Sunday, 28 June 2009

The not very eagerly awaited Season Review 2008/9

Now the dust has settled, here is the prestigious 3pm Cottagers review of the season. I expect Woy to study it and make the requisite improvements to the squad forthwith.

Elliot Ness 'Untouchable' award: A tricky old category given the success of the team this year. Early plaudits justifiably went to Brede Hangeland, but after earmarking him as 'least favourite player' I'm not about to do a total about face and make myself look like a pillock. Plus I think that Hangeland is more dependent on Aaron Hughes than we realise, with the pair of them developing an incredible partnership.
Danny Murphy has also been earmarked as a key player this year, especially since Jimmy Bullard's departure, but I'm afraid I can't really discern what he does in the centre of the park. He pulls the strings so imperceptibly to me, I can't actually give him the credit he probably deserves. Ish said he would give it to Dickson Etuhu, but considering he only played half a season, I think that would be unfair.
Anyway, my choice is Clint Dempsey. This is partly because he plays in the combative way I can relate to and would play myself if I was any good. It is also partly for the way he has forced himself into the starting 11 of a Woy Hodgson team - something no other player managed. It is also partly for the last minute equaliser against Chelsea, which is apparently the only headed goal in the league for Fulham this season.
Honourable mention: Mark Schwarzer

Frank Spencer Award: I'm afraid this has to go to Booby, sorry, Bobby Zamora. After a decent first half of the season, albeit with very little goal return, something snapped in Bobby Z's psyche. Bizarrely it seemed to happen just after he scored in the FA Cup. The league match against Pompey saw Bobby in plenty of great attacking positions yet make the wrong decision every single time. In fact once, when clean through, he didn't make any decision at all and seemed to just wait to be tackled. When he was eventually hauled off, Erik Nevland put his perfomance into stark contrast by calmly scoring twice.
While Zamora had the odd good game after this match, his performance against Man United in the league paved the way for a famous victory, he is not a fan favourite. Scoring a tap in against West Brom and celebrating by shouting at fans in the Hammy End reflects an unusual fragility of ego for a Premier League footballer.
Honourable mention: Paul Konchesky - far too many important, late goals came from players PK was supposed to be marking

Better than sex award: Most Fulham fans would cite Zoltan Gera's acrobatic second against Man United I wouldn't for two reasons - 1) I am essentially a Man United fan with a Fulham season ticket and 2) I would have won over £100 had the match ended 1-0.
As mentioned above, Dempsey's equaliser against Chelsea in a match where Fulham had been out-played and yet pulled it back in the last minute was a dramatic highlight in a season littered with last minute concessions.
Honourable mention: Alright - Zoltan Gera against Man United

Sign him up award: Well there's two players that in my mind stood out like a sore thumb, the FA Cup version of Wayne Rooney aside, Sunderland's Kieran Richardson and Blackburn's Stephen Warnock. Warnock's running duel with Schwarzer (in which the keeper was successful) was an enthralling display, but the fact that Rovers won left a sour taste. So Richardson, who let's not forget hit a free kick that hit the post THREE times at the Cottage, is the surprise recipient of the award.
Honourable mention: Steven Pienarr, Everton

Captain Hook pantomime villain award: The league game against Man United saw the absolute worst side of Cristiano Ronaldo. Diving and complaining and whinging and fouling. The man now worth £80m didn't even play well. In fact he was so bad that even the referee took the piss out of him. By far his worst game of the season.
Honourable mention: Mark Riley

Single malt award for biggest indulgence: It's got to be Johnny Paintsil. Although he gradually improved as the season went on, he is clearly mental and hasn't lost that erratic part of his game. In one of the last matches of the season, Johnny performed an unnecessary overhead kick clearance and diving header clearance. Yet from his much copied pre-game prayers to his much appreciated post game lap of thanks, we think Paintsil is brilliant.
Honourable mention: FFC

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Wimbledon - Day 3

Well what else am I supposed to do? I'm not in South Africa to see Clint Dempsey tear up the form books, so this'll have to do. Granted I could write the season review I've alluded to, but I kind of wanted the other lads to participate in that. I'm still waiting for the goods though...
Anyway I skived off work and set the alarm for 6am. I rolled out of bed at 7.30 and was out of the flat by just gone 8 to arrive at 'The Queue' at about 9.30. It's It was an odd old experience for me as I used to live at the other side of Wimbledon Park, so everything looked familiar yet completely alien. I guess the All English Championships can do that to an area.
Despite getting there at 9.30 and being handed a very civilised 'queue card' in the early 9,000s it was easy enough to get a ground pass, although it did take over three hours to get in. Luckily the park was bathed in glorious sunshine, so the queuing in itself was not a hardship. It also gave the like of Robinsons, HSBC and a wine company the opportunity to market to patient tennis fans. A couple of Italian tourists managed to infiltrate the line in front of us about half way through, only to be sent all the way to the back after waiting an hour because they didn't get a queue card. No-one queues like the British it seems.
This wasn't the first time at Wimbledon for me. I went in 2001, back when I was local, when a ground pass cost just £13. These days its £20 and the creation of a new Court 1 means that there are even fewer quality matches for the proletariat to see for their money.
The truth is the good matches were heavily oversubscribed in terms of bodies, so we found ourselves mainly watching women's doubles, which was aesthetically pleasing if not sportingly. Actually the speed at which the ball moved around the court was particularly breathtaking.
We started off on Court 15, where a women's double match where the most exciting thing to happen was my revelation that all the protagonists' names ended in VA, with players from Australia, Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic. Oh and the umpire, trying to return a stray tennis ball from a neighbouring court, nearly hit me with it. I'm sure it was the umpire from the Andy Murray match on Tuesday.
I then wanted to watch a full match and we found a second round women's singles game about to start on court 12 where India's Sania Mirza faced Romanian 28th seed Sorana Cirstea. We decided to support Mirza because of her ties to the Great British Empire, but our support was short lived. After the most insipid set of tennis I'd watched in a long time, in which our girl was beaten 6-4, we decided to knock it on the head and go for a drink. 6.30 for a Pimm's by the way.
We did see some men play. We watched British number 2 Alex Bogdanovic and his doubles partner James Ward close out a match on Court 6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, with some nice play. And we saw Number one seeds Bob & Mike Bryan strutting their stuff on Court 7.
Just as we were about to head home, out of the scorching heat, we returned to Court 6 to watch a fun match between Japanese pairing Rika Fujiwara and Aiko Nakamura against Kristina Barrois and Tathiana Garbin (German and Italian). This was a fun match, with the enthusiasm of the Japanese girls rubbing off on their European opponents. Fujiwara was a little dynamo at the net and both her and Nakamura played some great tennis. But their high intensity game withered in the heat, much like we did, and they were eventually defeated 9-7 in the final seat. Still - they lasted longer than we did. We toddled off home at 4-4.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Welcome.... Stephen Kelly

