Thursday, 30 December 2010

Meet the 'fans' - Andy

A weedy capitulation to one of the country's worst teams live on TV only to then wrest three points from the Britannia Stadium a few days later is one of the more puzzling aspects of this Fulham side. But they still sit in the relegation zone so this next week will be very, very important.
Anyway here's another exciting profile:

Name: Andy
Season tickets held: 2007/8, 2008/9, 2009/10, 2010/11
Hometown: Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester
Football team supported: Manchester United (with affiliations to Preston North End and Oldham Athletic)
Why did you get a Fulham Season Ticket? I wanted to create a regular social occurrence with some of my friends. We all liked football and the £299 season ticket was too good value to turn down.
Favourite Game: Last season's home game against Juventus has absolutely mental, but for sheer emotion the Hamburg semi-final home leg  was something else. From my mad dash back from Madrid, to the 'stand up if you still believe' chant, to the Simon Davies goal, to the 2-1 victory and grown men crying in the stands, to the victory and my first pint in a pub for nine months which lasted approximately 9 seconds.
Favourite Goal: Again trying to avoid the Juve game - Diomansy Kamara's last minute overhead kick that made it 3-3 against Tottenham Hotspur in September 2007. I think that's when I got the bug.
Favourite Player: As much as I love Johnny Paintsil, I think Clint Dempsey has to take this accolade. He has a lot of attributes that I like in a player.
Least favourite player: Sol Ki-Hyeon - what an absolute waste of space
What do Fulham now mean to you? I honestly don't know. I'm an enthusiastic spectator but does the mania go beyond that? They won't replace United as my first love, despite how lukewarm I am about the current administration there, but will they elbow Preston from the number 2 slot? They should but there is a finite capacity for football supportage than many believe I have already transcended by having more than one team.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Meet the fans - Nicky

As we didn't make it to Sunderland and none of us will be around for the West Ham game either, I thought I'd do the odd profile piece on the people who have had a season ticket with us. These could be representative of the influx of season ticket holders over the last couple of years - people like us who have adopted Fulham as a 'second team' while living in London.

Name: Nicky
Season tickets held: 2008/9, 2009/10, 2010/11
Hometown: Twickenham
Football team supported: Manchester United
Why did you get a Fulham Season Ticket? Cheap, nearby and the side were likable
Favourite Game: Fulham 4 - 1 Juventus last season
Favourite Goal: Clint Dempsey's goal v Juventus
Favourite Player: Bobby Zamora (I always love the underdog)
Least favourite player: Dickson Etuhu
What do Fulham now mean to you? I like to see them do well and enjoy going to watch them.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Nearly Men - ARS 2 - 1 FUL

Fulham gave a good account of themselves at The Emirates, but don't seem to be able to get that bit of luck to take them to the next level. Nasri gave Arsenal all the points with a couple of instances of dancing in the box, but it could so nearly have gone the other way. Not that you would have thought that from the first 20 minutes. Fulham were filth with no discernable game plan and Arsenal were just gliding  past the mainly static white shirts. Even when Nasri scored, the writing had been on the wall for some time, and most of the Fulham fans were anticipating another drubbing.
However, for some reason, it just didn't happen. The first proper bit of football that Fulham played in the first half culminated in Kamara's well taken equaliser from Dempsey's deft flick and then, suddenly, Arsenal were rocking and uneasy. There were still no obvious tactics, but Fulham started making more chances and were probably unhappy that the half-time whistle came when it did.
Half time came, allowing us to be sold stuff through the big screens. Surprisingly Arsene Wenger read out the 'lucky number' winner on what i assume to be a pre-record VT - which raises some questions as to when the draw was actually made. Fulham fans weren't that noisy today, but crikey the Emirates is a quiet place at times. What you get from north London is the perfect distillation of modern football, with all its good and bad points.
Arsenal had played some good stuff in the game, but you could sense a soft underbelly of uncertainty within the team, and when the second half started Fulham tried to press the advantage. The game actually became quite good - one of those strange end to end game without many shots on goal.
The major tactical revolution for Fulham was playing a right winger on the right wing. Davies was tasked with sticking on the byline and suddenly Fulham had an 'out' ball and any crosses could be aimed at the trio of Kamara, Gera and Dempsey. Unfortunately Arsenal's centre halves managed to cope with that aerial threat, but other teams are likely to struggle a bit more. Davies was actually a bit of a revelation on the right and was possibly Fulham's best player in the second half.
Even Etuhu upped his game and started making some crunching tackles that have disappeared from his game recently. Suddenly Fulham were up for it, but were undone by a great bit of skill when Nasri ran into the box unhindered and scored a goal straight off Strictly Come Dancing. It was a bit of rough justice really though. Andy Johnson was busy without being dangerous, and Dempsey hit the deck in injury time in the penalty area which was definitely worth another look (not that MOTD has bothered showing it), but in the end the team had given themselves too much to do.
While the way the team played was very promising (most of the Fulham fans clapped the team off the pitch) shouldn't we be expecting more that 'promising'  with almost half the season gone? A win against Sunderland next week would be very, very welcome.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Return of the King - FUL 1-1 BHM

It's a strange old game when the highlight is the return of a right back. Carlos Salcido, clearly not fit, was hauled off after a very, very poor 20 minutes in which he was pretty culpable for the away team's breakaway goal after unnecessarily lunging in at Hleb near the halfway line. His replacement? None other than Johnny P who had hitherto been frozen out of Hughes' plans after a shoddy start to the season.
In truth it was a surprise to see Paintsil get the nod ahead of Kelly, but I've seen reports that Johnny was ready to go on the pitch and Stephen wasn't so Hughes shoved our favourite Ghanaian into action. It was a rousing ovation for Paintsil, with his every touch cheered. The Birmingham fans must have thought we were going mad. Surprisingly he took the right back berth with Baird moving to left back - considering JP has played LB at international level. Still Paintsil actually had a really solid game, which was good to see. Baird didn't play bad either at left back, although in an attacking sense he constantly had to cut back onto his right, which unfortunately slowed the team's momentum. The one time Baird did try and whip one over with his left, it was fairly dangerous.
This was a better outing for Fulham than in recent times, although Dickson Etuhu was mainly anonymous for the match, playing around half as many passes as most of the other players. And while they looked in control for most of the game, Ben Foster just wasn't tested at all. Any shots on target ended going straight at him and it was just Dempsey's desire to reach the ball that plundered the equaliser (once Davies and Baird decide to actually cross the ball into the box rather than fanny around with it).
In all the game had a more relaxed atmosphere about it - almost a tacit acceptance amongst the fans that after a couple of years of unprecedented success Fulham are shit again and the fans should try and enjoy themselves despite what is going off on the pitch. We even found ourselves cheering Eddie Johnson when he came on - he even managed a shot on target that Foster was semi-lucky to turn away with his feet. If he'd had scored the winner than all bets were off for the remainder of the season. It would have almost been enough to convince FIFA that magical football moments happen in England.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Glasgow Celtic 1 - 1 Dundee United

