Memories are funny old things. Events become fine tuned to specific key moments and time merges into a mass of indistinguishable snapshots. Dad took me to a lot more games this season yet looking through Phil Cowan’s archive none really spring back into focus. I know I went to a lot of games because I had a large stack of these bawdy, yellow bannered, programmes. Tony Gale was again selected as the season’s “cover” boy, in typical buccaneering pose closing down the opposition ‘keeper (oddly Leicester City for the second season in a row – Ken Coton must have had a good stack of decent pictures from that game).
The drop in Division did little to improve our form and Bobby Campbell was relieved of his duties in October 1980 after a run of six consecutive defeats. Malcolm MacDonald had previously been employed as the club’s Commercial Director and on the surface appeared to be a cheap fix to our troubles. However, as my Dad explained to me at the time, MacDonald had an exceptional footballing pedigree. Born in Fulham, down Finlay Street if Dad is correct, he’d made his league debut for the Whites in 1968. Fulham, undergoing a previous period of turmoil, let him move to Luton Town the following year and it was with the Hatters that he made his name. He was soon snapped up by Newcastle United, scored a hat-trick on his debut against Liverpool, earned a call up to the England side and became known as Super Mac. After 95 goals in 187 appearances he moved on to Arsenal where he managed a further 42 goals in 84 appearances before a knee injury cut his top flight career short. When he took over his first managerial role at the Cottage he was only 30 years old.
Super Mac not only turned around our season, saving us from any threat of relegation and managing a creditable 13th place finish thanks to nine wins and two draws in the last seventeen games, but he did so by giving our youth a chance. Whether this was a result of MacDonald’s eye for talent or just down to Ernie Clay’s refusal to give him any money is unclear, but this policy would form the foundation of a much more successful campaign the following season.
The game I’ve picked out from this season is at home to Newport County in March 1981. Newport wore orange shirts and I’ve always enjoyed Fulham playing teams in bright and unusual colours. My memory suggests that Fulham play best on sunny days, against teams in colourful strips and, whilst this may not be supportable by statistical proof, I’d suggest Q.P.R. think carefully about their next away strip should they be in any danger of a return trip to the Cottage next season.
We played Newport twice in consecutive seasons and won both games. 2-1 in 1980-81, then 3-1 in 1981-82. In one of those games my, clearly fallible, cognitive process provides a clear image of Sean O’Driscoll scoring directly from a corner. Noisy was one of my favourite players, he rarely wasted the ball and always worked his socks off. He was one of the less celebrated members of that squad and rarely scored. However, having checked both Turner & White’s Fulham Facts & Figures and Phil Cowan’s scans of subsequent programmes, it seems this is not the case. Either someone nicked their head on it before it crossed the line or that goal was in another game.
Whatever the truth, and if anyone really can remember that goal I’d love to know which game it was in, the moment has lived with me ever since.