In a career in the English professional ranks spanning 14 years, Gordon Davies plundered 178 league goals. A mammoth 159 of those came during two spells in the black and white of Fulham. Alex Bowmer spoke to him ahead of the Derby.
To an older generation of fan, he is known affectionately as ‘Ivor’ and is still very much a familiar presence at many home games.
However, his career on the banks of the Thames came either side of a much briefer spell at Stamford Bridge, as he made the short hop across SW6 in 1984.
Unlike many local derbies, bridging the divide does not come with too much hostility and the fixture holds a special place in the heart of the former Wales international, who helped Bobby Campbell’s men to a famous victory in Chelsea’s own backyard back on 27 October 1979. It was the last time we have come away from the home of our near neighbours with all three points, with a team that comprised Davies, as well as fellow club legends Tony Gale and Les Strong.
The result represented something of an upset, with Fulham coming into the contest on the back of five successive league defeats. The reverse was true for Chelsea.
Nevertheless, the gulf was narrower than it is today.
“We were a lot closer to Chelsea in those days than we are at this moment in time,” Gordon acknowledges.
“Chelsea always thought that they were the bigger club, the better club. They were able to sign the more high-profile players, so we always had a lot to prove against them and although we weren’t playing that well in the league, we always thought we had a chance.
“Having played for both clubs, it’s as if it’s the little brother-big brother syndrome. Chelsea are always the first to get promoted or win a championship and they as supporters want Fulham to do well and Fulham look at Chelsea as big brothers and hate their guts because they’re always doing things first.”
Trips across Hammersmith and Fulham were always feisty in the 1970s, when vitriol spilled from the terraces far more freely. This aggression was also replicated on the pitch.
“It was a much bigger crowd than we were experiencing at the Cottage, so it was always a volatile atmosphere there, especially when you think how supporters reacted in the late 70s,” Ivor recalls.
“There was a lot of verbal abuse and you had to put up with a lot more animosity from the players you were playing against. In those days you could come straight through the centre-forward from behind and flatten him.
“That happened to me on many occasions, but especially with Chelsea when the likes of Ron Harris would have been playing. Sometimes he was asked to man-mark me and you had a giant at centre-half in Micky Droy. If you got put up against him, he could fling you around a rag doll.
“You had to think three, four, five seconds ahead of them, otherwise you could have a very nasty injury that puts you out of the game in the first ten minutes.”
Despite the elation of the win in 1979, the season was one of toil and disappointment. The team were relegated from Division Two after suffering several chastening away defeats, which included 4-0 reverses against Luton Town, Cambridge United and Watford. What went wrong?
“It’s difficult to put into words,” Gordon admits. “You’re training at 100 per cent from Monday to Friday, you’re trying to work on all the right things from Monday to Friday and then on a Saturday it just wasn’t working for us.
“You can get into a habit of winning games, and you can also get into a habit of losing games, because the mental attitude when you’re winning, you’re going out there and it’s ‘how many are we going to win by today?’ or ‘we’re definitely not going to lose’.
“When you’re losing week in, week out, you can be playing some great football, which we did at times, but you’re on top of a team for 15, 20 minutes, you’re hitting the post, you’re getting balls cleared off the line, the keeper’s making fantastic saves and you think: ‘When’s one going to go in?’
“We didn’t play as badly as people would believe, we just weren’t getting the results.”
Were Fulham’s attempts at playing attractive, expansive football leaving them too open at the back (ring any bells?)? Gordon suggests so.
“Sometimes, when things are going badly for you, you may need people that are just going to dig in and earn a point when you could so easily have lost the game and when you’ve got attacking players like John Beck – he was great going forward – and Peter Marinello, you couldn’t rely on them defensively.
“So suddenly, if you take the two forwards out of the equation and the wide midfielders, you’re only defending with six players and sometimes that’s not good enough.
“That could have been part of the reason we struggled that year because there were a lot of occasions where we had to dig in just to try and get a result and we probably didn’t have the players to do it.”
Any derby occasion inevitably adds excitement. Despite our barren run at Stamford Bridge, we have acquitted fairly well there in recent years and never been thrashed, picking up five draws in 13 previous Premier League encounters and scoring in nine of them.
Our last league win on Fulham Road may be intangible for many Fulham fans, but the vast majority were around when the team secured excellent draws in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2012. The evidence is there. We can compete with our wealthy neighbours and come away with more than just our heads held high.
Gordon knows how much this game means to the club.
“Every now and again, like the Chelsea game, you’re putting that extra effort in because sometimes it’s not for us that we’re playing for, it’s for the supporters, because a lot of the players used to live outside the Fulham area or even sometimes the London area, so if we did lose or we had a hammering, then we’d be away from it.
“Sometimes you have to have to think what it’s like for the supporters after defeat or after a run of bad games, not what it’s like for the players who are turning up, training and going out on the pitch.”
The immediate return of Claudio Ranieri to his old stomping ground adds an intriguing ingredient to the clash and Gordon feels the Italian is a sound appointment.
“We’ve tried to play our Championship style and it hasn’t worked. I thought the first thing Ranieri may do would be to change the formation and possibly go 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, which he did.
“That is going to help us against the top six, top eight teams and especially away from home because it looks like he may well play two holding midfield players, which at least gives you some cover and you’re not wide open in the middle or down the flanks where we’ve been giving teams a lot of free space to play in. At this level, you can’t do it.
“I’m very optimistic that Claudio is the right fit for the club. He’s the epitome of a father figure. He wants everybody within the club to pull together. I’m led to believe he’s introduced himself to everybody at the club, including the tea ladies and cleaners. If things go well, as I think they will, then he could be here for quite a lengthy stay.”
When asked about making a prediction for Sunday, the 63-year-old chuckles. He remains realistic, but still dares to dream.
“Even though Chelsea had a bad game at the weekend against Spurs, you’ve got to fancy them to win. I would look at any away game against teams in the top six, top eight that if we pick a point, it’s a bonus because it’s our home form that will enable us to stay up.
“But, we started saying these things in 1979 and Chelsea probably fancied their chances in that one. John Beck scored the first goal and then we had a corner, Tony Gale flicked it on, I was in the six-yard box and headed the winner.
“I didn’t scored many headed goals, but we have a centre forward now who’s very good with his head, so it would be great if he could come up with a headed winner in probably the 88th minute and prove me wrong and I would hold up my hands and say: ‘Well done lads!’”
That would be some way to end 39 years of frustration.