Goals nobody remembers – Rodney McAree vs Carlisle United (1997)
Fulham. Premier League stalwarts, 2010 Europa League finalists and now looking forward to a first campaign under the widely respected Martin Jol. That’s all well and good, but none of that might have been possible were it not for a Northern Irishman called Rodney McAree.
The chances are that you’ve never heard of McAree if you’re not from south west London – unless you’ve caught his name being sung on the Craven Cottage terraces – but his place in Fulham folklore was assured one April afternoon at Carlisle’s Brunton Park some 14 years ago.
You have to go back a further 15 months to realise just why it was so important. Fulham were staring at relegation to non-league football in January 1996 following a defeat to bottom of Division Three Torquay United. Then, Fulham were second bottom, but a subsequent recovery under boss Micky Adams secured safety, and then came a tilt at the top of the division in the following campaign.
And so to Carlisle on 5th April 1997. It was the Saturday when the Grand National had to be postponed on safety grounds, but no-one was going to silence Fulham’s party.
The Cumbrian hosts were also chasing elevation to Division Two and would eventually secure it, but on that afternoon both sides knew that the winners would be virtually guaranteed promotion. Carlisle took the lead, but a Fulham equaliser seemed to ensure that both sides would settle for point. McAree disagreed.
When the ball dropped to the midfielder lurking on the edge of the penalty area, McAree unleashed a terrific, arrowing drive into the corner of the net, sending the travelling fans wild. They were eventually, inevitably promoted.
That summer Mohamed Al Fayed completed his takeover of the club. Four years later they were in the Premier League. Nine years on from that it was a European final. In truth, Fulham have never really looked back since McAree’s magical moment.
They’re in Europe again this season. The current crop of players might not know it, but they have a certain goal on an afternoon in Carlisle to thank.