No sooner had sportswriter Tony Banks sent his new book about the Al-Fayed era at Fulham FC to the printers, than news broke that the Egyptian former owner of the club had died at 94.
As a result, the book – titled The Great Adventure: Al-Fayed’s Rollercoaster Ride with Fulham FC – will still appear in the shops in two weeks’ time. But to read the final chapter of Al-Fayed’s life story, you’ll need to go online.
Tony, 64, interviewed dozens of the people who were at the club in the 16 years between 1997 and 2013 when Mohamed Al-Fayed was chairman.
Roy Hodgson, Chris Coleman, Lawrie Sanchez, Ray Lewington and 1990s player-manager Micky Adams all contributed their memories of an extraordinary time in the history of London’s oldest professional football club, helping piece together what really went on behind the scenes.
“I’ve always loved Fulham as a club and have been following them since the early 70s, and I thought the Al-Fayed era was a fascinating period in the history of the club, and a story that needed to be told,” said Tony, whose 35-year journalistic career has spanned The Sun and the Express, the Star and the Mirror.
Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed bought Fulham FC in 1997 for £6.25million, pledging to reach the Premier League in five years. He did it in just four.
Along the way, Fulham had two promotions, got through 10 managers, put up – in 2011 – a bizarre multi-coloured plaster-and-resin statue of Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage, and travelled on an amazing journey to the Europa League final in 2010.
Among Tony’s sources for the book was Michael Cole, right-hand man to Al-Fayed, who was once reputed to be among the world’s richest men.
Al-Fayed’s successor as owner of the Whites, Shahid Khan, said of the flamboyant Egyptian: “The story of Fulham FC cannot be told without a chapter on the positive impact of Mr Al-Fayed as chairman.”
Fans will get more than just a chapter with the new book, which concentrates on the time Al-Fayed rode into town and replaced Adams with a pairing of Ray Wilkins and Kevin Keegan to help steer the Cottagers upwards.
Mohamed Al-Fayed died on 30 August, and was buried the next day alongside his son at a plot in the grounds of his Surrey home, 26 years after Dodi’s death in the Paris car crash which also killed Princess Diana.
“I’ve written a bonus chapter, covering Al-Fayed’s death, which readers can link to when they buy the book,” said Tony.
The controversial £2.3million statue of gloved singer Michael Jackson (commemorating the fact that the pop star had attended one solitary Division Two match at the Cottage) attracted derision when it was placed on its riverside plinth.
In 2013 – four years after Jackson’s death – it was removed from Fulham, eventually finding a new home at the National Football Museum in Manchester. But in 2019, with Jackson’s reputation tarnished by child sexual abuse news, the statue was removed and placed in storage.
The Great Adventure: Al-Fayed’s Rollercoaster Ride with Fulham FC is released in hardback on 2 October (£18.99 from Pitch Publishing).
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