A Tribute To Papa

Sammy James 29th November 2020

It was announced today that former Fulham midfielder and Senegal international Papa Bouba Diop passed away today at the age of 42, Sammy James looks back at his time in SW6.

To most of the world, Papa Bouba Diop is remembered for one goal, the opening strike of the 2002 World Cup as underdogs Senegal beat world champions France by a single goal in South Korea.

Papa Bouba Diop scores the first goal of the 2002 World Cup

Many of that Senegal squad went on to become household names, but Papa Bouba Diop always stuck in your mind given the significance of that goal. Personally speaking, that 2002 World Cup was my halcyon tournament, the one that I remembered fully, and the first one that I completely immersed myself into. Therefore, when Fulham signed him two years later from RC Lens, it was an extremely exciting coup.

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A towering presence in midfield, Diop slotted straight into Chris Coleman’s side, but during Fulham’s sixth game of the season, he received a red card during the infamous “battle of the Hawthorns” for shoving over Neil Clement. It was not long after though that Papa produced two more thumps that were far more memorable.

Bouba Diop’s opening goal was probably his best. 57 minutes into the first SW6 derby back at Craven Cottage, the ball fell from the sky. Underneath its flight was Diop, who arrowed a ferocious volley straight past Petr Cech. Even though Fulham went on to lose the game 4-1, it was one of those goals that was so special, it made the result far less painful.

However, the goal that really placed “The Wardrobe” into Fulham folklore came exactly one month later. Fulham were trailing Manchester United by a single goal for the majority of a Monday night match under the lights by the river. Chris Coleman’s side had worked their way back into the game, but without any real conviction. Just as the game looked to be slipping away, Mark Pembridge tee’d up Papa Bouba, who leathered the ball (whilst slipping) in off the post past Roy Carroll and into the net at the Hammersmith End.

Diop’s thunderbolt against Manchester United

Utter pandemonium ensued, the Chelsea goal may have been the more technically pleasing, but this goal was everything football is about. The epitome of why you can never relax on a one goal lead, and how the result of a game can change in an instant. Once he’d scored, Diop was in a glorious blur and looked like he didn’t really know what to do, so he ran, and ran, and ran before ending up in front of the Cottage where he performed a slightly underwhelming dance. None of us minded though, the quality of the goal more than made up for it.

Diop’s first season was probably his best for Fulham, he went on to score four more goals, and played the vast majority of games. The final match of the season even saw him score a wonderful free-kick against Norwich. He was also chosen by Opta as Fulham’s player of the season.

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He was a fans favourite, but also was a star with his fellow staff and players. Chris Coleman has said about how he was one of his favourite ever players to work with. Whilst Mark Maunders, player liaison officer at FFC, said he was “a beautiful person, Bouba had a smile that would energise you for the day”.

He was clearly a character off the pitch too, with his former teammates Gabriel Zakuani and Elliot Omosuzi recalling these particular amusing stories..

I believe it was that smile and that energy that really endeared him to Fulham fans. Yes, the goals and the performances were memorable, but when watching Papa, you could just see how much he enjoyed playing football.

Injuries meant that he was never able to quite re-live the highs of his opening season for Fulham, and even though he signed a long-term contract until 2009, in the summer of 2007 he was permitted to move to Portsmouth, becoming a key cog in their FA Cup triumph of 2008.

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For me, Papa Bouba Diop was one of my first ever Fulham heroes, somebody who for me is up there with the likes of Hangeland and Boa Morte in embodying everything that it means to be a FFC player. 42 is no age, and thoughts are with everyone who knew him and loved him.

Papa, rest in peace.