As fans of a certain age will recall, the 1995/96 season was not an especially prosperous one for the Club, as that was the campaign which saw us occupy the ghastly spot of 91st in the Football League standings.
Of course, the season ended safely with Micky Adams embarking on a managerial career that would see him earn legendary status at Fulham, but the majority of the campaign was besmirched with gloom.
Things actually started relatively positively, believe it or not, with two wins and two draws from our first four matches in Division Three. Throw into context the fact that we’d dumped Brighton & Hove Albion out of the League Cup 5-0 on aggregate, and Whites fans could have been forgiven for demonstrating a cautious optimism.
However, Fulham then won just one of their subsequent 15 matches in all competitions which saw Ian Branfoot’s side drop to 17th in the table. Then, though, a respite from the league arrived on 11th November when Division Two Swansea City made the trip to London for our FA Cup First Round tie.
The Welsh outfit hadn’t been enjoying the best of times themselves that season, but the fact that they played their football in a division above Fulham meant they went into the tie as favourites. But what followed was a remarkable victory for the Whites which brightened the Craven Cottage terraces, albeit briefly.
Mick Conroy had come in for a bit of stick in the early stages of the season, but his performance in this particular cup tie went some way to alleviating that pressure. The striker put the underdogs in front with just three minutes played when he latched onto Nick Cusack’s flick.
Conroy had his and Fulham’s second a quarter of an hour later when he was left with a simple finish after Swans goalkeeper Roger Freestone was unable to hold Martin Thomas’ effort. Lea Barkus had been involved in the build-up down the wing, but injured himself in doing so and, at the risk of sounding callous, it proved to be a blessing in disguise as his replacement – Paul Brooker – played the game of his life in what was only his third ever professional outing.
Defender Duncan Jupp made it three just prior to the half-hour mark, before Robbie Herrera saw an effort cleared off the line and Cusack’s shot was blocked for a corner following a mazy run from Brooker. That set-piece did create the fourth goal, though, when Conroy bundled the ball home for his hat-trick, from another Cusack header.
While Conroy was rightly taking the plaudits for his clinical lurking in the opposition box, Brooker and Cusack were ruthless in their own right and so it was appropriate that they each added their name to the scoresheet.
Cusack’s goal arrived midway through the second half when he collected Terry Angus’ header, cut inside a defender and smashed the ball across Freestone, before Brooker notched his first in Fulham colours when he tapped in substitute Danny Bolt’s fine cross. And there was still time to add the strike which presented journalists with the opportunity to crack out a ‘Seventh Heaven’ headline when Thomas volleyed in from Herrera’s cross in the 80th minute.
It was a game that made FA Cup history as it was the largest scoreline by which a side has defeated a higher-tier team. It was a richly deserved distraction for Fulham fans, with Chairman Jimmy Hill expressing his delight in the next matchday programme: “Whatever Ian gave the lads last Saturday, I want some of it!” Jimmy penned. “Over the last eight years there have not been many really happy moments at the Cottage; mostly it’s been a struggle from one disappointment to the next.