Memory Lane

Wednesday 17 April 2013 18:00

From the past or present, we catch up with a different Fulham personality. This week, Dennis Turner talks to Derek Lampe.

Although we’re coming to the end of our 12th season in the Premier League (only seven clubs have been in the top flight continuously longer than us), for supporters of a certain age, the 1950s and early 1960s were a golden period, our halcyon years.

They were not necessarily the most successful in playing terms. We won promotion to the (old) First Division and reached two FA Cup Semi-Finals, although we often had to scrap to avoid relegation. But they were fun years, largely because we had a few great players, some outstanding characters and a bunch of home-produced youngsters who were Fulham through and through. In those days, players also tended to stay at one club for much longer than they do today, and it was easier for supporters to identify with footballers who came from the same background and often lived similar lifestyles.

Amongst the youngsters who progressed through our junior sides and who spent his whole career at the Cottage was centre-half Derek Lampe. But he should never have been a Fulham player.

“I was born in Edmonton,” he explained. “I played for Edmonton, London and Middlesex Schools. During the week I used to train at White Hart Lane as Tottenham Hotspur were my local club. When I left school, I thought they might sign me but nothing happened. Then the Fulham trainer, Frank Penn, who lived a few streets away, came round and invited me to the Cottage for a trial. I went there and Frank, reserve-team trainer Taffy O’Callaghan, and Frank Osborne put me through my paces. They must have liked what they saw because I joined the groundstaff.

“That was in the summer of 1952 and I was only 15. A few weeks later, the headmaster at my school told me Spurs were looking at me, and then Arsenal and Charlton Athletic also showed an interest, but it was too late. I signed for Fulham and stayed until I was forced to retire through injury in 1964.

“And it really was a happy Club. Old Bill Dodgin was my first Manager and I had a lot of time for him. He was always encouraging me and always had time to offer advice. Dug Livingstone was the same and would always talk to the players, individually and as a team. Beddy Jezzard, on the other hand, was much quieter and often left the players to work things out for themselves.

“An under-rated member of the backroom staff in my early days was Taffy. In his day he was a great player and as reserve-team trainer passed on a lot of good advice as well as being a fun character. He used to play the banjo, which amused us. In fact, he taught me to play the banjo and I still have one today. It was a sad day for the Club when he died so suddenly and quite young at the start of the 1956 season.”

Derek was just 19 when he made his First Team debut in August 1956 against West Ham United in the (old) Second Division. He missed just two games that season and seemed set for a long run in the side as successor to the departed Ron Greenwood.

“Dug Livingstone was rebuilding the team and he concentrated on strengthening the defence,” Derek recalled. “Fulham were noted as a high-scoring team but one which leaked goals. So, the Manager signed left-back Jimmy Langley and brought right-back George Cohen and goalkeeper Tony Macedo into the side. Then there was young Alan Mullery on the verge of the First Team and, of course, Eddie Lowe was already there. And in 1957 it started to work.

“The star man was obviously Johnny Haynes. Like me, he came from Edmonton and we used to live 200 or 300 yards apart. We had played together as schoolboys. There’s no question that he was a great player who dominated games and was the crowd’s favourite. I don’t want to take anything away from him as a player but I did feel that at times he overshadowed some of his teammates. The Manager and Chairman couldn’t do enough for him and I sometimes felt others got overlooked.

“And there were some terrific players. I never felt our wingers Arthur Stevens and Charlie Mitten got the recognition they deserved. Charlie was a joker, who loved the greyhounds and stories about him are legendary, and mostly true. But he was a wonderful winger, so skilful, who set up a stream of chances for the strikers. Arthur should also have been more appreciated because, not only did he create chances, but he was also a regular scorer himself. After them came Tosh Chamberlain, another real character, and Graham Leggat who, like Arthur, was one of our top scorers.”

From mid-table mediocrity, we suddenly emerged as serious promotion candidates in 1957/58, missing out only because of a fixture pile-up caused by our run in the FA Cup, which ended in a Semi-Final Replay against Manchester United at Highbury.

“Most people remember that Replay,” said Derek. “It was the first-ever Fulham game shown live on television. We lost 5-3 and conceded some very soft goals but nobody blamed Tony Macedo. His form in the early rounds was one of the reasons we got through to the last four. Then came promotion and First Division football and we held our own for several seasons.

“The one man for who I had total respect was Bobby Robson. He was different class. My first season in the side was his last before he moved to West Bromwich Albion, but then he came back in 1962 and by then was converting to a defender. He was helpful to me as a player but he was also a really nice man. Not only did he have time for me but he was also the only player to visit me during one of my stays in hospital. I’ll never forget that and I’m not surprised he was such an outstanding manager. He understood people and knew how to handle them and get the best out of them.

“Eddie Lowe was another good player and decent man, and perhaps underrated by Fulham fans. Certainly his teammates knew his value to the side. And although he was one of the younger players, Alan Mullery was an outstanding prospect who was also a natural leader.”

Tall and strong, Derek was always a central defender, although he did hanker after a more forward role, stating: “I only had the chance to play up front once, against Spurs in a reserve game, and I scored four goals. That didn’t stop me cadging a lift back to Edmonton on the Spurs coach afterwards. I loved it up front but never got another chance. Johnny Haynes didn’t even like me going up for corners, which virtually all defenders do nowadays!”

Every time Derek got into the First Team and looked as though he had made the position his own, he went down with an injury. Few players had such bad luck, and it was his knees that were the problem.

“It was so frustrating,” he admitted. “My career had started so well and I captained the England Under-21 side in a 2-1 win over Hungary at White Hart Lane, adding to the England Youth caps I had won in 1954. There was nothing I could do about the injuries and I think the treatment available in those days was nowhere near as advanced as it is now. I started the 1960/61 season as first choice centre-half but I got a really nasty injury playing against Everton at Goodison Park in March and it was the following January before I was back in the side. But that injury was a bad one, and the beginning of the end. I played my last game at home against Manchester City in November 1962. I had another 18 months trying to get fully fit but had to retire in 1964 when I was 27.”

That really was the end for Derek - there was no moving into non-League or coaching. He got a job with an engineering company in Finchley. “I earned more than I did as player,” he quipped. He had two more jobs after that, the last for 20 years, before retiring. But he still follows football.

“It’s still Fulham for me, although I’m surrounded by Spurs fans in this part of the world,” he said. “My local pub was full of them before Fulham’s game at White Hart Lane in March, but I suspect their mood was rather different when the full-time whistle went. It was a great win for Fulham and I hope it sets up a strong finish to the season.

“If I’m honest, however, I think football in general has lost something in the modern era, perhaps because of the money. I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man, but some of that camaraderie we had 40 or 50 years ago seems to be missing. They don’t seem to enjoy it the way we did and don’t stay as long at any club. There’s also a lot more gamesmanship and matches are too often spoiled by constant interruptions to the play. I also have to admit I’m not a fan of the way teams pass the ball around the back four time and time again. I think you need to get the ball forward as soon as possible and not give your opponents time to regroup.

“Perhaps it’s the money, the extra pressure or the fear of losing, but it doesn’t seem the same. Nevertheless, I am thrilled by Fulham’s progress and whenever I come back I’m struck by how friendly the Club remains. The Cottage is still a wonderful ground and the supporters are so welcoming and knowledgeable.”  

For someone now in his mid-70s, Derek has a remarkable memory, recalling vividly the years that not only meant a lot to him but were important ones in history. Talking to him and reliving some of the matches and recalling some of the players is compelling evidence for thinking of that era as our ‘halcyon years.’