Fulham go from laughing stock to serious players

Mullery is pinching himself as Cottagers prepare for their European semi-final

Fulham and their supporters have much to thank Alan Mullery for. Not least for keeping the rain off them at the Hammersmith End for so many years. As the club's brightest young player in the spring of 1964 he was told by the chairman, Tommy Trinder, that Fulham had to accept Tottenham's bid of £72,500 for him because they needed to put a cover on the stand behind one goal. It was not one of the old music-hall veteran's jokes and Mullery reluctantly departed to White Hart Lane for eight years before returning to the Cottage to finish his playing career alongside Bobby Moore in an FA Cup final.

These days, aged 68, he is able to combine affection for both clubs by acting as a hospitality host on matchdays, and this season has been as enjoyable as any. Asked if he is surprised at how well Fulham have performed, he replies: "Not surprised. Shocked." It is a sentiment that may be shared by many fans, as a comfortable mid-table position and an FA Cup quarter-final (ending in defeat by Spurs) have been matched and then superseded by a Europa League semi-final, with a trip to Hamburg for the first leg this Thursday.

For many years there has been something of the vaudeville act about Fulham, not least in chairmen like Trinder, the blunt Yorkshireman Ernie Clay ("don't get angry, get even") and now Mohamed Al Fayed, performing a lap of honour before every home game in his garish shirts, whirling a black-and-white scarf. The day Mullery left for Spurs was not unusual by those standards. Sworn to silence about the transfer while playing his last game at home to Liverpool, he blurted it out to Johnny Haynes at half-time, which led to the manager Bedford Jezzard, who had been told nothing of the move, storming off home before the second half. Fulham, typically, went out and beat Bill Shankly's champions-elect 1-0.

Under Roy Hodgson, however, there is a new seriousness of purpose reflected in results. "When you look back over the years," Mullery says, "they've achieved promotion a few times, but to do what Roy has done in the last two seasons, finishing seventh in the League and the semi-final of the Europa League, beating some of the teams they have, is absolutely magnificent. I sent him a text after they beat Wolfsburg in the quarter-final saying for me he was the manager of the season."

As a hands-on, tracksuit-on coach, Hodgson clearly has to take more credit than many modern managers for his team's success. A majority of his signings, including Mark Schwarzer (free) and Damien Duff (£2.5m) have been outstanding and the transformation in form and confidence achieved with the team's leading scorer Bobby Zamora has been remarkable. The player himself says: "He's as good as any coach out there, he really is top drawer. His organisation has got this team playing."

Mullery, still a Sussex resident since his days as manager of Brighton, watched Zamora threaten club scoring records for the Seagulls, only to suffer at a higher level. "He didn't crack it at Tottenham or West Ham and when he arrived at Fulham he had a pretty awful time, getting a lot of stick. But he's full of confidence now and that's everything. As for Duff, who once cost Chelsea £15m, I don't think I ever saw the lad play a good game at Newcastle but he looks a player again. That all comes down to Roy and his coaching staff."

So, a European semi-final, something Mullery experienced at Tottenham (as captain of the 1972 Uefa Cup winners) but had hardly expected to ever see down by the riverside. "You can't rule anything out now, can you? I must admit I thought when they started out in this competition that the squad would be too small and they would struggle. Then I could see them going out when teams like Roma and Juventus popped up, but they were getting through and competing brilliantly. Now it's a train journey that could end up at a station in the final.

"Hamburg will probably be more difficult than Wolfsburg but the second leg is at home, which is good, and you just never know with Fulham this season. They got to the FA Cup quarter-final and I'm sure they would have done a better job against Portsmouth [in the semi-final] than Tottenham did last week."

His only concern is that supporters' expectations will outstrip the realistic possibilities for a club with a stadium capacity of under 26,000 and little scope for development. "I've said to supporters many times that the main aim for this football club is to stay in the Premier League. If we have good runs in any cups, or Europe, it's a huge bonus. It doesn't put a great deal of pressure on the manager, and I like that very much. The fact is they're doing things now that we simply wouldn't have expected them to."

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits