Friday, 22 February 2008

Grudge match

Ahead of this weekend's game at Craven Cottage, I feel it's time to lay my cards on the table here: I hate West Ham. I really want to see their team suffer. It's not logical, in fact it's pretty petty, but that's what football is like at times.
It wasn't always this way. As with the majority of the country, I used to look quite fondly upon the Hammers. They played some good football and felt like they had some romance and heritage, stemming from the 60s when it supplied some of the key players for the victorious England side in 1966.
Man United might have thrown away the chance to grab the title at Upton Park by drawing 1-1 in 1995, but I didn't blame West Ham for that. I blamed Andy Cole. However, the turn of the century saw a change in my ideals.
First up, West Ham played my second team Preston North End in the play off finals in 2005. North End had already done the double on the not-so happy Hammers (the away leg I was privileged to attend), but the Lillywhites froze (again) at the Millennium Stadium and West Ham won 1-0 and got promoted. Suddenly everyone was a West Ham United supporter. People with a hitherto undeclared love for football were suddenly Claret and Blue crazy. They were everywhere, like an infestation, and they caused your skin to itch, especially as they had been pretty quiet when it looked like they would have to stay in the Championship.
Secondly, they failed to beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final. My dislike of LFC has many levels, and by giving the Pool another trophy, West Ham were given another subconscious black mark.
Last season, for my girlfriend's 30th and mother's 50th, I splashed out on corporate tickets at Old Trafford for the last game of the season. I wanted to see Man United pick up the Premiership trophy (for what feasibly could have been the last time) so I stumped up £600 for four tickets. This was quite a risk as Chelsea were very much still in the title race at the time I had to book the tickets. Fortunately this was not the case come May. Unfortunately the opposition were West Ham, who beat us AGAIN and stayed up as a consequence.
The Hammers beat United again this season. They are a bogey team and I want rid of them. So I will have absolutely no qualms about singing for the Fulham cause tomorrow. West Ham are going to get beaten.
  • On a similar note, I have a strange affinity for Watford of all teams - I think it's because they were my first Subbuteo team. The 1985 strip with the red and black stripe across the chest.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

My flirtation with relegation

I've realised that I've been quite lucky as a football fan in that with all the teams I've picked up along the way I don't ever recall being in a relegation fight, never mind being relegated. The worst I've had as a Manchester United fan is them being mid-table and mediocre under Big Fat (and now racist) Ron. I got into Preston 10 years ago when I moved to the town (and now city) since which they've been promoted twice and involved in the play-offs on four occasions.
Times do change though and thanks to the acquisition of a Fulham season ticket and the collapse in trust of a nice, if weak, manager in Preston means I am not so much having a flirtation with relegation, but a full blown affair. I wonder if I should buy a Valentine's Card?
A relegation battle is harder work on the fans than the players in my opinion. If the player is good enough they can just transfer to a non-relegated team in the close season. The fans are stuck with it. The hard part is the hope. Personally I though Fulham were going down after they failed to beat Derby at home. When they went one down to Villa, I questioned whether Fulham would get any more points at home at all. But suddenly they started playing. And won. And provided that kernel of hope that relegation would be avoided. But the existence of that hope makes the dread of relegation even harder to stomach. I'm sure Derby fans are quite relaxed and trying to enjoy what's left of their season. But for the other clubs in the mire, games are so tense there's no sense of enjoyment. Only relief.
I went over to Colchester United last night to see Preston play at Layer Road (before it gets bulldozed at the end of the season). I really wanted to go and watch a game in terracing again and it helped the atmosphere and singing. However PNE got beat 2-1, not helped by an atrocious officiating performance by the referee and his assistants, a result which leaves North End very much in the relegation mix. The players tried their hardest, but I still couldn't help feeling betrayed. It's horrible this relegation lark. I can see why the Americans don't bother with it - the sales of Prozac would treble within a season.
Still - here's hoping!

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Healywatch 2

Healywatch makes its exciting second appearance! In truth it's been hard to watch Healy. After a bright start, much like the team, things haven't quite worked out for the record goalscorer in European Championship qualifiers.
He has always tried, much more than Kamara at any rate, but it appears he has now fallen out of favour with Woy Hodgson who has brought in three new strikers and seen McBride come back from injury. He didn't even make the squad for the win against Villa, a situation that appears to have upset him in this article.
He says: "I knew it wouldn't be easy making the step up to the Premiership. In my book it is the best league in the world with many of the finest defenders on the planet out to stop strikers like me hitting the net. Despite what has happened this season and especially recently, I still have great faith in my ability.
There have been question marks raised about whether I can cut it in the top flight. Well, I can tell you right here in this column that I DO BELIEVE I am good enough to play in the Premier League."
Ten out of ten for attitude I suppose, but I'm not sure what kind of a look-in Healy's going to get now, especially with Woy's purging of the smaller players in the team. If only Healy had come from Scandinavia - he'd be a cert to start. However finding yourself behind 36-year-old Jari Litamen in the pecking order might persuade Healy to go out on loan. He might like to return to the only club side he scored regularly for - Preston North End. They could certainly do with the help at the moment.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Fulham 2 - 1 Aston Villa

Yes, you read that right. A third home win of the season and well deserved too against a high flying Aston Villa team which could have moved into fourth spot (albeit by scoring five) with a win.
This was the first glimpse that the home fans had been given of Woy Hodgson's new look side, despite him being in situ for around six weeks, and there were definitely signs that it may not be too late yet.
The midweek away match at Bolton provided a bit of an indication that Fulham were now a 4-5-1 team even with the new players. This is a bit frustrating, especially at fellow strugglers where a win would have been wonderful. However a defeat would have been unthinkable and in the end it appears the goalless draw was a good set-up for a somewhat unexpected victory against the Villains. Anyway - expect more 0-0 draws away from home.
In this match poor Baird got booed before he even came on, but despite this he started brightly and won some important headers and made some useful tackles. After about 20 minutes though, he reverted to type and was quite simply shocking. His distribution went awol, which caused his head to drop, which then affected the rest of his game. I'm amazed he didn't get hooked during the 90 minutes. If he thought the crowd was on his back during this game then he should be pleased that the fans didn't know that he'd decked St Jimmy Bullard in training. They'd have lynched him. Other players who played below their previous high performance levels were Danny Murphy and Paul Konchesky.
In the first half, Fulham were reasonably comfortable, but that all changed at the start of the second with Villa having constant pressure, but not really testing the keeper. Inevitably they did score from a corner but yet another own goal. Villa have only scored 3 against Fulham this season, which includes two OGs - one from an ex-Villa player and one from a defender who signed for Villa three days later!
Anyway, whether the goal made Villa rest on their laurels, or gave Fulham a kick up the arse, or whether it was the introduction of the talismanic Brian McBride for the hardworking Erik Nevland, the game suddenly changed. Fulham were in the ascendancy, equalised quickly and then saw Bully do his Roy of the Rovers stuff from the freekick. Woy doesn't want too much pressure to be placed on the shoulders of the maniac (or McBride either) but if they continue to have such influence on games then the weight of expectation on them will only grow. Especially at the business end of this season.

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