Well I don't think a lot of people were expecting a new Fulham signing so soon, so it is with some surprise that Birmingham City's Stephen Kelly has been added to the ranks.
The Irish right back has plenty of Premiership experience with the Blues and a loan spell with Stoke in the season just gone, but does this spell the end for crowd favourite John Paintsil, who improved as the season worse on?
Seemingly not if Woy's comments are anything to go by:

"I am delighted that Stephen has become our first signing of the summer transfer window. He is a talented young full back with experience of playing in the Premier League as well as competing at international level. He will be a useful addition as we look to improve our squad ahead of the start of next season and I am hopeful that we will be able to announce further additions in the coming weeks."

Well a few things to pick out there- a) 25 isn't really 'young' for a professional footballer, b) it looks like he's going to be more of a squad player and c) further additions soon!
Ideally it'd be great if Kelly could also play left back to cover/compete with Konchesky but that remains to be seen. It's almost impossible to second guess Hodgson's transfer dealings and what he has planned. The man has done well picking up under appreciated players from other team's squads before now though. It's going to be another interesting season.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Everton 1 - 2 Chelsea

I can't believe the new fixtures are out already. I've not even done the end of season awards or this report yet! I need a few matches to be played on Sundays so I hope there's some progress in Europe.

When offered Prawn Sandwich tickets to the FA Cup Final, I really wasn't going to refuse. The event has always, in a cliched way, felt a little bit special for me especially considering that my first love, Man United, have been involved in about 8 FA Cup finals since I've followed them.
Still Everton v Chelsea is not a game to get too worked up over as a neutral, but I was obviously supporting the Toffees.
I left the flat in Hammersmith at 11 after watching a bit of old school Saint & Greavsie on TV and was shocked at the number of Everton fans milling around my patch of West London at that time. A quick hop on the tube and I arrived at Wembley Park to be greeted by hundreds of people in blue shirts - the Everton and Chelsea hues are remarkably similar to someone as colour blind as me - with most of them Toffees determined to enjoy a first cup final for 14 years.
Club Wembley seating is a bit like being at the rugby I'd imagine, with fans of both sides intermingling as cash is more important here than football allegiances. In our section (which as it turned out was just below Mr Abramovich's box) had a mix of Everton & Chelsea fans without a hint of trouble.
The place where we ate is actually a small trek away from where we were seated, so we were lucky to get out there for 'Abide with me' which I'm shamed to say I didn't realise was particularly linked to the FA Cup Final. It explains why the lyrics were in the programme though. Then we sit down and Louis Saha scores. The was particularly pleasing to the trading director of a bookies I was sat next to as it immediately wiped out the £50,000 liability his firm had on a 2-0 Chelsea victory. Plus we'd all witnessed the fastest ever FA Cup final goal, timed at 25 seconds. The way I've been missing quick fire/last minute goals recently I was pleased to have caught this one.
The game was then a tidy if not exciting one. A minute before Drogba's headed equaliser, Chelsea had put in a similar cross into the Everton box, but had no striker to take advantage. It seems that Chelsea heeded this lesson, but Everton did not and as such the strike would not have felt amiss in a practice match.
Half time had us scampering back to our tables for a drink and the best bit of food of the day - miniature pies! The lager (Carslberg) left something to be desired because I don't think enough pints of it are poured in what is essentially a wine-drinking environment. It'd have been nice to have the option of some bottled beer/cider though. Anyway, no sooner had we sat down than there was an announcement that the second half was going to start soon. No so wonder many Club Wembley seats are still empty at the start of the second half at that stadium.
Lampard's winner came just after Everton had enjoyed their best football of the match with a bit of sustained pressure, but with only a header over the bar to show for their endeavours. I find it hard to dislike Lampard these days, apart from the continuous pointing to the sky when he scores, but I guess that's being a bit harsh. Malouda's cracking strike also echoed the '66 World Cup final when Geoff Hurst's shot came back down off the bar. While it seemed obvious to me that Malouda's had bounced over the line and come back out, the referee didn't give it. Where's a Russian linesman when you need one?

All in all I've had a good footballing year. I've attended both domestic cup finals and the charity shield, seen Barcelona and Inter Milan play at home, held the Premier league and Champions League trophies, and best of all been witness to Fulham's best EVER season in the top flight. Now that's what I call a good season.

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