Farrell takes us on a trip down memory lane, 20 years since the Whites won their first and only European competition.
Fans have already half-joked about European qualification after a good start to our latest Premier League campaign. We couldn’t… could we? Cast your minds back to 20 years ago, with a solid return to the top-flight, naturally the enigmatic Al Fayed had eyes on bigger prizes. The Intertoto cup was our ticket to glorious European football. But think of this ticket like Spurs away if you are a member. You only get one if plenty of people ahead of you decide they’d rather not be involved.
Originally a summer tournament, the Intertoto Cup was held to keep gambling companies going during the fallow summer months. The name translates from Latin as ‘Between Betting Pools’. That’s not the oddest thing about it. At one stage there were 12 groups but no official winners. Eventually UEFA got involved in the 1990s and offered a place in the UEFA Cup (now the Europa League) for the individual winners of three tournaments.
For Fulham to get in, they would have had to be the highest finishing team to apply, if they had not already qualified for another European tournament. Thankfully for us, West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton, and Middlesbrough thought they’d just stick with pre-season. Here’s a brief reminder of what happened in the summer of 2002. Don’t expect loads of fan footage.
Round 2: FC Haka of FinlandEmbed from Getty Images
Officially our first game of the season was 6 July. To put that into context, it was only seven days after the World Cup Final. No Fulham player had been even involved in the final – there were enough players around to play a pre-season friendly in June, so early was our start. We’d said “goodbye” to the Cottage in May against Leicester City, and to protect the pitch at our shared home of Loftus Road for the forthcoming campaign, a couple of our home ties were played at Craven Cottage.
Almost 8,000 saw us play out a drab 0-0, one that featured a debut for Argentine Facundo Sava. We did not even know he hid a Zorro mask in his sock for another three months (more on him later). The away leg wasn’t much better. The Mirror described the atmosphere inside the Tehtaan Kentta Stadium as “surprisingly sleepy.” However, the reporter must have been woken by Steve Marlet’s second half strike, which ultimately led to our progress through on away goals. Tigana admitted he was nervous towards the end, meaning that he was taking the Intertoto Cup, like he did everything else, very seriously.
Round 3 – AO Egaleo of GreeceEmbed from Getty Images
Not really the glamour tie that could have been our last ever competitive outing at Craven Cottage. But at the time, Al Fayed still portrayed the image that Fulham would be returning to the hallowed stadium after development works to bring it up to Premiership standards, as the league was known back then. However, it looked increasingly likely it was going to be our last game there for a while, with the move to Loftus Road imminent. And possibly because of that, the ground was only half open and barely 5,000 saw Saha open his account with 12 minutes to go.
At least this Greek team were at the same stage of pre-season as Fulham, so at the same level of match sharpness. However, they were coming off the back of 10th-placed finish – out of 14 – in the Greek top tier, then known as the Alpha Ethniki, and therefore should have been light work. But a 25th-minute Choloros strike sent the thousand or so gathered in the Greek capital dreaming of an upset. In their first European season too. But like in the previous round, Steve Marlet popped up to quickly put that to bed. Job done.
Round 4 – FC Sochaux of France
Plenty was going on behind the scenes at Craven Cottage. In May that year, the Italian legend Fraco Baresi was unveiled at Fulham’s Director of Football. This was a new concept in English Football. The manager not in charge of scouting and recruitment? Like myself, any Championship Manager text-only fantasists of the time, this was a disgrace of the highest order. It was already well known by this stage that Tigana’s was losing a lot of his influence and players were being brought into his squad with no say at all. Previous arrival Sava was all the Milan legend’s doing, while Martin Herrara stank of Berlosconi.
It was also the first game at our temporary home of Loftus Road, and as such the attendance shrank further as the fanbase grew nervous about the future. However, it was now the latter stages of the ‘tournament’ and Fulham were up to speed. It showed with a controlled performance, albeit still only able to muster a solitary goal by Sean Davis deep into added time.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the away leg was the first time Fulham had played at the Stade Auguste-Bonal. The previous year, France was rocked by a deadly explosion at a fertiliser factory. Sochaux decided to invite Fulham, with their large French contingent, to a friendly as a fundraiser for families of the victims. But this second visit was all business. They played out an entertaining fixture with both sides going all out for the win. Van Der Sar was needed on several occasions but the Whites eventually comfortably won. A typical Legwinski header followed by another classic Hayles left-footed finish finished the tie off.
Final – Bologna of ItalyEmbed from Getty Images
Now it’s getting juicy. Bologna were certainly the calibre expected at this stage of the competition. They could boast The Wall Gianluca Pagliuca at one end and Football Italia favourite Giuseppe Signori at the other. In all the off-field controversies surrounding the club, it all came together in two exciting legs of European football.
The first leg was a scrappy game initially, as the Italians opted to counter-attack in their own stadium. However, the little livewire Signori was causing all sorts of problems for Goma and Melville and he eventually got his reward – winning and converting two trademark penalties.Embed from Getty Images
Fulham did fight back from each of those in a battling performance, which meant they returned home the favourites. By the second leg, Fulham’s season had begun in fine fashion and a certain Junichi Inamoto, fresh from his World Cup exploits, started to justify to the doubters that he wasn’t just a commercial opportunity. His performance that night has gone down in Fulham folklore, producing to date the only Fulham hat-trick in Europe, leaving Arsenal fans wondering why they had released him just months previously.
The second leg wasn’t plain sailing; Locatelli’s hopeful shot deflected past EVDS to put them ahead. But after that, you might as well have called it the Junichi Inatoto Cup. The evening was capped off by Al Fayed parading around what looked like an ashtray for any fans that could actually pick it out that night. And if you want to go see it now, it is proudly displayed at the National Football Museum. Weirdly, it’s not the most bizarre Fulham item that has been there…