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Opinion

On the terraces, Nile Ranger, Lee Clark, Shola and other hazy memories… Fulham v Newcastle

1 month ago
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My first trip to Craven Cottage to watch a Fulham v Newcastle match was in April 1980, soon after I moved from Tyneside to Thames-side in search of fame and fortune. Don’t ask how that panned out . . .

My old schoolfriends had given me a good send-off at the Duke of Wellington on Kenton Lane.

The farewell gifts included City To City, that classic Gerry Rafferty album. Still love it, especially the strangely relevant Baker Street, where I ended up working a few years later when I briefly rejected newspapers and turned to public relations. A bad move.
Anyway, that’s another story for another day.

For that Fulham v Newcastle match in the 79-80 season, I stood on the terrace behind the goal, my favourite position. The ground (to call it a stadium would be undue flattery) was far from full (the record books say 7,152).

Fulham had a young centre-half called Kevin Lock who was being touted as the new Bobby Moore, probably because he had recently moved from West Ham.

Moore had done the same near the end of his career. Safe to say Lock was a lot easier to pick than England’s World Cup-winning captain. It was a poor game, second-tier, and we lost, 1-0.

More recently, Lee Clark was playing against us for Fulham around the turn of the millennium. He was there as an unforeseen consequence of perhaps the most stupid transfer in our club’s history, when we sold him to the Mackems in June 1997. Only a particularly spiteful or deluded Newcastle United manager would have thought that was a good idea. On reflection, perhaps the person in question was both.

When he moved, the small club in Co Durham were in the old Second Division, as I still call it. We were flying high in the afterglow of Keegan’s first spell as manager.

This meant, of course, that our dyed-in-the-wool Magpie would not have to face us. That all changed when his new team were heading for promotion at the end of the 98-99 season. The Wallsend lad’s worst nightmare was becoming reality. He would be lining up against his boyhood team in the colours of his most bitter rivals.

What was a man to do in such circumstances? Clarky had the answer: the wonderful SMB T-shirt he wore at Wembley when cheering us on against the Salfords in the 1999 FA Cup final. The T-shirt ended his spell on Wearyside as forcefully as a guillotine. And off he went to the not-so-bright lights of west London.

Looking back, Clark now says he regrets allowing some Mags in a pub (in Baker Street, bizarrely) to pull such a cunning stunt. And that photographs were taken and widely circulated. He told the football writer Martin Hardy last week that he feels bad for disrespecting his teammates and his employers on Wearside.

In Clark’s defence, Peter Reid’s blunt advice to him before the Cup final was followed to the letter. Old Monkey Heed’s last words had been: “Whatever you do, don’t wear any f…ing colours!” Clarky clearly paid attention. The T-shirt was definitely monotone. Black and white and read all over . . .

Lee Clark

As for the Fulham v NUFC match (April 2003) in which I saw him play, he scored a late winner and declined to celebrate.

I was also there when Steve Sidwell (yet another ex-pro now blighting radio and TV coverage of football) showed he was not quite as stupid as he looks or sounds.

This might be a senior moment but I have a feeling we had just sold a crocked Andy Carroll, so Shola was up front, with little help.
The ball was in the air near halfway on our right wing. Time for an aerial challenge. Sidwell went old-school, rearranging Shola’s face with liberal application of a very hard and pointy elbow. The ref waved play on, obviously. Things went from bad to worse. A certain Mr N Ranger was brought on to replace Shola.

Within a few minutes we could see our “promising young striker” had an attitude problem as big as his ego; standing around rather than making runs, gesticulating at his teammates for failing to play passes that were never on, mouthing off to all and sundry. Which would have been just about acceptable if he had not missed a couple of decent chances. To make matters worse, Damien Duff later scored the only goal of the game, for Fulham.

Lots of our fans will have enjoyed the end-of-season 4-0 under Rafa, when a Geordie Armada had a fun day out, but I for one am long overdue a bit of joy at Craven Cottage.

Fulham, from what I’ve seen on TV, are extremely hit and miss. They outplayed the Salfords at Old Trafford last season in an FA Cup quarter-final and would have won if Mitro had not blown his top. Harrison Reed looked a world-beater that day but he seems to be a fringe player in this campaign.

They pushed Liverpool all the way at Anfield six weeks ago before falling to two late, late goals from the Murkysiders. And they spoilt Arsenal’s festivities by defeating the Premier League pretenders.

Alongside those excellent performances, however, they were beaten 3-0 by Bournemouth (no disgracio in that, obviously) and surprisingly lost 2-0 at home to Burnley. Our 3-0 win against Fulham at St James’ Park on December 16 should be treated with caution because of the Raul Jimenez red card on 22 minutes. His absurd assault on Sean Longstaff not only reduced them to 10 men but eliminated their main attacking threat.

A home tie in the fourth round would probably have given us higher hopes of reaching Wembley this year. It is what it is. On our day we should have too much power and too much guile for Fulham.

Over to you, Eddie and the Hotrods!

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