Twas my Father's 60th birthday last week and as a present we took him back to his roots - the East End of Glasgow to watch the Hoops in Paradise. In layman's terms this means watching Celtic at Parkhead. The sojourn north meant that I had to miss Fulham's game against Man City, but that doesn't appear to be such a shame any more.
Football in Scotland seems to be at a crossroads at the moment. Whereas before the two big Glasgow teams could compete financially with a medium tier English Premier League club, with the Edinburgh clubs bubbling under, that has all changed. Celtic's major signing this summer was a £2.4m striker from Scunthorpe United - and indeed he is one of the better players in the squad - while Rangers have been penniless and looking for a buyer for some months, although the Champions have bucked the Scottish trend by actually competing in Europe this season.
Unfortunately this lack of glamour is being reflected on the pitch. The game I watched last weekend was reminiscent of a mid-tier Championship match. Celtic had only themselves to blame for not scooping up all three points thanks to a combination of slack finishing and incredible goalkeeping. That's not to say they completely dominated Dundee United, they were just the better team with the better chances. When the Tangerines equalised in the 94th minute from a cross from a soft free-kick, the only silver lining is that I had given my dad a betting slip with the correct score on it - a 9/1 shot.
Celtic Park is a big stadium, which has yet to lose all its character through modernisation. However it would be quiet, very quiet, without the club's self-styled ultra groups - the only banner I could see was the Green Brigade, but there are others - who fill the ground with atmosphere from the little south west corner. Conducted by two drummers, the pocket of fans (probably no more than 800 in a stadium of 60,000) sang, danced, jumped and swayed in a style reminiscent of the Basle fans last December for near enough the whole 90 minutes. The game was far better for their input. However the swaying was stopped after about 20 minutes by killjoy stewards, so the fans had to make do with just jumping instead.
Meanwhile we were sat in quasi-corporate seats and behind us sat a couple of rows of older Celtic fans, but being Scottish they were incredibly belligerent and often amusing with it. It was like being sat in front of two rows populated by Scottish relatives of Waldorf and Statler. They bemoaned the lack of singing from in front of them, despite the fact that not one of them could be bothered to sing themselves. There were lots of tongue in cheek references to the help Rangers got from the referee in the earlier match against Kilmarnock, where they won 3-2 thanks to two penalties and a red card (all justified - this time).
The standard of refereeing in this game was no worse than any English game though and I certainly didn't hear any fans cursing the ref any more than what would be deemed usual at any other match. It's an odd situation that the match between these two teams last month has now sparked a referee strike this weekend and it's something that the Celtic hierarchy has got to take some responsibility for by claiming conspiracy. This has given the brain dead minority of fans the opportunity to harass football officials at home and work - leading to enough safety concerns from the Scottish Referee's Union to go on strike.
But, in the same way as Melda Dreep being hit by a dropped ice cream cone eventually led to the loss of 900 million lives in the Apocalypse War (keep up non-Judge Dredd fans), the whole thing could have been averted if Dougie McDonald had simply told Neil Lennon that he reversed the decision to give Celtic a penalty because he had changed his mind. Instead, no doubt looking to avoid a Northern Irish tirade, he told a little fib that put the onus on the linesman. Instead the linesman resigned, understandably disgusted at being scapegoated, and the Mexican stand off between Celtic and the SFA on the issue is threatening to undermine the whole game in Scotland.
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Bad tidings - FUL 1 - 4 MCY

I was fortunate enough to miss the spanking by Man City as I was taking my father to a Celtic game for his birthday, but both Nicky and Jarrod were in attendance. Unluckily for them.

A chance to impress his former employees and the football viewing nation with his new-look Fulham team was squandered by Mark Hughes - who seems to be suffering from a lack of ideas as to how to play this current squad.

Jarrod commented: "It was dreadful! Absolutely…  Reminded me of the Fulham from the relegation battle. City had so much time and space in the middle and you could have driven a truck through our defence…

Having said that, 4-1 is probably quite flattering for Fulham…  A more attacking, adventurous outfit would have put 6/7 in the net! We held our own after half time, but that is probably more to do with City taking the foot off the gas…"

When pressed on whether there was any good points, he replied: "They were the good points! How about we only let in 4 goals? No one got injured? Don’t think that we had a winner anywhere on the pitch…  We spent half the afternoon playing long balls into Johnson (who surprisingly didn’t when them).  We had a bright 10 minutes at the start of the second half where we camped in City’s box but were unable to score. They then went to the other end, won a corner and scored a goal. But anything in the half is pretty much irrelevant."

Nicky was equally gloomy: "It was a bad game, one of the worst I have witnessed in a while. Ref looked to have bottled [a decision] on elbows and the like also! Looked to be a obvious elbow about 5 minutes from the end in the city box think it was Gera that was on the ball. The ref wouldn't even acknowledge it. Haven't watched any replays though so might not have been as clear as it looked."

She added: "Saturday is now a massive game!"

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Snapping at your heels - FUL 1-1 AVL

A very sloppy, one-paced Fulham escaped with perhaps a point more than they deserved at weekend, although the fact that they scored another late late goal - the fourth of the season - is a sign of a growing determination.
A rip roaring, end to end first 15 minutes descended into sloppy passages of play from both sides, with the odd half chance rewarding any coherent moves. Then Villa stepped up the game a little on 40 minutes and a moment after Schwarzer saved well from Delfonso cutting in from the left - Albrighton did the same from a sumptuous long pass that caught Salcido completely out of position and the young winger put Villa ahead.
Then after the break, with a tidy lead in their back pockets, the Villa midfield went into overdrive, snapping the heels of Fulham players whenever they were in possession and only allowing Hughes to pass it out or Schwarzer to boot the ball upfield in the vague direction of Zoltan Gera's head.
The youthful and impressive Villa midfield didn't look like tiring and most of the long balls were just bouncing off Richard Dunne's bonce, so Hughes tried something different by bringing AJ on. Unfortunately the long balls continued. In fairness, Johnson did fashion a couple of chances but fluffed the best one by failing to bring the ball under control when trying to go around Friedel.
During this non-dangerous pressure period, Villa were playing on the attack and had Agbonlahor been playing he would have been filling his boots in the disagreeable way he did during this fixture last season. But Ashley Young proved slightly less deadly and kept Fulham in it.
I barely celebrated the equaliser when it came. It was just so ridiculous a thing to happen. It certainly didn't look like it was going to happen when Duff shoved Young over near his own corner two minutes into injury time. Duff's experience won a free kick down the other end of the pitch, in what felt like the sixth minute of four minutes added on. Murphy floated it over, it kind of hit Hangeland and seemed to rest in the net with no-one really reacting. The goal was all the more odd considering that some parts of the Hammy End were getting ready to boo the team off.
This is exactly the kind of game that Bobby Zamora would have thrived in, but Dempsey's close control is not as adept, his strengths lie elsewhere, and Fulham missed an 'out' ball during the whole game given Villa's tenaciousness. It was also a game where the tidy, patient passing play that we'd come to expect over the last couple of seasons more or less went out of the window.
An old Villa supporting friend had come along from Newquay to this game and was sat in the Putney End. The conclusion to the match was magnified threefold for the poor bugger given that his other half had bought him the tickets for his birthday and I had given him a betting slip for the correct score of Fulham 0-1 Aston Villa. He found something to enjoy in the day though - it was only the second time he'd been able to see his team play. I remember once when we were living together in Preston he was trying to get someone to go and watch Villa at Ewood Park with him, but couldn't get a partner in crime. He was mightily glad he missed that match as Blackburn routed them 5-0.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

What would you do for your team?

