Memory Lane

Sunday 30 June 2013 09:00

From the past or present, each week we catch up with a different Fulham personality. This Sunday, it’s Leroy Rosenior.

Like many before him and since, Leroy Rosenior is a player that holds Fulham close to his heart. He may have last worn the white shirt more than two decades ago and freely admits that he hasn’t frequented Craven Cottage as much as he should have done since his days leading the line, but there’s no mistaking the regard in which he holds the Club. Especially now that bond has been strengthened further as he watched his son, Liam, progress in the black and white of Fulham and help the Club to become an established Premier League side.

Plucked from local football at the age of 17, Rosenior senior was given his chance as a raw, unpredictable talent - albeit one that had caught the eye instantly as a result of his unwavering drive and work ethic. Combined with his ability to put the ball in the back of the net, Fulham believed that they had unearthed a player that could make a difference.

The Whites, then managed by Malcolm Macdonald, even beat West London rivals Chelsea to his signature - with the Club’s personal touch sealing the deal in the Autumn of 1981.

“I’ve spoken before about my affection for Fulham, and nothing has changed,” Leroy told fulhamfc.com. “It’s a special connection, it has to be because it was the club that gave me my first break, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

“I was playing for London Schools down at Richardson Evans, and had done well that afternoon. So much so, a Chelsea scout had left a card for me after the game. Of course, that made me sit up and take a bit of notice, but then all of a sudden, Fulham’s old scout Derry Quigley came over and introduced himself - rather than simply leaving his card he waited to speak to me personally.

“He said that he thought I’d had a good game and that with the right training I might have a chance. I had a choice, but it was his offer I decided to take up, purely because he took the time to speak to me as an individual. I believed what he said too, and I went in for a three-month trial, but within six weeks I was signed properly.”

Such was his promise, the youngster was thrown in quickly, making his debut the following season (1982/83) in an away visit to Leicester City’s Filbert Street. A broken collarbone that day, though, would place his development on hold.

Following his return in the November of the following season, though, Rosenior would net twice on his first start at Craven Cottage in a performance that would do much to set his cult status in motion. He would score eight goals in 23 appearances that term.

A steady stream of goals followed, with seven in 30 league appearances moving Queens Park Rangers to make Fulham an offer they couldn’t refuse in the summer of 1985 - with the player taking up the opportunity of testing himself in the English top flight.

“That team under Malcolm Macdonald was dynamic, but he was a dynamic man,” he explained. “The boss was flamboyant, he made you feel like a million dollars - and for a young lad making his way in the game it made a difference.

“We had Ray Harford as a coach too, again, what a wonderful man - they brought the best out of me. When I think back to the players that we had at the time like Paul Parker, Roger Brown, Gerry Peyton, Tony Gale, Dean Coney, the two Rays - Houghton and Lewington - I really do believe that we were on the cusp of something. It was a shame that the team couldn’t kick on, and a lot of those players moved on. Of course, I ended up at QPR in a move that really didn’t work out. It wasn’t the best of experiences, so when the opportunity arose I jumped at the chance at a return to Craven Cottage.”

An evening meal with Jimmy Hill was all it took for Rosenior to decide on a return to the Club for what proved to be the second of three separate spells for the Clapham-born striker.

“Jimmy was a very persuasive man, but in truth I didn’t need any convincing,” admitted Leroy. “It proved to be a fantastic decision too, because I ended up having my best season in Fulham colours. I hit 22 goals in 39 appearances during the 1987/88 season. 

“I had so much confidence in front of goal, I just went out on to the pitch believing that I would score - I’d joke that I felt like a super hero! Ray Lewington was in charge at that point, and the Club had slipped down to Division Three. It was a very difficult spell as we all know but I like to think that my goals gave fans hope.

“We finished ninth, which wasn’t too bad and played some good football at times. I was playing up front with Gordon Davies, and managed to finish the season as leading scorer so that was a nice accolade to win. Gordon is a Fulham legend, so it showed that I had played my part.

