Memory Lane

Sunday 11 August 2013 09:00

From the past or present, each week we talk to a different Fulham personality. This Sunday, in the concluding part of his exclusive interview, David Hamilton discusses his role as Match Announcer at Craven Cottage, our Europa League success in 2009/10, and the progress made by the Club under former Chairman Mohamed Al Fayed.

Just like the River Thames or a walk through Bishop’s Park, the voice of David Hamilton has become synonymous with matchdays at Craven Cottage, as he prepares to embark on another campaign behind the microphone.

An ardent Fulham fan all his life, it was clearly an easy decision for Diddy when he was approached in December 1996 to see if he would be interested in taking a compere role at the Club, although some changes were required before he adopted the position we now see him occupy.

“Jimmy Hill was the Chairman at the time and I knew Jimmy very well,” David recalled. “Somebody at the Club, through Jimmy, asked if I’d do the half-time entertainment.

“I had a half season at Fulham doing that – that was the promotion season under Micky Adams – and by the end of the season I was out there MC-ing a promotion celebration after we’d gone up. How fantastic was that? Four-and-a-half months after taking the job on, and we were promoted.

“So that promotion year I was just doing the half-time entertainment, that’s all I was doing. Then, in the close season, somebody said to me, ‘will you do the announcements as well?’ The announcer’s box, then, was on the balcony of the Cottage. It was falling apart, the whole balcony was falling apart, it was a health hazard – nowadays, health and safety wouldn’t allow anybody to be up there.

“There were bits of the floor missing so you could almost fall through it. Also, the announcer’s box was right on the corner of it, so it had a terrible view – it was so far away from the goal at the Hammersmith End, it was an awful view. So I asked if I could be somewhere nearer the pitch.

“Back then, they had the whole area for disabled people along the side where I am now. They had a spare space and I started out there, so I was fairly close to the Fourth Official.

“Then, when the ground was developed and work was done on it, it was said that I could be in the Fourth Official’s dugout, but the Fourth Official’s dugout shrank when somebody brought in exercise bikes!

“They put a whole lot of exercise bikes in the end there so, in the Fourth Official’s dugout, there was the Fourth Official, obviously, me, a guy from Match of the Day, and another media guy, so there were four of us in this tiny, tiny dugout together. It was pretty cramped.”

Said development would likely never have taken place had it not been for the arrival of Mohamed Al Fayed as Chairman in May 1997. David ended up forming a strong friendship with our Owner of 16 years and, as a passionate Fulham fan, he – like the rest of us – is eternally grateful for how Mr Al Fayed transformed the Club.

“Everything is so well run. Look at this,” he said, surveying the modern canteen at Motspur Park where our interview took place. “This all came through the Chairman.

“In the very old days, they trained at Craven Cottage. They had a running track surrounding the pitch which they used to run around and, before here, they were at Roehampton, the Bank of England, which was nothing like this. This is just superb.

“And the way the ground has been done up – the ground was absolutely ramshackled prior to Mohamed Al Fayed arriving and then, of course, we had to redo the stands when we went up into the Premiership, which is why we had two seasons at Queens Park Rangers while that was done.

“Then, when we came back, it was superb. To put the stands in where they did and not spoil the Cottage was fantastic. New modern stands, and yet it was in keeping with the rest of Craven Cottage.”

Anyone who was preparing for a 17th consecutive year performing the same job could be excused for perhaps feeling they were going a little stale, but there’s no risk of that with David as he continues to enjoy the challenges faced every time he gets behind the mic.

“I get the same buzz from working a matchday that I’ve always had,” he admitted. “There’s never been a really good vantage point so the problem with where we are is that up above us, up the slope, are the coaches and you’ve got to try and see around them to see who scored the goals.

“There’s a lot of information that you’ve got to get right; you’ve got to get the goalscorers right, you’ve got to get the substitute – on and off – right. Subs are probably a bit easier because usually the Fourth Official will tell you to help you out, but the most complicated thing is when you get a triple substitution, which you do from time to time.”

