The year of 1979 saw the Sahara Desert experience snow for 30 minutes, McDonald’s introduce the Happy Meal and Michael Jackson release his hit album Off the Wall. More important, it also bore witness to a fantastic 2-0 win for Fulham at Stamford Bridge.
Little did we know that 39 years later we would have failed to add to our tally. Hopes are not high for that winless run coming to an end, but a new manager has brought renewed optimism.
Our last victory against our near neighbours took place in the old Second Division. Fulham came into the contest off the back of five straight league defeats, while Chelsea were flying high after five consecutive defeats and under the tutelage of the newly appointed Geoff Hurst.
Dave Wilson, a Fulham season-ticket holder for more than 40 years, was at the game.
“We were 3-0 down at half-time away at Birmingham on the first day of the season and won 4-3. We had quite a few high-scoring games, but then we had this bad run before the game at the Bridge.
“I don’t remember much of the game apart from the goals. John Beck’s was a shot from just outside the box midway through the second half and then the second goal was a corner by Peter Marinello which got flicked on at the near post by Tony Gale and knocked in by Ivor.
“Just after the second goal went on, they had this big scoreboard at the North Stand and it flashed up ‘that was Marinello’. It wasn’t corrected.”
John Clarke was 17 and working as a customs officer at the time and was also in attendance.
“I went to Stamford Bridge quite a lot during our Second Division games in that era. They still had the dog track around the pitch, so Stamford Bridge seemed a long way from the pitch.
“I’m pretty sure I went with him and a few of his friends because most of my pals were Chelsea fans and they’d have been done the other end, so I certainly didn’t want to stand in the Shed with that lot at a Chelsea-Fulham game.
“My dad, Don, was a Fulham fan, but he always used to work Saturdays. He was a butcher. He was born in 1933, so he started following Fulham around the end of the Second World War. He was part of the old school which would go to Chelsea one week and Fulham the next.”
Brian Phillips went to the game with “25 or 30” of the same Sunday football team based in Fulham.
“We played football for St. Thomas’, which had its own clubhouse just round the back of Fulham Fire Station. We all met up in there and then went off to the game together.
“They went into the Shed End and we went into the top tier of the East Stand. I don’t remember meeting them afterwards!” he chuckles.
Despite the difference in quality between the sides, they were several talented players in the Fulham ranks with the likes of Gale (a Chelsea fan), Les Strong and John Beck all capable of imposing themselves on the opposition.
Strong characters were needed, especially in an atmosphere far removed from the genteel surroundings of Craven Cottage.
Brian decided to sit in the home end to avoid being targeted in the away end by some of the more irate Chelsea contingent.
“Probably not the wisest decision,” he admits. “Chelsea were notorious [for trouble]. What was interesting was that the guys we went with were all Chelsea and if you were born and brought up in Fulham, most of your mates were Chelsea, but what Chelsea were attracting in those days were people from Kent and nearby areas, the troublemaking fraternity.
“Of course you didn’t have to buy your tickets in advance, you just walked up and paid on the door. Chelsea have always attracted bigger crowds and have had a great catchment pool mainly because of what happened late ’60s, early ’70s when they had the likes of Osgood and Hudson. They were a good side then.”
John recalls a confident performance despite our slump in form coming into the contest, unrecognisable from the team which was relegated at the end of that season.
“I don’t think we were under the cosh. We deserved the win. It’s a shame we didn’t follow up on that, which was bad considering we had quite a lot of decent players. I was scratching my head that season, thinking ‘we’ve got to turn it round sometime, because we’re not that bad’, but once confidence goes, even good players look poor and it’s been like that this season unfortunately.”
For Dave, the win marked the start of an unforgettable day.
“I went to see the Boomtown Rats the night of that game at Hammersmith Odeon. Having seen a great performance in the afternoon, I saw another very good performance in the evening.”
The west London rivalry dynamic is complex. Fans around are quick to scoff and what is perceived to be a middle-class and insipid affair. It’s clear that it matters far more to the black and white half of SW6. John feels it certainly has a different feel to other local derbies.
“There wasn’t that hostility, if there is real hostility between Chelsea and Fulham fans. A lot of my friends are Chelsea fans and other than their poor taste in football team, it’s what you’re born with, isn’t it? I don’t get the tribalism and hating other sides. We’ve got to support someone and fortunately I support Fulham.”
The appointment of Claudio Ranieri has enlivened the Fulham faithful and although the 3-2 win over Southampton was a significant departure from the high-possession style we had become accustomed to, it was a welcome change.
“We were happy to concede to concede possession and everyone bought into it,” John observed. “If we can get a few results under our belt, then we can get back to the nice aesthetically pleasing football that we were playing under Slav. Results are paramount for the time being.”
“You could tell the difference straightaway in the way he’s going to play,” Brian added. “The moment we lost the ball, everyone sprinted back to get behind it to condense the space. We only had 37, 38% and that hasn’t happened very often, even when we’ve played some of the better teams.
“I don’t think that gets you through against Chelsea. If we keep backing off against them, they’ll unpick us.”
As far as predictions go, there was reluctance to pin their colours to the mast.
“Ranieri’s got to believe that we can win and he’s got to instil that belief in the players,” said John. “He’ll be looking at it as a chance to get a point or if the Gods favour us, three points, but I think any Fulham fan would bite your hand off for a point right now. A draw at Stamford Bridge felt like a victory to me every time. A clean sheet would be nice as well. We’ll cross our fingers. If we can be four or six points better off by Wednesday night [after Leicester at home], I’ll be over the moon.”
Brian also was hopeful rather than expectant. “I think Chelsea will be too quick on the floor for us, but I think we can win. I don’t think we will and and Ranieri’s probably thinking that way. For him, this is the sort of game where whatever he’s been working on all week, he just wants to see which players can put it in place. If Hazard gets the ball, that’s easier said than done.
“I know they got spanked at Spurs last weekend, but that was their first defeat of the season. They’ve been really, really good, bearing in mind that Sarri’s started from scratch. There won’t be any surprises for Fulham. If there’s a bit of magic or there’s a deflection and it flies in, that’s life. You can’t do anything about that.”
Brian also mentions the possibility of Aleksandar Mitrović being dropped to the bench due to being one yellow card away from a ban and with a winnable fixture against the Foxes on the horizon. The Serbian’s temperament has been far steadier at Craven Cottage than it was playing for Newcastle, but controlling your emotions against two physical defenders in David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger is no easy task.
“If you’re the manager, are you thinking it’s better to leave him out at Stamford Bridge and play him on Wednesday? I’d be gutted about that. This is the holy grail, winning at Stamford Bridge,” he said. “But if Ranieri is going to be as methodical as it sounds like he is, don’t be surprised if Mitrović is on the bench on Saturday.”
This season has been tough, but it’s worth remembering that in 13 visits to the Bridge during our last Premier League, we managed five draws. The evidence is there. We can compete. The fans are happy to wait, but they wouldn’t mind a win.