Goodbye Roy and Thanks for the Memories

July 1, 2010

So Roy is now gone. After weeks of speculation Hodgson was confirmed as the boss of Liverpool FC this morning.

I will always consider Hogdson the best Fulham manager of all time. He performed miracles with the club, turning Fulham from perennial relegation candidates (and in the year of his appointment, near certainties for the drop) into a consistent, defensively strong (!!) and cohesive unit, whilst maintaining attractive football and a team first mentality. Anyone who can get Fulham to a European Final will have my respect.

Unfortunately the backlash has already begun. The messageboards are full of screams of ‘Judas’ and ‘Hypocrite’. Many fans believe that Roy has been disloyal to the Fulham cause, some sort of managerial tart who used Fulham for his own ends. This is nonsense. Roy’s silence over the last few weeks has been down to the fact that he was not officially offered the job until this week. People say that he should have been more open, but that would not have helped at all, jeopardising his position both at Fulham and in the managerial race for Liverpool. If you had been lined up for a job that was better paid and more high profile would you walk around your current employers and spout off about it before it was confirmed? Thought not.

An interesting summer period lies ahead for Fulham in terms of finding a new manager, new players and holding on to the players that they already have. The Fulham chronicle is reporting that Fulham might take up to a month to appoint a new manager, which has been met with howls of derision. ‘It’s damaging the club during the important transfer period’ people are screaming. Au contraire, the need to take time with what is probably the most important decision a club can make is crucial. Why rush into the appointment of a manager when there is time to asses the candidates properly? When a company looks for a new CEO there is an average period of six months searching. Football clubs could do well to heed this advice in order to find the perfect appointment rather than the easiest/cheapest/quickest option.

I will post my thoughts on a successor to Roy in due course, but for now all I will do is wish the man well. I would be delighted if he succeeded at Liverpool. After years in the wilderness he is finally getting the recognition that he deserves. Good Luck Roy, and as for Fulham, onwards and upwards.


Roy Hodgson’s Star Turn

June 18, 2010

Tuning into BBC One’s coverage of the France v Mexico game last night I was pleasantly suprised to see Roy Hodgson in the pundit hotseat alongside Clarence Seedorf and Alan Shearer. Hodgson outclassed the lot of them. Searing tactical insight that had Shearer mumbling ‘as roy mentioned earlier’ on more than one occasion. Hodgson is not new to TV work having done his fair share in Italy.

My favourite of Roy’s observations was that Carlos Vela was pulling Bakary Sagna inside, leaving Salcido acres of space to create mahem. No one else picked this up of course.

Why the BBC and ITV do not go for more managers as pundits, particularly ones as seasoned as Roy is beyond me. Instead we are left to a cascade of ex-players, many of whom do not have the tactical nouse or bottle to manage, never mind read the game at an interesting level. I would much rather see the likes of Ferguson (unlikely, perhaps), Moyes or O’Neill offering tactical insight than Alan Shearer, Mark Lawrenson or Robbie Earl.


Transfer Speculation – The First Edition (of Many)

May 18, 2010

With Fulham’s season now officially in the books, it is time to start wild speculation over who might be coming to the cottage this summer courtesy of Mohammed Al-Fayed. Here is a run down of the positions that I think we need to look for and who the potential candidates are:

1) Striker – Whilst a certain Mr.Zamora has captured the hearts and minds of the Fulham faithful this season with a comeback comparable to Fulhams very own against Juventus, a partner for him up front would be ideal. This may be a little harsh on Fulham’s forgotten man Andrew Johnson, but with questions over not only his fitness but his impact on the way the team (and more importantly Zamora) plays mean that it looks like Roy will be looking for some striking reinforcements.  I would like to see Carlton Cole arrive, but his supposed £15m asking price and probable high wages would mean I cannot see him making the trip across London. More Likely is Frederic Piquionne, who would come as a backup for Zamora (meaning Elm would make way) and/or Nicky Maynard who looks like more of  work in progress but it would be exciting to have a promising English youngster on the books. Off the top of my head I am drawing a bit of a blank when it comes to strikers, but Fulham will undoubtebly be linked with anyone and everyone over the next few months.

