Cult Hero

Saturday 7 December 2013 21:02

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...

Paul Peschisolido arrived at Fulham in a blaze of publicity, shattering records left, right and centre. He was an instant hit with the fans and stayed that way, even when newer and even more expensive strikers started arriving on a seemingly monthly basis.

That was back in 1998. The Mohamed Al Fayed revolution was gathering momentum, the dream team of Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins had arrived, and the Premier League was firmly in everyone’s sights. As if to demonstrate their undoubted ambition, Fulham, only recently promoted to the third tier of English football, brought in Peschisolido, a proven goalscorer, for the unheard of sum of £1.1m. That not only smashed Fulham’s transfer record, it demolished the division’s previous best as well.

“It was a bit scary,” admits Peschisolido, christened Paolo Pasquale by his Italian parents. “And a bit daunting. But it was a great prospect, and it was a fairy tale time for the Club. I only held the record for a month, and then Cookie, Chris Coleman, came in for £2m, which was great for me. And I scored on my debut, which helps. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve scored on every debut for every club I’ve been at. If I’m being very honest, I think it might have hit Simon Morgan on the way in - but there was no way I was going to let him claim it!”

Peschisolido was on fire that first season, starting every game after his arrival at the end of October, and scoring 13 times to help propel his new team into the Play-Offs - an amazing achievement considering the enormous transition the squad had gone through. Unfortunately, things were to end in disappointment. “Yeah, I ended up getting sent off in the Semi-Finals in the defeat to Grimsby Town,” says Peschisolido. “The tackle looked a lot worse than it was really - I was never a dirty player. But it wasn’t a good way to finish the season!”

Peschisolido deservedly won the Player of the Year award that campaign. He was by then a huge favourite, a natural goalscorer, quick, skilful and a real entertainer.

He went on to pick up the Player of the Year gong the following term as well, even though his appearances had, by that stage, become increasingly sporadic - but it was a sign of how much the Canada international was idolised that he won the award despite starting only three of the last 16 games.

“The lads did give me stick about that,” laughs Peschisolido. “They used to say I’d got the man of the match after every game, even when I wasn’t playing! Morgs would present me with a bottle of champagne! The problem was Barry Hayles had come in for £2m, and Kevin wanted to play him and he wanted to play Geoff Horsfield; basically he wanted to play all three of us - but with me in the hole. I wasn’t comfortable playing there, I wanted to be up front.”

Peschisolido turned to management after hanging up his boots. First came a short apprenticeship at St Patrick’s in Ireland, and then he took over at League Two Burton Albion where he stayed for three years.

Peschisolido played more games for Fulham than for any of his other clubs, and that whole three-year spell is filled with nothing but happy memories.

“I had such a good time there,” he says. “I really did. It was a very close-knit group of players, and we had a lot of fun, and a lot of success - wherever you go and have success is always a special time. The goal I remember most was obviously the one at Liverpool (a left-footed curler from outside the box into the top corner of the net). It was a fantastic occasion, a Sky game as well. The lads all said it was a cross, but a few weeks later, we played Carlisle United and I managed to score the exact same goal, so that kind of shut them up. Obviously the one in front of the Kop was a bit higher profile!

“And we had some great cup games. I remember beating Aston Villa 2-0 in an FA Cup clash, and we battered them. That was when it really dawned on us as a squad. We thought ‘this is it, we really are heading in the right direction.’

“When you come up against a Premier League team, one at the top of the table, and you can beat them at their place, without any luck coming into it, and dominate them, then you can really start to believe that the squad you’ve got is a special one, and that special things are happening.”