yard strike from, I think, Graeme Souness.
"Overall in the three games, we had as many chances to win it as they did. There was nothing between the two sides really. We had a decent side then - it was the year after we had just missed out on promotion to the First Division - Tony Gale may have gone by then, but Ray Houghton was playing, Paul Parker was around, there were a lot of good players."
Marshall was very much a utility player throughout his career, probably playing in every position bar goalkeeper before he finally hung up his boots. The way he was switched around in those early games was a fairly typical experience for him.
"In those three games I think I played in four positions! I first came into the side as a wide right midfielder, played a few games there, but was then moved to right back, centre midfield, centre back, up front, all over the place really. There was never a time when I played in just one position.
"Early in my career I liked to play wide right midfield, but really I was just happy to get on the team sheet every week. Playing in the first team was the biggest thing for me. For the first five or six years of my career, before injuries knocked my pace back a bit, that was probably my most consistent and profitable position.
"The first really bad injuries I had were hernias and pelvic problems, which kept me out for five or six months. I remember once, I had a hernia and was back playing in the first team after four weeks without having any training, because we didn't have any other players, and that finished me for that season.
"All those injuries took away my pace a little, which resulted in me playing in a more defensive role. Then I did my knee ligaments, ankle ligaments, broke my leg, so injuries didn't really help my career."
Those early days were a good time to be at Fulham though. With a terrific manager and a superb group of players, it really looked as though the club were going places, but as Marshall says, it wasn't to last.
"When I first started at Fulham it was a really good Club. In my first year there we'd just got relegated to the Third Division. Bobby Campbell was in charge but he left and Malcolm Macdonald came in and we got promoted. Then we just missed out on promotion again after being something like twelve points clear. I think if we'd got up then, with the squad we had and the youngsters who were coming through, we'd certainly have stayed in the old First Division and things might have turned out very differently.
"Those games against Liverpool showed how good we actually were. There was Gerry Peyton in goal; we had Jeff Hopkins, Paul Parker coming through, Dale Tempest, Cliff Carr, Peter Scott, all good young players. If we'd gone up and kept the players like Tony Gale and a few more, and brought in a couple of good signings we would have a really good squad."
Marshall was understandably very reluctant to talk about the next game, the 10-0 debacle. As the interview started to resemble a trip to the dentist, a few words were able to be extracted.
"You have to say," he said, "That side we had out, we were struggling financially, a lot of the players were young and inexperienced, and Liverpool on the night were fantastic. I think they had thirteen shots on target, scored ten goals and missed a penalty. It's embarrassing as a player and for the Club to lose 10-0, but at that time they were probably the best team in Europe.
"As a Club it was a terrible time for us. I played in that game and the second leg that we lost 3-2 - we got a little bit of pride back, but they'd done everything in the first game."
It's not easy staying professional when all around you is falling apart. Marshall was there through the worst of times and he stressed how hard it was just concentrating on the football.
"You have to stay positive because you are being paid to go out on the pitch and perform," he said, "But outside circumstances do influence how the team plays. The preparation for some of our games and the training facilities that we had, it wasn't conducive to going out on the Saturday and producing your best football.
"The Club was in a poor position financially, we weren't getting good crowds, we didn't have a training pitch - at times we had to go out on a Thursday or Friday and use the local park. Your training kit was what you could come up with yourself or what had been around for years. But ultimately the players that we had, they weren't of the quality needed to get the Club out of the position it was in.
"Financial restraints wouldn't allow the manager to go out and purchase better players to improve the squad. At the end of the day it's all about players and if you haven't got the money, whatever you try and do on the pitch, you're going to struggle."
There were mixed blessings for Marshall when the next cup-tie came up. He picked up an injury just before the game, thereby missing the 5-0 thrashing.
"I was injured on the Saturday before the game - I'd ruptured my knee ligaments. I was taken straight into hospital on the Saturday night and had the operation on the Sunday. I had my leg in plaster, and managed to get out of hospital in time to make the trip to Liverpool. So I watched that one - Robbie Fowler did well against us!"
For the next Liverpool trip, the years have rolled by and Marshall, having retired as a player, is now reserve team coach, and sitting on the bench.
"Kevin Keegan liked to take everyone along to the big games," he said, "On the night we gave them a shock. It was a good performance, the first time for years that we showed we could compete against the top sides. We were still in the Second Division, but we acquitted ourselves very well."
Which brings us to last season, with the drama of the extra-time defeat.
"I didn't go to that one," said Marshall, "I was somewhere else watching one of our future opponents. But again, there was nothing in it for ninety minutes. After the first goal we had to press for the equaliser, and it suited them to counter attack and they caught us a couple more times.
"But it was a good basis for us in the League this season, when we went up there, got a good draw, and there was nothing between the sides. They're one of the top four or five Clubs in the country, and a point away from home up there is good. If we can win the home game on Saturday the we'll have taken four points from Liverpool, which is quite something."
After being on the wrong end of the whirlwind that is Arsenal at their very best, Saturday's opponents are going to be a very different proposition. Marshall agrees that it is likely to be quite a contrast.
"Liverpool are more of a counter-attacking side. Arsenal counter-attack as well, but Liverpool are very solid in defence, and they are very dangerous when they break out quickly. It probably suits them more to play away at the moment - they'd scored 10 goals in their last two League games and conceded none - but at home against Everton on Saturday they did run out of ideas a bit, and the crowd got impatient."
Moving back to the man himself for a moment, Marshall explains his current role
"It's developed into working on the preparation for the players on forthcoming opponents. Most of the season I've been working on match assessments - whoever we've got coming up; going to see them, preparing reports, getting my scouts to cover games, and then working for two or three days on the video for the players. What we do is very advanced, I don't think there are many Clubs in the country, or even national sides, who work to the degree of detail that we do."
This degree of sophistication must be something of a culture shock to someone used to the bad old days at Fulham. Marshall admits that he still has to pinch himself when he looks at how far the Club has progressed.
"It's hard to take in at times. They say there's only one place to be, and that's the Premiership. You go to fantastic stadiums, you play in front of full-houses against the top Clubs, it's just where you want to be. As I said before, it's all about the players, and we've bought in and developed some very good players, and hopefully we can go on in the next three, four, five years and have plenty of success.
"I wouldn't change anything in my career at Fulham, the bad times or the good times. You need to have gone through what we went through to really appreciate where we are now. Five or six years ago, we were in the position that York City are in now - facing possible extinction, relegation from the League and no money.
"And here we are, the Chairman's come in and turned everything round. I wouldn't want to not have had the bad times - it makes all this very special."
Finally, how optimistic is Marshall for Saturday? Can the Whites back from their two consecutive defeats?
"Without a doubt. There's not a lot between the sides in the Premiership - Southampton have taken four points off Liverpool this season - so there's absolutely no reason why we can't win on Saturday."