This little film about being a Fulham fan was just linked on the Offal. It's probably well known among Fulham fans, but it's the first time  I've seen it. It really is quite funny and endearing and considering it was made in 2003 the proclamation that the team were going to be Kings of Europe was almost prescient.

Directior Greg Cuttwell's notes:
Fingers X'd, shot on DV Cam, is a surreal comedy about two football fans, Dan and Craig, the like of which are seen and heard every weekend at football grounds all over England, Europe and indeed Worldwide. Devoted to their beloved club - Fulham F.C. - for both of them life is football and football is life. Every thought, every deed relates to their team and with Fulham on the up, life has never been so good.

As a performance piece, having a thorough rehearsal period, to enable the actors to be comfortable and familiar with the material before going in front of the camera, was vital in making this film. Four days of rehearsal were followed by a five day shoot. The shoot consisted in the main of long takes which enabled the performances to flourish in many contrasting locations, with good pieces being looked for within each take to then put together like a jigsaw in the edit.

A lot of fun was had by the small amount of people involved in making Fingers X'd, both in production and post production, the aim being to produce a light hearted, irreverent, character study, in spoken word and song, of two men typical of millions whom any audience will either recognise, know personally, or may even be themselves.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Halloweegan nightmare - FUL 2-0 WIG

Strange game this weekend. Wigan were incredibly flat for a team unbeaten in 7 matches and Fulham were efficient enough to scoop an essential victory. It was enough to please the natives though, with the Hammy End trying out a few songs dedicated to Mark Hughes. They did seem a bit forced, but maybe in time better ones will develop.
Fulham's first actually came while Wigan were having their best spell of the game - not that they were actually doing anything with it than a couple of speculative long range shots. The visitors were very quick on the break in the first half, although Salcido's tight marking of Nzogbia was effective enough to curtail many of the Wigan forays.
The little Mexican then popped up on the wing to put in a delicous cross that Dempsey knocked in impressively with his head, topping off a great Fulham move. The second, when it came, was more deserving and was the culmination of a good five minutes of strong pressure on the Wigan goal. Again Dempsey's acrobatic volley powered past the very shaky Al Habsi in goal and Fulham enjoyed a two goal cushion in the league for the first time this season. The second half was not much to write home about, so I won't.
Dembele is an interesting player - lots of nice tight control and seems to distract defenders and allow team mates to find more space. I'm just not sure where his direct goal threat comes from. Andy Johnson when he came on as sub was an impressive handful in 10 minutes. It'll just take team mates a while to adjust to the sort of passes that he likes and he will be a potent goal threat. His pace should be especially useful away from home.
Ish - who this season I have challenged to attend ten home matches - forgot the match was on, so didn't show. Which was useful as there were even more mongs on our row than normal, including three people who clearly didn't know where their seats were supposed to be and just sat anywhere - pretty tricky in a sold out stadium. I'm still astounded that the game sold out. Even with the £5 ticket offer to season ticket holders, there were only about 300 Wigan fans attending, so the club should be congratulated for its efforts to maximise capacity. There were even ticket touts with the usual refrain of buy or sell tickets on the walk to the ground. For Fulham v Wigan. Crazy.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Karma works very quickly these days

They say things even themselves out over the course of a season, but seeing the Spurs players surround the linesman and referee at Old Trafford over a goal that involved the latter overruling the former took me back just a fortnight to similar scenes at the Cottage.
It seems Spurs have already had to pay for their slice of luck, although at least the controversial goal wasn't a winner.
All that remains for Karma to balance itself out now is for Fulham to score a dubious goal at Old Trafford and the circle (triangle) will be complete.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Three is the magic number

It is vitally important that Fulham get something out of tomorrow's game against Wigan or they could finish the weekend in the relegation zone with scant opportunity for picking up points in November. It's almost four years to the day since Wigan's only Premier League victory at Craven Cottage and if this feat is repeated then Fulham are in real danger of entering December in single figures for points - Even Sanchez managed 12 points by the first week of November.

The upcoming fixtures are:

Villa (H)
Chelsea (A)
Newcastle (A)
Man City (H)
Birmingham (H)

All tricky games where it is not unfeasible to see Fulham only coming away with a point out of a possible 15. That's why this game is so important to the club, the player's form and, more importantly, Mark Hughes.
Wigan are unbeaten away from home so far this season, although oddly have so far only played away three times as a result of Blackpool switching their early fixture around because Bloomfield Road wasn't ready. Wigan's three matches include a completely unexpected 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, a 2-2 draw at Newcastle where they let a 2 goal lead slip and a goalless draw at Birmingham. All mightily impressive results, especially considering the team started this season playing like my tips to be relegated (along with West Ham).

If anything this Roberto Martinez's team appears to have that extra sheen of class on previous Wigan sides, but this year the competition at the bottom of the table looks set to be closer than that at the top. Rodallega, Nzogbia and Gomez have all been among the goals this season and could easily be match winners against an injury depleted Fulham, who are without a win in seven games.

While Hughes has bemoaned recent 'offside' decisions against the team, the goals conceded against West Brom were indicative of a slightly shoddier defensive unit than in previous years - not helped by the whole first team midfield being injured. But there will always be excuses in football - it is time for Sparky to grasp the nettle and show some character. In doing so he might also win some of Fulham faithful onside, as many are still unsure what Hughes brings to the party - although it is fair to say they have been hugely impressed by his two signings of Dembele and Salcido.

Fulham are currently joint top of the Premier league injury chart (according to Physioroom) but the return of one long term absentee might turn the season around - Andy Johnson. In truth, Fulham fans aren't really expecting much from the little tyro given how long he has been out injured and it is fair to say that he hasn't really set Craven Cottage alight since his big money move, but he is just what Hughes needs at the moment for the structure of the team - an out and out striker. His presence would allow Dembele to slot in behind with support from the flanks in the shape of two from Dempsey/Gera/Davies and Kamara to do his impact substitute shtick. Hopefully Greening can play as he did against Spurs rather than on his old patch at West Brom and life will look a lot rosier again.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Friday, 22 October 2010

