Cult Hero

Saturday 15 February 2014 09:00

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...

There’s a magic moment in football when players and fans become one in the euphoric aftermath of a goal being scored.

It doesn’t always happen, of course. Sometimes a player is too cool for his own good and will stroll smugly back to the halfway line with his arm nonchalantly raised in the air. Or perhaps he’ll indulge in a carefully choreographed celebration that will have taken weeks to perfect and kills stone dead any possible sense of spontaneity.

This is definitely not what the supporters want. While the fans are going berserk in a wild, abandoned, uncontrolled frenzy, they want their heroes to do the same. They want them to care. Like John Mitchell’s jubilant gallop into the crowd after putting Fulham 1-0 up in the FA Cup Semi-Final against Birmingham City. Or, in a lesser setting but no less exhilarating, Rob Haworth’s joyous interaction with the fans after hitting an unlikely winner at Griffin Park against the old enemy Brentford. This is exactly how we want our goalscorers to react.

Then there’s Argentine striker Facundo Sava, owner of what was probably the most unrestrained and passionate celebration ever seen in front of the faithful. Anyone at Loftus Road in November 2002, to witness Fulham’s 3-2 victory over Liverpool, will bear testament to that - especially those fans who were on the receiving end of ‘El Colorado’s’ flying leap into the crowd after scoring his second goal.

“I always wanted to do that,” says Sava. “To jump into the crowd. But it wasn’t possible in my country because there’s always a fence between the fans and the pitch. In England the fans are so close to the play, and in the match against Liverpool - a huge game with a huge atmosphere - I was able to realise my ambition. It was beautiful to feel the joy and passion of the fans by being there with them. I always tried to be respectful of the fans, and every time I played I left my heart and soul on the pitch.”

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

As well as the pure, unconfined joy he showed after every goal, there was also that other unique celebration of his - the Zorro mask - that brought him, and Fulham, so much notoriety. Again, there’s never been anything like it on an English football pitch.

But there was always more to the man than just goals and celebrations. A deep thinker about the game, a qualified social psychologist, and author of ‘The Colours of Football’, Sava is as far removed from your typical footballer as you can get. And now he’s taken his cerebral approach into management.

After spending time with the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho to study their coaching methods, he took over at Argentine Primera Division side Union de Santa Fe last year. After avoiding relegation last term, they currently sit in eighth place this season.

It’s an exciting prospect watching the former Fulham hitman cutting his teeth in management, and the faithful will wish him well. They certainly won’t be wishing him well at Charlton Athletic, where Addicks supporters are still smarting after being on the receiving end of one of Sava’s mask-wearing exploits. They hoped to get their own back when 4,000 of them turned up for an FA Cup tie in January 2003 with their own red masks ready to be whipped out after they scored. But, after being on the end of a 3-0 thumping, they had to go home with the unused masks still in their pockets.

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