It’s a recurring seasonal football quiz question. Which year’s top flight Boxing Day fixture programme has produced the highest number of goals? The answer is 1963, when 66 were scored in the ten matches played in the old Football League First Division. Eleven of those came at Fulham’s ground, then, as now, Craven Cottage on Stevenage Road, SW6 beside the Thames. Ten of the eleven were scored by the home team in what remains a record win for the club. Their line-up on that day contained several big names from English football of that era and the future, each that of a man who led a London life.
One of them, George Cohen, died three days ago, aged 83. His immortality is ensured as he was a member of the England team that won the world Cup in 1966. Cohen was a tough, strong right full-back, whose exceptional speed and fitness enabling him to contribute to attacking moves at the other end of the pitch. George Best described him as the best player in his position he ever faced.
Cohen was born in Kensington, but brought up in Fulham by his Irish mother, who worked at the Lots Road power station, and by his gas-fitter father, whose Jewish family heritage included Ukrainians. Fulham was the only club Cohen ever played for. He joined it in 1956 when in his teens and staying there until injury forced his retirement, aged 29, in 1969. One-club players were nothing like as unusual then as now, but Cohen was exceptional in being a major star who stayed put at a relatively small club. His only winner’s medal was the one from ’66. A statue of him was unveiled outside Craven Cottage in October 2016.
Four of Fulham’s ten Boxing Day goals were scored by Scottish international Graham Leggat, three of them inside three minutes, a record that stood until 2015. Leggat was the only player in the team that day who wasn’t English. His effectiveness owed much to a partnership with Johnny Haynes, a former England captain known as “the maestro”.
Haynes was born in Kentish Town, the son of a Post Office engineer, and, although an Arsenal fan, joined Fulham aged 15. He made his debut for them, aged 18, in 1952, and his debut for England in 1954. In 1960, he captained his country for the first time. Haynes was an inside forward, a midfield play maker in today’s terminology, famous for his touch and passing skills.
When football’s maximum wage rule was banished in 1961, thanks to the efforts of erstwhile Fulham team mate, Balham-born Jimmy Hill, Haynes became the country’s first player to be paid £100 a week. He was also one of the first to have an agent, which helped him to become the face of Brylcreem.
Haynes might have played alongside Cohen in the 1966 World Cup team but for a car accident in Blackpool in 1962. His feet and a knee never fully recovered from the injuries he sustained, and he was never quite the same player again. Like Cohen, he only ever played for Fulham, apart from a couple of loan spells, and he didn’t win a trophy until 1971, having moved to South Africa for a single season with Durban City. He died in 2005, following another car crash caused by Haynes having a brain haemorrhage. He too has a statue outside Craven Cottage.
Luminaries of that 10-1 team also included Bobby Robson from Sacriston, County Durham, another England international and later, of course, one of England’s more successful international managers. Tottenham-born defender Bobby Keetch was one of early Swinging London’s sporting men about town. Alan Mullery, a defensive midfielder from Notting Hill, who had two spells at Fulham with eight for Tottenham Hotspur in between, was a then future England player and manager of three other London clubs, as well as Brighton.
Fulham’s manager, Bedford Jezzard, previously a Fulham player and also an England international, was from Clerkenwell. Jezzard is remembered as having become disillusioned with professional football after the lifting of the maximum wage, albeit Fulham colleagues Hill and Haynes had been at the heart of that transformative reform, and the greater power it placed in the hands of the bigger, richer clubs. England Football Online tells us that Fulham’s selling of Mullery to Spurs in 1964 prompted Jezzard to walk away from the game. Wikipedia says he ran a pub instead.
Fulham’s Boxing Day fixture in 2022 was away to Crystal Palace, where they won 3-0. Their goals were scored by Bristol-born Jamaican international Bobby Decordova-Reid, St Louis-born USA international Tim Ream and Serbian international Aleksander Mitrović. Their starting line-up contained nobody born in London and only two players who were born in England. That is a far cry from Fulham team of Boxing Day 1963, yet the seeds of global football in London, the global city, had already been planted in Craven Cottage, home of the the little club beside the Thames.
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