Fulham 1 -2 Tottenham Hotpsur

This game started out with something not seen too often at Craven Cottage - the away team deciding to switch halves after winning the toss. Whether the tactic is meant to make the home team uneasy I'm not sure, but the sight of Fulham attacking the Hammersmith End in the first half certainly quietened the fans at the beginning of the game.
I say it quietened the fans, but they seems to have been less atmosphere at the Cottage so far this season, despite a surprising run of sell out crowds (even the upcoming Wigan game is now a full house). Maybe the seats have been taken up by more tourists like me (only not as loud) who have had their interest piqued by last year's Europa League exploits? Perhaps the crowd is still trying to work out the new look Fulham, something which has been particularly hard given Hughes' late appointment followed up by the rash of injuries experienced recently.
It was some of these injuries that saw another new pairing upfront - Kamara and the returning Dembele - who seemed to link up well. When they got the ball that is. The first ten minutes of this game was totally dominated by Spurs. In fact Fulham only started to get a grip of the game after a sliced clearance by Gomes and after that they eventually worked the upper hand in the first half.
Jonathan Greening, another player who was in to cover injuries, was having one of his best games for Fulham, breaking up play in the centre of the field and then pushing the whites forward. On the left wing Dempsey was having one of his odd games where he'd constantly miscontrol any passes that came his way, yet probably saw more of the ball than any other Fulham player in the first half. While many of the fans would like to see Gera given a start, I think Hughes sees a lot of himself in the American and likes the fire that he provides the team.
When Fulham did score, it was all thanks to Dempsey. He cut inside and controlled a high ball and ran across the goal area, taking three defenders with him. As we joked over where the hell he was going he somehow screwed a ball back across the goalmouth which left Kamara more or less with an open goal, and he easily  dispatched the ball past Gomes.
As the Hammy End taunted the away fans, I was just remarking how fortunate it was that Fulham had at least made their dominance pay when I looked up to see Van Der Vaart clip the ball over Schwarzer and against the bar. Unfortunately it fell for Pavlychenko who had an even easier task than Kamara to equalise within a minute. Damn.
The second half was a much more even affair, with Tom Huddlestone doing a great job of screening his patched up back line from any Fulham attacks. This was probably down to Harry Redknapp's substitution at half time that introduced Lennon and pushed Modric further inside. Lennon had the effect of pushing the quietly impressive Salcido back into his own half to counter the effect of the winger's pace. Lennon's a strange player. He's got a  lot of great attributes but doesn't appear to have much of a footballing brain. When he gets a pass it's a little reminiscent of when a dog gets a ball on the park pitch and runs around with it. Occasionally it becomes a dangerous run, but more usually peters out into nothing.
Considering Bale's previous appearances at the Cottage, he was surprisingly subdued during this game. I had originally put it down to exertions from international week, but he has since scored a hat-trick against the European champions, so maybe he was just well shackled by his old Southampton team-mate Chris Baird. In fact Bale was so frustrated at one point that he threw himself to the ground in a pointless and very disappointing dive. He fared better against Stephen Kelly when Baird was moved to centre midfield and Kelly kept showing him inside for some reason.
The winner, when it came, was contentious and covered in another post. But the biggest disappointment was Fulham didn't respond to it in the same way the Tottenham had responded to going behind. Had Huddlestone's goal been a 'normal' one, perhaps they would have found it easier to regain momentum. But the messiness of both the goal and the officiating could well have robbed them of any momentum and they didn't look like clawing the game back this time. It was a game when both teams had their chances (in fact both Kamara and Baird put free headers from corners disappointingly over the bar) and both keepers made some solid saves, but at the end of the day Spurs got that extra little slice of luck which gave them all three points. They played well and had an even better bench. They should do well this season again and Fulham shouldn't be too downhearted at the first league loss of the season given the circumstances.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The officiating of Mike Dean

A compelling game that was completely overshadowed by a bizarre and effectively match deciding moment as referee Mike Dean's decision to allow Tom Huddlestone's winner to stand was simply a very, very bad piece of officiating from which Spurs emerged with two points more than deserved.
I'm finding it hard to focus on the game without raging over this goal, so I may as well get it out of the way first and review the game later. Huddlestone strikes a great shot. It comes through a crowd of bodies in the box, perhaps taking a minor nick from one of the players before nestling in the bottom corner. However its trajectory takes it past William Gallas, standing in an offside position on the edge of the six yard box, who lunges to try and get a touch but fails. The linesman flags Gallas offside as he is clearly interfering with play, despite his non-touch, as Mark Schwarzer can't fully commit to an attempt to stop the ball in case a touch from Gallas changes the shot's trajectory. The referee disallows the goal. Big Tom has a word with Mr Dean. He duly trots off to his linesman and has a word. Disgracefully, bizarrely and uncomprehendingly, he now gives the goal. In common internet parlance - WTF!?
From a little bit of internet research this morning, which of course doesn't appear to contain an explanation from Mike Dean, the most informative insight is from the goalscorer himself here. In the first half Huddlestone attempted to head away a Fulham through ball - he got his head to it but just changed the trajectory forward. He said it just brushed his head but I seem to remember a much stronger connection. Anyway the ball went on to reach Kamara, who had been offside when the ball was played and the linesman flagged accordingly. However Dean overruled his official, presumably deciding that Huddlestone's touch was strong enough to deem that the ball had actually been played by a Tottenham man, meaning Kamara could not be offside. It was such an odd decision that most players, having seen the flag go up, effectively stopped and no danger came from the situation, which actually could have been quite promising.
From what I can ascertain, Dean has used a similar warped logic for the winner, but is on far shakier ground. The argument, from what I can see, is that Huddlestone's shot took a deflection off Chris Baird and, as Dean now deems Baird to have played the ball, Gallas cannot be ruled offside. But Baird didn't play the ball. At best, it hit him. In fact, looking at two replays, it's not even certain that he does deflect the ball. Certainly the shot doesn't seem to deviate from its course in any way.
No other referee that I have seen interprets the offside rule in this way, with any slight touch by a defending team instantly dismissing the potential of an offside call. It's a ridiculous stance to take and would be totally unenforceable if applied in such away across the board. I would suggest that Mike Dean needs to go back to the FA's referee school for re-education as his approach to offside further complicates a ridiculously opaque rule and how it is enforced.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Fulham 0 - 0 Everton

This was not a memorable game. A match with few fit strikers, created few golden chances on goal and only in the dying minutes was a goalkeeper forced to make anything resembling a good save. Fortunately Schwarzer was more than up to the task.
Howard Webb was officiating today and he didn't have a terrible game. In fact since the match seemed to just be a contest in 'how can I convince the ref I've been fouled so we can have a dangerous set-piece' he did pretty well. Of course he still got a lot of things wrong, but when refs are asked to make so many decisions these days from cheating, sly and, well basically, modern players, they will get a number wrong. In the old days the refs only seemingly had to make on average six decisions per match, because the players were trying to play the other team rather than the officials.
At one point though the ref felt it was utterly important that Mark Hughes did not venture outside the manager's 'technical area'. I don't know why that was. The areas at Fulham are remarkably small and I get the feeling that Hughes is a pacer, so I wonder if he'll try and get them extended a bit.
Why the hell are they called technical areas anyway? It's not as if anything technical happens in them. Why not just call them the manager's area? Which bright spark earned kudos for badging them technical? Why not just call them what they really are - invisible cages.
I think there were a couple of eye-openers for Hughesie in this match. I doubt he expected to have one of his decisions quite so roundly booed as he did when he took the energetic Gera off for Eddie Johnson. But it was a strange decision, as was taking off Simon Davies a little later for Dio Kamara. Both Dempsey and Duff were having far less fruitful than the subees, although Demspey looked far more effective when he moved out to a more natural position on the wing.
The only good thing that Duff did during the game was his defensive duties and even they had been subject to an early verbal blast from Danny Murphy after an Everton attack. Personally I thought Murph had one of his poorer games, although Everton's packed midfield and Dickson Etuhu's seeming lack of a clear position did not help him at all. I've heard Everton fans complaining about Fellaini being up front this season had cost them shape, but here he was a very, very effective defensive midfielder and appeared to have more of the ball than anyone. Everton's Seamus Coleman was another impressive performer, especially in the first half.
In fact Everton's pressing game meant that a lot of time Aaron Hughes was Fulham's passing fulcrum, which limited their attacking intent. I'm not sure if I have ever seen Hughes with so much possession in a game before.
It was hard to get much of an impression from this match as to how the season is going to pan out for Fulham. Well apart from the fact that the impressive Salcido is tiny. I thought Nicky Shorey was  small left back, but the Mexican put the nut into diminutive. And that Eddie Johnson is still an enigma.
Highlights here

