Mohamed Al-Fayed’s tumultuous 16-year reign as Fulham owner is the focus of an entertaining new book by Tony Banks, reviewed by Eric Brown…
By ERIC BROWN
The experienced manager fought a losing battle to control his emotions.
A resounding home defeat looked like delivering the fatal blow to his team’s prospects of avoiding relegation and the manager was bravely fronting up to journalists post-match.
I’d just seen Roy Keane’s Sunderland beat Fulham 3-1 and now here was Craven Cottage chief Roy Hodgson blinking furiously to stop brimming eyes overflowing onto his cheeks.
It was already April in the 2007/8 season and Hodgson quietly admitted the situation looked hopeless. He added the usual platitudes about not giving up until survival became mathematically impossible.
Yet rather than opening the relegation trapdoor, Fulham’s defeat signalled an amazing revival.
They stayed up, and prospered, going on to reach the Europa League final two years later. Their tearful manager would be all smiles when Liverpool eventually came calling for his services.
This episode somehow sums up Fulham’s fortunes under Mohamed Al-Fayed. Their fans must have suffered emotional burnout with agony, despair and triumph swilling around in abundance down by the Thames.
Tony Banks’ enjoyable new book ‘The Great Adventure’ is subtitled ‘Al-Fayed’s Rollercoaster Ride with Fulham FC’. Never a truer word.
His £6.25m swoop for Fulham in 1997 came with the club newly promoted from the Football League’s lowest tier and signalled a frantic period in the club’s history.
The Egyptian billionaire stormed in, forecasting a Premier League place for Fulham in five years. They made it in four.
However, it wasn’t an easy ride. Over Al-Fayed’s 16-year reign, there were 10 managers, rows with the FA, the Football League, the Premier League and the government, and court proceedings.
Not to mention unpopular groundsharing and projected negotiations for a new club base. But there were also two promotions and European football to balance bad and good.
Al-Fayed’s ambitious ideas occasionally spilled over into fantasy. His attempt to purchase cast-off Twin Towers from the old Wembley Stadium was quietly abandoned after it became obvious the £25m cost to buy and re-site them at the Cottage was exorbitant.
Just as well. It later emerged the Towers were constructed of concrete likely to crumble during any move. Al-Fayed’s dream of re-erecting the iconic towers behind the Riverside Stand was dead.
Yet he went ahead with installing a statue of the so-called “King of Pop” Michael Jackson at the Cottage. It was never explained why.
All the above indicates there was never a dull moment at Fulham under Al-Fayed. So there is no lack of subject matter for Banks to tackle.
For the book, he interviewed many of the leading players, managers and club officials who served under Al-Fayed and relates their fascinating behind-the scenes stories.
His tale begins with Micky Adams as team manager, bounds along through Kevin Keegan’s eventful spell, hurtles on with Paul Bracewell and Lawrie Sanchez, features a controversial period under Jean Tigana and charts Roy Hodgson’s stay.
There’s room for Chris Coleman, Martin Jol and Mark Hughes while others who tiptoe through the narrative include Rene Meulensteen. You’d need to be a committed Fulham fan to recall him. It all ends up with Felix Magath and Kit Symons.
Well, not quite ends. All deaths are untimely but Al-Fayed’s at 94 came with this book already printed and in the warehouse awaiting delivery. Banks managed to redesign the wrap-around cover to include the news and add a bonus chapter available by scanning it.
Banks, a football writer with the Press Association, Today, The Sun, Daily Express, Daily Star and Daily Mirror, manages to reflect on a complex Fulham era under the unpredictable Al-Fayed.
His book will not only appeal to Fulham fans but those of other clubs with far less complicated history.
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