Kasey Keller was close to hanging up his gloves for good when the chance to join Fulham came about, and a former Whites ace was to play his part in the move.
Then aged 37, the American goalkeeper, who had previously starred in England with Millwall, Leicester City and Fulham’s opponents on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspur, joined the Whites from German side Borussia Monchengladbach in August 2007.
Just a few days later, Keller, who had also had a brief stint at Southampton, made his Whites debut as Fulham lost 2-1 at Aston Villa. He would spend just one season at the Club – but it was to be a pretty eventful campaign for the shot-stopper.
“It was very funny as I was actually going to retire,” Keller told the official website. “I was packing up the house in Germany ready to move back to the States and Brian McBride, who was still at Fulham then, asked whether I’d be interested in joining him there.
“He told me that he had to go into training the following day to figure out what the next stage was with his recovery as he'd injured his knee, and that he was going to tell the Club that I’d be interested in coming. So I said, ‘okay, do whatever you want Brian!’ I’d had several dealings with Dave Beasant over the years and next thing I know it’s about 10am German time the following morning and I get a call from Dave asking about my situation.
“Then about an hour later I get a call from Lawrie Sanchez, and then a couple of hours later I had an offer and the next day I got a flight and spent a couple days sorting the paperwork. Then I trained on the Friday and played against Aston Villa on the Saturday! It was a bit of a wild situation!”
Keller, though, had played just four games for the Whites when he tore his bicep tendon. He didn’t return to First Team action until March 2008 but was to play a key role in Fulham’s run-in as the Whites survived relegation against all the odds.
Recalling the injury, he said: “It was extremely frustrating. I’d gone so many years throughout my career without suffering injuries and basically I snapped a bicep tendon. I think we’d just had a clean sheet at Chelsea and things were going really well and then, because I’ve never really had these kinds of setbacks, I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I just said that I’ll get fit and come back and go from there. Then obviously Lawrie went out and Roy Hodgson came in and I was able to come back into the Team and prove my worth.”
Keller returned to the starting XI in a 1-1 draw at Blackburn Rovers and would be named between the sticks as the Whites came back from the brink to beat the drop thanks to memorable wins over Reading, Manchester City, Birmingham City and, of course, Portsmouth.
“There was obviously some tense situations throughout the locker room and on the practice field – nobody wants to be relegated and be in that kind of situation,” he said. “But then we won away at Reading and that kind of got things started.
“Then we had that crazy game at Man City and things just kind of started to take on a life of their own. We won at home against Birmingham in our second to last game of the season and that took us out of the relegation zone. A few of us went out to dinner after and although the mood had changed, there was still that knowledge that we couldn’t rely on the other teams.
“We knew we needed to get that win against Portsmouth on the last day. Then that day came and the results were coming through that Reading were winning, but we managed to hold on.”
The 1-0 win at Fratton Park will never be forgotten by the Fulham faithful – and it’s a game that will live long in Keller’s memory banks too.
He said: “It’s always fun to be part of something kind of historic; a great cup run, or something that people don’t expect, such as being a part of such a huge relegation save.
“The coach ride home after Portsmouth was a lot of fun and, like I said, it was great to be a part of it. You had that internal sense of pride – I’d got back into this Team and I was a part of something cool.”
Born in Lacey, Washington, Keller started his career for Portland Timbers before moving to Millwall in 1992, where he made more than 150 appearances. He then moved to Leicester before leaving for Spain in 1999 to join up with Rayo Vallecano.
Keller returned to the Premier League after accepting an offer from Tottenham in August 2001. He made more than 80 appearances for the North London outfit before losing his first-team place to Paul Robinson.
Reflecting on his time at Spurs, Keller said: “I played every minute of every game - league and cup - for over two years, which is special when you consider how often players are rested for games; to be in a situation at a club where if I was fit, I would be on the field. And I was lucky enough to stay fit, so it was nice.
“But it was decided that Spurs was going to go young and English and I wasn’t exactly either so I went to Germany and really enjoyed a few seasons there. I played in the World Cup during that period and I had a great time. It was another great experience.”
After leaving SW6, Keller, who won 101 caps for the United States, ended his career with Seattle Sounders.
He now resides back in America, but he’ll be taking a keen interest in proceedings at White Hart Lane on Sunday when the Whites travel to in-form Spurs.
“Spurs are starting to show what everyone felt they’ve been capable of for so long,” said Keller. “I’m not quite sure why it’s taken as long as it has to emerge as a team that should be challenging for the UEFA Champions League spots. Right now, they’re at the right end of the table.
“Fulham have been interesting. They always seem to go on a run in either direction; things go well and they get a few wins together and you think ‘okay, now they’re going to start pushing forward’. Or they go on a run of games without a win.
“But I still think Fulham have achieved such great things over the last few years. I don’t think anyone truly expected what’s happened. But it’s such a great Club. It was a fun place to be a part of at the end of my career.”