1995-1998: 64 APPEARANCES, 6 GOALS 36
Paul Brooker was a wonderfully talented player who perhaps never quite achieved his full potential during his time at Fulham. He possessed all the old-fashioned talents of a traditional winger - great ball-control, pace, the ability to beat a player and dribble his way out of the tightest situations - and on his day he could turn a game in an instant. There was always a buzz of anticipation when he was on the ball.
He started out as a schoolboy at Chelsea, but it was at Fulham that he made the breakthrough into First Team football, aged 18. “A lot of people think I made my debut against Swansea,” he remembers. “But it was actually away to Bury. I don’t remember too much about the game. Ian Branfoot was Manager, and I just remember making him lots of coffee on the coach on the way up there. As I was the youngest player I had to be tea-boy! But it was such a thrill to be travelling up with the First Team and staying overnight in a hotel, I didn’t care what I did.”
That Swansea game stands out as a beacon in what, up to then, had been a very undistinguished season. In a first round Cup tie against the opponents who had relegated them 18 months earlier, Fulham destroyed the Swans 7-0, an FA Cup record that still stands as the biggest win against a team from a higher division. Brooker put in an outstanding display. A report from the time describes him as, “opening up the Swansea defence at will.”
“That was an incredible game,” he recalls. “We’d been really struggling at the time, but I think playing in the Cup took the pressure off us a little bit. I came on after about 15 or 20 minutes for Lea Barkus who’d got injured quite early, and I remember I had quite a decent game. I scored the sixth goal I think it was, my first for the Club. On the day we were just too good for them, we overran them.”
Brooker was one of the casualties of the Kevin Keegan revolution, leaving the Cottage to follow Micky Adams to Brighton in 2000, before moving on to Premier League Leicester, again with Adams, and then Reading with Steve Coppell, who he’d also worked with at Brighton. Finally there was a three-year stint at Brentford.
“I left Brentford last September,” he says. “I’d been signed by Martin Allen originally, but when Terry Butcher came in, I think he’d made his mind up about me before he’d even seen me play. We just didn’t see eye to eye about things, and that was the end of it for me there.
“So at the moment I’m just finishing my level two coaching course. I’ve not really kicked a football since I left Brentford; I lost a lot of my passion and love for the game. I’ve set up a carpet cleaning business with a friend just for something to do and that’s going quite well. I’m enjoying doing something different from football. I don’t know if I want to go down the coaching route or not at the moment, but it’s there as an option while I decide what I want to do.
“I’ve had quite a few offers to go non-League. Ironically one was from Havant and Waterlooville, which would have been interesting, but I haven’t really been in the right frame of mind. Now I’ve been out of the game for a few months I think that’s changing, so we’ll see what happens. Watch this space as they say.”
Brooker clearly looks back on his time at the Cottage fondly. “As the team who first gave me the chance to play professional football, I’ve got massive memories of my time at Fulham,” he says. “I’m a local boy, born in Hammersmith and I’d lived in Fulham all my life so that made it very special.
“The promotion season obviously stands out. That was my second year as a pro, and I think I thought every year was going to be like that one! The team had been pretty low the season before. Micky Adams took over when we were second from bottom in the whole league and he put together such a great squad of players, everyone worked so hard for each other. The team spirit then was probably the best I’ve ever experienced.
“I was used as sub a lot. I would come on for Rob Scott or Darren Freeman. I had a bit of pace and the idea was that for the last half an hour of the game I’d run at defenders who were hopefully tiring a bit and try and cause some trouble. I came on in most games and managed to get involved in a lot of things. It was just a fabulous time for everybody involved with the Club.”
Paul Brooker Facts
Born: Hammersmith, 25.11.76
Debut: 14.10.95 v Bury (A) 0-0
Last Match: 19.09.98 v York City (H) 3-3
Signed from: Trainee, July 1995
Transferred to: Brighton & Hove Albion, May 2000 (£25,000)