2) Central Midfield – This is an area that requires some attention in the ‘playmaker’ capacity. Danny Murphy has had a good season but he is noticeably starting to tire and it looks like a new, younger, centre mid is a priority. Steven Sidwell would be available at bargain basement prices and has been touted as a replacement for Murphy. If anyone could get Sidwells career back on track it is Roy and I think this could potentially be a tidy piece of business for Fulham. My favoured signing would be Mark Noble who has run the Hammers midfield for many a season now and would be a like for like replacement for Murphy. He is also young (23!!) and English which are two big positives. If West Ham are serious about their clearout I would be disappointed if Fulham did not make a run for Noble, especially if a club like Stoke, Blackburn or Sunderland got him. On a side note, Jack Collison would be a superb purchase as well.

3) Defenders – A backup centre back seems to be the order of the day in the offseason. Fulham already have a Hughes replacement in Chris Baird, so cover for Hangeland is what is needed. Paul Scharner has been mooted as a potential pick up, but he wants to play in midfield so may be out of the question. The other question is over left back where Paul Konchesky has no cover. Bringing in Nicky Shorey would be a great move but I don’t think he would be happy swapping one bench for another.

More transfer speculation soon!


Expecting the Unexpected

May 16, 2010

In Michael Lewis’s excellent book ‘Moneyball: The art of winning an unfair game’ there is a section that describes the motives behind supporting a perennial underdog rather than a perennial winner. I scoured the book for the exact quote and couldn’t find it, but it goes something along the lines of ‘When you support a big team, the joy comes from expecting to win, when you support an underdog, the joy comes from the unexpected’. This is worth keeping in mind after Fulham’s amazing run to the Europa League final.

Part of the joy of the Hodgson era at Fulham has been the unexpected. The ‘Great Escape’ Season looked to be Fulham’s last in the premier league until Hodgson unexpectedly turned it around in the last few games.  Last season we were treated to the unexpected sight of a Fulham side not shipping goals and eventually reaching the heights of 7th spot and a place in the Europa League. This season has revolved around Fulham’s unexpected run in the Europa League mixed with some enjoyable, but unexpected, home wins (Man Utd and Liverpool to name but two). Ultimately it is the unexpected that has made supporting Fulham over the past 2 1/2 years so damn enjoyable.

The Europa League final in Hamburg may have ended in disappointment but ultimately I think the sense of pride and general enjoyment from the whole competition will overtake any lingering feelings of frustration and unhappiness. I was certainly pretty crushed when Diego Forlan snuck in Athletico Madrids AET winner with little/no time for a Fulham response. The thoughts of a missed chance and the idea that never again would Fulham have such a chance for a major piece of silverware clouded my mind on the oh-so long coach trip back home.

However, if we look at what this competition was all about for Fulham then we get some perspective. Pretty much all of the games up until the semi-final were an adventure where the only thing that mattered was the journey, new experiences and the moments. To me that is what Fulham is all about. If I had wanted to spend my life bathing in the glory of my team I would have chosen a Manchester United or Arsenal to follow not Fulham. Up until the semi-final the enjoyment of something new was driving the Fulham  faithful forward, but this all changed at the semi-final stage. Suddenly it looked as though Fulham might be able to go all of the way. The mood changed completely and I spent the majority of the Hamburg second leg feeling ill and incredibly nervous. Again for the Final the mood was more one of a tense nervousness rather than an enjoyment of the unexpected. We had moved from the motivation of the underdog closer to the motivation of the favourite, not completely by any means, but  certainly closer. This made the subsequent disappointment far more crushing than it ought to have been.

