If the rumours are true and Mohammed Fayed does sell Fulham, supporters of the Cottagers should give thanks to an often maligned benefactor that has transformed a club that has, historically, lived in the shadows of its much noiser neighbours in London SW6.
Fayed bought Fulham for £6.5m in 1997. At the time, Chelsea were starting their post-modern ascendancy under Ken Bates (their first trophy in 26 years had been secured). There were rumblings that Fayed’s arrival at Craven Cottage would herald the start of a power shift in South West London, but there was a lot of work to be done. Fayed’s investment, modest when lined-up against clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, was significant at the time. And since buying the club, he has ploughed in around £ 200m.
Fayed’s reign at Fulham has been a spectacular and often understated success. In 1996, Fulham finished 17th in the old Football League Division Three (the bottom level of the League). In 1996-97, they finished runners-up to Wigan Athletic to gain promotion. Two more promotions followed in 1999 and 2001 as Fulham won a place in the top flight for the first time since 1967-68. “They will soon be down,” said the cynics, doubting Fayed’s long-term commitment to the club. But by converting his “loans” to the club to equity, Fayed leaves Fulham debt-free.
Fulham have confounded the critics and 2013-14 will be their 13th season in the Premier. In the past five seasons, they have not finished below 12th position. And in 2010, they were runners-up in the Europa League after an extensive run that saw them beat the likes of Juventus and Hamburg before losing to Atletico Madrid.
What many fans don’t always take on board is that Fulham are viewed by many as a “poor man’s Chelsea” and when the subject of inflationary investment is discussed, they are mentioned in the same breath as Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris St.Germain. The figures are dramatically different, but on a comparative scale, Fulham have been the beneficiary of a massive investment by one individual. Fulham are the 28th biggest club in world football according to Deloitte’s Football Money League, with a turnover of almost EUR 100m, not far behind Benfica, Atletico Madrid and Ajax. So much for “little Fulham”.
Fulham have always been one of those clubs that others have slightly patronized – it’s no coincidence that actors, media people and creatives, renowned for their superficiality, have long been regulars at the Cottage. You could almost have guessed that Hugh Grant would be a Fulham fan.
But the club is no longer the quirky bunch who have a National Trust building perched alongside that wonderful old Stevenage Road stand. As their old President, Tommy Trinder, would have said: “You lucky people”. Mohammed Fayed has given Fulham the best of times and they shouldn’t forget that.
p.s. – Great bloke he may be, but the statue does take some explaining…