To be able to fully appreciate Al Fayed’s achievements over the course of his time at Fulham, a flashback to 1984 is in order. In a dark period in the club’s history, then chairmen Ernest Clay set in motion a disastrous chain of events that would see the club become all but financially bankrupt.
In 1987, we were placed in another pair of incompetent hands, with new chairmen David Bulstrode planning to amalgamate with Queens Park Rangers - to create Fulham Park Rangers – and sell Craven Cottage off for housing. Public outcry followed, and a campaign led by Jimmy Hill resulted in his successful purchase of the club, while the ground continued to change ownership hands.
With the lease on Craven Cottage moving towards its final deadline, supporters unveiled their ‘Fulham 2000’ scheme, and invited fans to join for £10, with the proceeds going towards the fans buying back the clubs traditional home. A price of £7.5m was eventually agreed between the two parties, and despite the fans valiant efforts, not even a dent could be made in the realistically unreachable price tag.
As the cliché would suggest however, every cloud does have a silver lining, and if any team were in need of a hero, it was Fulham. Forward to 1997, and welcome Mohamed Al Fayed, a successful businessman with the intentions of making Fulham the Manchester United of the South.
While it was never a feasible aspiration, it was a remarkable example of enthusiasm and ambition that the club hadn’t seen in years. Joining the ranks that year were Chris Coleman, an assured central defender prepared to drop two divisions and provide the team with some vital structure and leadership, and Paul Peschisolido, one of the most technically gifted players to wear the Fulham shirt.
Consolidating that season, Al Fayed continued to build a team capable of moving up the football league and appointed Kevin Keegan as director of football, and Ray Wilkins as manager. Promotion to the first division was achieved in the 1999/2000 season, before Jean Tigana took over and secured promotion to the Premiership in 2001.
After 34 years away from football in the top flight, Fulham were back, and while Al Fayed’s aforementioned quote was never literally fulfilled, for me he accomplished the equivalent. The individual achievement in steering a dilapidated football club into an established premier division team is remarkable, and an example of a long-term success story that is so hard to find in today’s disposable footballing world.
From posing in a black and white wig after securing promotion to the second division, and singing on "We’re not Real Madrid", to overseeing the club’s greatest achievement in reaching the final of the Europa League, Al Fayed has done it all with Fulham.
Of course there have been the odd hiccups along the way, notably the badge change and the infamous Michael Jackson statue, but I’m sure you’ll agree, in the overall perspective of things, Mohamed Al Fayed has done the team proud and will be sorely missed. Here at Cottagers Confidential we wish Al Fayed the best for the future, and would like to collectively welcome the arrival of Shahid Khan. Here’s to the next chapter.