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...
Fulham were 91st in the league and fresh from a 2-1 defeat to the only team below them - Torquay United. It was clear that something had to be done. With oblivion staring the Club in the face, Manager Ian Branfoot was moved upstairs and his assistant, Micky Adams, was put in charge. The renaissance had begun.
After steering the side to safety in that 1995/96 season, Adams went to work in the summer, dismantling the existing squad, and building a new one in his own mould - full of character, heart, determination, and a little bit of skill.
“We had a massive clear out,” Adams remembers. “There were probably about 17 or 18 transfers going out, and I was able, with the backing of the Muddymans, to spend a little bit of cash and bring in some fresh blood to go with the good players we already had, people like Simon Morgan and Micky Conroy. We managed to create a very special team spirit that year - what that group of players achieved for the Club was amazing.”
What that group of players achieved, of course, was to heave themselves out of the basement division, bringing Fulham its first promotion for 15 years, and setting in motion the chain of events that, with Mohamed Al Fayed’s benevolent backing, not only ensured the Club’s survival, but brought success that could only have been dreamed about all those years ago. Which is all a far cry from when Adams first pitched up at Fulham.
“The Club was in a bit of a state then,” he admits. “It was in turmoil really. The stadium was dilapidated, we didn’t have any training kit, very little equipment, so it was a bit of a shock coming from somewhere like Southampton who’d been in the Premier League. But the nucleus of the fan base was there, we had the potential to pull in bigger crowds if the team did well, so there was hope.”
It’s difficult to think of a manager held in such high regard by the Fulham fans as Adams. And it isn’t just because he was the man responsible for bringing back the good times, it’s also because of the bond that he and his side created with the supporters that season. It really was one big happy family, and it was a sad time for everyone when he was replaced after just eight games of the following season.
“I was heartbroken when I left the place,” Adams says. “I have to say that. It took me a while to recover, but Mr Fayed has been very, very good for the Club, so it’s difficult to argue against what happened. I’ve had to tread a different path, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I became stronger for the experience.
“I’ve had a tremendous reception every time I’ve been back to the Cottage. I’ll never forget the Fulham fans; they’ve given me some special memories. I’m grateful for the support I received, and still receive. I’m always being stopped by Fulham people who remember the part I played in their history, and that’s just great.”
And adding to the chemistry that special year, was the great partnership between Adams and his assistant, Alan Cork. “It was a bit like Morecombe and Wise,” says Adams. “I was the straight guy and he was the one who made them laugh! He was the one that the lads could have a laugh and a joke with, but we shouldn’t underestimate the part that he played. Sadly we’re not together at the moment, but he played a massive part in what happened.
“I remember the FA Cup game at Ashford Town in the torrential rain where I scored two penalties. We played in all white and Corky, who’d been playing centre-forward, came off without a speck of mud on him! The rest of us were absolutely covered - we were black! But that whole time was just special for me. I still talk to a lot of the boys and we chat about that promotion season, and they still call me ‘boss’, which is great. I’m just grateful that I’ve got those memories, and I’m grateful for getting that start in management - I’ll never forget that.”
Adams achieved promotion with both Brighton & Hove Albion and Leicester City after he left Fulham. His current side, Port Vale, are now back in League One following last term’s promotion. After a troubled few years, things are definitely on the up for the Valiants.
“It’s going great,” says Adams. “And off the pitch as well. We’re out of administration, and we’ve got new owners who want to take the club forward, so there’s a lot of positivity around the place. It’s looking very good.”
With the belief and the ability that the man possesses, you get the feeling that it won’t be too long before Adams finds his rightful place back in the top flight. And there won’t be a Fulham fan who remembers 1997 that wouldn’t wish him well in that quest.