In today’s modern game, with the vast influx of foreign players, another obstacle faced by announcers on matchday is the pronunciation of certain individuals’ names.

“Of course the foreign names can be quite difficult,” he confessed. “And when you play in Europe, as we did, some of the Eastern European teams have 11 players plus subs, all with names like Goran Ivanišević!

“It took me a while to learn how to get my tongue around the name Kačaniklić, and then there was a substitution where I had to say ‘coming off, Pavel Pogrebnyak, and coming on, Alex Kačaniklić!’ That was the most difficult one I’ve had to do. I’ve already started practising how to pronounce Amorebieta! Stekelenburg could be a tricky one too.

“I did a Q&A for the Friends of Fulham Forum recently, and somebody asked about Kačaniklić, and I said that one of the other things that’s very confusing is that I’m told initially the pronunciation of players’ names, but sometimes it changes. For a season we had [Kagisho] Dikgacoi, which I pronounced Dik-ga-choy, but then he went to the World Cup and people were calling him De-gash-wee!

“So when he came back I had to change it to De-gash-wee, but how do you get De-gash-wee out of D.I.K.G.A.C.O.I? He’ll be back at the Cottage this season so I’m going to have to start practising again! Luckily I’ve got a bit of time though as we don’t play Crystal Palace until the final game.”

Diddy continued: “The other one that was funny was Shefki Kuqi. One newspaper said that I called him cuckoo! I don’t think I did but they actually put it in the headline of a report that they did. I remember the next day at training, all the players were going ‘cuckoo, cuckoo’!

“Going even further back, Paul Peschisolido came here and I asked him if he was Peschi-solido or if he was Peschi-soleedo and, in his Canadian accent, he said ‘I don’t really care.’

“So I thought, if he doesn’t care, why should I worry about it? In the end I called him Peschi-soleedo. I think that provided you’re consistent, then you’re fine. But, on television, sometimes I heard people call him Peschi-solido and other times Peschi-soleedo, so obviously he didn’t give them any help either!”

Considering he’s had black and white blood coursing through his veins since he was a child, there are many moments David could select when pressed for his all-time favourite Fulham memories.

But, having witnessed Fulham at its lowest ebb, he opted for our Europa League campaign in 2009/10. Not just because of its unequivocal significance, but because it acts as a demonstration of how far the Club had come.

“My favourite Fulham moment, other than being there at the 1975 Final, is being there in Hamburg,” he explained. “But probably the most exciting game I think was Juventus at Craven Cottage. That was just tremendous.

“I remember when the first goal went in and then thinking that we’ve got to score four – no chance, no chance. When Dempsey got the winner about eight minutes from the end, I looked across at the Hammersmith End and literally, I don’t cry easily, but I had tears in my eyes. It was so emotional.

“When I remember the days when crowds were down to 4,000 it puts it all into perspective. In one game, when we were in the lowest division, there were just over 2,000 people in attendance.

“Half the seats were missing in the stand because vandals had broken into the ground and destroyed them because there was no night time security. There were weeds growing on the terraces and I remember, in those days, that the crowd was just so quiet because there was nothing to get excited about.

“And then to hear an atmosphere like the one that we had with Juventus, it was something you’d think would never happen. But there’s one man we have to thank for that, and that’s our beloved former Chairman.”

He elaborated: “When we were 91st in the Football League, I never could have imagined the success that we’ve enjoyed in recent times. When we had the promotion with Micky Adams, and then when Mohamed Al Fayed arrived, we thought that things were going to be good.

“He said we’d be in the Premier League in five years and I think, when he said that, we believed him – I believed him. I thought that he’s a man who, if he wants something, he gets it, and he certainly did because we achieved it in four.

“We had a succession of great managers, which helped; Kevin Keegan, Jean Tigana, who we played sublime football under, Chris Coleman did a really good job, but the outstanding one was Roy Hodgson. Roy was very Fulhamish – very Fulhamish.

“But, if it wasn’t for Mr Al Fayed, who knows where we would be? We were so lucky because we were in good hands throughout the 16 years that he was here. Since I began working for the Club, everything just got better and better.”

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