Combining an old lady, a cottage and a sleeping giant will give you solid foundations towards the formation of a story. The addition of an overwhelming underdog, a couple of dastardly villains and a miraculous comeback transform this fable into nothing short of a fairytale.
The setting for the finale is an old cottage situated along the banks of the River Thames. Idyllically positioned, the cottage formerly used as an old hunting lodge now regularly houses around 25,000 passionate Fulham supporters. Craven Cottage is famed for its location and is for many the very exemplification of a traditional football stadium.
On 18 March 2010, a sleeping giant visited the cottage in the form of Italian and European heavyweights Juventus. Juve, also known as La Vecchia Signori – The Old Lady – were still struggling to recover from the backlash of Calciopoli in 2006, which saw the Bianconeri relegated to Serie B and many household names leave the club amidst turbulent times in Turin.
Loyal and experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon, Pavel Nedvěd, David Trezeguet and the talismanic Alessandro Del Piero remained at Juventus, with the club returning to the top flight of Italian football at the first time of asking. A successful campaign the following season resulted in qualification for the Champions League and a return to the top table of European football.
Their Champions League group pitted the famous black and white stripes against Louis van Gaal’s Bayern Munich, Bordeaux and Maccabi Haifa. The Israelis became the first team to finish a group stage pointless and goalless, while Bordeaux were the surprise of the round finishing top, six points above Bayern. This left Ciro Ferrara’s Juve with the consolation prize of the Europa League, where they knocked out Ajax to set up a tie with Roy Hodgson’s Fulham.
Despite being the undeniable favourites, Juventus were a far cry from the dominant force of previous years, and equally as far away from the formidable champions managed by Max Allegri today.
It is easy to forget that before his tenure with England, which ended after the embarrassing elimination against Iceland in Nice at Euro 2016, Hodgson almost certainly overachieved with both West Brom and Fulham, either side of a short and underwhelming stint at Anfield.
Read | Juventus, Calciopoli and a year in Serie B
The vastly experienced manager spent two-and-a-half seasons at Craven Cottage after his appointment in December 2007, beginning his spell with a relegation battle and ending with the club’s first ever European final. It was the culmination of a truly momentous rise for the West London club, who only avoided relegation by goal difference at the end of Hodgson’s first season. Hodgson would also win the LMA Manager of the Year award in May 2010, a reflection of the staggering improvement that he had made to Fulham in a hugely successful period for the Cottagers.
The 2008/09 season held little similarities to its predecessor, with the Cottagers finishing in seventh place in the Premier League and earning a place in the newly formed Europa League.
Fulham’s European campaign began as early as July with a third qualifying round tie against Vètra of Lithuania, before eliminating Russian side Amkar Perm in the playoff round. The Cottagers had earned a place in the group stages and were given a tough draw with CSKA Sofia, Basel and Roma.
A strong group stage performance led ultimately to a decider in Switzerland, with Fulham needing to beat a formidable Basel team consisting of Fabian Frei, Valentin Stocker, Marco Streller and a young Xherdan Shaqiri to qualify. A tense evening ensued with snowfall and freezing temperatures adding to the drama at St. Jakob-Park. In-form striker Bobby Zamora stole the headlines with a first half brace to clinch qualification to the knockout stages for Fulham who held off a late fightback from the Swiss side.
When the Old Lady of Turin coming to Craven Cottage, Juve were expected to progress with relative comfort. The first leg left the Cottagers with a slim chance of qualification after a dominant display from the Italian giants at the Stadio Olimpico in Turin.
It took just nine minutes for the Bianconeri to take the initiative in the tie when a powerful header from Nicola Legrottaglie gave Juve the breakthrough, following Diego’s corner. The lead was doubled when right-back Jonathan Zebina’s thunderous 25-yard strike beat Mark Schwarzer and left Fulham needing a miracle after just 25 minutes of the first leg.
Hodgson’s men claimed an all-important away goal on 35 minutes when Dickson Etuhu’s deflected shot found the corner. All of a sudden Fulham’s travelling fans believed, as did they players, who had numerous chances to equalise prior to half-time. Sadly for the English side, it would be the Italians who would score again before the break, Trezeguet once again finding a way past Schwarzer to re-establish the two-goal cushion. The game would finish 3-1, and, at the midway point of the tie, it left Fulham facing the proverbial mountain to climb in the return leg a week later.
To complete a miraculous comeback, Hodgson’s side would need to produce another attacking performance, which they had been capable of throughout the season. Fulham had made a name for themselves with attacking intent under their popular manager, including a 3-0 victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in December; Bobby Zamora was again on the scoresheet as he enjoyed a rich vein of form for a striker perhaps not normally known for his goal record.
Read | Fulham: a journey to Europe
Fulham earned their tie against Juventus following a surprise aggregate victory over a strong Shakhtar Donetsk side, which boasted an array of talent including Willian, Fernandinho, Douglas Costa and Croatian captain Darijo Srna. A 2-1 first leg victory at home followed up by a resolute 1-1 away draw in Ukraine demonstrated Fulham’s defensive capabilities, often overshadowed by their attacking prowess.
