This week’s Memory Lane saw us catch up with former Fulham left-back Rufus Brevett, now an Academy Coach at the Club.
"This is Kevin Keegan, I’m from that big club just around the corner from your little club." A cocksure remark Rufus Brevett was understandably taken aback by when he picked up his phone.
Earlier that afternoon, Queens Park Rangers manager Ray Harford had informed the left-back that they had accepted an offer from West London neighbours Fulham. Brevett was not overly-enamoured with the thought of leaving Loftus Road and who can blame him? After all, the move involved dropping down to the old Division Two and leaving a club with whom he had enjoyed seven successful years.
Still rankling from the news, when Keegan called and uttered that opening to the call, Brevett couldn’t help but laugh.
"Fulham were in the division below and QPR was seen as a big club in London, so I just started laughing," he told fulhamfc.com. "But he cut me short and said 'you can laugh now, but you will not be laughing in a few years'."
How right he was. While Keegan left for the England post after helping Fulham to the Division Two crown, Brevett and his teammates continued to rise up the leagues, helping to establish the Whites as a Premier League force. It was an extremely special time in a career which did not look like reaching such heady heights during his teenage years.
A talented left-sided midfielder, Brevett had his heart broken by local side Derby County before his career had even started at the age of 16. Back then, players joined clubs on schoolboy forms from the age of 14 to 16, with the hope of being offered a YTS and then getting a professional deal. There was no academy structure then, so it was first-team manager Arthur Cox that dealt with younger players.
"He told me I wasn't going to be offered a YTS," Brevett said. "I was probably the only one out of the 10 boys that went in to be told no. I was devastated, absolutely gutted."
Brevett was assured by his youth-team coach at Derby, Richard Williams, that he would find him a club, but it was not easy to keep focused. Brevett said: "For about six months I just wasn't bothered about football."
Brevett preferred going out with his mates to the prospect of playing football, with a career in the game slipping away until he eventually accepted a trial from Doncaster Rovers.
"I put them off three times because I had to go down on a Friday night and play a game on a Saturday - and I just wanted to be with my mates," he said. "I made up excuses two or three times before I decided to go. I signed straight away."
The move to South Yorkshire proved the making of Brevett, handed regular first-team football as a teenager - albeit it an alien position.
"I had never ever played left-back," he said. "The first time I played left-back was in a trial for Doncaster and it just went on from there really. They were in the old Division Three when I first went, then got relegated. Back then they were just a struggling club but a friendly club that made me feel really welcome. I played under some great managers and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Everything worked out really well."
So impressive were Brevett's performances that he was attracting admiring advances from higher up the leagues.
"We had a game against Leicester City behind closed doors for David Pleat to have a look at me," he said. "I had an absolute beast, an absolute nightmare so I was shocked when Billy Bremner called me into his office and said 'we've had an offer and have accepted it'. Even though I'd had a nightmare, I automatically thought it was Leicester. When he told me it was QPR it blew me away. The bright lights of London - it was all a bit daunting."
Doncaster secured a record fee for the full-back, receiving £275,000 for his services - a figure that remained Rovers' biggest sale for the best part of two decades. Not only did the move boost the coffers of struggling Rovers, it saw Brevett ply his trade in the top flight with what was a high-flying side.
"I think it was my first season there we finished as the top London team," he said. “If that happens now you're winning the league or are there or thereabouts. We had some really good players, it was a well-run club. The people again made me feel really welcome."
Brevett spent seven successful years with the Rs and remained with the club after relegation from the Premier League in 1996. While QPR were struggling to bounce back from the second tier, he thoroughly enjoying his football and certainly had no intention of leaving - well, not until his hand was forced.
"I’d only missed a few games that season, was playing well and then on the way home from training I get a phone call from Ray Harford saying that they’d accepted an offer from Fulham," recalled Rufus. "At the time, Fulham were in the division below so straight away I was like 'no, I don't want to go – I’m staying'. But they basically said I had to speak to Fulham."
A phone call with Keegan and 90 minutes later, Brevett was sat opposite the Fulham manager at Craven Cottage and a deal was soon struck.
"I was sat in his car on the way to the medical and I was thinking to myself, 'I’m sat in a car with Kevin Keegan - an absolute legend'," said Brevett. "To play for him, he was brilliant. He had a sharp tongue on him, but if you did it for him and worked for him then he was brilliant. He kept saying to me I was the best left-back in this league and the league above. He probably didn't mean it, but because it came from Kevin Keegan you were now thinking you were the best player in the world. You went out and gave your all and his man-management was brilliant."
Under Keegan's tutorship, Fulham racked up an incredible 101 points out of a possible 138 as they romped to the Division Two title.
Keegan immediately left for the England post on a full-time basis and, after Paul Bracewell led the Whites to a mid-table finish in the second tier, the Whites kicked on again under Jean Tigana, once again amassing 101 points en route to the Division One crown.
"The team we had was absolutely ridiculous," Brevett said. "When you look at the calibre of players that we had it was frightening. We didn't just have good players, we had real characters as well, even the French lads. There were no cliques, everyone got on with each other. It was probably the best team spirit I have played in because everyone got on with everyone. On a day off we would all go out for a meal, a drink or whatever. It was a great, great time and the squad of players was frightening."
Not only were they getting on with each other off the field, but Tigana had got them playing a wonderful free-flowing, possession-based game on it. That style saw them attract admiring glances during their inaugural season in the Premier League in which they finished 13th and secured qualification for the now defunct UEFA Intertoto Cup.
The competition was Fulham's first dalliance with European football and one that ended with success. Having overcome FC Haka, Egaleo and Sochaux, Brevett captained the side to a 5-3 aggregate win over Bologna in the Final.
"That was brilliant," he said. "By then Tigana had come in and he was the best manager that I played under. I think the type of football that we played suited the European stage. We passed the ball about and we just never gave the ball away.
"Tigana when he came said, 'If Louis Saha has got up front, if the ball has to go back to the goalkeeper do it because we've still got possession'. That’s how we played. For me, going from a left-back whacking it over the opposition’s head into the channels, to then play in a team that never gave the ball away was so enjoyable."
The image of Brevett holding the trophy aloft is one that will live long in the memory of many a Fulham fan - and one which proved to be one of his last major contributions. Having gone out of the UEFA Cup to Hertha Berlin, the left-back, fearing Tigana would soon depart, left Craven Cottage to link up with relegation-threatened West Ham United in January 2003.
He was unable to help the Hammers beat the drop and, after struggling for fitness in his second season at Upton Park, spent time at Plymouth Argyle, Leicester and Oxford United, before hanging up his boots at the age of 37.
"You can't replace the buzz of playing," Brevett said. "There’s nothing that can replace it. The next best thing is managing, but that buzz of going out in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people, scoring a goal and the camaraderie… it’s not so much the football I miss, it’s the banter, being around the lads. I think that’s what you miss more than anything. I certainly don't miss pre-season!"
Brevett is still heavily involved in football and works as an analyst for BBC Radio London. He also runs the North Oxfordshire Academy in Banbury and coaches the Under-8s at Fulham - a Club that will always fondly remember the dread-locked one.