Cult Hero

Saturday 12 October 2013 09:30

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...

Sylvain Legwinski looked like a Greek philosopher, drove a battered old Volkswagen to training every day, was affectionately nicknamed ‘Monica’, and looked way too cool to be spending his time running round a muddy field chasing after a ball. In truth, he was the complete antithesis of the modern-day superstar; but underneath that casual persona lurked a very fine footballer indeed.

Legwinski arrived at the Cottage in 2001 after Jean Tigana had taken Fulham into the Premier League for the first time in their history. A hard-working, talented, ball-playing midfielder, he would be at the heart of the Fulham team for the next five years, a time he looks back on with great fondness.

He is also quietly pleased with being described as unconventional.

“I'm very happy if the way people remember me is that I was different,” laughs the Frenchman. “It’s a big compliment. I think I had the same reputation in France. I never had the image of the archetypal footballer. What’s good about football and sport is that there is room for everybody.

“I’ve never been interested in trying to be something I’m not; I was just always myself. It’s true that in football, people look at me as someone who’s different, but as we say in France, ‘vive la difference!’

“I don’t like it when people are all the same, when they fit certain stereotypes, when everybody does the same thing all the time. I enjoy it when there is diversity. You need characters in football. Out on the pitch is where people’s dreams happen. It is important. Different points of view, different ways of doing things - life is richer like this.”

These days, Legwinski is back in France as assistant manager at AS Monaco - the club where he started out in football. Not necessarily something he would have foreseen himself doing, however.

“As a young player I would have told you that I would never stay in football once my playing career was over,” he says. “I loved playing but I always saw myself doing something else. But as I got older I became more and more interested in all the different aspects of football - not just coaching, but how a club is run, the strategies and the finances - everything about it. It was at Fulham that I first started to take an interest in what was going on around me, and then, when I finished playing I realised how much I loved the game.

 “I’m still new to coaching, so I’m still learning, and there is such a big difference between playing and coaching, but I’m enjoying very much what I’m doing and we’ll see how things develop in the future.”

When it’s suggested that perhaps one day he might come back and manage Fulham, he laughs appreciatively.

“I like that very much,” says Legwinski. “To tell you the truth, I would love it. Fulham is a very important place for me. I really enjoyed being there, the atmosphere of the Club and the stadium - Craven Cottage was a wonderful place to play - and the people and the players. And I loved playing in England - that’s the style of football that I love, where you go out and try to score more goals than the opposition. When I played in France it was all about trying not to concede a goal first and it got very boring.”

When asked what particular memories stand out for him, Legwinski starts with the 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

“Probably the biggest achievement during my time at Fulham,” he says. “And deserved, there was no luck about it. At the end, even the United fans clapped us.” And of course there was the great European adventure, the Intertoto win and Fulham’s first foray into the UEFA Cup, “Just a great experience.”

And then there were the goals. Hitting the equaliser against Newcastle United at Loftus Road for instance, a superb long-range screamer from outside the area that curved beautifully round the despairing goalkeeper and into the net.

“Definitely the best goal I ever scored,” he says. “It was beautiful. And important too - we were fighting relegation and had been on a bad run.”

And finally, the breathtaking late winner against Tottenham Hotspur after being 2-0 down at half-time.

“I remember the ground exploding after I scored,” he says. “I just ran and ran because I was so excited. I didn’t get many goals in my career, but that was such an incredible feeling. I would have loved to have scored more - every time I did get a goal I asked myself, why am I not a striker! To experience everyone going mad just because you have scored, it was extraordinary.”