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Playing with the big boys

It's been a bruising few weeks for the Fulham team. A cynical Wolves playing a more physical game than expected followed up by matches against the typically robust tactics of Blackburn and Stoke has seen the sum total of two crocked strikers and a roughhoused goalkeeper. I reckon Schwarzer will be fine - any keeper would have struggled with the last two games, especially with no protection from the referee at Ewood Park.
All it needed to round up this set of fixtures would have been a match against Bolton Wanderers, although Owen Coyle appears to have rounded off some of the rough edges that he inherited from Gary Megson.
Still, Everton can also offer a physical challenge when needed, especially old Marouane Fellaini, so Fulham need to toughen themselves up for this weekend's match, which may not actually see any recognised strikers on the pitch.. It depends if either managers are going to put their faith in previously underperforming reserve forwards - Eddie Johnson and Jermaine Beckford.
The way Fulham have been playing, it would suggest that Tim Cahill is bang on to score first with his head - a 7/1 shot and favourite given the only players sporting shorter odds are AJ and Dembele.
Another full house against a team with a relatively poor record at the Cottage suggests a good atmosphere this weekend and I reckon an Everton HT/ Fulham FT is a decent bet, especially as it can be found for as long as 40/1.

Friday, 17 September 2010

You can prove anything with statistics

With 74 fouls conceded, 14 (should that be 15?)  yellow cards and one red card, they are statistically the dirtiest team in the Premier League by some margin.
From here.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Dirty Wolves

I wasn't at the Wolves game, Jarrod said he's going to write it up sometime (don't hold your breath). But there have been lots of repercussions from the game. Bobby Zamora's broken leg is obviously key for Fulham over the next five months and could well change how the team plays in his absence. Hodgson would have thrown Elm into the mix, but it seems that Hughes would rather Eddie Johnson and (when fit again) Andy Johnson and Dio Kamara. Not to mention Dembele as well.
Watching the highlights of the game (which you can see here) it seems that Wolves did nothing to rid themselves of the 'dirty' tag that the media placed on them after they did a number on Joey Barton, but I think it should be more 'Cynical Wolves'. They were full of the snide this tug backs and 'black arts' that Scotland faced in Lithuania (and Juventus tried at the Cottage in March but were pulled up by a stronger referee).
It will be interesting to see how Hughes approaches the tricky League Cup tie away at Stoke City now. Stoke played a strong side against Shrewsbury in the last round, but a weakened team last year when they eventually lost 4-0 at Portsmouth. Whether Tony Pulis has had a change of heart about the competition will play a big part in whether Fulham will progress to the fourth round.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Fair weather fan

Well that's my excuse for not seeing the demolition of Port Vale. The rain was incredible that night and brought to mind one of my first ever games as a Fulham season ticket holder - a very damp night against Bolton Wanderers when the elements helped Tony Warner produce a monumental clanger allowing the opposition to score.
Still the 6-0 scoreline was very encouraging as was another fightback from a losing position up at Blackpool. The real reason I've not contributed recently is a) the international week and b) we've been redesigning the magazine that I work on and it has been a huge time and resource vacuum.
There's been more ins than outs before the transfer window finished and the biggest deal was Paul Konchesky decamping to Liverpool for £3m and a couple of youth prospects. I was never a massive fan of Konchesky but he was solid and reliable and had his best season in a Fulham shirt the season just gone. Before that one too few many key goals had been conceded from his side as his concentration wavered, but I think that might have also been down to the fact that during his time at the Cottage there was never any real competition for the left back slot. He should do alright at Liverpool, but his transfer shows how problematic things are at Anfield.
To replace Konch, Hughes has signed up Mexican full back Carlos Salcido. At 30 years old, he is hardly a spring chicken but for £2m Fulham have now got an international standard defender (77 caps) who appears quite loyal given that he has only had two clubs in ten years. Apparently he is also quite dangerous going forward, so that might give the team added bite.
Another international defender who has joined the ranks is the Algerian Rafik Halliche who also comes with a good pedigree. How he will fit into the side containing two centre halves who work brilliantly together will remain to be seen, but there will be proper competition for the two positions - especially when Senderos returns. I wonder if Baird is now classified as a midfielder?
As for the two kids that arrived as part of the Konchesky deal, Alex Kacaniklic and Lauri Dalla Valle, the later has got a very good reputation - in fact Liverpool fans have been really annoyed that they've let him go. But the last wonder kid signed from Liverpool - Christopher Buchtmann - left to join FC Koln after just five months at the club. Hopefully the two new additions will be around slightly longer.
I'm looking forward  to the Wolves game tomorrow. Shame I won't be there - I have a wedding to attend in Eastbourne.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Fulham 2 -2 Manchester United

An undeserved point for Fulham today. Undeserved because they were worth all three. My usual Man United supporting, Fulham season ticket holding dichotomy was resolved by me decamping to P2's neutral end, which was 80% Man United. Still I wasn't as confused as the Irish guy sat behind me who didn't seem to be supporting either team, but instead giving continual support to Damien Duff and John O'Shea. It was a bit odd considering most of the time these two were in direct opposition.
United started well. Very well in fact and completely dominated right unto Paul Scholes scoring one of those long range efforts from a corner situation. Encouragingly this spurred Fulham on and they slowly started to take control of the game. This probably ensued when Danny Murphy started getting a little bit closer to Scholes and started cutting off the creative supply. In fact once Scholes was watched a bit more closely, there was little true creativity from United and their two forwards were starved of supply, mainly because of the rather ordinary games the two wingers Valencia and Park were having.
Hughes' Fulham were very reminiscient of Hodgson's. Tidy and organised; they were a team through and through. Etuhu, who appears to be pushing further up the field these days, really should have scored after Van der Sar only palmed one of his shots straight back at him. However the Dutch keeper manager to tip the second shot over the bar, despite being sat on his backside at the time. So dominant were Fulham that it was a surprise when United came out with the same team in the second half. Inevitably Fulham continued thier first half pressure and got a deserved equaliser when Davies swept in a great move down the right.
Hughes provided us with our first look at Dembele. The Belgian showed willing and went on a couple of runs which suggested he could be a handful for opposition teams in the future. However it was a Man United substitute - Nani - which switched momentum and it was one of his many corners that came off the shin of Hangeland and into the back of the net for a barely deserved second.
Minutes later and Duff was penalised for handball - he miscontrolled a cross from the United right and the ball popped up onto his hand. It was a harsh penalty, but one of those that would be given 7 out of 10 times. Surprisingly Nani stepped forward to take the spot kick but it was even more of a surprise to see David Stockdale dive to his right and push the ball wide of the post. It was Stockdale's second great save of the match - his reactions to push a Berbatov volley over the bar in the first half were exemplary and will do no harm to Hughes' complicated goalkeeping options.
The save turned out to be pivotal. Fulham forced another corner and this time Hangeland rose high above everyone and powered a header past Van der Sar. In three seasons I only remember two other last minute goals from Fulham - hopefully it's a sign of things to come. With the game being so early in the season, the need for points isn't as pronounced, so I was able to enjoy the game - although I don't think I 'celebrated' any of the four goals. It was a cracking, rip roaring match though and bodes well for the future under Hughes. Not many teams will have the gumption to come back from behind twice against United this season. At least I hope not.

