A regular and welcome visitor to the Cottage is former player and lifelong Fulham supporter Brian Greenaway. He keeps in touch with his old teammate Les Strong and an hour spent listening to the two of them, often with some others from that era, talking about their playing days is time very well spent.
Now 55 but looking as trim as he did when he was a winger in the 1970s and early 1980s, Brian was happy to talk about his playing career, and the time he spent at the Cottage.
He was a Fulham supporter from the start, he admits. “I was born in Fulham and went to school in Fulham and my whole family apart from my Mum were Fulham fans. She supported Chelsea. My Dad used to take me along to watch when I was a boy. I just about caught the tail end of the Johnny Haynes period but I don’t remember much about it. But as a teenager I was standing right behind the goal at the Hammersmith End when Alan Mullery got that stunning goal in the cup against Leicester City.”
As a youngster Brian played schools football locally, and just enjoyed playing. “I never really thought about turning professional until towards the end of my schooldays. I was just happy to go out and play. But when I was about 14, I was playing for West London and must have had a reasonable game because West Ham United, Chelsea and Fulham all came in for me. As a Fulham supporter it was an easy choice to make. So I went along with the Fulham juniors, who were looked after by Ken Craggs. We had a useful side with the likes of Terry Bullivant, Tony Mahoney and Steve Scrivens in the squad. I remember my forms to sign as an apprentice came through the post on the morning of the FA Cup Final in 1975. I was just 17.”
The Club was starting on a period of rapid change about this time, as Brain pointed out. “When I signed, Alec Stock was in charge but by the time I was in the reckoning for a chance in the First Team, Bobby Campbell had taken over. You can only speak as you find, and he was very good for me. The players liked him as a coach and for a while it looked as though we would push for promotion. But after a few years, it all went wrong for him and we got relegated. And it was a good team that went down, pretty much the same as the one that came back up a couple of years later. There is no real explanation of why a potentially good team should slide like we did other than a loss of confidence. I suppose the Manager had gone about as far as he could with the team and it was time for someone else to have a go.
“But I got my chance soon after Bobby Campbell took over. I’d had a couple of runs as substitute but over Christmas 1976, the Manager gave me my first start and it was against Chelsea at the Bridge. The crowd was 55,000 and included all my family. Strangely enough, I had no nerves about the crowd. I have always felt a small crowd can be more intimidating than a large one because you can hear what many of them are saying. But in a big crowd like that day at the Bridge, there is the constant noise which creates a terrific atmosphere. We lost that game2-0 to a Chelsea side which won promotion that season. But I still remember the thrill of lining up alongside George Best and Bobby Moore as a 19-year-old for my debut.
“I had always been an old fashioned winger. I liked to play out on the right and take the full-back on. My pace could usually take me past him and quite often I’d win free-kicks after being fouled. And then if the play was down the other flank, I used to like coming in late, unmarked for ball across the face of the goal. I got a few goals that way. I’d love to be playing in that role today because wingers seem to be back in fashion and can add an extra dimension to a team’s play.”
It was not until the following season that Brian established himself in the First Team, and it was a very promising side.
“We had some well-established players like Ray Evans, Strongie, John Lacy and John Mitchell,” he recalled. “And the Manager signed Gerry Peyton and Richard Money and gave a young Tony Gale, John Margerrison and Gordon Davies a chance in the side. It was an exciting time and we did play very well on occasions, but we were inconsistent. I scored my first goals that season. I didn’t get many but they all seemed to be worth points. In fact, five times I got the only goal of the game, twice got our goal in drawn games and once got the winner at Sheffield United when we won 2-1.
“I remember the equaliser in a home game against Tottenham Hotspur. We played in the pouring rain and the Big Match cameras were there. Playing towards the Hammersmith End, a cross came over from the left which Tony Mahoney touched on. I came in from the right to shoot past Barry Daines in the Spurs goal. And I got the winner another televised game at Selhurst Park. When the final whistle went we were leading 1-0 and went back to the dressing room. While we were getting change, Bobby Campbell came in and told us that the referee had played five minutes short and wanted us back out to play the remaining time. It was a crazy situation but we held on and won 1-0.”
Just when everything seemed to be going so well, Brian suffered an injury which changed his career. “It was so silly really,” he explained. “We were training as usual and it was my turn to go in goal. I dived to save a shot but fell awkwardly and I was stretchered off and taken to hospital. It seemed I had punctured a lung and the injury kept me out for a couple of months. While I was out, Sean O’Driscoll came into my position. He played well and the team went on a good run that ended with promotion. I couldn’t get back.
“I could understand Malcolm Macdonald’s position and he was very fair. Under him, the Club was changing. It was a happier, more relaxed place, especially when Roger Thompson arrived from Arsenal to do the coaching. They did change my game a bit, though, wanting me to defend more and to tuck in and watch the full-backs coming forward. That was not part of the game I enjoyed as much but it was the sort of thing coaches everywhere wanted.
“At the end of the 1981/82 season, Malcolm told me that a club in Cyprus, Apoel in Nicosia, were interested. He said got out and have a look and get a few weeks sunshine. I went out and stayed two years. The lifestyle was great and my wife was pregnant and waking up each day in the sunshine suited us. The football was of a pretty average standard. It’s improved a lot since then but was below English League standard. But the facilities were great, I had a good deal and we even played in the qualifying stages of the European Cup (now the UEFA Champions League).
“Then I came back to the UK and played a lot of non-League football. I had a great time at Wealdstone. In 1984/85 we won the equivalent of the Conference and the FA Trophy at the old Wembley Stadium. We were the first amateur team to do the double, and we were all genuine amateurs. We all had other jobs and mine was chauffeuring, something I’ve been doing now for 23 years.”
From Wealdstone, Brian moved on to Dagenham, Tooting & Mitcham United, Slough Town, Wycombe Wanderers and Staines Town, finally retiring in the early 1990s in his mid-30s.
“I loved playing football,” he confessed. “And in my final years was just playing for the fun of it. I do sometimes think of the unfortunate timing of that injury and also wish that I had been given a go at centre forward. I can sympathise with Theo Walcott wanting to play down the middle because pace is such an asset. And I do think my style would have been suited to the modern game.
“But I have no regrets and no bad memories about Fulham. I love visiting, and I keep in touch with a few old teammates like Strongie and Teddy Maybank, although it is hard to recognise the Cottage as the same ground I played on 30 years ago. Watching the likes of Dimitar Berbatov is an absolute joy, as it was to play with George Best when I was younger. But what has changed is the gap that has emerged between the supporters and the players. In the old days, we would all come round to meet the supporters afterwards, even if we thought we would get some stick. The Manager came as well. These were the people after all who paid our salaries.
“But now, the players seem more remote, and their wages are paid by Sky. But this is a small gripe. Fulham always was a very special place and I’m delighted that the Club is in the top flight and playing the sort of football that is true to its traditions.”