Fulham have had more than their fair share of characters over the years, players that for one reason or another have left their mark on the Cottage faithful. Ian McCulloch reveals our most colourful cult heroes...
It’s sometimes a player’s fate that, regardless of how good he is and no matter how much he’s loved by the supporters, circumstances dictate that he will be destined to play only a bit-part role in that particular football club’s destiny. And that was the lot that befell Norwegian striker Erik Nevland, better known to his adoring fans as ‘Eric the Viking’.
Nevland arrived at the Cottage in 2008 from Dutch side FC Groningen where he had already achieved cult status, and he quickly acquired the same reputation at Fulham. It was easy to see why – exciting, quick, lively, he had fast feet, excellent anticipation, a belting shot, and above all, a wicked eye for a goal. The problem was that in his two-and-a-half years at the Club, more often than not he found himself on the bench, to be called on when the Whites were desperate for a game-saving goal.
“It was difficult for me because we had some great strikers during my time there,” remembers Nevland. “Players like Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson. So it was tough to break into the side and get a regular place. And we were doing well - it’s difficult to argue with selection when you’re successful. So that was mainly my role - coming on as substitute and trying to change games. Fortunately I think I managed to do that a few times!”
Brought in as part of Roy Hodgson’s desperate rear-guard action against seemingly certain relegation, Nevland was so keen to experience life at Fulham and the English top flight, that he actually paid some of the transfer fee out of his own pocket.
“To score goals in the Premier League was something I had been dreaming about since I was a little kid,” he says. “To actually achieve that was a dream come true.”
And once his goals had helped attain Premier League survival, things just got better and better as Fulham soared to a best ever seventh-place finish and a first European final.
“When we stayed up on the last day of the season it was amazing,” says Nevland. “A fantastic achievement. And then to build on that and have two incredibly successful years was just brilliant. I was just very happy to have played a part in the Final – it was the biggest game I’ve ever been involved in.
“It was disappointing to lose, but when you look back on it, the great run we had and the teams we beat, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be disappointed. Every game we played we were up against such tremendous opponents; everyone kept saying our run must come to an end. We were very relaxed because no one expected us to do well – there was no pressure on us. And we just kept going. Turning that Juventus game around was the real highlight – what a game. That cup run very special and something that we can all be very proud of.”
What Nevland was really all about, of course, was goals, getting on for 150 of them all told - and 10 very special ones at Fulham. “Great memories,” he says. “My first Premier League goal – away at Reading - and the important goal at home against Birmingham City the season we almost went down. The two against Liverpool at the Cottage, the goal against Portsmouth, I could name them all because they all mean something to me. And if they mean something to the fans as well, that’s just great.”
Nevland moved back to Norway and his old club Stavanger Viking after he left Fulham. Hodgson offered him a year’s extension to his contract, but Nevland’s mind was already made up.
“It was time for me to move back to Norway,” he says. “That was always going to happen at some stage and it seemed to be the right time to do it. I always planned that I would finish my career back in Norway.
“I enjoyed my time at Fulham very much, every minute of playing. I was very happy there and content with my role. I loved everything about the Club and the atmosphere and the fans, and living in London was great. It was a couple of years that I would never change. I still follow and support Fulham and always wish them well. They will always be a part of me.”