Memory Lane

Sunday 8 September 2013 09:00

From the past or present, each week we talk to a different Fulham personality. This week, it's former Fulham defender John Fraser, who helped us to the FA Cup Final in 1975.

From cleaning the boots of The Maestro to playing in an FA Cup Final, for a time John Fraser’s spell at Fulham was the stuff of schoolboy dreams. Not that it ended quite so happily for him in SW6.

An injury to Les Strong had seen Fraser start the Final against West Ham United at left-back in 1975. Although the Second Division Whites lost 2-0 that sunny day at Wembley, Fraser was seen by many as Fulham’s Man of the Match.

However, hopes of securing a regular place in Alec Stock’s First Team were soon dashed as Fraser recalled: “After playing in the Final at the end of the 1974/75 campaign, the following summer we went on a pre-season tour of Sweden. All the lads were saying, ‘this is your year Sharky, you deserve to be starting.’

“But for the first game of that tour I was named as substitute with no explanation at all. And from that point on I didn’t conduct myself in the best way. I thought if I couldn’t get in the side having done what I’d done then I was never going to get in. That season was a bit of a waste. It was the wrong attitude and I know that now but my heart had gone out of it. I played six or seven games that year but then I got a free transfer to Brentford.”

Born in White City, Fraser joined Fulham at the age of 14 after being spotted playing for his school.

He said: “I was playing for my school team which was a very good side. We were playing in a Final which we won 9-1 and when we came in our schoolmaster said a couple of chaps from Fulham had been here.

“Eddie Perry, who was Chief Scout at Fulham in those days, then came in and had a chat with us and to cut a long story short, invited us to train a couple of times a week. That carried on for a couple of years and then I signed apprenticeship forms.

“We swept the terraces, cleaned the boots, got the kit ready. We even mowed the pitch sometimes for the old groundsman. Each youngster would have about six players whose boots they cleaned and one of mine was Johnny Haynes.”

Initially a midfielder, Fraser progressed through the ranks, but it was his ability to play with both feet that led to a switch to full-back.

“I played for the Under-17s and Under-18s and then got a chance in the Reserves when I was still only about 16,” said John. “I used to play in the midfield in those days. I loved that position – up and down, box-to-box. The one thing I lacked was pace but I could run all day.

“They were short of right-backs in the Reserves and George Cohen took me under his wing. He was running the youth sides at that time and did ever such a lot for me. He asked me if I wanted a game at full-back. I told him I’d play anywhere.

“So I went in at right-back and did okay and played a few games there. George asked me if I fancied making it my position and said he’d give me all the help he could. I was keen as mustard to play anywhere so I stayed at full-back and that really became my position.”

Fraser continued to impress for the second string, eventually leading to his First Team debut against Blackpool under Manager Bill Dodgin.

“The week before I made my debut we played West Ham in the Reserves and our Coach Bill Taylor called me aside and told me to have a good game as I might make the First Team next week,” said Fraser.

“I couldn’t take it in – all I’d ever wanted to be was a professional footballer. I couldn’t see it happening so I put it to the back of my mind and played the game against West Ham. I did alright and then on the Monday, Bill Dodgin told me to come and train with the First Team. I trained all week and I started a practice game on the Thursday at right-back. It was beginning to dawn on me then I might get in.

“After the training session, he pulled me aside and told me he was going to play me. I made my debut against Blackpool. They’d just sold Tony Green who was their top player at the time so I was pleased I wasn’t marking him but boy was I nervous! I really used to suffer with nerves, probably more than most players. We won 2-1 and it went okay and then we went on a little run and won the next four on the trot.

“But then in a game against Charlton Athletic, I came up against their left winger Keith Peacock and he absolutely destroyed me at the Cottage. He gave me a right chasing and it really affected my confidence. I played a couple of games after that but my head was down.

“The Manager took me out the side but said I’d done well and would get another chance soon. But that was the way it was for the rest of that season and the one after that and I kind of became a substitute full-back. If either full-back got injured, I’d play. Then Les Strong came on the scene and made the left-back slot his own.”

Injuries, though, led to Fraser getting a starring role in Fulham’s run to Wembley.

“I got in the side just before the Quarter-Final when John Cutbush got injured,” said Fraser. “We won 1-0 at Carlisle United and I did well. I stayed in the side and my confidence was high. When it came to the Final, Les missed out and I slotted in at left-back as John Cutbush was fit again.

“I did well in the Final. People said I was Man of the Match for Fulham – I’m not sure if I was but I know I played well.”

After his pre-season snub, however, the writing was on the wall. Fraser featured just six times the following term, eventually leading to a move to Brentford. Things didn’t really go to plan at Griffin Park, though, and Fraser began to think about a life outside of football, specifically driving his own taxi.

“It was a big, big comedown from Fulham which had been the only place I really knew,” said Fraser. “I couldn’t believe the difference when I turned up for training at Brentford; the facilities, having to take your own kit home to wash, things like that. I didn’t play that well there but I was moving house and we’d just had our first baby and I was losing a bit of interest in football.

“I’d done the Knowledge and I felt I wanted to do my own thing. It wasn’t good money in football back then – I could actually earn more as a cabbie, believe it or not, so I wasn’t turning big wages down!

“After leaving Brentford, I had a year with Bobby Moore and Harry Redknapp at Oxford City. It was a great year, the club was run like a professional team but we didn’t get promoted and the chairman had put quite a lot of money into it. It all just fell apart, Bob and Harry left so I decided to take up taxi driving full-time. I was 28, coming up to 29.”

And Fraser, now 60, has been in the driving seat ever since, musing: “It pays the bills but I don’t love it as much as I used to. I get the odd Whites fan in the back who’ll say, ‘you look like someone who used to play for Fulham’ and it’s funny when I tell them I am that person.

“Fulham will always be in my heart. Although I was upset at the time when I left I look back and think how lucky I was, particularly with the FA Cup Final. That was every boy’s dream. I met so many great people. We all had a great rapport and we remain friends to this day.”