“My return would only last a season, though, because by the summer West Ham United had made the Club a very good offer - I don’t think they could really turn it down. It also gave me the chance to show what I could do in the top flight again, and unlike my time at QPR, the move to the Hammers was a good one for me. In all honesty, though, I would have been happy to spend my whole career at Fulham.

“I think the fans understood, too. The Fulham fans have always seen the game a bit differently to the majority of supporters at other clubs. I still had a lot of friends at Fulham and I was told that when news came through that I had scored on my West Ham debut, the crowd at Craven Cottage gave a cheer. I don’t think many former players would get that, especially so quickly after moving on. That small gesture meant a lot to me, though, and I’ll never forget that. It’s moments like that, that make Fulham the Club that it is.”

So why does Leroy think the Fulham faithful took to him like they did?

“I think it helps when you score a few goals - everyone loves a goalscorer, right?” he said. “I can’t say that I was the most technical or gifted of players, but from day one I worked as hard as I could. I improved and got better and better, and I think the fans saw that.

“I never gave less than 100 per cent; I was aggressive, strong, I put my head in where it hurt. I had my more refined moments too, but even when I had an absolute stinker the fans never got on my back. I’d come in from relative obscurity, I appreciated the opportunity that I had been given and I was never going to let it slip. For me, it was a privilege to be playing for a club like Fulham - one with such a great history and I never wanted to let them down.

“At first I found it strange when I was stopped and asked for autographs, I wasn’t used to people recognising me. But don’t get me wrong, you soon get used to it; it’s nice - it shows that you’ve done something.”

A popular player at Upton Park, too, Leroy returned briefly on a short-term loan deal during the 1990/91 season, scoring three goals in 13 appearances. Time was also spent at Charlton Athletic on loan and Bristol City, before he wound down his career at Fleet Town and Gloucester City.

“I loved playing football and when you’re younger you believe that you can play forever - you feel invincible,” he explained. “I was always bursting to get out there and play, and that was probably my problem in the end. I played when I probably shouldn’t.

“I eventually succumbed to a knee injury that I picked up early in my career. But the adrenaline, the goals, the crowd, always got me through. I always played with a smile on my face, and I agree with those that say that football was more of a game back then - because it was.

“Of course, there were pressures and we felt them but, on the whole, it had more of a fun element to it. I don’t think you have that now; we’re talking about big business these days. I look back on my time as a player and know that I made the most of it and always enjoyed myself - really that’s all I think you can do. It was an incredible journey and one that I’ll cherish.”

Having retired from the game, Rosenior moved into coaching, helping oversee the development of Bristol City’s youngsters before taking over at Gloucester. Time was also spent at Merthyr Tydfil before turning heads at Torquay United, guiding the Gulls to promotion to League One in 2004. Prior to taking charge of Brentford, he took up the post of first-team coach at Shrewsbury Town, before a return to Torquay in May 2007. His second tenure at Plainmoor would be short-lived, though, as on the same day he was unveiled the club was sold and a new man subsequently appointed.  

“I don’t have too many regrets, but I would have liked to have coached at Fulham in those earlier days,” added the 48-year-old who is now forging a career in broadcasting. “I know Jimmy Hill wanted me to, and it was something that was discussed. Unfortunately it never happened for me, but you move on.

“The Club is in a fantastic place these days, and I’ve watched a lot of their games over the years. It’s part of the job, but unfortunately I haven’t been down to the Cottage as much as I would have liked. Fulham continue to make progress and to be celebrating a 13th consecutive season in the top flight is an incredible achievement.

“Funnily enough, I did make a trip back to the Cottage not long ago when buying my son Ethan a shirt from the Club shop with the name Rosenior on the back. I don’t think anyone recognised me; I slipped in and out very quietly.”

Some 23 years on and Leroy Rosenior is still the reluctant hero.