I was at Fulham from the age of 12 until I was 22-years-old, from the old Second Division days with the likes of Kevin Keegan, Ray Wilkins and Simon Morgan at the Club, right the way through the French revolution under Jean Tigana and the influx of some real quality players like Louis Saha, Edwin van der Sar and Steed Malbranque, to name but a few. I was fortunate enough to play with these guys under the stewardship of Chris Coleman who was a role model of mine when he played, so to play for him was a dream come true. I saw the Club climb the divisions and I still remember standing in the Stevenage Road Stand as a schoolboy supporting Fulham. The Mohamed Al Fayed era was a special one in the history of the Club and right now it’s very much a transition period with the new owner, so hopefully it won’t be too many years before the Whites are back in the top flight.
It was a little difficult because I had become attached to the Club and still consider myself a Fulham fan. The people at the Club were brilliant to me and my family which was very important during the time I was there. However, I think when you come through the ranks at a club more often than not you need to move on and make your name in the game because there is always the perception that you’re still that young player from the youth setup. I have seen many young players overstay at a club because they found it hard to detach and they eventually ended up out of the game at a younger age than they should have.
I had played 30 games for Fulham, including a large bulk of the 2004/05 Premier League season, and had two years remaining on my contract. I had a discussion with Chris Coleman and he told me I needed to be playing regular first team football. I was 22 so I decided to move on instead of being happy to just collect my wages and not play; when you have had a taste of being a regular in a side anything other than that is hard to accept. I have never been money motivated so decided to head for pastures new. The QPR manager at the time Gary Waddock called my agent and said he was interested in signing me so the negotiations began and after a few weeks I joined QPR.
Both clubs have excellent fans. The QPR fans were probably a bit more vocal, but that could be because Loftus Road is very compact with the fans very close to the pitch! At the time QPR were in some financial difficulty so were not as stable as Fulham and did not have the same family atmosphere due to the constant change in management and owners. Fulham were very stable with a large number of the staff the same for many years.
My time at Loftus Road was eventful to say the least. I played 50 times under seven different managers, which was not ideal because I found myself in and out of favour depending on who was in charge at the time! Flavio Briatore and Bernie Eccleston had just taken over and to be honest at times it was like a circus! I enjoyed playing for John Gregory and Luigi De Canio, and I learned a lot from Paulo Sausa and Iain Dowie. I also think it was a time in my career I learnt some very valuable lessons on and off the pitch because it was my first time away from Fulham, my comfort zone.
I was back in the UK recently and went to watch Fulham against Sheffield Wednesday in Slaviša Jokanović’s first game. It was great to sit in the Hammersmith End as a fan. I am still in touch with several staff, the likes of Carmelo Mifsud, Sarah Brookes and Mark Pembridge, all of whom have been excellent servants for the Club. I am in regular contact with QPR because my foundation and the QPR community department work together on some projects to help get more coaches in the game at grassroots level, and basically give something back to the community. I think both clubs will be slightly disappointed with their standings in the league at the moment because the Play-Offs seem a long way off.
I remember every Fulham game the fans had a certain song which included Al Fayed and QPR, but I won’t go into it here! The QPR fans also let their feelings be known about Fulham so I could always sense the rivalry! I played in a QPR v Fulham pre-season game but it’s never the same as when points are up for grabs.
It’s a hard one to call but I think it’s going to be a fiercely contested London derby with few goals and maybe decided by an individual error or a moment of magic. I’ll go for a narrow 1-0 victory for QPR based on the fact they are at home, unbeaten in five games since the turn of the year, and Fulham have not travelled well in the past few months despite a credible 1-1 draw at Huddersfield. QPR have not been prolific at home so that’s why I think it will be a low scoring game. The best result for me would be a draw so both teams get something out of the game.
Tickets for Saturday’s game are available to buy until 3pm on Friday. No tickets will be available on the day.