Our Favourite 96/97 Memories

Friday 17 November 2017 13:00

The 1996/97 season remains an absolute favourite for any Fulham fan who was around to witness it.

Having sat 91st in the entire Football League at one point the previous year, promotion seemed a million miles away, yet Micky Adams led a group of hard-working, determined individuals to 87 points and a place in Division Two.

Those old enough and fortunate enough to enjoy 1996/97 will have plenty of brilliant memories from throughout the campaign, but we’ve selected four of our favourites to put to a vote. Have your say and we'll reveal the winner next week.

Fulham thump Darlington
McAree goal v Carlisle
Promotion confirmed at Mansfield
Cambridge celebrations
Something else?
Comment below

Remind yourself of the key moments with our refresher below:

Fulham 6-0 Darlington

A solid unbeaten run over the Christmas period had seen Fulham maintain top spot in the Third Division, but following a 1-1 Boxing Day draw with Exeter City we had to wait 16 days for our next fixture as the cold weather led to three postponements.

The story goes that preparation was hampered for the Darlington match at Craven Cottage on Saturday 11th January as four elderly ladies had booked out the gym where the team did five-a-side, but it ended up having little impact on the result.

Defensive stalwarts Nick Cusack and Mark Blake both missed out through suspension, which meant a second debut for former England defender Paul Parker, who Micky Adams had brought in on a short-term deal as a “little belated Christmas present to the Fulham fans.”

It was only 1-0 at half-time courtesy of Rob Scott’s volley, but two goals in quick succession after the hour mark from Richard Carpenter and Danny Cullip put the game beyond the Quakers.

The introduction of young Paul Brooker in the last 10 led to some added gloss as he set up Darren Freeman for number four inside a minute, before netting himself shortly after.

It was unusual that Micky Conroy hadn’t scored in such a prolific match, but he changed that in stoppage time with a long range strike to ensure Fulham won by their biggest margin in the league since 1969, using six different scorers in the process.

Who put the ball in the Carlisle net?

Injuries reduced Rodney McAree to just 32 appearances during his time at Fulham, but he went down in Club folklore with his winning goal at Brunton Park on a cold afternoon in early April.

A 20-year-old Rory Delap had headed the hosts into a half-time lead, but Mick Conroy restored parity when he tucked home after Danny Cullip had nodded McAree’s delivery across goal.

Carlisle were a point above the Whites going into the game, and so the winners would effectively guarantee themselves a top-three spot; step up Mr McAree.

Just four minutes after Conroy’s equaliser, Christer Warren knocked the ball into McAree’s path on the edge of the box, and the Ulsterman hit a half volley as sweet as you like into the corner of the net to send the 2,000 travelling fans delirious.

“It was Grand National day, and we’d done a sweepstake, but the race was called off, so we still had all our sweepstake money - and that came in very useful for the celebrations on the way home,” McAree recalled.

“That journey home was fantastic, absolutely fantastic. I remember the bus pulling off close to Birmingham because we’d run out of refreshments and we had to find somewhere to restock! There were a few weary faces getting off that bus when we got back to Craven Cottage.”

Mansfield Town 0-0 Fulham

It might not seem like the most inspiring game, but this goalless draw in Mansfield saw Fulham secure a first promotion in 15 years with four games to spare.

It was by no means an easy fixture with the Stags harbouring hopes of a Play-Off finish, and they had the better of the play, only to find themselves frustrated by a resolute Whites backline.

Mick Conroy, Christer Warren and Matt Lawrence went close to a winner, but it mattered not in the end. Once again, 2,000 Fulham supporters were there to enjoy the celebrations, and they gave their team a heroes’ reception when they emerged from the directors’ box to take their bow.

“I’m a bit emotional,” Micky Adams said after the game. “We’ve got promotion. Give the boys credit because they’ve worked ever so hard this season. I’m proud of every one of them – it’s a squad game. And I’m proud of the fans.”

Final day celebrations

Fulham went into the final day knowing the title was still a very real possibility, but we would need to better Wigan Athletic’s result at home to Mansfield Town.

Micky Adams was pragmatic about the afternoon to come in Cambridge: “We can only give it our best shot, we can’t worry about what Wigan are doing. All we can do is worry about us and get the win we need.”

The Fulham fans had travelled in their droves to support the team, with 4,000 of them (more than half the total crowd) taking up two stands, and Darren Freeman eased any nerves early on when he was sent in on goal by Mick Conroy and rounded the ‘keeper before coolly finishing from a tight angle.

Things were looking rosy at half-time as Wigan were being held by Mansfield, but unfortunately the Latics struck twice after the break to secure the title by virtue of goals scored.

It is the pure definition of Fulhamish that this rule – championed by Jimmy Hill – meant the Whites missed out on silverware, as we had a superior goal difference to our rivals.

But while it was disappointing to not end up top, Fulham fans had something to celebrate for the first time in years, and those supporters at Abbey Stadium – poetically where Micky Adams had begun his managerial career 15 months earlier – enjoyed a party atmosphere long after the final whistle had gone.

Photographs kindly provided by Ken Coton.

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