Memory Lane

Sunday 4 November 2012 08:30

From the past or present, we catch up with a different Fulham personality. This week, it’s Alain Goma.

Alain Goma was everything you could want from a centre-back. Strong and quick, he was not afraid to put his head where it hurt.

He was the epitome of hard work and consistency, which is why Fulham forked out a record fee to lure the Frenchman to Craven Cottage back in 2001.

Even today, £4m is not a figure to be sniffed at and back then it was a huge fee for a side still in the Football League.

Yes, Fulham were top of the table and all but guaranteed promotion from the second tier, but the arrival of Goma was a coup and a sign of what awaited.

After all, Goma was a player of impeccable pedigree and had impressed enough to represent a side that went on to win the World Cup.

Born in the southeastern commune of Sault in 1972, the defender travelled a lot as a kid. He moved to Africa to his Father's homeland of Congo, then known as Zaire, before coming back to southern France and then onto the Parisian suburbs.

It was there he was spotted at RC Versailles and, at the age of 15, he moved onto Auxerre, managed by the legendary Guy Roux.

For those that don’t know, Roux helped transform AJA from a provincial club to title winners during a remarkable 40-year period with the French outfit.

The undoubted peak of that reign came in 1996 when little old Auxerre won the Ligue 1 and Coupe de France double. It was a period Goma remembers well, having been a cornerstone of that triumphant team in what was his fourth season as a first-team regular.

"I had a great time there," he told fulhamfc.com. "We won the cup in 1994 which I think was the first trophy the club had ever won.

"It was something special, really, especially for Guy Roux, who started the club from nothing. It was a real achievement.

"Two years later we won the double and it was even bigger satisfaction because winning the title for a small city like Auxerre was something unbelievable."

Goma capped an incredible year by making his debut for the French national team in the October, playing the full 90 minutes of a 4-0 friendly demolition of Turkey.

Future Fulham teammate Martin Djetou also made his debut at the Parc des Princes that day for a team whose core would win the World Cup on home turf two years later.

"I played for the Under-21s and all the way up," Goma said. "There were some big names in there as we had a very good generation. We played together for a while in the national team. 

"I knew Zinedine Zidane from the Under-21s team and it was great to play with him in the full team. We went together to do national service in the army for one year and there was a special section for top-level athletes. We went together to the army so I knew him at the time."

Goma made his second and final appearance for Les Bleus a matter of months after their famous World Cup triumph, coming on for Frank Leboeuf in a 2-2 friendly draw with Austria in Vienna.

"The thing is in '97 I had an injury to my knee," Goma explained. "We had a training camp with the national team. I think there were 35 players there to prepare for the World Cup the Christmas before the tournament.

"I was involved but I got injured just before and my second part of the season was not as good as expected so, yeah, it ruined my chances of winning a World Cup medal."

By that point the centre-back had swapped the home of Chablis for the capital, where he was plying his trade with Paris Saint-Germain.

It didn’t take him long to taste success, winning the Trophée des Champions - the French equivalent of the Community Shield - against Ligue 1 champions Lens.

That cup, however, book-ended what was a golden age for PSG in the 1990s - a period in which they had flourished on both domestic and continental fronts.

The 1998/99 season was instead a disappointing one for Les Parisiens and Goma never had the chance to help them make amends for a ninth-place finished. Instead, the defender packed his bags and crossed the channel to fulfill his ambition of playing in England.

The Frenchman was lured to the Premier League by Ruud Gullit, who paid £4.75m to bring him to Newcastle United in July 1999.

"I played against Liverpool - I think it was 1992 - in Europe with Auxerre," Goma said. "I was a kid and was a substitute at the time, but I was amazed by the passion and the atmosphere, the whole environment.

"At that moment it became for me a destination that I wanted to play. St James' Park was quite similar. It was absolutely amazing there."

He may look back on it fondly now, but it was a difficult time in the North-East. After a disrupted first season, Goma impressed under Gullit's replacement Sir Bobby Robson but made it known his desire to leave the Magpies. 

Goma said at the time injuries and personal problems were to blame, leading to his move to Jean Tigana's Fulham in March 2001.

"When Jean was at Monaco he offered me a contract there," he said. "Auxerre would not let me go so, unfortunately, I could not join him there. That’s when I had first contact with him and I liked the person, I liked his style. I think he brought a lot to Fulham. He brought confidence and a certain identity. 

"When he arrived the Team became well known for passing the ball and he set up a whole Team and the structure was very good. It was very professional and he had big ambitions in building up the Academy so I liked the whole project."

After making three appearances as the Whites sewed up the Division One crown, Goma became an integral part of the Fulham side in their first season in the top flight since 1968.

"I arrived in a Team full of confidence," he said. "There was a very good spirit in the squad.

"For me, it was actually not that easy. I played the last few games in what is now the Championship and it was quite surprising actually the level of physical engagement.

"But the good thing was my integration started at the end of the season so when we started the first season in the Premier League I was part of the squad. I spent a few months there with the Team so I already felt part of the squad.

"There was me, Andy Melville and Rufus Brevett with experience so there was already a bit of experience in there. I loved it."

There was a strong French connection at the Club during that time, with Steve Marlet, Louis Saha and Steed Malbranque all First Team regulars.

Djetou and Jérôme Bonnissel saw that contingent swell in the years that followed, but Tigana left towards the end of the 2002/03 season - much to Goma's disappointment.

"When I was at Newcastle I got injured so I was not very fit and when I came down to Fulham I recovered my full fitness," he said. "It was a bit of a revival and I felt good. I had a great time under Jean and it was the best football I ever played."

Goma saw his playing time decrease following Chris Coleman's appointment and after 62 appearances in his first two full seasons at the Club, he made less than that combined in the years that followed.

That lack of game-time saw him leave and spend a short time in Qatar with Al-Wakrah SC, before injuries brought an abrupt end to his career.

"It was hot out there," he said with a smile. "It was great but the thing is by coming to the end of my career I needed lots of treatment. Unfortunately, they did not have the facilities I needed so eventually I decided to quit."

Since then, Goma has been living back in London and has focused on a new passion: property development.

The Frenchman runs Indigo Development (www.indigodevelopment.co.uk) with his partner in South-West London, mostly working in the Wimbledon Village area.

"I have swapped my football boots for a hard hat," he joked. "We are looking for some potential developments, some plots of land to build on, some properties with potential to refurbish, this kind of stuff. It’s on the high end.

"I don't think there is anything that can replace the feeling before you come onto the pitch, though. This, for me, is a different challenge and it’s something that I like.

"To get a bit of a buzz I do some kick boxing, which helps me to try to keep fit and to have a bit of an adrenaline buzz. I don't have any fights lined up, it’s just to keep fit. I won't be joining the UFC as I love life too much!"