It’s a bit harsh to accuse any professional footballer of going to the dogs, but in the case of ex-Fulham centre forward Roger Cross, there’s an element of truth in the statement.
For evidence, look no further than a matchday programme from 1972, where you’ll find a photograph of Cross sitting proudly with his award winning boxer dog, Fairfield Full-Cry.
“It was Harry Redknapp who started it,” Cross laughs when reminded of this. “He’d got hold of a dog through someone who bred show dogs, and I got one as well.
"It was a lovely looking dog, and the only condition was that he would still be allowed to show him for me. But I got into it a little bit, and started to take him to competitions myself, and we won a few of those.
“So that meant he was good enough to enter Crufts, where he won his class. Quite a number of the boys at Fulham came to watch – I’ve got a picture at home of everybody there photographed with the dog. It was a great experience.”
Cross has been a regular visitor to the Cottage over recent months – as Chief Scout at West Ham it’s his job to run the rule over future opponents, something he was happy to do in this particular case.
“I run the scouting at West Ham,” Cross says. “I travel all over England and abroad looking at players, but I also spend time looking at and assessing upcoming opposition teams. That meant watching Fulham’s three games before our recent match.
“I love going back to Fulham. I have good memories from my time there, and I catch up with old mates like Fred Callaghan and talk about the old times and have a few laughs, and we do have a laugh about it because it was a time when there was always a lot of fun there.”
When he finished at Fulham, Cross moved back to Brentford and then to Millwall where, with injuries beginning to take their toll, he was asked by manager George Petchey to become the Youth and Reserve Team coach. When Petchey left, Cross worked for a succession of managers at Cold Blow Lane, including George Graham and John Docherty, before moving to Queens Park Rangers to work under Trevor Francis, and later, Don Howe and Gerry Francis. And it was Gerry Francis who, when he left to take over at Tottenham, took Cross along as his assistant. Three years later, a phone call from Harry Redknapp took Cross back to West Ham, the club where he started out, as First Team Coach and Reserve Team Manager, and he’s been there ever since.
“When Alan Pardew came to the club,” Cross says, “He wanted me to continue coaching, but he wanted me to be Chief Scout as well. After a season doing that, it became very clear that it’s difficult to combine the two roles, so I said, “If you want the job done properly, I’ll be the Chief Scout. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years. And I love it – it’s great.”
But back to 1972, and another programme feature. Cross, looking resplendent in skin-tight tank top and enormous side-burns, reveals that his car was a Triumph Vitesse, his favourite TV programme was Budgie, and he collected antique copper and brass as a hobby.
He also claims his most embarrassing moment as - “Getting the ball on my right foot!” - something that doesn’t quite ring true when on the very next page there’s a picture of him scoring the winning goal against QPR in the Third Round of the FA Cup. It was an absolute screamer hit from well outside the box with – you guessed it – his right foot! Rangers were flying high in the Old Second Division that year, while Fulham were languishing near the bottom, desperately trying to stave off relegation. It was an unforgettable night of drama, tension and excitement, with Cross the star of the show scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory.
“That game really does stand out,” admits Cross. “I remember we drew the first game at Loftus Road 1-1. We were winning 1-0; I hadn’t been having a particularly good game, but I’d been coming back and marking their centre half, Terry Mancini, at corners and set-pieces. There were about five minutes to go when Bill Dodgin subbed me, and I remember sitting in the dressing room, all disappointed, and there was this almighty cheer. I thought, I bet Mancini’s scored, he really was their danger man, and sure enough it was – he’d come up for a corner and headed one in. I might not have been playing well, but I’d been doing a job on Mancini.
“Then we played them in the replay the following week, beat them two-one, and I scored both the goals. It was a great night, a full house, cracking atmosphere, a local derby, Rodney Marsh playing for them, it had everything.”
And what good goals they were. To quote the following week’s programme, “For the first, Cross picked up the ball in the centre circle, held off a number of challenges, sent opponents the wrong way, and then passed to Les Barrett on the wing. When the low centre came across, Roger was roaring in to smash the ball home. The winning goal came in the second half. Barry Lloyd touched the ball sideways and there was Roger, 22 yards out, taking his time, and then slamming the ball past Parkes.”
“I was able to hit the ball from outside the box,” Cross acknowledges. “I remember my first goal for Fulham. It had taken me a few games to score. I’d found myself about 45 yards from goal, the ball went up in the air, I went to hit it before it reached the ground, and it was one of those dipping volleys that flew over the head of the goalkeeper! Very spectacular.
“But the other game that really sticks in my mind was the one against Benfica, Eusebio and all, to mark the opening of the Riverside Stand. We beat them 3-1, I think, and I scored a couple again that night. That was just a really nice occasion, and it’s a very special feeling to know you’ve been involved in a little bit of Fulham’s history.”