Cult Hero

Saturday 6 July 2013 09:00

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...

For a little while at Fulham, in the darkest of the dark days, the fans genuinely thought that the Messiah had come. With the Club being sold out from beneath their feet and the Whites plummeting down the divisions, there arrived in 1984 a precocious 18-year-old blessed with skills the like of which hadn’t been seen for many years.

Kenny Achampong was the young man, and with the ball seemingly glued to his feet, he announced his arrival with three goals in his first two games. He went on to delight and frustrate the faithful in equal measure for the next four years, sometimes the only bright spark in a period of almost unremitting gloom.

His favourite trick was to drift effortlessly past a couple of defenders, and then go back to beat them again, just for the sheer hell of it - while his manager went berserk on the sidelines. It’s difficult not to wonder how things would have turned out if he’d been playing for Fulham now - he would surely have thrived in today’s skill-accentuated Barclays Premier League, rather than having to face the lower-league cloggers he was up against in the 1980s.

Fed up with being kicked off the park every week, and weary of the constant battles with managers struggling to harness his exuberant talent, Achampong was sadly allowed to drift out of football at the ridiculously early age of 27, after spells at Charlton Athletic and Leyton Orient.

Achampong, when we meet up with him, turns out to be articulate, expressive, and holding some very forthright views about the current state of football. “Look at Spain and then look at the England team and look at the difference in the ball control and the passing,” he says. “It’s embarrassing. We’ve had so many players with very little talent making millions out of the game over here. That’s been a big problem.

“But it’s changing now, and I’m very happy about that. It’s more about skilful players and players with talent. When you look at kids’ football now, it’s not just about winning, it’s how they win and it’s making sure they’ve got talent. It’s not all about working hard and kick and rush like it was in my day. But it’s taken a long time for people to recognise that. People say to me I could be playing for Barcelona now - they wouldn’t be talking to me about knock-downs!”

After spending the last 18 years in Germany, Achampong only recently returned to London, and in one of those delightful turns of fate that should have every Whites fan holding their breath in anticipation, his 10-year-old son Miracle is turning heads at the Fulham Development Centre in Mitcham.

“He’s got more talent than I ever had,” laughs Achampong. “Derek Quigley, the old Fulham Youth Development Officer, used to say to me: ‘I know a player when I see one and your son’s going to be a player. He’s going to be better than you!’

“The first time I took him to the Centre, I didn’t tell them who I was or that I used to play for Fulham, and they said: ‘Who’s this boy? He’s got so much talent.’ They really liked him.

“They’ve got a fantastic set up down there. Colin Omogbehin, who runs the Centre, is doing a great job. And the other guys are good people and they’ve been very good to me and my son.”

It was the sad death of Quigley, a Whites stalwart for many years and responsible for discovering the likes of Paul Parker and Dean Coney, that brought Achampong back into the Fulham fold.

“I hadn’t really kept in touch with anybody,” reveals Achampong. “I like to keep a low profile. I only met up with some of the old players when I went to Derek’s funeral. It was great to see some of the old faces again, people like Leroy Rosenior and Tony Gale. Derek was a great man, he did so much for Fulham. He was like a Father to me. But a long time after I’d left Fulham, Del told me that Arsenal had been in for me - they never told me at the time! I said: ‘Why are you telling me now? I don’t want to hear that!’”

It was at the funeral that Achampong received the advice that might well be steering him in a new direction in the future. “Jim Hicks told me to sort my coaching badges out,” he says. “He said someone with my talent has a lot to offer. So that’s what I’m going to do next, work towards getting my coaching badges.

“I met Ray Harford’s wife at the funeral as well. Ray was the best coach I ever had. He taught me so much. And she said that Ray always said I was the best player he’d ever worked with, but he could never get inside my head!”

A fitting epitaph for one of Fulham’s greatest unfulfilled talents.