Now when I look back on this competition I am pretty amazed. Putting on a defensive masterclass when knocking out Shakhtar. Beating Juventus 4-1 when Fulham were on the verge of exiting the competition. Outplaying Wolfsburg over two legs. Beating Hamburg in a semi-final of a European competition with the crowd seemingly helping the team to an unforgettable win by creating an unforgettable atmosphere. And of course pushing Athletico Madrid all of the way in a European final. Pride is the only word that can describe Fulham’s achievements. I have never felt as attached to a group of players as the current Fulham squad. I felt more upset for them at the final whistle on Wednesday night than for myself, the club and the other fans combined. Unfortunately the completely unexpected didn’t happen this season, but it came very close to happening and that has been the thrill of supporting Fulham.

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A few comments from my trip to Hamburg. The whole trip was enjoyable despite the result. I feel very lucky to of had the opportunity to support my team in a European final. The atmosphere along the Reeperbahn was fantastic and the Athletico fans were friendly and loud. A personal highlight was the trip to the stadium. I somehow managed to get into the underground at exactly the right time to get an early train to the ground, surrounded by hundreds of others all in a jovial atmosphere. The sound of chanting echoing off of the enclosed spaces of the station and then the train will live long in the memory. Hopefully Fulham will have another chance to visit Hamburg in years to come.


Breaking News: BBC Still Hate Zamora

April 24, 2010

I hope Bobby Zamora gets a run out in the upcoming international matchesfriendly matches. However, the BBC’s crack team of footballing pundits are not so keen.

There are many reasons as to why Zamora will not be on the plane to South Africa, but Alan Hansen’s “He’s not good enough” comment is certainly not one of them.

Here is to hoping that Zamora answers his critics on Thursday night against Hamburg!


Hamburg 0-0 Fulham: A Tale of Two Defences

April 23, 2010

It just seems that this team is built for 2-legged European ties. Our away form in the premier league often comes under scrutiny and criticism (and rightly so) but under the bright lights of European competition it is the perfect remedy. Fulham may not play sparkling football away from home but it sure is effective. Only one European away performance can be described as poor during this campaign  and that was the 3-1 loss to Juventus.  Other than that night in Turin (which of course was gloriously rectified a week later) Fulham have been more than solid away from home. An initial draw against CSKA Sofia  with almost a complete second team, being robbed in Rome by poor officiating and a fantastic away victory in Basel rounded out a good away showing in the group stages.  A phenomenal defensive performance at Shakthar, a victory against German champs Wolfsburg and now a good scoreless draw at Hamburg added to the feeling of improved away performances. Why is it so different from the premier league? I guess that when we have a game plan (Must win or Must Draw) we are good at sticking to it. And of course Roy Hodgson is a God of European football.

As for the match last night. Not a huge amount to discuss other than to pile admiration onto the likes of Schwarzer, Gera et al. An early Baird mistake meant that hearts were in mouths as Ruud Van Nistelrooy bore down on goal, only for his composure to weaken and Schwarzer to collect the ball at his feet. Other than that chance, the first half passed everyone by with Hamburg restricted to long range shots that rarely tested Schwarzer.  Jonathan Pitroipa looked dangerous but had little end product, and other than the worryingly poor passing from Fulham there was not much of note.

As the second half started it was noticeable that  Zamora was struggling, an Achilles injury acting up and with him unable to make his usual powerful runs Fulham were unable to find an out ball. Hodgson dragged off the limping Zamora and brought on Fulham hero Clint Dempsey. Surprisingly this made Fulham much more dangerous in attack with Dempsey’s clever runs irritating the Hamburg defence Fulham started to look the better team. I noticed that now that Zamora had come off, Davies was spending a lot more time in a really central position with Konchesky making more probing runs down the left. Perhaps it wasn’t the 4-6-0 formation that many are predicting will be the future of football, but with 6 midfielders on the pitch for Fulham, you cannot get much closer to it than that.

