ALAN MULLERY: THE POWER AND THE GLORY
DAVID DOCHERTY takes a look back at the career of The Tank, Tottenham and England… who shone in the white of Fulham,
ALAN Mullery has the rare distinction of being a legend at not one, but two, London clubs – Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur.
A hard, tough-tackling midfielder whose nickname of ‘The Tank’ perfectly encapsulated his style of play, he rarely missed a game during an 800-plus match career which spanned 18 seasons.
Mullery was the very model of consistency. His CV also includes an impressive 82 career goals. One particularly spectacular effort was a volleyed exocet past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton in an FA Cup match against Leicester City at Craven Cottage which won him the 1973-74 Match of the Day ‘Goal of the Season’ award – check it out on YouTube.
Born in war-torn London in November 1941, he joined the Fulham ground staff straight from school and in February 1959 he made his top team debut as a 17-year-old against Leyton Orient alongside his mentor Roy Bentley and other past, present and future England internationals in Eddie Lowe, Johnny Haynes and George Cohen.
Fulham won 5-2 and in August of that same year he scored his first league goal for the club in another 5-2 home win, against Manchester City.
Fulham were by that time a First Division club having secured promotion during his debut season after a sevenyear hiatus. He continued to progress and in November 1960 he won the first of his three Under-23 caps in a 1-1 draw with Italy. When the hugely inspirational Haynes was sidelined for most of the 1962-63 campaign following a serious car accident, Mullery was the obvious choice to take over the role of captain. It came as a huge shock to Mullery when he learned that he was being sold to Tottenham in March 1964 for £72,500 – money which Fulham were desperately required to find to finance the cost of much-needed ground improvement work in the form of a roof for the Hammersmith end of their riverside ground. Tottenham needed a replacement for their iconoclastic captain Danny Blanchflower and, although as players they had hugely contrasting styles, Mullery rose to the challenge despite an inauspicious start which saw him collect just three win bonuses from his first nine starts. After three trophy-less seasons, Spurs eventually got back to winning ways in April 1967 when they defeated Chelsea at Wembley to lift the FA Cup for the third time in the decade. Mullery earned special plaudits in the firstever all-London final for his man-of-the-match performance. When club captain Dave Mackay was enticed to join Brian Clough’s exciting young Derby County side at the end of the following season,‘Mullers’ was viewed as his natural successor. Having been selected for England against the Netherlands in December 1964, it took him another two-and-a-half years to win his second cap but from May 1967 until April 1971 he was an England regular, missing just a handful of his country’s 38 matches during that period. He is perhaps best remembered for the way he nullified the great Pele in a World Cup match in the searing heat of Mexico in 1970. Other personal milestones came in 1969 when he was selected alongside such luminaries as George Best, Bobby and Jackie Charlton and Billy Bremner for a Rest of the UK representative side to face Wales in Cardiff and in 1971 when he was asked to captain his country against Malta in the absence of his good friend and colleague Bobby Moore. In sharp contrast, the lowest point of his 35-match international career came in June 1968 when in a moment of rare indiscipline he ‘lost it’ and kicked out recklessly at a Yugoslav
opponent who had raked his calf, drawing blood in the process. It meant he became the first ever England player to do ‘the walk of shame’.
The League Cup was won by Tottenham in 1971 with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Aston Villa at Wembley and a year later Mullery again captained the North Londoners to Cup glory with a two-legged aggregate UEFA Cup final win over Wolves.
A painful pelvic condition had kept him out of the side for the longest time ever but, whilst on a short recuperative loan spell at Fulham, he was recalled in dramatic circumstances.
In his typically inspirational Roy of the Rovers style, he went on to score the decisive goals against AC Milan in the semi-final and against Wolves in the return-leg of the final itself.
That victory proved to be his last in the white of Spurs and in June of 1972 he returned to Fulham in a £65,000 deal.
The fact that Tottenham recouped almost 90 per cent of their initial outlay speaks volumes for Mullery’s many qualities as a player, leader and man.
He proved as competitive as ever and in 1975 he not only captained Fulham through an 11-match marathon to a first-ever FA Cup Final but also won the football writers’ vote and was named as Footballer of the Year. It was fitting finale to a great career.
Twelve months later, after 412 appearances for Fulham and 373 for Tottenham, he decided to hang up his boots to enter the precarious world of football management.
Interestingly for quiz-setters, his only ever substitute appearance in club football came in his very last match for Fulham – at West Brom.
Spells in charge of Brighton, Charlton, Crystal Palace, QPR and Barnet followed over the years with his time at Brighton being particularly successful. He also proved to be a huge success as a TV pundit but it is as a player in the white of Fulham, Spurs and England that Alan Mullery will be best remembered.
Sparks would occasionally fly when Mullery launched into a tackle but he played in the days when full-blooded challenges were an acceptable and essential part of the game – simulation and ‘card-itis’ being still someway off in the future.
There was nothing craven about this particular son of Craven Cottage!
A hard, tough-tackling midfielder, Alan Mullery rarely missed a game during an 800-plus match career which spanned 18 seasons
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Success: Victorious Tottenham skipper Alan Mullery is held aloft by his team-mates after winning the UEFA Cup in 1972