Memory Lane

Sunday 14 October 2012 09:00

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

Ray Houghton remains one of Fulham’s best-ever free transfer signings.

The diminutive midfielder joined the Whites from West Ham United in June 1982, having made just one appearance for the Irons.

Newly-promoted to the (old) Second Division, Fulham couldn’t believe their luck. With the Whites hoping to merely survive relegation, the introduction of Houghton transformed Malcolm Macdonald’s side.

His pace, dribbling and passing down the left-hand side was a joy to behold. He was also not opposed to scoring a spectacular goal or two, including one memorable lob from 25 yards out in a 4-1 victory at Newcastle United in October 1982. For many years, it was a goal that was shown time and time again on Match of the Day’s opening titles.

The Whites came agonisingly close to winning promotion at the end of Houghton’s first season in SW6, with the winger scoring seven goals in 49 appearances in all competitions.

Two seasons later, he bettered that tally, notching 11 times in 46 league and cup games. Those goals included a last-minute winner in a 3-2 victory over Manchester City.

“I’m not one for reminiscing too much, but I did catch an old Fulham game against Grimsby Town on the television a while back from the season we should have got promoted and it was great to see some of the old faces,” Ray told fulhamfc.com.

“Big Brownie [Roger Brown], God rest him, was there, Galey [Tony Gale] was looking slim, Robert Wilson, I could go on.”

With Houghton bombing down the left, Sean O’Driscoll was on the right, with Ray Lewington and Robert Wilson in the centre of the park. It’s a formation, that Houghton believes was ahead of its time.

“A great story is I met with another member of the football family who’s now gone, Ray Harford, a few years back,” said Ray, now aged 50. “He was on the backroom staff at Fulham when I joined and later became Manager.

“I saw him a couple of years before he died and he was talking about how, in his opinion, Fulham introduced the diamond formation. It’s seen as some new-fangled modern-day tactic, but Fulham certainly did play with a diamond formation during my time there.

“We had Sean O’Driscoll on the right of midfield, me on the left, Ray Lewington sitting deep and Robert Wilson pushing on. That was the start of the diamond for me, something that people have started only really using over the last few years. Ray was one of the ones who helped invent it.”

He added: “I’ve got great memories of my time at Fulham. I still remember when I first met Malcolm Macdonald at Craven Cottage when he was trying to get me to sign.”

Houghton played five games for Fulham at the start of the 1985/86 season. Sadly, though, he became one of many stars sold by the Club to balance the books, with Oxford United snapping him for a bargain fee in September 1985.

In total, he played 145 times for Fulham, bagging 21 goals.

At Oxford, he won a League Cup winners’ medal, scoring one of the goals in the 1986 Final win over Queens Park Rangers.

Liverpool was his next stop in 1987 and the honours flowed. He won two league championships in 1988 and 1990 as well as the FA Cup in 1989 and 1992.

He also became a regular for the Republic of Ireland, winning 73 caps. Despite his strong Glaswegian accent, Ray qualified for Ireland via his father’s nationality. He was in the Ireland side which famously reached the Quarter-Finals of the World Cup in 1990. Four years later, he scored as Ireland shocked Italy in a 1-0 group win at the Giants Stadium in New York.

He also famously scored the only goal as Jack Charlton’s men beat England in a European Championship clash in Stuttgart in 1988, a feat which means Ray isn’t likely to ever need to pay for a pint of Guinness ever again!

Houghton moved from Anfield to Villa Park in July 1992 for the first season of the new Premier League.

“In my first season at Villa, we finished second,” mused Houghton. “Today you’d be heralded as stars for finishing in that position. We had a fabulous season with some really good footballers and we narrowly missed out on the title to Manchester United.

“It was up for grabs until the last few games of the season. I remember us going to Old Trafford and drawing 1-1 with Steve Staunton getting our goal and Mark Hughes getting the equaliser for them. If we’d have won that day, we probably would have gone on to win the league, that’s how close we were.

“Then you had United playing Sheffield Wednesday and playing until United won! They added on about 20 minutes at the end - that’s how I remember it anyway!

“Villa was a good club, though. It’s a club steeped in history and tradition, similar to Fulham in that respect.”

Villa, of course, are Fulham’s next opponents, with Houghton admitting he can’t see anything but a win for the Whites.

“Fulham at Craven Cottage are a tough team to play against and you don’t get much out of them,” he stated. “Villa will need to be at their best – the only good thing for them is that maybe being away from home will take some of the pressure off them. That might be to their advantage, not having the fans on their backs. They went to Newcastle United recently and got a really good point.”

After Villa, with whom he won the League Cup in 1994, it was a case of friends reunited for Houghton as he teamed up with his former Fulham teammate Ray Lewington, manager of Crystal Palace at the time, in March 1995.

Stints as a player-coach at Reading with ex-Fulham man Terry Bullivant and non-League Stevenage Borough followed, before Houghton finally hung up his boots in 2000. When he finally called it a day, he had appeared in over 700 league and cup games, scoring 94 goals.

“I’ve enjoyed my time at every club I’ve played at,” said Ray, now a regular on the punditry circuit. “I think you’re very fortunate to play football for a living. It’s a marvellous part of your life, to go out there and do something that you love.”