25 September 2008

Football History: Fulham (Premier League)

In the library at Lancaster Gate, a minute book of the Football Association confirms that on 12th December 1898, the modern Fulham Football Club was born. It was on this date that the group which began as a church side, St. Andrew's Church Sunday School FC of West Kensington in 1979, joined the fast-growing ranks of the professional game. This historic move was marked by the club's first-ever professional signing the same day: J H Love from Trowbridge.

Not everyone was pleased with the change of status, however. In particular, the Shrimpton brothers, whose tireless work off the field as well as play on it helped establish the club in West London, became disenchanted and left. For many Victorian gentlemen, the fun went with the loss of amateur status. Fulham had dropped the St Andrew's from the club's name. This decision had been taken in December 1888, as they wanted to be seen as more than a church side.

In 1896-7, Fulham entered the Second Division of the London League. Their colours in those days were red shirts with white sleeves and shorts, a clear imitation of Woolwich Arsenal, then the only London club playing in the Football League. In 1903, the Southern League authorities recognised Fulham's potential and told them that if they could raise a first class team by the end of May 1903, they would be admitted to the First Division, effectively the Third Division of the Football League.

To raise the necessary money, the club committee decided that Fulham needed to become a limited liability company and issue shares to the public. The committee thus became the board of directors, and local personalities like John Dean and Henry Norris appeared on the scene. With two Southern League titles under their belt, Fulham applied with confidence to the Football League in 1907, and it was no surprise when they replaced Burton United. The adventure, which began on park pitches less than 30 years earlier, now moved on to the national stage.

The team that won the 1910 London Challenge Cup in 1910 started the tradition of Cottagers' sides that comprised a mix of big names (usually on the way down), some loyal club stalwarts and a few eccentric individuals. However, most of their time has been spent in the lower leagues and it wasn't until the arrival of multi-millionaire Harrods owner Mohammed Al Fayed, who had big plans for the club.

When Kevin Keegan took over as boss in 1998 it was a clear sign of Al Fayed's intentions, as Keegan had previously taken Newcastle from the depths of the Second Divison to within an inch of the championship. However, despite the higher profile he brought, it was not until Jean Tigana took charge that Fulham reached the promised land of the Barclaycard Premiership, and while they did not quite take the league by storm as their eccentric owner had predicted, Fulham are slowly establishing themselves as a top flight club.

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