From the past or present, we catch up with a different Fulham personality. This week, we talk to our former goalkeeper Dave Beasant who will be making his ‘debut’ for the Club in the Fulham All Stars v Sealand All Stars charity match on May 18th.
It isn’t very often that a club signs a player when he is 42 years of age, but that’s exactly what happened with Wimbledon legend Dave Beasant in 2003 when he became our Goalkeeping Coach and also registered as a player.
Beasant’s penalty save against John Aldridge in helping lowly Wimbledon to win the 1988 FA Cup has gone down in football folklore [it was the first time a goalkeeper had been a captain at Wembley and was also the first time one had saved a penalty in the showpiece event], but when he arrived at Craven Cottage to take on a coaching role under Chris Coleman over a decade later, he made himself available for selection as third choice keeper Martin Herrera was out on loan for the season.
A London native, Beasant could well have ended up a rival of Fulham as his young allegiances lay elsewhere. “I was a Queens Park Rangers supporter as a boy, as I was born in Willesden in North-West London,” he admits. “QPR were my local team, but when they were away I would go and watch Chelsea; between them I would watch a game every other week. In those days they didn’t play Fulham that often, so there wasn’t much of a rivalry.”
It wasn’t long before he was making his own strides in the game as the young goalkeeper made an impression. “It was one of those things as I was playing football at school, then I was asked to play for a Sunday league men’s side,” he says. “I was then asked to play for Edgware Town as a lot of the players I knew from the Sunday league had done the same. A couple of players actually left the club to sign for professional teams: Brian Stein (who played for Luton Town and picked up one England cap) was there at the same time as me. From the Willesden area where I lived, in the surrounding area, Luther Blissett lived up one road, the Steins lived close, Steve Gatting who played for Arsenal and his brother Mike (an England cricket international) did as well, so in quite a small community there were quite a lot of sportsmen who made it.
“Brian went to Luton and the talk was that the club was going to come back and sign me, but that never happened. Dave Bassett, who knew me from the Sunday league, came down and invited me for a trial with Wimbledon. At the end of the month, he said ‘How much are you earning?’ and, as I was a printer, it was about £25 a week. He said to me: ‘We’ll give you a year’s contract and we’ll match that £25’, and I jumped at the chance to become a professional footballer. Only later I realised that I was £12 a week down, as I got that for playing at Edgware at the same time. But after a year at Wimbledon they offered me a three-year deal on about £100 a week so it was worth it!”
Within a decade, Beasant had risen to claim the number one spot at Wimbledon and was a major part of the ‘Crazy Gang’ side who shocked the country when they beat all-conquering Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup Final of 1988. The club had come far in a very short time - from the Fourth Division to the top flight in four years - and the trophy win was an incredible achievement.
“I always wanted to play at the top level, but I never thought I would play for Wimbledon there and also go to a Cup final with them,” he admits. “I always thought the club would be a lower division team and I’d need to get a transfer in order to achieve that. I’m one of those who believes that when you play for your country [Beasant travelled to the 1990 World Cup with England and picked up two caps], it’s a massive honour and a massive highlight, but to win the Cup final against a team like Liverpool was unbelievable. The penalty save, everybody talks about, but as far I was concerned on the day it was just about doing your job and getting the plaudits afterwards.”
The FA Cup Final was Beasant’s last appearance in a Wimbledon shirt, as he was soon sold for a huge fee to Newcastle United. “£850,000 was a transfer record fee for a goalkeeper back then,” he says. “I signed a five-year contract with Newcastle but I only lasted five or six months as there were boardroom battles going on and the assets had to be sold. It was a bit like ‘last one in, first one out.’”
Heading back down to London, Beasant signed another five-year deal, this time with Chelsea. “I had a great time at Chelsea,” he said. “People always remember some of the bad things, like when I was criticised by Ian Porterfield for throwing a game [after two mistakes against Norwich City], which was blown out of all proportion. When he left I was back in the team but, unfortunately, when Glenn Hoddle arrived, I missed the first three months of the 1993/94 season after the infamous salad cream incident.”
