In one hundred years you wonder where it might all be. English football is now owned by the world. In my travels, it doesn’t matter if I’m in a bar in Manhattan or by the beach in Vietnam, the Premier League is within reach or on view. The globalisation of the people’s game. Many complain but for me, it’s just the way it is. And I can’t complain, can I? Over the years, it’s made me a living. But of course, it wasn’t always like this. A long time ago, it was a local team for local people.
This is about two brothers born in the 1930s and growing up in Fulham. One will turn 80 this year, the other has recently turned 85. One is my uncle and one is my dad. Just like me and my children, Jack and Mickey never had a choice which team they supported. No hint of glory hunting, it was location, heritage and loyalty.
Their grandfather Moss, their Uncle Jim and their Dad Alf were all big Fulham fans and all lived on the same street, where houses now are sought after and worth a lot of money. But the terraced houses on Harbord Street between the Wars were for the aspiring working class.
Fulham are the oldest team in London, founded in 1879. And it was less roughly fifty years later that Moss moved into 38 Harbord Street (with his daughter and her husband), London SW6, one of a number of roads that leads down to Stevenage Road, home of Craven Cottage. It wasn’t long before Moss was known to all at the club, a man who in his later years spent every day watching the team train. So much so, that before long all the players referred to him as “Pap” as he was treated at the club as one of the family.
It was during the next decade that Jack and Michael (Mickey) were born and born to be Fulham fans, growing up at number 4 Harbord Street. Jack, the elder by 5 years attended his 1st Fulham match in 1937, while Mickey turned up to see his maiden game during the 2nd World War in 1941, as Fulham lost 3-0 to Wolverhampton Wanderers.
These two brothers are still both season ticket holders, both moaning and cheering in equal quantity and both in attendance for the recent match at home to Rotherham as another “new era” begins under the management of Slavisa Jokanovic. 152 years of Fulham fanaticism between them and a few stories along the way.
Now regulars in “D Block” in the Johnny Haynes Stand, Jack and Mickey’s first position was standing in the Hammersmith End. After that, they stood in in the enclosure that was 10 to 15 deep from one end of the pitch to the other, alongside the likes of actress Honour Blackman in front of a directors box that included Chappie D’Amato (a famous bandleader) and comedian Tommy Trinder. One day, the owners got so fed up with a 12 year old Mickey giving the team and the management a rucking, he got invited in for tea at half time. After tea, cakes and biscuits, Tommy Trinder said “Hopefully that will shut you up”. It didn’t!
No turning up at the ground in flash cars for the players when Jack and Mickey were kids. The footballers used to get off the trolley bus at the Kingwood Road and walk down to the ground. One player who didn’t need the trolley bus, was one of their neighbours, Ronnie Rooke. He was Fulham’s leading scorer for three successive seasons before the war intervened and halted a career in its prime. When the war finished and with Ronnie now 35, an offer came in from Arsenal. A 10 year old Mickey begged him not to go. But the deal was done. But on £10 a week and without a car, it was a long way from Ronnie’s current home in Fulham to Highbury. But you can always rely on good neighbours. Dad Alf offered him a lift and drove to North London with his little boy Mickey in the back of the car still trying to persuade his hero Ronnie Rooke to stay. Of course, it was in vain. They dropped the player at Highbury. There was a happy ending but not for Fulham. Ronnie Rooke ended the 1947-48 season as the First Division’s top scorer along with a League Championship winner’s medal.
The brothers probably owe a few shillings to the club. Why pay to get in when you can get in for free! It would only work if the tide was out but entering from Bishop’s Park, on the other side of the park rails, by the riverside, they had an anchor chain. Sliding down the anchor chain, running through about two feet of mud, climbing up the embankment, Mickey managed to get himself in for nothing. And with the ninepence his dad had given him to watch the football, he purchased a Wagon Wheel. What a bargain! As you can tell, Mickey was not the subservient type. One Saturday, when he was about 8 years old, he had been misbehaving. The ultimate punishment was of course no football and sent to his room. In the downstairs flat were builders who always left their ladders up against the wall. An escape plan was on. Mickey climbed out the bedroom window, reached out, got on to the ladder, got through the side entrance and of course by now you know, he didn’t need the ninepence to get in! Unfortunately for Mickey, about fifteen minutes before kick off, Alf decided he couldn’t punish his son in such a way. He goes into his bedroom to release the kid only to find an open window and a vacant room! Suffice to say, the punishment got a little bigger.
They’d never miss a game. Over Easter, they once saw three wins in four days. Luton at home on the Good Friday, away to Leicester on the Saturday and then away to Luton on the Monday. And it wasn’t enough to cheer on Fulham, they also had to hope Chelsea’s opponents would come out on top. If Fulham weren’t at home, they’d walk to Stamford Bridge and stand with the Chelsea fans near the halfway line. If the opposition scored they felt like cheering but had to keep it “schtum, schtum” as their dad would say.
Both would love to have put on the shirt of the Lillywhites but didn’t come close. Jack had a trial but said he wasn’t quite good enough. Michael got on the pitch a few times…. to shovel the snow off! He also got on the pitch to celebrate Fulham’s first ever promotion to the top flight in 1949. Jack was absent because of his RAF duties but thanks to the Reverend on site who had a radio, he was allowed to listen to the football. If that wasn’t enough his brother wrote him a detailed report!
The finals – the FA Cup of 1975 and the Europa League of 2010 stick out. But the best game Jack ever saw was Everton away in the FA Cup 5th round where Jeff Taylor ended up playing in a red shirt after cutting open his head. Mickey was told he was too young to go. His family pretended he couldn’t get insured to take the coach.
The hardest game in terms of emotion was against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi final of 1958 which went to a replay, just weeks after the Munich air disaster. Described by the pair as the most hyped up game they’ve been to, they said the match at Villa Park in particular was the hardest to be a Fulham fan. With the whole country cheering for the new United, the Kaufman brothers like all Fulham fans wanted their side to win and make their first Wembley final but at the same time felt maybe it would be best if Manchester United made it. Which of course they did in the end.
Favourite players include the aforementioned Rooke, Joe Bacuzzi, Rodney Marsh and Edwin van der Saar. Of course Johnny Haynes is also on the list, with the brothers watching him from the reserves to the first team. As Jack said, Haynes “could hit a farthing from 40 yards”. They also saw the debris Haynes left after smashing his car into a wall just down the road from their house. Favourite Fulham team? The side in the mid 60s that included Haynes alongside the likes of Bobby Robson and Bedford Jezzard.
For the opposition, Stanley Matthews sticks out. There was Tottenham double winning side and the Newcastle team of the late 40s. They remember the morning headlines that said the “£100,000 forward line is coming to London” and watched as Jackie Milburn and Len Shackleton terrorised Fulham’s defence.
Illness has sometimes affected the brother’s attendance at the Cottage. And there have been cold winter nights when they have thought twice about going “well they never came to see me when I was bad!” But they are soon lured back to Harbord Street, the Stevenage Road and D Block. 152 years and counting.