Whilst the ball is still in Cardiff’s hands on Sunday, there’s a chance that it could be an afternoon to remember in the West Midlands, as Fulham are poised to capitalise should the Bluebirds slip up against lowly Reading. To whet the appetite, Cameron Ramsey took a look at some other memorable promotion clinching moments in the Whites’ history.
Sunday’s do or die encounter – in terms of grabbing second out of Cardiff City’s clutches – at Birmingham City at St Andrew’s could spell promotion to the Premier League indefinitely if the Whites mount a show-stopping performance against the Blues, who will fight tooth and nail to ensure that they don’t succumb to defeat, with a win, or indeed a draw, fundamental to their Championship survival.
It’s been a while since Fulham have been involved in a table-topping frenzy, but as ‘London’s Originals’ have had to clamber the divisions in years gone by, there’s two notable instances where they’ve managed to clinch promotion to the next available flight, be it as champions, or by means of a sufficient position at the summit of the league.
2000-01 | Huddersfield Town | 11/04/01 | 2-1 victory
With Fulham registering a staggering 101 points out of a possible 138, Jean Tigana’s supreme outfit finished with the Division 1 crown with an admirable 10 point gap over runners up Blackburn Rovers. The Cottagers, despite three draws before the final game of the season, were rampant throughout the calendar schedule and the fixture, before their lacklustre spell, against Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium resounds as a pivotal meeting.
Fulham had not featured in the top-flight since 1968 and a victory against the Terriers would crown them as Division 1 champions, tensions were sky high and though Huddersfield were enduring a difficult campaign, the Whites understood that their struggling counterparts would try everything possible to crash the south-west Londoners’ celebratory party in their own back yard.
Louis Saha, Fulham’s enigmatic top-scorer, notched his 29th of the season from the penalty spot in the 66th minute after a goalless first-half and tails were up, but there was another kink in the plot waiting in the wings, because as predicted, Lou Macari’s men hit back in the 78th through Delroy Facey. The robust hit-man, who was playing as a lone striker on the day, took the ball in his stride and advanced menacingly towards Fulham’s rearguard and after rounding Kit Symons to fashion a threatening opportunity, Facey dispatched a shot off the post from 12 yards to level the deficit.
Time was ticking and the Cottagers’ backs were firmly pressed against the wall, Huddersfield had the bit between their teeth and Jean Tigana’s contingent had to stifle the West Yorkshire-based outfit’s buoyed spirits. With five minutes of the regulated 90 left with the spoils shared at 1-1, Steve Finnan swept a ball along the right flank and as Fulham’s faithful drew a deep breath of anticipation, Luis Boa Morte marvellously stabbed home from the edge of the box, through the legs of the onrushing keeper, to hand his squad the desired 3 points, and pandemonium duly erupted in the away end.
The final whistle blew and jubilation shook through the travelling support simultaneously, they’d just witnessed their heroes clinch the title with 5 games of the season remaining, and whilst there was still indeed a task at hand in bolstering their overall points tally, the Whites could finally plan and prepare for their return to the top brass, a stay which would last a resounding 13 consecutive terms.
1996-97 | Carlisle United | 05/04/97 | 2-1 victory
It was a desperately cold afternoon at Brunton Park, although given the magnitude of the Division 3 encounter on the turf, the day’s proceedings were red hot, as so much in terms of promotion from England’s basement division was at stake.
Micky Adams’ tenacious set-up were just 1 point behind Carlisle in the standings and an away victory would all but seal the Whites a top-three seeding and effectively a ticket for Division 2, however as the Cumbrians knew the importance of a solid performance at home, a 20-year-old Rory Delap nodded the hosts into a commanding first-half lead having connected with an in-swinging cross in the 18 yard box, and the challenge ahead of Fulham in the second 45 couldn’t have been any more imposing.
Fulham’s Mick Conroy found himself in a goalmouth melee as a looping ball orbited the penalty area and as Danny Cullip butted back across the target, Conroy rose highest to divert past a smothered United keeper, and 2,000 supporters situated behind the goal in Fulham colours proceeded to ransack the hoardings segregating them and the pitch as parity was gloriously restored.
But those who had made the lengthy journey up to the North East could never have predicted what was in store for Fulham next, even if a sense of sheer elation had gripped every single individual, following the game’s scrappy equaliser.
Rodney McAree’s career with the Whites was blighted with injury and only managed to attain 32 appearances for the club, however his name, which often escapes the recollection of many an avid Fulham fan, would be catapulted into folklore on SW6, credit a moment of barefaced audacity on the periphery of the ‘D’.
On a particularly dilapidated surface, the ball bobbled enticingly in McAree’s direction. Waiting for an optimum height, the Ulsterman primed his right wand to unleash a half volley of ferocious conviction, and if anything is true in football, once a ball is hit as sweetly as it sounds off the leather of an expertly calibrated boot, it stays hit.
Carlisle’s keeper clawed at thin air as McAree’s thunderbolt ripped the net from its moorings, and after regathering his composure in-front of a raucous away following, the dejected stopper, who failed to live up to his profession, vented his anguish with an embittered pounding of the turf.
Fulham travelled back towards the capital with 3 points and a relieving 2 point cushion over their latest domestic victim and match winner McAree, as quoted by Fulham’s official website, 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.”