HSV, to their credit, came back at Fulham and a couple of testing long range drives were dealt with magnificently by Schwarzer. Petric had come on by this stage but although he brought more of a goal threat to the HSV team I felt that they lacked something  without Guerrero ‘in the hole’. As the game drew to a close, Fulham looked to be comfortably seeing out an excellent draw. With the Fulham support in good voice, the final whistle blew and Fulham are one step closer to a European final. Wow.

p.s. A quick word for the Ref, who I thought was outstanding. He hilariously told players of both sides to stand up when the were tackled and kept the game flowing. All of the yellows were warranted. It is a pity he won’t be refereeing the return leg.


Fulham 2-1 Wolfsburg

April 2, 2010

What a game football is. A few weeks ago against Shakhtar Donetsk, the final whistle at the cottage was greeted with a huge roar of appreciation and people bouncing around in near delirium, but last night, despite the exact same result almost the opposite was true. I am complicit in this as anyone else,  as a late Alexander Madlung goal deflated the crowd and took the shine of what was another night of enthralling European football at the cottage. Yet this was still a good result and leaves Fulham with an excellent chance of heading through to the semi-finals.

Fulham have already been nearly written off by both the BBC and The Guardian:

Fulham’s late lapse could cost them dearly, but Wolfsburg were rewarded for their persistence in the final 10 minutes and will now be confident that they can progress to the semi-finals.

and

Possibly. But the feeling lingers that in Lower Saxony, in front of their own crowd, Wolfsburg might just bring to a close Fulham’s remarkable run in this competition, which began last July.

We have been here before havent we? After the Shakhtar game, many were questioning how Fulham would hold up away from home, and look where we are now! I am remaining optimistic about the return leg in Wolfsburg for several reasons:

1) We actually won last night meaning that Wolfsburg have to score. Now they have scored the most goals in the Bundesliga, but looked fairly average last night. I thought Dzeko looked dangerous, and they will probably score, but the emphasis is on them to create, something they struggled to do against a solid Fulham defence last night.

2) Basle, Shakhtar, Juventus. All teams with excellent home records, all teams we scored against away from home. It is not like Fulham have never scored away from home in the Europa league.

3) Wolfsburg have an average/iffy defence that Zamora was really testing last night. Wolfsburg have also conceded the second highest number of goals in the Bundesliga. I can see us getting a goal there.

As for the game itself, I would call it interesting rather than a classic. The first half was scrappy and Wolfsburg seemed content to sit back and try not to concede. A few half chances were created for both sides with the most notable coming at the end of the first half. Duff cut inside running full pace toward the Putney end, evaded two defenders before laying the ball off to Dempsey who hit the ball just wide.

As the second half began, Fulham looked the more dangerous team. Things started to gel and the crowd was lifted as Fulham began to commit men forward. The goals, when the came, were a huge relief. Both goals were counter-attack style moves that caught the Wolfsburg defence in flux and gives me hope that a similar goal c0uld be pilfered in a weeks time. The ball was won in midfield by Gera who hit a nice long pass for Zamora which he  controlled  well. A gut-busting run down then right by Duff then pulled the Wolfsburg defence further out of shape and allowed Zamora the time and space to place the ball in the back of the net from 20yds with an excellent curling finish that left Benaglio, the Wolfsburg keeper, flailing. The Cottage erupted and then relief was palpable.

And the first goal was quickly followed by a second. Again the ball was won in the midfield with Wolfsburg committing men forward, and Murphy found Zamora. Spotting Duff sprinting into the box, Zamora then laid the ball off for Duff to slam home with a unstoppable shot. Amazing. No-one was expecting this! Wolfsburgs response was to get forward and pressurize Fulham as they searched for the elusive away goal. Unfortunately it eventually came as the clock wound down. A Wolfsburg corner was taken short, catching Fulham unawares. Misimovic then had all the time in the world to pick out Madlung who powered a header into the back of the net. Damn. When the final whistle blew, there was a sense of disappointment around the stadium. At least the return leg will be interesting I suppose!


The Post-Juventus Comedown

March 28, 2010

There can be no doubt that Fulham’s amazing comeback against Juventus will go down as one of the best games in the history of Fulham FC. It was a truly magical night that I was proud to witness first hand. When the season draws to a close, people will look back and consider the Juventus game a truly great night in a pretty special season. Right now, however, it looks a little different.

