Great Football League Teams 35: Fulham, 1982-3

Posted by on May 23, 2012 in Great Teams | 6 Comments
Great Football League Teams 35: Fulham, 1982-3
Image available under Creative Commons © nicksarebi

Every one of the previous thirty four entries in our Great Teams series has featured promoted teams and this would seem apt given the epithet ’lower leagues’ so often applied to the English divisions 2 to 4.

Today, however, we feature a Fulham side that finished the 1982-3 season outside the promotion places. A tempestuous and controversial 1-0 defeat at Derby (more of which later) left the Cottagers short of Leicester City by a point and well behind the Queen’s Park Rangers and Wolves representation previously featured in our annals. Why therefore the fuss? Is a team that lost 13 games and that chalked up a modest 69 points really worthy of our attention?

These boys were not the nouveaux riches of the Fayed era remember. The triple promotion winners of 1997-2001 really were among the best to ever feature in the Football League and we hope to provide coverage of their exploits at some point in the future – but the 82-83 vintage were a different animal altogether. The 1981-2 season had seen them promoted from Tier Three to Tier Two but with an infinitesimal fraction of the finance afforded to Kevin Keegan’s 101 pointers.

Malcolm MacDonald can also lay a claim to be one of the country’s great lost managers. Under-rated as a player, he was deemed lacking in natural ability despite a five goal haul against Cyprus for England and a more than handy 10.9 seconds in the 100 metres in Superstars. Forced into early retirement after a goal poaching career for Newcastle and Arsenal, he brought a touch of finesse to managerial theory.

Supermac and his assistant Ray Harford had supervised that earlier promotion and the club took to the higher level like mallards to H2O; commencing with six unbeaten games including a four goal tallies against Bolton and Middlesbrough and a 3-2 win over Leeds, covered by ITV’s Big Match and attended by this correspondent as a 13 year old. The style of play on a new technology pitch was pleasing and MacDonald’s eighties career deserves a higher opinion than the memory of his later spell at Huddersfield would thrust upon him.

MacDonald picked a very consistent line up and no less than six players were ever present in the league – goalkeeper Gerry Peyton, midfield water carrier and future Crawley Town supremo Sean O’Driscoll, centre backs Roger Brown and Tony Gale and the versatile Ray Lewington were joined as 100% men by the season’s real find – Scots-Irishman Ray Houghton, discarded by West Ham after one substitute appearance and a man who would go on to forge a glittering career. Houghton was an absolute revelation that year, angling in a brilliant goal in the televised 4-1 win at Newcastle after a sweeping passing move – the presence of the Magpies, Leeds, Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday and Team of the Eighties Crystal Palace alongside the promoted clubs gave the League a fearsome aspect.

In addition, right back Jeff Hopkins missed only the 3-1 reverse across West London at the Champions and Robert Wilson played 44 times. Up front, the attack was led by Welshman Gordon Davies and Londoner Dean Coney. The latter relied on his link up play and assist building for his first team starts, netting only 4 times, but Davies was effective – scoring 19 and keeping the Cottagers in the top three for the bulk of the nine month period. Highlights included a sparkling 4-2 victory at Molineux and dual 4-0 thumpings of Grimsby. At one point, a twelve point cushion protected them from fourth spot.

But Fulham were to slump badly in the Spring and this despite the personnel remaining largely unaltered. That Loftus Road defeat was the third of three at the season’s business end, with a 1-0 home loss to main rivals Leicester especially excruciating. The young side often found it difficult to maintain their passing on that era’s mud heaps and even the emergence of talented youngster Paul Parker failed to ignite the charge. A 2-0 win over Carlisle in the campaign’s penultimate encounter left Fulham level on points with the Foxes going into that final game.

What followed seems inexplicable. As Leicester faltered to a 0-0 draw with Barnsley, Fulham, starring in a rather natty red kit with black shoulders, went toe to toe with the relegation threatened Rams in the aforementioned match. Trailing to a pinch hit from Bobby Davison, the Londoners pressed ever desperately and Ray Houghton tested Steve Cherry with a fizzer. But from the point that Davison put the Rams head, Derby fans began to encroach on the pitch and final moments were subject to chaotic scenes with the nadir coming when a supporter stretched out a leg to tackle Wilson as he manfully attempted to retain possession.

Subsequently, the referee admitted to not playing the full ninety minutes and yet the Football Association in their infinite wisdom decided not to order a replay because they felt it would be impossible to replicate conditions on the day. Highlights of the piece and a revealing interview with a very passionate MacDonald can be enjoyed here.

So Fulham may have choked to a degree on that May day in 1983 but can you imagine the furore should such events come to pass today?

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Frank Heaven
    May 24, 2012

    The closing minutes of that game make for extraordinary viewing. Agree it is impossible to imagine such ‘spectator encroachment’ happening today, though admittedly, it was not uncommon in that era for the referee to take teams off the pitch during crowd unrest, notably in the Luton v Millwall FA Cup quarter final two years later. Fulham and SuperMac can feel aggrieved that the referee didn’t take that action on 14 May 1983.

    But in some respects, the unsavoury end to the game was a distraction from Fulham’s astonishing collapse in form towards the end of the campaign. Perhaps this could be the start of a ‘chokers’ series – or maybe ‘near misses’ would be kinder. Other contenders include Wolves (2001/02), Portsmouth (1985/86), and Millwall (1971/72).

  2. Matt
    May 24, 2012

    First memories of watching football that season as a 5 year old. Still remember vividly a Gordon Davies ‘equaliser’ being ruled offside in that Leicester game. Think the punters in the Riverside stand must have got sick of my crying!

  3. Jonathan Rodgers
    May 25, 2012

    I remember that game well, I was standing on the Derby terraces that day ( and no I didn’t get on to the pitch). Of course the “tackle” on the Fulham player was not right and there were a few over zealous Derby fans coming into contact with the Fulham players as the teams left the pitch but it was very far from “unrest”. The Derby fans were very enthusiastic but good natured that day. Fulham were never in the game and the idea that they could have scored the two goals in five mins they needed to secure promotion is ludicrous.

    • Lol
      August 12, 2016

      I know many, many Fulham fans who would massively disagree with you on that one. Fans were on the pitch throughout the 2nd half but downplay it if you prefer

  4. Hopeless Football League Teams 11: Huddersfield Town 1987-8 | The Two Unfortunates
    February 7, 2014

    […] But a tie with a powder-puff Leeds team would only paper over the cracks and as October arrived, the ability to occasionally cling on to a draw gave way to a portentous run of defeats — boss Steve Smith finally losing his job and being replaced by a big name manager in Malcolm Macdonald, a promising helmsman indeed in an earlier spell at Fulham, previously chronicled in these pages. […]

  5. Lol
    August 12, 2016

    I would suggest that it was less that Fulham choked and more that the team was tired from being a small squad. There were opportunities to buy players or bring in on loan (Andy Thomas) but shockingly the club didnt. Fulham fans were baffled why no reinforcements werent brought in when it was obvious way before the slump. All became somewhat clearer when Ernie Clay sold the crucial players, didnt bother replacing them and then sold the club to Property developers which would have been difficult to do to a top flight club. Fulham fans then spent the next 14 years fighting off mergers, extinction to keep Fulham alive and at Craven Cottage.


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