Highlights - here.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hughes: a clever boy?

I've put off doing a season preview for a while now as it's hard to discern what state Fulham are going to be in for most of the season. Mark Hughes has been in charge for one competitive game and the 0-0 draw at Bolton seemed very much business as usual. Hodgson players in a Hodgson style getting a Hodgson goalless away draw. Sparky just hasn't had the time yet so big changes could be ahead - making predictions extremely difficult to make.
Received wisdom suggests that Hughes will continue Hodgson's style of play, but be a bit more adventurous going forward. That all sounds good to me, but could see the team's defensive capabilities flounder.
Similar to last year, there hasn't been a whole lot of transfer activity ahead of the closing of the window, Man City aside, and I anticipate another mad rush from most teams over the next fortnight as both managers and players panic over the new 25-man squad rule.
Fulham are likely to be involved too if Hughes' comments today are anything to go by with the unveiling of Moussa Dembele (pictured). But where? Every season I seem to say Fulham need more competition at left back and it is again a weak position with only Konchesky filling the position naturally. And he is still linked with an unlikely  move to Liverpool. Stephen Kelly filled in at LB against Bolton, but he's hardly a long term prospect. Even Chris Baird can't play there.
Goalkeeper is another key spot with Schwarzer seemingly wanting away. I'm a big advocate of giving youth a chance in goal so I reckon Stockdale should be given a chance, but if Shay Given was interested in coming to the Cottage then he should be snapped up. Strange that two signings strongly linked to Fulham - David James and Craig Bellamy - both find themselves in the Championship this season. Hopefully the whites will not be following them.
Dembele seems to have strengthened the attacking line, but assuming Johnson E isn't going to get a look in and Johnson A remains injured, another striker will be very useful. Hughes pulled out the stops to get Roque Santa Cruz to join him at Man City which ironically probably makes him too expensive for Fulham unless Sheik Mansour agrees to cover most of his wages. Santa Cruz needs to re-establish himself anyway after a  couple of underwhelming and injury wracked seasons.

Most Anticipated Player: Well it will have to be the new arrival Dembele, as I find it hard to get excited about Senderos and he is injured anyway for six months. From what I have seen on YouTube he appears to be a more physical Kamara, but has been likened to both Theo Walcott and (preposterously) Zidane. A winger who might be converted to striker? Worked for Thierry Henry I suppose, if not for David Bellion.

Least Favourite Player: After last season's heroics, this section will have to remain empty again I think. I realise some people dislike Greening, but I don't really think he has been given a chance other than as Murphy's deputy.

Season Prediction: Without the strain of Europe, if Hughes can continue where Roy left off then the upper echelons of the table are not unreachable. Turmoil at Villa could see an opportunity for other teams to press on. 8th or 9th. Only Ashley Cole has won the FA Cup more than Mark Hughes as a player so he has a special affinity to the cups. In fact as a manager he has reached several semi-finals. Maybe another one this year is possible.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The land of what might have been

I was in Monaco this week visiting friends and there was a harsh reminder of how things might have panned out differently. Monaco is the venue for the European Super Cup - where the winners of the Champions League and Europa League (European Cup and UEFA Cup in old money) play off for a mainly redundant third cup. Why it is held in Monaco eludes me. My friend lives in the area of Fontvielle, where the Stade Louis II is also based. Not that you'd notice. Well not that I noticed the ground. I saw a couple of signs indicating that it was present somewhere in the area, but it was pretty elusive for an 18,000 capacity stadium. Perhaps the city would give more credence to its football ground if it was named after Princess Grace, like everything else in the place is.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

So it's Sparky then

After a couple of false starts on recruiting a new manager (for which the club should be applauded for aiming high), The Guardian is reporting that Mark Hughes has agreed to take the reins. I've always been a fan of Hughes as a player although his Blackburn side was criticised for being somewhat agricultural. However he got Rovers, who are of a similar size to Fulham to three semi-finals and a sixth place in the Premier League. That kind of record should see him welcomed at the Cottage.
At City he was undone by expectation, although people seem to forget that City were in fourth spot when he got sacked. The nouveau riche club finished in fifth.
Possibly the worst thing about Hughes' appointment (aside from the fact he is actually a Chelsea fan) is the fact he is highly likely to bring Roque Santa Cruz and perhaps even Craig Bellamy with him. I have never really seen what people see in the Paraguayan, but he has already scored at the Cottage. As for Bellamy, for a long time I hated the whinging, aggressive, no-necked swine. However I actually built up some strange respect for him at City - he was their best player at the start of last season. But grudging respect is a far, far distance from being able to support him.
Still just over two weeks before the season starts, Hughes has a few key decisions to make about personnel, but already has a healthy base from which to start. It also suggests that the club's expectations should be towards the top half of the league rather than the bottom as feared when Hodgson upped sticks to Liverpool.

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Bye Woy. Thanks for everything!

It appears that Woy has finally left the building - the allure of the big club on hard times was just too much. I can fully understand his decision and he has worked wonders with Fulham in order to be even linked with that kind of job. But why Liverpool? I'm going to struggle to wish him well while he's there. Growing up in East Manchester in the 80s when Liverpool were winning everything meant that I knew more Liverpool fans than Man City fans.
Still I hope he does well, but not great. Consistent Europa League qualification will do Woy. The Champions League is old news.
As for replacements? Well this news certainly brings a narrative to the up coming season which wasn't necessarily there before. No-one really knew what Fulham would do next with Woy at the helm. Now there is a clear ambition - survival! Personally I think Alan Curbishley would be a safe pair of hands, but after a season in which Fulham reached a European final, would the fans be happy with that? It's going to be an interesting few months.

Monday, 14 June 2010


Well it seems that it might not be too stupid a headline after all as it apparently references a famous American Football game between Harvard and Yale, which ended up as a 29-29 draw. But as Harvard (for whom a young Tommy Lee Jones was playing) scored an incredible 16 points in the last 42 seconds, it felt like a victory prompting the headline: 'Harvard Beats Yale 29-29'. The film dramatising this game was named after the headline.