Three games after Fulham inserted themselves into European folklore,  things are not looking so rosy. A defeat to Man City may have been expected, but this was followed with two results which are more difficult to simply laugh off. Being knocked out of the FA cup by Tottenham is not something to be ashamed of, yet it still stung, especially since Fulham had effectively played them off the park at their own stadium in the first half. The loss to Hull on saturday stung also, but in a different way. This time Fulham had lost to a team struggling to perform with one of Football’s worst managers in charge. To add more misery, one of the goals was scored by former Fulham fan favourite and all round ‘cheeky chappy’ Jimmy Bullard.

But to look at the results in the above way neglects the subtleties of the recent run of poor results. Fulham could have drawn against City if Okaka had scored when through one on one. Fulham were undone against Tottenham by a decent delivery and a slice of luck. And against Hull, many key first teamers were rested for the upcoming clash with Wolfsburg on thursday night. The myopia of some fans is truly amazing. Before I get harassed as someone who won’t criticise Hodgson I would just like to point out a few things. Before the Man City game, fans were screaming for a full 2nd team to be played in order for the heroes from the Juventus game to be rested for the midweek FA Cup clash with Spurs. When this didn’t happen and Fulham subsequently lost both games, the message boards were full of ‘I would have liked to see Riise, he has always looked fantastic when brought on’ or ‘why is Roy so hesitant with his subs’ or ‘why is Kelly still playing’. A week after the Man City loss and some fans have produced a Fox News-like turnaround in opinion. When I logged on to one fan message board I was greeted with ‘Dikgacoi, Riise, (insert player name here) not good enough’ etc etc etc.  For me, the Hull game was almost a Hodgson riposte to the naysayers. I know that he would never select a team to prove people wrong and that the changes were with the Wolfsburg game in mind, but to me they seemed to make a statement. Don’t like Kelly? Lets see how you like Shorey on the right. Riise the best thing since sliced bread? Lets see how you like him in the premier league.

It is a fans job to be highly critical ( and I am as unreasonable as most at games) but I think we need to take a deep breath and look forward. This week we have a European Quarter Final against the reigning Bundesliga champions. If all does not go to plan and we are knocked out we still have some winnable games to look forward too and the fact that our premier league status is all but assured. Add to this that we might sneak into the Europa next season under the fair play banner and it is all looking a bit better.  This summer should be very interesting. I do not think that massive investment is needed. Fulham are in a funny position for a club of its size. There is a good squad that is full of players who have been here a few seasons and there is the feeling of stability that has perhaps not been here since Fulham’s entry into the top flight. If we can add a few smart signings then the squad will improve as former first teamers who are perhaps getting on a bit move into the squad (such as Danny Murphy)  and younger players arrive to take their place and strengthen the first team. Success (read: the victory over juventus)does a funny things to people. I have been as disappointed about the last week as the next man, but we need to ask ourselves why we follow Fulham keep our feet on the ground and try to enjoy what has been one of the most enjoyable and successful periods in the clubs history.


Spurs 3-1 Fulham: Close, but no cigar…

March 24, 2010

Well, that is the joy of cup competitions. It is all or nothing, and unfortunately Fulham have walked away with nothing.  I felt that the scoreline flattered Spurs to be honest. Fulham had won the first half and were looking to consolidate in the second, but Spurs took their chances and here we are.

The game started fairly anonymously with both sides feeling each other out. Fulham looked very comfortable hustling a sleepy Spurs side off the ball and putting together some very good passing moves. The WHL crowd was silent and all that was coming through on the TV was the noise of the Fulham fans singing their hearts out, tucked away in the corner.  And it was Fulham who took the lead after a good spell of play. With Duff running through the centre at the defence, Zamora cut inside from the right hand side, pointed to where he wanted the ball and received a slide rule pass from Duff. If anyone had any remaining worries about Zamora’s composure in front of goal they were swept aside as he took the ball in his step and hit a beautiful curling finish into the bottom left hand corner around the outstretched Gomes. A very well worked move against one of the best defences in the premier league and Fulham were in front. This seemed to galvanise Spurs who started attacking with more purpose with Schwarzer saving a good backheeled effort from Eidur GudJohnsen at his near post.

