The Great Adventure: Al-Fayed’s Thrilling Era at Fulham FC – Book Review
With the world of top-division football ownership full of greed, this journey of the charismatic Mohammed Al-Fayed’s remarkable tenure as Chairman of Fulham Football Club makes for some timely reading. And the way author Tony Banks tells the story in this new book, The Great Adventure: Al-Fayed’s Rollercoaster Ride with Fulham FC, is compelling.
The book takes Fulham fans – and football supporters in general – on a ride through the 16 years when Al-Fayed chaired the Cottagers, between 1997 to 2013. Banks, a brilliant sportswriter and a Fulham fan, is insightful and entertaining throughout, revealing what went on behind the scenes during this period.
I was 19-years-old in 1997 when Al-Fayed bought Fulham for the princely sum of £6.25 million. At the time, he made a bold and risky promise that he’d take the club from the third-tier of English football to the Premier League. Astonishingly, he got them there in four years. And, on the way, he accomplished some great, and not-so-great things.
Here is a rollercoaster of a footballing story – something that these days, no doubt, Netflix would be making a series out of.
You lose count of the number of managers who come and go. You raise your eyebrows at the profile of people he managed to attract to Fulham. You look back in disbelief at him bringing Michael Jackson to a Fulham match, before laughing as you remember the statue that he bought and had erected outside the Riverside Stand in honour of that visit. In fact, the latter is perhaps how his legacy at Fulham is best remembered by the wider public.
But there was much more besides that. Banks doesn’t gloss over the story in chronological order, he makes sure the reader gets some real insight into that period, as Roy Hodgson, Chris Coleman and Lawrie Sanchez speak about the difference Al-Fayed made during their time at the club. You remember that Kevin Keegan took Fulham to such an unexpected level it made the FA poach him for his ill-fated stint as England manager.
I like Fulham. They’re not my team, but I feel they’re the closest club in the top flight that holds a strong connection to the real sport that I grew up on – the one before TV money turned it into a loveless entity; a bit naff. At Craven Cottage, you still get that traditional football feel, and I think that helped me to enjoy The Great Adventure even more.
Some of the standout pages for me talks about the sacking of Frenchman Jean Tigana as coach in 2003. He took them into Europe, but the saga around him leaving the club that involves wages and his advice to the board on spending is remarkable.
The book’s publication coincided with the passing of Mohamed Al-Fayed on August 30th 2023. There is a version of it where the author has added a thoughtful new chapter to pay tribute to the man who, ultimately, sold the club after 16 years for much more than he bought it.
The Great Adventure: Al-Fayed’s Rollercoaster Ride with Fulham FC is a brilliant read, one I devoured in three days. Tony Banks’ meticulous research, along with with the personal accounts of those who were there, make it a publication that all Fulham and most football enthusiasts will enjoy.
‘The Great Adventure: Al-Fayed’s Rollercoaster Ride with Fulham FC’ is available in hardback from Pitch Publishing, £18.99