When the famous black and white shirts arrived at Craven Cottage on the evening of 18 March 2010, few would have given the London side more than a distant glimmer of hope of progression into the quarter-finals.
It was imperative that Fulham started strongly in order to steady their nerves and ensure that the crowd believed in the impossible. As the two teams lined up, the tension was palpable, even if tinged with pessimism from the Fulham fans who could be forgiven for feeling that this particular mountain was just too steep. The confident, calm and controlled start that was required by the home side was nowhere to be seen as the opening exchanges were edgy and unsettling for the Cottagers, who struggled to gain composure in arguably the biggest night in the Superwhites’ history.
It was nervy defending that enabled the visitors to deal a hammer blow to Fulham’s progression hopes. A speculative drive from the experienced Hasan Salihamidžić fell to Diego inside the area, and with defenders surrounding the midfielder, a sloppy clearance fell to seasoned poacher David Trezeguet who unerringly slotted the ball past Schwarzer just two minutes into the game.
The worst possible start for the Cottagers meant that they now needed three goals to force extra-time. There was an immediate sense of urgency from the home side and they levelled through Zamora just six minutes after falling behind.
On 26 minutes we were introduced to the villain of the night. Fabio Cannavaro, who was arguably the most notable departure during the exodus following Calciopoli, was sent off for a professional foul on Zoltán Gera when the Hungarian was through on goal. After the highs of an incredible career, it was this moment that perhaps signalled that the Italian was well and truly past his best.
Prior to the red card Fulham were in the ascendancy, with the visiting side looking to contain and protect their advantage. Despite the sending off, Alberto Zaccheroni, who was hired to replace Ferrara after a poor run of results, decided to take a risk hoping for a second away goal that would surely kill off the tie. On this occasion, Zaccheroni decided to push midfielder Diego upfront with Trezeguet, leaving an open game that suited Hodgson’s attacking players. It meant that renowned goalscorers like Vincenzo Iaquinta and Del Piero remained on the bench.
Read | The dazzling, underrated excellence of Damien Duff
Fulham hit the woodwork twice before finally finding a way past goalkeeper Antonio Chimenti as Bobby Zamora played an exquisite pass through to Simon Davies who crossed for Zoltán Gera to fire home just before half-time. Fulham would not have wanted the first half to end such was their dominance in the game, but their performance level did not dip after the break.
The third goal came shortly after the restart, with much of the credit belonging to Damien Duff. Burdened by a spate of injuries, Duff was desperately seeking an escape route after a torrid time at Newcastle. The winger’s spell at the Magpies, often a symbol of misfortune and sorrow, was perhaps summed up as he scored the own goal that relegated Alan Shearer’s side. Duff sought a transfer and took a huge pay cut in order to join Fulham and reunite with Hodgson, who he had worked with previously at Blackburn.
The Irishman was forced to play out of position on the right wing due to the impressive form of American Clint Dempsey, a role embraced by the former Chelsea player. It was the right-wing that produced the third goal as Duff’s cross struck the arm of Diego and, after a moment’s hesitation, a penalty was awarded. An eerie hush fell over the Cottage as the Hammersmith End fell silent and held its breath as Gera stepped up to level the tie on aggregate. Danny Murphy, the regular penalty taker for Fulham, was unavailable on the night, but Gera showed little signs of nerves as he smashed the ball into the corner and cartwheeled towards the fans in celebration.
All of a sudden Fulham were favourites to progress and they sealed their place in the quarter-finals on 82 minutes when a stunning chip from substitute Dempsey found the top corner to lift the roof off the old ground.
It was a staggering turnaround from the underdogs, which produced a story that will be told time and time again on the banks of the Thames and on the terraces of Craven Cottage. The closing stages were drowned in frustration for the Italians, highlighted by Zebina’s late red card for a kick out at Duff. The celebrations belonged to the Cottagers and their fans who could scarcely believe that their small club from London had toppled European heavyweights Juventus.
The victory continued Fulham’s remarkable cup run, which would eventually end in the final in Hamburg, where Hodgson’s men were defeated by an extra-time winner from Atlético Madrid’s Diego Forlán. The Uruguayan broke the hearts of the Cottagers as his deflected shot found its way past Schwarzer with just four minutes left on the clock after persistence from Sergio Agüero. Hodgson’s side finished as runners-up in what will surely go down as the club’s greatest ever campaign.
Fulham’s aggregate victory over Juventus still ranks as the most memorable victory in the club’s history, an unforgettable sequence of events that allowed the minnows to humble the giants from Serie A. The magnitude of the result is perhaps most evident today in the current fortunes of the two clubs; Fulham are once again preparing for a season in the Championship, while in complete contrast, Juventus are again dominating Italian football and challenging for Champions League glory.
Regardless of the conflicting fortunes of the two clubs since that day in March 2010, forever etched into history will be the time when Roy Hodgson and the Superwhites topped the silky Italians from Turin
By Harry Collins @HarryCollins9