Half time came and went and it was obvious that Redknapp was not going to let his team produce another fairly insipid performance in the second half. They came out fired up and with added impetus from the two new additions at half time in the form of Huddlestone and Bentley. And it was Bentley who was going to have the decisive impact on the match. Kelly gave away a foul near the touchline as he upended Bale, and Bentley stepped up and curled a cross in that avoided the crowded area and found itself in the net. There were questions of offside as Corluka looked to be distracting Schwarzer but the goal stood and Spurs were off and running. It was fairly obvious that Fulham were in for a battering for the remainder of the half, and it was a question on whether Fulham could nick a goal on the break. When Corluka went off with an ankle injury I thought that Fulham might have a chance, but on came Roman Pavlyuchenko and he was to be the real difference.

Spurs started dominating and with the improvement in the quality of the crossing, it was only a matter of time before another chance fell spurs way. Bentley crossed deep to the back post, Pavlyuchenko peeled off of Kelly, who missed his header by inches, and powered home a fierce left foot volley.  Before Fulham could settle and try to regroup, Spurs struck again. Modric poked a ball through to Gudjohnsen who took it round a flailing Schwarzer and passed it into an empty net. Game Over. Roy made changes, bringing on Okaka and Dempsey but it was too late. The game petered out with no real meaningful chances at either end and Spurs progress.

Fulham haven’t really had the rub of the green against Spurs this season, but Spurs deserved to win as they took their chances and controlled the game when it mattered.

A few other thoughts from the game:

1) Bentley was never man of the match. His first goal was almost as fortuitous as the one against Fulham in the league and whilst his assist for the second goal was decent, it was Pavlyuchenko who turned it into an excellent goal. Other than that he looked very average, mainly because he had absolutely no pace.

2) I hope Spurs go on and win the damn trophy now. If they lose to Chelsea in the Final then I don’t think I could forgive them. I will certainly now be throwing the weight of my support behind them now.

3) Kelly should not be scapegoated. Yes he did not play outstandingly, but if Baird had played at right back then Bale would have had even more of a field day.

4) I generally don’t believe that the media is out to get us, but the commentary in the second half with the commentators drooling over Spurs was quite offputting. There was none of the same for Fulham in the first half, just ‘that was a good passing move’ etc. etc.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, A win away at Hull would be nice, and then the real fun against Wolfsburg.


Fulham 1-2 Man City

March 21, 2010

In the context of Fulham’s season, games do not get any more irrelevant than this.  Two pieces of good counter attacking football meant that Man City were 2-0 up and cruising before half time.  Man City looked like they wanted it more and much like against Wolves earlier in the season Fulham did not start playing until the 70th minute.  Fulham dominated the closing stages and were rewarded a very generous penalty by Stuart Probert when Barry was adjudged to handle the ball in the area. Murphy calmly slotted the ball away and it looked like Fulham might salvage something from the game. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The best chance fell to Stefano Okaka who fired wide with only the keeper to beat and Dempsey arriving late in the area. Perhaps this will go some way to silencing the critics of Hodgson who believe that Okaka should have more of a prominent role. When the TV camera cut to an irate Hodgson after the miss, it perhaps gave us a slight insight into why he doesn’t think Okaka is quite ready yet.

More worryingly for Fulham was the form of Danny Murhpy. He looked off the pace all game, with pretty much everything he attempted bar the penalty, failing to come off. Murphy has been outstanding in general for Fulham, but it might be time to be seriously looking for a replacement this summer.

Up next is the important match against Spurs in the FA  Cup quarter-final replay. After the highs of Juventus, I fancy Fulham to at least give it a go at White Hart Lane. At least Zamora and Gera should be relatively fresh as they were both brought off during the course of the Man City game.