The Ex-Files

Thursday 15 November 2012 12:26

Fulham have been loving life in the top flight for what feels like an eternity but few will forget the Club's memorable rise to the big time.

Three promotions in five seasons brought the Whites from the doldrums to the Premier League in style.

Andy Melville played a key part in overcoming that final hurdle and establishing the club as a Premier League force. The Wales international defender joined Fulham in the summer of 1999 and went onto make 193 appearances during a four-and-a-half-year stay.

Melville was already 31 years of age when he made the move to West London after previous lengthy stays at Swansea City, Oxford United and Sunday's opponents Sunderland.

He played more than 150 games for all three of those clubs and picked up a winning habit at the latter that he brought to Fulham.

"Winning the title twice, getting over 100 points in one season with a really good side was something special," Melville told of his time at Sunderland.

"We had 46,000 at the Stadium of Light every other week and it was a really, really good time for everyone concerned with the club.

"When you go to a new stadium, people say 'we can't do it, we want to stay' but I think leaving Roker Park is the best thing they did because the stadium itself is different class. As I said, the crowds were turning up and I have great memories of my time there."

After re-establishing himself in the Sunderland defence after a loan spell at Bradford City, Melville chose to swap Wearside for West London in June 1999 after turning down the offer of an extended stay in the North East.

"My contract was up and I spoke to Paul Bracewell," he said. "Sunderland offered me a contract but it wasn't long enough at the time and I spoke to Paul, who I obviously knew from my Sunderland days, and I signed more or less the day after he got the job.

"They had signed Chris Coleman for a couple of million pounds and were showing their ambition, getting people from the top divisions playing in the third tier. Obviously they got promotion to the second tier and then they were looking to progress all the time.

"The first year I was there we finished ninth in the league and the season after, when Jean Tigana took over, we obviously got a few additions to the Club and we won it quite comfortably. It was a good move and I had some great times at Fulham as well."

Melville was one of a number of experienced heads in the Whites’ line-up that helped the Club rise from what is now known as the Championship to become established in the top tier.

"We had a lot of players who had played in the Premier League," he said. "Lee Clark, John Collins, you know, a lot of reliable players that had played at high levels.

"We had a really good dressing room that won itself really. We had a few young kids coming through and the likes of Edwin van der Sar and Louis Saha came in so the potential were second to none."

The latter could come up against the club he made his name with this weekend when Sunderland come to the Cottage.

The Frenchman is recognised as a modern-day hero by Fulham fans but will be looking to hurt his former side if called upon by Black Cats manager Martin O'Neill.

"Sometimes Louis can be unplayable," Melville warned. "I trained with him day in, day out and when he is on his game you cannot get near him.

"He’s been in and out a little bit at Sunderland, but I’m sure if he goes back to Craven Cottage he'll want to do well.

"They need to be aware of him and I’m sure he will play some part in the game."

But despite Saha's potential presence, Melville sees Sunday's match going only one way.

"I normally sit on the fence and say it will be a draw but, just looking at the way things are and the quality in the sides, I think Fulham might just edge it this time," he said.

"I think it will be a tight game and both sides have a lot of forwards so hopefully there will be plenty of goals for everyone."

Sunday's game between his former clubs is one which Melville will be able to enjoy as current club Oxford play the day before.

After ending his playing career with spells at West Ham United and Nottingham Forest, he is now first-team coach at the League Two outfit, who face a trip to Chesterfield on Saturday.

"Coaching is a little bit more frustrating than playing because you’re sat on your hands," Melville said. "As a player, nine times out of 10 you look after yourself and make sure you're right physically and mentally.

"I’m really enjoying it and hopefully we can kick on a bit this season. We started off really well and then we got in a bit of a rut, but the people in charge at the club have been good. We're getting there slowly and showing a bit more consistency."