Who the f*** is Craig Fagan?

Sometimes for whatever reason you can’t be at a game and because of your circumstances the memory of that match really sticks with you. When the much underrated Brian Little had a patched up band of lunatics somehow on a run to the play-offs in the spring of 2001, I was stuck on a school trip as a young teacher in France. Technology being what it was at the start of the millennium, I was told there was a spot about 5 minutes’ walk from the centre of the camp where your phone could get a little bit of signal. After tea on the first Saturday I walked to said location and waited. A message popped up on the Nokia from the old man. “Beat Hartlepool 1-0, UTT” Cue stupid and utterly carefree pogo-ing in the middle of a field in southern France.

Another such occasion was during our first ever season in the Premier League. An incredible start to our season had first slowed, then creaked and by April and May we were in full free fall. We were a burning wreck of losing cargo and all the neigh say, smart arse premier league fans were bathing in our desperation. We were now everything they said we were at the start, leaking goals, naive and nervous up top. By the time we got to the second game from the end at Bolton, it was pretty much us or Newcastle for the drop. Me being me? I was at Butlins coaching junior football.

My main supply of information whilst trying to instil some creative ability in a bunch of sleep deprived 12 year olds was a fellow coach who was also an Arsenal fan that after our Geovanni inspired brilliance, was simply loving the experience of watching me suffer. City chipped in by going 1-0 down and it all looked like we were going to fall at the final hurdle and drop back to the second level. Then in the midst of some 7-a-side also ran game, my mate Jonesey’s face dropped.
“Oh… Pete…. you’ve equalised”
I jumped directly in the air yelling “Get in!!!” at volume, which definitely threw the team as we’d just conceded a throw in.
“Who scored?”
Jonesey squinted at his phone. “Craig Fagan” he replied.
“Who the f*** is Craig Fagan Pete?”

I think I was too happy to care at the time, but now 14 years later, I’ll answer his question. Craig Fagan was an absolute grafter, a relentless channel runner who could plug in across several attacking positions. He was typical of the team that survived in the Premier League that year in that he was a very good Championship player who hadn’t seen a fight he didn’t fancy getting into. Thus we caught lots of big time teams with their pants down. No better example being where he got his leg broken by Danny Guthrie whilst City beat Newcastle at St James Park earlier that same season. Guthrie’s challenge was cowardly and distasteful as Fages was running the ball into the corner towards the end of the match and he teed off on his standing leg. Most City fans made a vow to spit on the name of Guthrie quite rightly but it was the self-same determination, running and savvy play by Craig that brought about such a horrible challenge.

It was his second stint with the club by then, first brought in by Peter Taylor in 2005 after really impressing against us for Colchester United. He was an important part of City’s rise up the leagues, in a formation that Taylor loved to play featuring multiple attacking options coming from deeper positions (see Barmby, Elliott, Green, Price etc). He departed for Derby County during our promotion season, but came back first on loan and then permanently. He was a goal threat, an assist threat and technically had a great first touch, he’d run at the opposition on the ball and worked like an absolute madman off it. That all added up to being very popular with the fanbase.

Then there’s something else that made me respect the hell out of him. In the autumn of 2006 we were heading back to league one. The Parkinson train was off the rails and was heading towards the cliff edge, on fire. We went to his old club Colchester and despite taking the lead through Nicky Forster, what followed was horrific, 5 goals for them flattered us. It should have been 7 or 8. The players had downed tools, Parkinson had totally lost them and the whole night was a farce. Those that stayed let the remaining players and manager know this at full time and things got ugly quick. Most City players limply clapped from a distance and got themselves down the tunnel. It was then I realised there was an exception. Craig Fagan was walking towards the boos, the howls of derision and angry fans. I worried this wouldn’t end well, but he just kept walking. It must have been a tough day for him in particular as a former Colchester player which their fans had reminded him of throughout. By the time he was within five yards of tight Layer Road away end, even the steward’s looked worried. “Lads” he started “That was so bad, I just wanted to apologise to all of you that travelled tonight, I’m sorry, that was terrible.” I’d about two hundred fans who moments before had been booing at the top of their voice had completely stopped. Someone started clapping, another fan gave him their scarf (god knows why?!), but all of them respected such a gesture because Fages showed some serious courage.

Which takes me back to that goal vs. Bolton, watched by me on Match of the Day that night, with one of those rubbish wind related sun tans and full of cheap beer. It was a goal that summed him up as a player for Hull City, he chased and pressed so many times and when the Bolton defence coughed up the ball he ran on to finish with aplomb. The highlights that season were so abundant, from the genius of Geo, to the electric Mendy performances and defensive heroics of Turner, Dawson and Myhill. But we stayed up because Craig Fagan chased a lost cause, that’s just a fact.
He might not be on the lips of every fan when you talk about all-time greats, but his application, determination and poise laid down a marker for others around him and made sure that I’d never forget where I was that day, and neither will many City fans. UTT.