Having made his professional debut for Swansea and led Fulham out as Captain, Saturday’s clash at Craven Cottage is an interesting one for Andy Melville.
Born in Swansea in 1968, it was his hometown club that gave him his big break, with Melville making his first-team bow at just 16. At Swansea’s Vetch Field ground, he went on to play more than 200 games, helping the club to promotion from the (old) Fourth Division in 1988 and to the Welsh Cup a year later.
At Fulham he was part of the side that won promotion to the Premier League in 2001 and the team that lifted the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2002. In four-and-a-half seasons in SW6, he played no fewer than 193 times.
“This is certainly an interesting one for me personally, because I enjoyed my time at both clubs,” said Andy to fulhamfc.com. “Swansea was my first club, and in moving up through the youth ranks and into the first team was very special.
“Later on in my career I was known as a bit of a no-nonsense defender, but back in those days, I actually played in a variety of positions when I first came through. On my debut I came off the bench and took up a position on the right wing! Those, of course, were the days of just one substitute.
“I played in centre-midfield quite a bit and even played up front too. In fact, one season I actually bagged about 14 goals. I was always a centre-back at heart, though, that was the position for me, and gradually that became my place on the pitch.
“Swansea was a good club for me, and I learned a lot there – to this day I’m still really grateful for the opportunity I got there. I also got to play for Wales Under-21s and even made my senior debut while I was there too.”
He would leave South West Wales in July 1990 and prior to signing for Fulham in June 1999, spent time at Oxford United, Sunderland and Bradford City. When arriving at the Cottage, Melville was very much a defender, and a commanding one at that.
A powerhouse in the air and more than competent with the ball at his feet, alongside fellow Welshmen Chris Coleman and Kit Symons he would provide the defensive foundations that allowed those in front to flourish. In his second season at the Club, the Whites stormed to the (old) Division One title.
“I joined under Paul Bracewell and then played under Jean Tigana,” explained Andy. “A lot has been said about that period, but it was just such an exciting time for the Club and everyone that was involved. I just loved the style of football that we played; us defenders were always encouraged to play the ball out from the back.
“To be part of the side that won promotion to the Premier League was fantastic, and something that I will never forget. I even wore the Captain’s armband for a spell, albeit as a result of some very horrible circumstances.
“As we know, Chris [Coleman] was the skipper, but he was sadly involved in a car crash during the promotion year. It would ultimately end his career a bit further down the line, so it was a bit strange to be leading the side out. Of course, it was an honour though, and in walking out as Captain for Fulham’s first game in the Premier League against Manchester United at Old Trafford was an unbelievable moment.
“We’d worked hard to get up there amongst the big boys and thankfully, 12 years on, the Club is still competing with the best. That’s a fantastic achievement and long may it continue.”
Ahead of Saturday’s encounter, Melville points to Fulham and Swansea as an example to any aspiring club outside of the top flight.
“Over the years, Swansea will have looked at Fulham and used them as a marker in terms of what they could achieve,” he said. “When Mohamed Al Fayed took control of Fulham in 1997, they were in the third tier – but look where they are now!
“Yes, they have had a bit of money behind them, but a lot of that progress has been down to good people at the top, the backing of the fans and not losing touch with their traditions. Of course, they have also had some very talented players, but in sticking to their principles and philosophy they’ve done very well.
“Like Fulham, Swansea have come up through the divisions and have done so by playing the right way. I think teams like this have to be an inspiration to others, but that said, it’s a difficult thing to do.
“It’s great to see the two clubs in the Barclays Premier League and while Swansea may be some way off 12 consecutive years in the top division, they’re certainly heading in the right direction.”
Melville, who is now a coach at another one of his former clubs, Oxford, has dismissed those that suggest Fulham’s game with Swansea is a ‘must win’. While the 44-year-old acknowledges it has been a testing month or so for the Whites, he believes they have what it takes to return to winning ways.
“I think it’s unwanted pressure really,” he said. “For me, Fulham will be fine. Some people have called this a must-win match for them, but there are a lot of points to be won yet. Every game is important at this level, and every point needed.
“Fulham were playing some wonderful football early on, but they’ve had a difficult time of late. Losing Brede Hangeland to a three-game suspension didn’t help as he’s a key player for the Club, while they’ve also felt the loss of the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Mahamadou Diarra who have been injured.
“Like many, Fulham don’t have the biggest of squads, and when you get injuries and suspensions like they have, of course, they’re going to feel the effects. They’ll be pleased to have Ruiz back though, because he links really well with Dimitar Berbatov – I think they’ve missed the Costa Rican’s craft.
“I’m sure Fulham will be looking at Saturday’s game as one they should win, especially as it’s at the Cottage. They haven’t won for a while, so this is an opportunity for them.
“That said, Swansea will be thinking the same won’t they? Which makes for an exciting match. Michael Laudrup has come in and done really well, he has helped continue last season’s form and they enter the game in ninth place and with not too many points separating themselves and a few of those in front.
“They signed really well over the summer, and just look like a real team. Miguel Michu was been the pick, and as the league’s joint-top goalscorer (alongside Robin van Persie with 13) he’s made a huge impact.
“Last season, Swansea ran out comfortable winners at Craven Cottage with a 3-0 win. Not many teams dominate Fulham away from home like that, so it was quite a result. Fulham won’t want that to happen again, for sure, so it promises to be an exciting game.
“On their day, both teams are capable of playing top-quality football, so hopefully we will see that on Saturday. Which team will come out on top? I think we’ll just have to wait and see!”