Memory Lane

Sunday 25 August 2013 08:00

From the past or present, each week we talk to a different Fulham personality. This Sunday, it is defender Andy Melville who helped the Club gain promotion to the Premiership.

Joining Fulham in 1999, two years after the Mohamed Al Fayed revolution had begun, Welsh defender Andy Melville played an important role in getting us into the top flight.

Beginning his career in his hometown of Swansea, Melville found himself on the road to success in a place that he held close to his heart and made his first team bow as a teenager.

“I started off in Swansea and was on a two-year scholarship,” he told the official Fulham website. “I just did one year of my scholarship though, as I turned professional and managed to make it into the first team when I was 17. I supported them as a kid and watched them when they were in the old First Division. I used to go to games with my dad, so they were my first choice to join as a schoolboy and obviously it just went on from there. All my friends and family were supporters so it was always a dream of mine to play for them.”

A midfielder, and occasional striker, in his early days, Melville quickly switched to defence where he would play for the rest of his career.

“My debut, believe it or not, was on the right wing,” he said. “I started off in midfield as a bit of a utility player; I used to slot in and help out as we had a small squad and would play right-back, midfield and even had a stint up front.

“Obviously I knew that I was a defender in my heart, so it was only a matter of time before I would play centre-half regularly. I really enjoyed the defensive side of things and wanted to try and start off the attacks from the back.”

Swansea achieved promotion to Division Three in 1988 and it was a time of personal development for Melville as he made his international bow for Wales the season after.

“We sneaked in on the last game of the season,” he said. “There were about six or seven teams who could have made it into the Play-Offs positions but we made it. With a little bit of momentum going into the two-legged Final, we beat Torquay United and Chris Coleman was playing with me at the time.

“Terry Yorath was the Swansea manager at the same time as he was Wales boss. So he was able to keep a close eye on me and took me into the squad relatively early. I made my debut and then played on a pretty regular basis which was great as everyone wants to represent their country.”

Leaving for a new challenge with Division Two side Oxford United in 1990, he stayed for three years until heading up north to Sunderland, where he would eventually make his break into the top flight.

“We had two relegation battles at Oxford and then a real good season when we played out of our skin and made it into the top 10,” he said. “We had a good squad but it was more of a selling club at the time and we never really brought a lot of new players in. We did really well just to stay in the league really, then I moved on to Sunderland in 1994.

“It was a tough time at the beginning with a couple of managers who came and went, but then Peter Reid took over and we got settled as a club. Individually I went from strength to strength and managed to secure a regular place in the side and we ended up getting two promotions into the Premiership. The fans were great and, when we moved to the Stadium of Light, we were guaranteed 46,000 people at a game which was fantastic. We had one great season where we only lost three games and got over 100 points, which I would do with Fulham later on.

“There was a big difference playing in the top flight though. Now it’s massive, but even then we would rely on hard work and team spirit; or top scorer got about 14 or something, so we never had anyone who stood out. We tried to build a base and then try to nick results on the break when we were away.”

The attraction of Fulham in 1999 was the reason for his move to London as Melville saw the project and ambition of Mohamed Al Fayed, who had taken over two years previous, as a great step for his career.

“Kevin Keegan had taken over as Manager and brought a lot of good players in,” he said. “They were starting to show a lot of ambition and when I spoke to Paul Bracewell, who I knew from my days in Sunderland, he wanted to kick the Club on. It didn’t work out for him personally, but you could see how much ambition the Club had and it had a great setup: a great training ground and a traditional of playing good football. That helped to make my mind up.”

There was a Welsh connection which helped: internationals Chris Coleman, Kit Symons, Paul Trollope and Alan Nielson all played for the Fulham team at the same as Melville.

“Yeah there were a few in that squad,” he added. “They helped to mark my card with regards to how the Club was as I knew them from the Welsh squad. Everyone I spoke to told me that the Club was going places and it has never really looked back ever since.”

Making 42 appearances at the back and providing the defensive spine that is important in a promotion challenge, Melville’s played a huge role in getting the Club into the top flight.

“It was great,” he said. “Jean Tigana came in and made a few additions to the squad over the summer. He changed the philosophy of the Club on and off the field; the mentality was massive really. We had a lot of old pros at the Club during that time and he definitely changed my thinking in terms of how professional we all were.

“The style of play changed too: the goalkeeper was told not to kick it long and instead we would play out from the back. That was brilliant and everyone took to it immediately; we would get the ball down and play, then if we needed to there was the physical side to help us defend at the right moments as well. The difference between that Fulham side and the one with which I went up at Sunderland, though, was our goals. We had goals from every part of the pitch and, although Louis Saha stood out, it was a team effort.

“The revolution was started before I arrived on the scene with Micky Adams, but these things take time and the years that I was there were so important as it helped the Club to where it is today. Sometimes teams progress too fast and end up suffering, but it was the perfect timing for Fulham and it ensured that they were able to stay there in the long term.”

Now a coach at Oxford United, who won its first three games of the Sky Bet League Two season but drew against Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday, Melville looks back on his time at Fulham fondly.

“It was a little bit difficult for me when I left in 2004,” he said. “Chris [Coleman] was Manager at the time and he was a big friend of mine. But when he told me that there were clubs who were interested in taking me, I knew that my time at Fulham was coming to an end.

“Looking back it was probably one of the biggest regrets of my career to leave, but you make the decisions you have to at the time and live with them. I really loved my time there. It’s a really good Club, they looked after you and I had a lot of good memories.”