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...
A tall central defender, who arrived at Fulham as part of the deal that took rising star Ray Houghton to Oxford United back in 1985, Jim Hicks is the first to admit that Whites fans probably thought they hadn’t got the best of that particular bargain.
He admits: “You could tell people were thinking, ‘what have we signed here?’ I wasn’t blessed with a great deal of natural ability, but I never gave up. I always gave everything for the team - and I think people recognised that in the end.”
Football fans will forgive just about everything if a player is wholehearted, committed, and gives his all in every game, and the fact that Hicks clearly sweated blood for the cause gave rise to a very special rapport between him and the faithful. A lot of it was humorous, but there was no doubt that behind the humour there was a genuine appreciation for somebody doing his best.
“In those days, you pretty much knew everybody in the crowd by name!” Hicks remembers. “Fans aren’t stupid - they can see when somebody is struggling, and by and large I struggled during my time at Fulham - I was pretty much at the limit of my ability. But I did try. Nothing ever came naturally to me - I had to work at everything. And I think the crowd sensed that, and they get behind a trier - what they don’t do is get behind someone who gives up. And I never gave up. There was a lot of black humour there, though.”
These days, Hicks is head of coaching at the Professional Footballers’ Association. Before that he was with Millwall, where he was the architect of their Football in the Community scheme and managed their successful Lionesses team. Coaching was something he was always destined to do, right from his early days when he was taking a sports degree at Warwick University while on the books at Coventry City, to when he took his first qualifications while playing for the Washington Stars in the US after he’d left Fulham.
Hicks is perfectly positioned to compare the old and the new at Fulham, as he is now a Whites Season Ticket Holder.
“My wife Carol and I go to every single home game,” he says. “We’re passionate about the Club. But almost everything about Fulham now is completely different to when I was a player there, although what makes it so good for me, as someone who’s got Fulham at their heart, is that it’s still the same old Craven Cottage, albeit a bit more polished. It’s what’s on offer in front of you that is worlds apart. It’s absolutely, breathtakingly good.
“And so is everything else - the pitch, the equipment, the coaching, the preparation. And the Training Ground - we didn’t have one! We trained wherever we could find somewhere – Bishop’s Park, Hurlingham Park, the old Harrods training ground in Barnes, Banstead, Isleworth… you name it, we trained there. Fulham were at one of their lowest ebbs then. And now we’re seeing crowds of 26,000 every week instead of the 3,500 we were getting.”
When asked if any one particular memory stands out from his time at Fulham, it is, of course, the goal he scored against Notts County back in February 1987 - the only one of his career.
“And it was an important goal, too,” he laughs. “We were struggling, desperate for a win, and we ended up beating them 3-1. It wasn’t a classic goal - there was a knockdown and I smashed it in from about six yards. I just remember, in my naivety, losing control completely - I just went crazy. I was running around, jumping up and down - I remember Cliffy Carr being on my shoulders - it was a big deal for me, it meant a lot.
“And I think when the fans see that they realise how much it means to you. Something like that isn’t staged, it’s not put on. I’d taken stick, I wasn’t a particularly talented player, but scoring a goal and getting a result against a high-flying team like Notts County, meant a massive amount to me and I was riding on the crest of a wave there for those few seconds. It was brilliant.”