Fulham have had more than their fair share of characters over the years, players that for one reason or another have left their mark on the Cottage faithful. Ian McCulloch reveals our most colourful cult heroes...
Where’s Ara? That was the question on everyone’s lips back in 1993. Ara Bedrossian had arrived in a blaze of glory from Queens Park Rangers at the end of the 1992/93 season and made an instant impact.
An exciting, skilful midfielder with a knack for making things happen, the Cyprus international started the last seven matches and inspired the unbeaten run that saw the team win five and draw two of those games.
The following season arrived amidst much anticipation - with Bedrossian pulling the strings in the middle of the park, great things were expected. Except Bedrossian was nowhere to be seen. Rumour and gossip soon spread as to where he was, but in those pre-internet days, before wall-to-wall football coverage had been invented, nobody was sure if he was even at the Club any more.
The general consensus seemed to be that he was, but that he’d fallen out of favour with Manager Don Mackay. Things got so bad that a brand new fanzine, inspired by the missing Cypriot, was released with the catchy title, ‘Where’s Ara?’
As it turned out, he was in Middlesbrough, having a trial, and desperately missing West London. “Fulham didn’t offer me a contract, it was that simple,” says Bedrossian. “Birmingham City came in for me, and then second-tier Middlesbrough, and they offered me a contract. They were really keen to sign me. I didn’t know what to do - I was confused because my heart was with Fulham.”
But while Bedrossian was hidden away in the north, the fans were doing their bit. ‘Ara Must Stay’ signs appeared on the terraces and Mackay took a terrible hammering at a fans’ forum where the sole question seemed to be, ‘why isn’t Ara here?’ Mackay’s answer was that Fulham couldn’t afford him, and bizarrely suggested that perhaps the supporters could pay for him, something the faithful actually considered for a while.
Eventually, with the Team plummeting down the table, and injuries starting to bite, Mackay conceded defeat and contacted the player - who was by now being called the ‘Little Cantona’ by the Boro fans.
“I think it was a desperate move on his part,” says Bedrossian. “The supporters were on his back about me, he was under pressure. Middlesbrough offered me more money, but I told them it wasn’t about the money, it was just that I felt so close to everyone at Fulham.”
Bedrossian reappeared at the end of October, but by then the Club was in turmoil. Mackay was sacked with nine games left, but it wasn’t enough to prevent relegation. When new broom Ian Branfoot was brought in at the beginning of the next season, Bedrossian found himself out of favour, with the more agricultural skills of Terry Hurlock being preferred to the mercurial Cypriot.
“He wanted the full-backs pumping the ball into the corners,” Bedrossian says. “And the midfielders to work hard and get into the box for the knock-downs. I thought, this isn’t going to go well!”
And it didn’t. Bedrossian was allowed to leave - very reluctantly on his part. Spells in Italy and Sweden followed until he eventually found himself back in Cyprus where he played on until he was 35. These days he’s the technical director of the Arsenal Soccer School in Cyprus as well as being the Gunners’ scout for Eastern Europe. He also manages a highly successful futsal team - AGBU Ararat.
“I did all my coaching badges,” he says. “And joined Apoel’s Centre of Excellence. That’s where I discovered how much I enjoyed coaching kids, and that I was actually quite good at it. As to the future, I would say that I definitely see myself coaching in England within the next three years.”
Bedrossian is overflowing with memories from his time at Fulham. “There are so many,” he says. “The fans were great. I remember the last game of the season, against Exeter City. At the end all the supporters came on the pitch and lifted me up and carried me on their shoulders. The next thing I knew, Don Mackay was grabbing my shirt and shouting at them to put me down! It was just the fans showing their happiness, but he didn’t like it. When the fans jokingly started calling me ‘the Messiah’, Simon Morgan stuck a sign on my hanger that said ‘God’!
“I remember a great game against Burnley - we beat them 4-0 and I made all the goals. And the one goal I did score - against Blackpool, I was so excited I didn’t know what to do! And I remember my Mum coming to watch me once - I played really well - but she had a right go at me because my shirt wasn’t tucked in!
“I don’t know what it was about Fulham, but from the moment I stepped onto the pitch I knew that I had to be there. It just felt like it was meant to be.”