From the past or present, each week we catch up with a different Fulham personality. This Sunday, Tony Gale discusses his breakthrough season at the Cottage.
Having recently unveiled our new Home Kit for the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League campaign, we cast our minds back 36 years to our first season playing in an adidas strip.
The 1977/78 campaign saw us sport the famous three stripes on our shirts for the inaugural time, and it was also the season when a teenage Tony Gale embarked on a Fulham career that would see him chalk up 318 appearances for the Club.
“At the start of the season before [1976/77], I was an apprentice and Bobby Moore hadn’t come back from America in time to play in the two Anglo-Scottish cup games,” Gale told the official website when recalling his early days at Fulham.
“So, at 16 years of age, I made my debut for Fulham in the Anglo-Scottish, against Leyton Orient away and Norwich at home. Bobby then returned from America and proceeded to play the whole season – he didn’t miss a match, I don’t think.
“I was substitute in a couple of matches, one of which was against Chelsea away in front of about 50,000 people, but I didn’t make it on. That year, Bobby Campbell, the then-Manager, said: ‘Look, we’re grooming you to be Bobby’s replacement – I’m going to make you captain of the Reserves.’ So I was in the Reserves, 16/17 years of age, and captain. Then, the next season, I made my full debut.”
Like most professionals who have played alongside – or had any dealings at all for that matter – with Moore, Tony speaks with awe when discussing England’s World Cup winning skipper.
“Bobby Moore was just the best footballing defender I’ve ever seen in my life,” he admitted. “Watching him at close quarters every day for a season was a joy, and I even played with him once for the Reserves.
“He’d come back from America and needed a bit of fitness work so they put him in the Reserves with me. You didn’t really need to be told anything by Bobby, you just had to watch, and that was the way you did it.”
With Moore playing his last game for Fulham in the final match of the 1976/77 season, the stage was set for the 17-year-old Gale to try and fill the biggest boots imaginable. He made an excellent start to his Craven Cottage career, making 38 appearances in his debut season, and notching eight times in the process – only striker John Mitchell scored more.
“That’s incredible considering I got 24 in my career,” Gale admitted. “A third of my goals were scored in my first season! But the explanation for that was that for quite a few of those games I was playing in a midfield area.
“Obviously I started off at the back; number six would have been my number, then I wore eight when I went into midfield, which was innovative from Bobby Campbell when we played a 4-3-3 formation. I think I scored six goals in the eight games I played in midfield that season, and then I returned to the back again. Obviously I was doing too well!
“To play 38 of the 42 matches in my breakthrough season was great and I’ll be eternally grateful to Bobby Campbell for giving me my chance. Obviously in your first season you’re going to have a few dodgy games, but he stuck by me.”
The Whites finished 10th in Division Two that season. Despite boasting one of the league’s best defensive records (we only conceded once in Gale’s first six matches), we also struggled to find the net at the other end – we only scored once in those first six matches, too.
“We were pretty good defensively but we had trouble scoring goals,” Gale explained. “But I always remember that we were a good footballing side and we had quite a few good youngsters coming through at that time.
“It was sort of a changing of the guard that was going on because a lot of the older players like Bobby Moore and Rodney Marsh had left the season before, and they were replaced by the younger players such as myself, John Margerrison, Terry Bullivant, Brian Greenaway, Tony Mahoney – another fellow apprentice who got a chance. So quite a few youngsters were coming into the team.”
Gale and his teammates were the first Fulham players to play in an adidas kit, and now, more than three-and-a-half decades later, the worldwide sports brand has joined forces with the Whites once again. It’s a partnership that our former defender was happy to see re-established.
“It’s brilliant,” he said. “And it’s ironic because West Ham have gone with adidas as well this season.
“So the two former clubs that I love in my heart – West Ham and Fulham – have gone back to the kit manufacturer that I started playing with. I’ve got to say that adidas is a classic kit and I’m so pleased that both teams have gone with them – particularly Fulham as the white and the black just stands out brilliantly.
“The adidas three stripes will always have a fond place in my heart. I used to wear adidas boots as well when I was starting out. I think it’s a great move for the Club, a fantastic move, and I welcome it and look forward to seeing us play in the new kit as it will certainly take me back a bit.”
Tony Gale played with some of Fulham’s most influential characters in his first season as a professional. Here he talks about three of the more famous from our history who featured in that campaign.
Galey on Les Strong:
“It’s funny that time’s moved on so much that Les (pictured) is 60 now and still acting like a 16-year-old! But obviously Les was one of the big characters in the team. I think football has lost its characters and the more Les Strongs there are in the game, the better it will be. Football’s become a little bit antiseptic now, as far as characters are concerned, but Les was one of the big characters in the team, and a very good player as well.”
Galey on George Best:
“I think I played eight times with Bestie, and for six of them I was in midfield. To play alongside him was incredible – it was his last season with us, and it was my first season and I was just so lucky that those great times overlapped. You think that you’re going to be playing with great players like that for the rest of your career – you don’t realise at that age.”
Galey on Gordon Davies:
“Gordon was very raw when he came out of non-league football. He’d come from Merthyr Tydfil and I remember him scoring a goal at Blackpool in his first season. You never know what players are going to be like when they’re coming out of non-league, but he took to it like a duck to water. Gordon just had a sixth sense around the goal area – he had very, very quick feet and he took his chances, and that’s why he went on to become our record goalscorer. I had a little bit of telepathy with Gordon at free-kicks as well where he would come, check, and then I’d spot him with a quick run. So Gordon can thank me for a lot of his goals!”