Memory Lane

Sunday 23 September 2012 09:00

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

They say you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper – and Peter Mellor certainly fell into the ‘eccentric’ category during his time at Fulham.

A terrific shot-stopper, who would bravely hurl himself at the feet of opponents, Prestbury-born Mellor had a safe pair of hands.

After failing to make the grade at Manchester City, Mellor moved to Whitton Albion in 1968, before a stint at Burnley. Fulham Manager Bill Dodgin came calling for his services in February 1972, paying £25,000 to the Clarets.

Mellor played a key role as the Whites survived relegation that term and he would go on to make 224 appearances for Fulham over six seasons – a period he describes as the best of his career.

“From the moment I walked into the office on my short visit down to see everyone, I knew it was the place I wanted to be,” he recalled. “Obviously moving from the north to the south then was almost like moving to another country. It’s a big decision for any player, but Fulham did everything right.

“The atmosphere in the dressing room was fantastic. All the players were great, and I still keep in touch with a lot of them. I remember when Les Strong became the Anguilla coach, he rang me up and said he needed me to come over and sort his goalkeeper out. I said I would, but what was the problem? And Strongy said 'well, in our first three games we’ve let in 24 goals and 23 have been the keeper’s fault!' Great times!”

Mellor had a fine career at Fulham, bringing stability to a position that we hadn’t had since the days of Tony Macedo.

He took a lot of flak for our FA Cup Final defeat to West Ham United in 1975, but it’s easy to forget that the Whites wouldn’t have reached Wembley if it hadn’t been for Mellor’s outstanding displays in the earlier rounds.

In particular, the Quarter-Final against First Division Carlisle United saw Mellor almost single-handedly shut out the Cumbrians, while he also proved unbreachable in the two Semi-Finals against Birmingham City.

“It was a very special place, Fulham then,” he said. “And the characters in the dressing room were incredible. It was just a real privilege to be there alongside players like Alan Mullery and Bobby Moore. Things were so different then. I was always good with cars, so I used to earn some extra cash by doing repairs for people like Bobby and Les. There I’d be in the afternoons after training, outside the ground, fixing up cars! I can’t imagine that happening today!

“Here’s something else that wouldn’t happen today - it’s no secret that Bobby liked a lager, something that never affected his playing or anything else one little bit. Anyway, we used to have a deal, Bobby and I. Whenever we were at an away game and having a meal at a hotel, Alec Stock would let us have two beers each. Only two mind, and that was the absolute limit. Bobby, knowing what a big eater I was, would always sit opposite me, and I’d trade my two lagers for his food without anyone else realising! Those were the days.”

The fair-haired keeper saw his Fulham career come to an end after Manager Bobby Campbell never forgave him for a poor display in a 5-1 loss to Notts County in November 1976.

He never played for the First Team again and was transferred to Hereford United in September 1977. He joined Portsmouth in July 1978, helping them to promotion from Division Three in 1979/80. He then went on to play for the Edmonton Drillers in Canada, before hanging up his boots and heading to the United States, where he was the goalkeeping coach for Florida State and the US national side.

His story doesn’t end there, however, with Mellor credited with bringing Beach Soccer to America over 20 years ago.

“I got the idea after watching soccer being played on the Copacabana beaches in Brazil,” he explained. “It was something that I thought could have a place in the USA. I was coaching by then and I was curious to see what impact it could have on the development of players. It’s a different game tactically. You have to think about how you’re going to play on the sand because the ball won’t run and you can’t dribble. Technically you’ve got to have a very good touch because once the ball hits the sand you’ve no idea where it’s going.

“As a sport it’s really started to explode. We run two other tournaments now as well. FIFA officially recognising the sport has given it a real boost too – it’s here for real now – and I guess you could say that I’ve had something to do with that,” he adds modestly.

It’s a similar – but very different – game to the one where Mellor made his name. But he’s quick to acknowledge the influence that his former Fulham Manager Alec Stock had on him then and on his future career.

“I learnt so much off that man that I still use to this day in my every day coaching,” he explains. “He had his funny little ways, but people would run through brick walls for him. Every single person in that dressing room respected him.”