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When Fulham's dreams of
Sometimes it is hard to be a football fan. Take the example of Fulham in the 1982-83 season. Promoted to the Second Division in the previous campaign, the club were flying under the management of Malcolm Macdonald. With a team full of quality players – keeper Gerry Payton; defenders Tony Gale, Roger Brown and Jeff Hopkins; midfielders Ray Houghton, Robert Wilson, Sean O’Driscoll and Ray
Lewington; and strikers Gordon Davies and Dean Coney – back-to-back promotions were a serious possibility.
They played an entertaining brand of football and put four goals past Bolton, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Grimsby and Wolves in the first three months of the season. At the start of 1983, Fulham sat in the final promotion spot, with only Wolves and QPR above them. When they beat Grimsby 4-0 for the second time that season at Craven Cottage in March, the club were seven points clear of Leicester, with a game in hand, and seemingly destined for a return to the top flight after a 15-year absence.
Leicester would not go away, though. In fact, Gordon Milne’s team put together a 15-match unbeaten run at the end of the season to cranked up the pressure on Fulham. Still, with five matches of the season to go,
Fulham held a five-point advantage. They should have been promoted. But things fell apart for the Cottagers spectacularly in the last three weeks of the season.
“It was a mixture of inexperience and squad size,” recalled Lewington. “We had one or two key players out for games and we started to stutter – and we did have a hard run-in.” Losing at home against Leicester did not help matters and further defeats at Sheffield Wednesday and QPR took Fulham out of the promotion positions for the first time since November.
With two games to go, Leicester and Fulham were level on points but the Foxes had a superior goal difference. They won at Oldham in their penultimate game of the campaign – despite the absence of Division Two top scorer Gary Lineker – so only had to beat relegation-threatened Burnley at Filbert Street in their final match to guarantee their place in the top flight.
Yet there were a few twists in the tale on the final day of the season – and beyond. Try as they might, Leicester missed chance after chance and just could not break down Burnley. They could only draw 0-0, so a win would take Fulham up.
But they were not having things their own way either. Derby were not sure of their place in the division and were in fighting for their lives. Their goalkeeper, Steve Cherry, denied Coney in the first half with a great save and then, in the 71st minutes, a superb volley from Bobby Davison gave Derby a 1-0 lead, edging Derby closer to safety and denting Fulham’s promotion hopes.
And then the trouble began. “I looked at the clock on the ground when the goal went in and noticed fans coming on to the pitch then,” recalled Fulham midfielder Robert Wilson. “They simply kept coming off the terraces and it became very difficult to play. It
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was very intimidating.”
The last 10 minutes were played out amid chaotic scenes. Derby fans lined the pitch, many spilling on to the playing area, with one supporter even running on to pat Cherry on the back after he
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had tipped over a late effort from Ray Houghton. Despite announcements over the PA system, the fans would not be moved. One even kicked out at Wilson as he dribbled the ball down the left wing. “My instinct was to have a go at the fellow but then I realised it might lead to a riot.”
When referee Ray Chadwick blew his whistle in the 89th minute, there was nothing to hold back the tide of pitch invaders. “I have never been so frightened in my life,” said Wilson. “I wondered if I was going to make it.” Jeff Hopkins was not so lucky. The young defender was punched repeatedly and left with a torn shirt.
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