However, let's not give the NYP too much credit as it is the US version of The Sun (only more right-wing of course) and it also references Bunker Hill as a 'tie' even though it was a British victory, albeit a Pyrrhic one. And this was against the English anyway.
And maybe it's not too tongue in cheek given the match report begins: "In true revolutionary style, the underdog Americans came from behind and blasted the powerful Brits to a nail-biting 1-1 draw yesterday in one of the all-time great World Cup soccer battles."
Still, both teams were pretty poor in a terribly boring match given the only talking points were Rob Green's horrific mistake and ITV cocking up again.

Friday, 11 June 2010

World Cup 2010

Been getting into World Cup mode with the help of the Panini Sticker album. I remember collecting them in '86, so it has been a particular blast from the past. Of course more teams means more stickers to buy (50p and now only 5 in a pack) and I've already been warned away from all the playgrounds in the area so finding someone to swap swaps with has been difficult. Praise be for the internet then and the like minded childish adults also desperate to play swapsies. I've even exchanged stickers with someone in Germany!
Fulham is represented through South Africa's Kagisho Dikgacoi, Ghana's John Paintsil, USA's (smiley) Clint Dempsey, Australia's Mark Schwarzer and now Switzerland's Philipe Senderos. For some reason Dickson Etuhu didn't make the cut for Nigeria's sticker contingent, although he hasn't played that much for them so maybe it's fair enough. Former Fulham players include USA's Carlos Bocanegra, Algeria's Hameur Bouazza (back in the Premier League with Blackpool next season) and South Korea's Seol Ki-Hyeon.
Checking out this tournament's Zakuni leopard mascot, I've been looking at the mascots through the ages and discovered that the European Championships have them too. Recognise this fella? ---->
Neither do I, but apparently it's 'Goliath' from Euro '96. I had full on football fever then with the tournament being on home soil, but do not remember seeing this lion thing. They didn't even call it Goaliath. He's not a patch on World Cup Willie, the first ever World Cup Mascot in 1966, who strangely was bedecked in the Union Flag rather than the St George's Cross.
My big bet prediction is Argentina v Holland in the final, which I have taken up at 33/1 (it's that long for a reason). Let's hope for a good tournament.

Monday, 7 June 2010

End of Season Awards

Blimey, it's been some season. I don't really know how to sum it up, but I'll try and do it in pithy categories.

Most Valuable Person Award: Bobby Zamora had his best season since leaving Brighton, Schwarzer was outstanding, Zolly came into his own in Europe (and bagging the player of the year award), Hughes was a rock at the back. Eight players could have justifiably won player of the year (I voted Hughes) but none of this would be possible without Roy Hodgson. It's his team, his tactics and his magic that have brought Fulham the success they've enjoyed in recent years. He is the catalyst that makes this team work and it is reflected in the jobs he has been linked with: England, Juventus, Inter, Liverpool, and Milan. Who knows what will happen to Fulham without him, should he choose to go?
Honourable mention: Bob Z

Frank Spencer Award:  Hmmmmm. Other than the officials during the two matches against Roma, I can't think of anyone fully deserving of this. Perhaps Kagisho Dikgacoi for the stupid red card on his debut at West Ham.
Honourable mention: Chris Baird's OG against Birmingham

Surprise Package Award: Chris Baird was in the running for an astoundingly effective season, as was Johnny Paintsil pre-Chelsea, but it has got to be Bobby Z who added to his team play from the season before with a bucketful of goals. Some crackers too.
Honourable mention: Fulham FC in Europe

I Was There! Award: Best game this season? Well it'll have to be one of the European games where expectations were defied time and time again. I am particualrly mesmerised by the away game at Shaktar Donetsk, but as I wasn't there I can't count that. It would have to be the home game against Juventus. It was bat-shit mental after all - in the stands and on the pitch.
Honourable mention: Hamburg at the Cottage

Goal of the Season: My gut reaction would be Dempsey's against Juve. It was both beautiful and timely and an incredible finish to the match. But Zamora's goal against Shaktar was, out of the blue, vital and an unbelievable strike. Yet every time I watch Davies against Hamburg, the goal gets better and better and better. However for the sheer visceral reaction it gave to me, I'll have to go for Davies against Atletico Madrid in the final. It's not the best by any stretch of the imagination, but it really got me going.
Honourable mention: Zamora v Shaktar

Sign Him Up award: Forlan aside, Gareth Bale was astonishing in the FA Cup QF game at the Cottage. Everything good from Spurs came from his position on the left wing. And they still needed to take them to a replay.
Honourable mention: Diego Forlan

Ouch! award: It has to be the 'tackle' by Amkar Perm's Belorukov on Andy Johnson that caused the striker's dislocated collar bone and was the start of AJ's injury plagued season. How he got away with just a yellow card I have no idea.
Dishonourable mention: Jerome Boateng's flying lunge at Gera v Hamburg

Statistical anomaly of the year: Fulham's home form in the Premier League is almost identical to last season's. Same number of wins, draws and losses, but with one fewer goal scored and one fewer conceded.
Honourable mention: The fact that Atletico won just 5 of 17 games in Europe this season

Prediction of the year: "As for the cups... I anticipate a cup final. Hamburg would be the best chance of actually winning one, but a trip to Wembley wouldn't go astray." Just here.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Athletico Madrid 2 - 1 Fulham (aet) epilogue

I wasn't going to continue dissecting the final but as Fulham, with all the timing for which they have become renowned, have this weekend launched paraphernalia for the Europa League Final, it seems it is still fair game.
We didn't stay for the trophy presentation. The late goal had taken the wind out of our sails and the knowledge of a lengthy overnight trip back to blightly saw us exit the stadium pretty sharpish after the final whistle. Had we realised the Fulham players were to be presented with runners up medals, we might have stayed, but we weren't really thinking straight.
Fortunately the rain had stopped after extra time. Being two rows from the back, when it was raining during the game, somehow we were getting wet, despite being fully covered by the roof, but it had ceased after 120 minutes as we trudged our way towards the shuttle buses to take us back to Othmarschen train station.
We were almost immediately on a bus and deposited back at the station before we really got a handle on what was going on. We wanted to find a bar that was open, but there were none around the station. So we made an executive decision to get a bunch of beer for the car and start off back. We'd had such a nightmare getting to Hamburg, we wanted to make sure we'd get back for our 1pm Eurotunnel crossing at Calais.
This was a shame. It meant we never saw anything really of Hamburg and missed out of the pre-game atmosphere at the Reeperbahn - but we were doing things on a budget and to a tight schedule so some things had to be sacrificed. Had the game finished in 90 minutes, perhaps we could have seen a little more. If, buts and maybes.
The driving back was actually quite fun with everyone debating the game and getting drunk. But one by one they fell asleep, leaving me to negotiate the roadwork heavy (but thankfully traffic light) A1. Almost as soon as we hit Holland I pulled over into a closed petrol station, parked up and prepared to get a power nap in myself. I was a bit concerned when this car parked next to us and three big bruiser types spilled out. I nonchalantly locked the doors, but they went around the back of the still deserted petrol station then got back in the car and buggered off. Had I been less sleepy, I would have moved the car somewhere else, but I needed a kip. Everyone else was still asleep anyway.
40 minutes later and I was refreshed enough to set off. It took a little concentration and an iron will to ignore what the SatNav was saying around Eindhoven to keep us on track and one more sneaky power nap among the big articulated trucks in a lay-by was enough to see us to Calais, with an hour or two to kill. So we actually came off the motorway, parked up in the town centre and went to a European Cafe. This was the way we should have done it! A slow drive through Europe setting off on Tuesday morning, staying somewhere in Holland on Tuesday night and have a lesiurely drive to Hamburg in the morning.
We caught the crossing (I was mainly asleep by this point) and got back to Hammersmith 4pm Thursday. An exhausting trip all in all - it just felt like two days of driving with a football match in the middle. Next time, we'll do it differently.