Beasant severed the tendon of his big toe after dropping a bottle of salad cream onto his foot a week before the season and claims: “It was my worst ever injury. I went nine consecutive seasons without missing a game, but this saw me out for two months. I was making a cup of tea in the morning and knocked the bottle with my elbow, then my natural instinct - and I think anybody’s natural instinct - kicked in and I put my foot out to break the fall. It made a small cut, but the weight of bottle saw it go down to the bone and it severed my tendon. My first chat with Glenn was in hospital and I never played a game under him.”
In Beasant’s absence, Dmitri Kharine took his chance to cement his First Team place, with Kevin Hitchcock in reserve, and Beasant opted to move to Southampton.
“People say I’ve had a lot of clubs,” he said. “But that’s not right as I was at Wimbledon for nine years; Chelsea four; Southampton four; Nottingham Forest four; and then at the end of that I was 41 years old. Watford was my local club and I would do pre-season training with them so I was fit, then a club would come calling that needed a goalkeeper. I went to Portsmouth for a season, then on a short-term contract to Bradford City and joined Wigan Athletic, before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion just after Christmas 2002, until the end of the season.
“They went down as results conspired against us on the final day and the club wanted to sign me again, but I didn’t want to drop down to what is now League One. A week before the start of the season, Fulham manager Chris Coleman gave me a ring and wanted a goalkeeper to be a player-coach. I jumped at the decision as I was 42-years-old and coaching was the natural next step for me. I knew I could still play, so I thought that being in the Premier League would be a nice way to finish my career.”
Far from just taking the step into coaching, Beasant was also registered as a player with third choice keeper Herrera sent out on loan for the season and, although he never started a game for the club, he played an important role in tying the team together.
“I was player-coach for three years at Fulham,” he recalls. “Chris tried to put me in the coaches’ dressing room but I said ‘No, I’ll go with the players.’ It worked out very well actually as I’d been around a lot and I have a bit about myself in the dressing room. It wasn’t cliquey, but there were different groups – the French guys, with [Jean] Tigana as manager, were one group – and I tended to go in and break it up a little bit.
“My last season as a player was when I was 45, because I remember being on the bench on my 45th birthday against Chelsea [a 2-1 defeat on March 20, 2004]. Sky’s TV channel had prepared a whole thing as, if I’d got on the pitch, I would have been the oldest player to play in league history by two years or something. As I was good mates with Chris, I kept saying to him ‘Go on, put me on for the last five minutes and then Sky can have their story and I’ll have a Premiership game. But obviously there was no room for sentiment.”
Beasant took it upon himself to help the young talent at Fulham flourish and, as he came to the end of his career, he was able to help the Club in the next stage of their development as an established top-flight side.
“I enjoyed playing in the reserve teams and contributing there. I felt like I was able to nurture some of the young boys through,” he says. “I remember doing that to Liam Rosenior when he arrived and coaching him from behind. I think that was good to be able to play in games and still be a coach who's also able to help the young players.”
Having taken a role as a part-time Goalkeeping Coach at Bristol Rovers in 2012, Beasant will finally get the chance to play for the Whites at Craven Cottage as he is set to represent Fulham All Stars against Sealand All Stars on May 18th in a charity match to raise money for Fulham Football Club Foundation and the Club’s charity partner for the 2012/13 season, Shooting Star CHASE - a charity dedicated to supporting life limited children and their families.
“This will be my first game representing Fulham at the Cottage,” he concluded. “So it will be interesting and I’m sure it will be a good game for the fans and the players. I’ve got a great relationship with those still at the Club and it’s nice to go back and see everyone. I feel a bit of an outsider now I’m not involved in coaching anymore, but it’s always nice to go back to Fulham.”