A TOOFIF chat with...
Tom Greatrex MP

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  1. Tom Greatrex, a name and face that quite a few Fulhamites probably don’t know, we all owe Tom and his colleagues a lot for their tireless efforts to keep FFC at the Cottage., he’s an MP now too!

Not content with cherishing a Cottage by the river, long-time Fulham fan Tom Greatrex has also moved in to a much grander House a few miles downstream. The Commons! Tom, well known to us lot for his sterling work with the Back To The Cottage (BTTC) campaign, captured over 60% of the constituency vote to become the Labour MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West in this year’s general election. TOOFIF caught up with the new man (right) at Westminster as the new season beckoned...

TOOFIF: So, what prompted a mad-keen Fulham fan to move to Scotland in 2003-04 – did you have something against Chris Coleman?

Tom Greatrex: No it wasn’t that! I ended up in Scotland more by accident of marriage than anything else. I got married in 2003 and so I’ve lived there for seven years now. I was still going up and down from Scotland to Fulham as often as possible; being a long-distance fan has its challenges but with the north-west away games I can get to and from places like Burnley and Blackburn a lot quicker than those coming up from the south-east of England.

TOOFIF:  What led you to becoming an MP?

TG: Luck, really! My local Member of Parliament decided to stand down and some people locally suggested I should put my name forward. So I did, and got selected. It certainly wasn’t a great masterplan.

TOOFIF: So it all happened very quickly, then...?

TG: Yes – it all happened in the calendar month of March, which also made it all rather  unfortunate, too! March, as you’ll recall, meant a lot of European games for Fulham so I missed both legs of the Semi-Final with Hamburg. That was agony! I’d earlier managed to do do both legs against Roma earlier in the run. In fact I’d had to go to Rome the week before too – I’d never been there before – to see the Pope (in my then job I was looking to see if, as part of his visit to the UK in September, he’d come to Scotland too). So, yes, the Pope one week and Fulham the next...

TOOFIF: So, embracing the Pope one week and Zoltan Gera a week later – figuratively, anyway!

TG: Absolutely!

TOOFIF: I know there’s a lot of sporting interest among many MPs, but are you focussing on any football-related areas in Parliament?

Tom Greatrex caught on film in Stevenage Road on BTTC duty.

TG: I am in the sense that the Football Supporters Trust network is an area that is going to become more and more prominent as the financial situation impacts upon various clubs, and so I’m working quite hard with Supporters Direct to increase the profile of supporters’ trusts. The new sports ministers don’t have as much background in that area as the previous incumbents had, so it’s a case of keeping the profile up and raising some of the issues around football governance and financing. It’s making sure that there’s an outlet in Parliament for some of these issues – there’s a balance that needs to be struck to ensure that fans are properly appreciated and represented and that their role and views are taken into account, and that it’s not only when their club is in crisis. We all know that when a club gets into a crisis

situation then everyone rides to the rescue – but the real challenge is for everyone to be on the ball when there isn’t an immediate problem and where football clubs are getting on with ‘business as usual’. Everyone who supports (almost) any football club knows that the next crisis may well be around the next corner.

TOOFIF: And we’ve had our share of crises at Fulham over the years, haven’t we? It’s only a a select few clubs that have mega-bucks in the bank and are seemingly ‘safe’. With clubs like Fulham, when things are riding along nicely no one really wants to rock the boat, do they?

TG: Fans are in it largely because they support the team and, as we did last season, to enjoy and revel in the tremendous moments when they come along. When your club is making history you don’t want to miss it – in my case I missed my ‘adoption’ here at Parliament that day because there’s no way I wasn’t going to be in Hamburg for the final. Those are the occasions you live for as a fan. But then a balance needs to be struck between not being antagonistic towards the football club while also making sure that you’re confident that some of the issues concerning your club are being dealt with. After all there’s nothing wrong with asking questions and finding out what’s going on and I think we’ve got to get to a position where football clubs are bit more mature in how they deal with their supporters. I must say that, to a large extent, that’s happened; football clubs are realising that fans are in one sense uncritical customers and in another sense can be their best asset.

TOOFIF: A club’s average attendance can be perceived as a faceless body of men and women, but within those thousands are likely to be found many experts within their particular field ready, willing and able to help out their beloved club, aren’t there? Going back a few years, that’s something Jimmy Hill found it hard to accept.

TG: There are, and that’s what successful supporters’ trusts have demonstrated. In my dealings with him, Ron Noades seemed to be just as blinkered, saying ‘football supporters don’t know what they’re talking about’. At that time I think he was still manager as well as chairman at Brentford.  I must say that Brentford have a very good and progressive trust

these days (it would be wrong of me to say that I didn’t enjoy our 5-0 win there the other week – that was a very nice result!) and they’re involved very closely in the running of the club. And there’s the potential for having something similar to that model at every football club in order to take it forward. Any board, or any chairman, or any manager or any players are only there for a limited period of time whereas we want the clubs to be there in perpituity. Hopefully  clubs will adopt a more progressively enlightened attitude than they have in the past.

TOOFIF: You’ve said you missed a few games last season, but did you enjoy the team’s exploits?

