Alles wir fahren zum Europäisch Reise! Or as they say in SW6 - We're all going on a European Tour.
In a complete turnaround from the usual away form, Fulham impressed in a multi-goal thriller and edged past Basle to make it to the last 32 of the Europa League. But boy did they make it hard work.
The trip to Switzerland began a little bizarrely as Basle airport is actually in France. Getting off the plane you are given the option of French or Swiss passport control, which given that they both lead to the same baggage hall seems more than a little pointless. Getting in at nine pm it also seems like one of the quietest airports in the world. But the same could be said of Basle the city - it seems to big for its population, although that might just be the perspective of someone living in London. It was certainly a nice change to not be constantly under people's feet.
Anyway a snowy city awaited us on the Wednesday and every fifth person wandering around seemed to be a Fulham fan, which again was a little surreal. We went to St Jacob's Park by 5 o'clock and while the ground is nothing to look at, the hat-trick bar was very accomodating for both sets of fans. In the corner end of the ground, the Fulham fans started camping out and early days it felt like they would be drowned by the opposition in this 40,000 seater stadium. In truth half the seats were empty so the 2,000 or so Fulham fans were not overwhelmed. Well it could have been worse. The home fans behind the opposite goal were immense with the biggest flags and longest chants and constant jumping. To be honest, I don't think many of them were watching the match, but it was a bravura performance.
In contrast, the Fulham fans were a little slow to start. Maybe it was the -5 degrees temperature. Maybe it was the fact they were effective split between tiers. There was even the predicatble complaining between those that wanted to sit and those who wanted to stand, but a happy medium was eventually reached.
From the start Bobby Zamora was making a nuisance of himself and Smalling was looking very assured at the back. Etuhu less so, although he came back with gusto in the second half. We couldn't believe that Zamora's first goal was chalked off for offside. In fact the linesman flagged so often that there was talk of a conspiracy again, despite the fact that it was all happening down the other end of the pitch. Then, when Zamora scored and it did count, all the fans were temporarily stunned by the fact that a) it had gone in and b) that there was no flag. Then joy erupted.
It was quite incredible when Zamora linked up with Riise again a few moments later to make it 2-0 just before half time. This wasn't Fulham away. There was a comfotr zone all of a sudden. Half time came and Basle made two attacking substitutions and the early pressure paid when they were awarded a dodgy pen. I thought the ref had awarded a corner so when I realised it was a pen I was astounded. Frei put it away majestically and squeaky bum time returned. Until about 15 minutes later when Fulham scored one of the best goals I'd seen them put together. Some neat interplay in midfield saw substitute Dempsey create space by running back. Kelly used the space and Murphy put him through. The full back could have crossed early for a heavily marked Zamora but cleverly pulled it back for Gera to sweetly strike into the corner. We couldn't believe it and it seems Gera couldn't either. Time to hold on to what we've got. But that's not the Fulham way. A simple header from the corner brought basle back into and could have led to a very tense last five minutes. But it was only slightly tense as Basle didn't seem to threaten again. Fulham had won! Away from home! In Europe! And qualified from the group stages. So this is what Europe is all about, is it? More please.
PS Forgive any typos. This was written on a German keyboard.