TG: Tremendously! The Juventus home game was right in the middle of election process. But I decided to take a day off from chasing round Labour Party members in Lanarkshire, after all Fulham don’t play Juventus every week. And I thought that after the first leg it was probably our last game in the competition. To actually be there was absolutely superb – it has to be the

best-ever Fulham game. There were other games where I had to make do with the late evening highlights packages on TV , but being at the Juventus game – and the Final – was simply fantastic. To get so close and not quite do what the romance of the situation dictated – actually winning the thing! – was heartbreaking, but it was still a tremendous experience, probably never to be repeated. I’m a little too young to have been at the ’75 Cup Final, but have been only too aware of people banging on about that day. Well I can now bore my children and anyone else with tales of getting to a European cup final for years to come.

TOOFIF: So what about this season? No new manager as we speak, but what are our  chances?

TG: Even if Roy Hodgson was still manager it was always likely to be tough. I can’t see how people can expect us to emulate last season’s success. But let’s see who the new man is – I hope it’s settled soon as we need to make the most of the pre-season period, otherwise it could be an uphill struggle.

TOOFIF: Being optimistic, a decent new manager might be able to maintain the impressive squad structure that’s in place and maybe lure a few more good players to Craven Cottage...?

TG: There’s still a very strong squad of players at Fulham, one or two might be near the end of their careers , but it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom ahead! We’ll just need to be realistic – last season is a tough act to follow whoever’s in charge.

TOOFIF: As a former chair of the BTTC campaign, what are your views on the the current direction of the club?   

TG: All Fulham supporters are hugely grateful for everything the Chairman has done for Fulham FC, and indeed throughout the BTTC campaign we were very keen to make that point. And while there have been bumps along the way – going to Loftus Road was one of them – the fact we’re back at Craven Cottage and playing Premiership football has got to be beyond the dreams of many people – particularly those who were in the thick of it at Fulham 15 years or so ago. So in the big picture the club’s in a pretty healthy state, but as I suggested earlier it’s a case of being wary of what’s just around the corner. And that’s where I hope I’ll see Fulham FC taking a lead from some other football clubs in having an open, constructive and transparent relationship with its fans. And that’s why it’s very important that there’s a Trust in place – that relationship is crucial to a long-term sustainability of any football club. I’m sure that every Fulham fan (and particularly the Fulham Supporters’ Trust [FST] members) wouldn’t relish being in a full-on, campaigning, crisis position – it’s much better [for  the club] to be in a stable position. So it’s a question of making sure the club appreciate the issues that the fans have got and that they want to see dealt with. I very much hope the club will see the interventions and comments of fans’ organisations as something that will help the  club, rather than adopt a very defensive attitude to it all.

TOOFIF: So you’re suggesting that fans movements are the future of football?

TG: They’re a big part of it. The way fans have organised themselves and taken up issues has developed over the last few years. Football club chairmen are fond of talking about football clubs as businesses and that they’re run on the business model. Any business, if it’s to be successful, can’t take its customers for granted as sooner or later they may well become disenchanted and, if not drifting away entirely, perhaps they won’t go to this game or that game, or maybe they won’t buy things from the club shop. The relationship between a club and its fans needs to be strong – it’s a two-way thing. Also, there’s no monopoly on good ideas; there’s no reason why fans’ organisations or supporters’ trusts can’t come up with good ideas or good solutions to issues, and as long as clubs are open to that and prepared to have that dialogue then that’s a win-win situation for everybody.

TOOFIF: Now that you’re an MP, will you be playing any part in the FST activities this season?

TG: That won’t be possible on a day-to-day basis now. I’m still a member of the Trust and will keep in touch and be supportive wherever possible – and that also applies to the two other Fulham-supporting MPs, Steve Pound and Andrew Slaughter...

TOOFIF: ...Two more for a 5-a-side team...!

TG: Yeah, we need to recruit a couple more!

TOOFIF: Has your family sussed as yet that you’ve taken on this MP role in Westminster purely to be a whole lot closer to the Cottage?

TG: Ha-ha! It’s sods law that we don’t have many home midweek fixtures in the next few months – we had loads last year when I was stuck in Scotland!

TOOFIF: Given your determination to see FFC back at the Cottage, Tom, how did you feel during those noisy, full-house cup encounters last season?

TG: It vindicated a whole group of people who had worked so very hard to point us back to our spiritual home. There really is something very special about Fulham and it is intrinsically linked to Craven Cottage. I don’t think those European nights at the Cottage would have been anything like the same had they been at some (albeit nicely designed) 40,000 or whatever capacity stadium on the outskirts of White City. That view was certainly reflected in lots of the newspaper reports and also via fans of other clubs as we went through that competition. By the time we got to the final loads of people were rooting for us in a way they wouldn’t have done had it been, say, Liverpool in the final. I don’t think it’s over-romantic to say that a lot

of that is down to the very special relationship between the club and the ground. I’m so very pleased that, after that brief hiatus at Loftus Road, we’re back at Craven Cottage and I hope that’s where we stay for ever...

TOOFIF: ...Given the knife edge some of the Euro ties were on, maybe the fans’ involvement helped to tip the balance...?

TG: ...Absolutely! The Juventus game was a classic example of that. The whole atmosphere on the night was truly magnificent and only added to the drama – the shape of the ground means that the fans are very close to the pitch and I’m certain the rousing atmosphere lifted the players and helped us get that crucial fourth goal. Cliché or not, it was spine-tingling stuff

and a brilliant night all round.