Worth it - Yes!! Definitely. A first for most people (as in European cup final), and should feel lucky we managed to get tickets, when many did not. Would I change anything - I would like to but probably could not. The lesson learned  - have no sympathy for Eurostar, airlines, or hotels, as they will stiff you if they can, and they did. Prices increasing so badly that you're better getting a flight to the far east rather than Hamburg says it all. Would have loved to spent more time in hamburg, but would have been bankrupt!!!Fulham's chances in the near future? Probably slim. Best chance they will have for a trophy. May have won it if Gera has scored in the second half when the Spanish side looked tired. Problem is in the future, people will take them more seriously, Roy may move on, Al Fayed may move. A period of uncertainty still remains above the Cottage.
EDDIE (Irish Fulham fan)
A lot of people have asked me am I glad I went. I don't regret it for a minute. Loved the experience. The atmosphere at the game was brilliant. The people I travelled with weren't too bad either. I loved that we had breakfast in Calais and not in another petrol station. Would do it again, no problem.
Looking back im really glad I went. I really did enjoy it and bizarrely for me I feel quite proud of them for achieving so much. All in all a great experience.


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Athletico Madrid 2 - 1 Fulham (aet) part 2

The game - a strong line-up. Possibly the strongest although there is the debate at right back over Baird and Paintsil. I've a feeling Johnny might have got the nod if he hadn't picked up a knock, but Baird has had a great season and deserved a chance in the final. It didn't look as though he was going to take it particularly well, but got better as the game went on.
Strangely, Hangeland aside, the most jittery player appeared to be Danny Murphy - the only player on the pitch to have already won this trophy. It was from one of his quite frequent wayward passes that the first chance of the game came and Diego Forlan placed a shot against the foot of the far post.
It was a warning of things to come, but for some reason Fulham couldn't raise their game to match the flow of the Spaniards. But when Atletico took the lead, their goal enjoyed a huge slice of fortune - which tends to decide close games. Aguero mis-kicked a volley across the area, which fell so kindly for Forlan that he couldn't refuse the opportunity to pass it into Schwarzer's goal. From our viewpoint, which was more or less in line with the goal, Forlan looked a mile offside. Only today have I seen a reply and it's far, far closer than we thought, but could still easily have been given offside.
This perceived injustice at the time made me furious and I was barking my support down at the pitch, along with 13,000 other Fulham fans - I've seen fewer for games at the Cottage, so to have this number in Hamburg was a little weird, yet brilliant. The Madrid fans, more used to reaching finals, were a bit more organised with their massive banners and bouncy chanting, but the SW6 lot were in great voice too.
Suddenly an equaliser appeared out of nowhere. A not very mobile Bobby Zamora turned his marker with ease, took a touch too many and poked it towards Duff, who managed to squeeze it across to Zoltan Gera. The Hungarian dinked a little cross back towards Zamora, but a defender's head saw it look slightly over the forward. Fortunately Simon Davies had tucked in behind and executed a crisp volley which snuck in at the near post. I went mad as to me this was a justified equaliser after what I considered at the time to be Forlan's 'non-goal' and I roared my appreciation.
Looking back, that moment is probably the pinnacle of Fulham's history. A goal in a final - a European one, no less. This has never happened before for the whites and could be a long, long time before it ever happens again. A moment to savour retroactively.
The rest of the half continued in the same shape as what had gone before, Atletico with a decent attacking intent, but the Fulham defenders restricting them to long shots, the odd dangerous cross from Simao aside.
Fulham, so often a second half team this season, once again followed the script and came out far stronger and more adventurous for the second 45. Murphy stopped trying to force the issue and relaxed his game, which was encapsulated by a fantastic through ball to Gera. Unfortunately Zolly, who has been so deadly in Europe this year, was way too heavy with his first touch and the ball just ran through to the Atletico goalie, who reacted badly to Gera's legitimate attempts to reach the ball first.
Then Bobby Z had to be taken off, his injury problems all too apparent on this big stage and he was once again replaced by Clint Dempsey - a switch that has recently seen the frontline become more fluid. Not in this match though as Zamora's ability to hold the ball was massively missed by Fulham and any attacking forays by the whites ended up with Gera and Dempsey isolated. This is partly down to Hodgson's tactics in not letting the full-backs press up for fear of being hit on the counter attack, but when you've got a holding midfielder who has been told to be conservative in his passing, and I'm sure Dickson Etuhu was following orders with his wide range of sideways and backwards passes, there needs to be a bit more movement in the opposition half.
Still the defensive side of things was going swimmingly, with only wayward longshots heading anywhere near Schwarzer and I must admit to being quitely hopeful when Madrid took off what I considered to be their dangermen in Reyes and Simao. But the game fizzled out, although in injury time it looked very much like Hangeland had brought down Aguero in the penalty area. However the referee was better placed than I was and told the Argentine to get up. On replays it doesn't look like a foul, but you have seen them given.
So in my mind at the time Fulham had been given a bonus 30 minutes, although I was wary of the fact that Liverpool had been put to the sword in extra time by Forlan at Anfield.
Unfortunately this was to happen again, but before that Athletico had a goal chalked off at the end of the first period of extra time. At least that's what we all thought. I've just watched the replay again and again and only on the fourth time of viewing did I realise that Aguero actually put the ball into the side netting rather than the goal. That's weird. I'd concoted an explanation that the guy who put the cross in originally had tapped the ball into the goal from his team mates shot and was thus in an offiside position. But the crosser was miles off the pitch when the shot came in.
Still the second period starts and we look like we are dribbling into penalties when an Atheltico cross comes over and Forlan, once again darting in front of defenders, got a touch - you can't really call it a shot. But the ball then came off the underside of Hangeland's outstretched leg and squirmed past Schwarzer. Another slice of luck to the Spanish, and we knew then it was over. Greening replaced the immobile Murphy, who had presumably been left on for penalties, but with only four minutes remaining the gig was up and we all knew it. Which is why, with a couple of minutes left to play, the Fulham fans spontaneously burst into a round of applause for the team and all it has done for them this season. At the end of the match Atheltico were the better team and worthy winners of the game, but the Fulham fans were proud at what had gone before and wanted to let the players know that by clapping. It was an oddly touching and appropriate finale to a bonkers season, of which Fulham may never see the like again.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Athletico Madrid 2 - 1 Fulham (aet) part 1

They came, they scored, they faltered. Fulham can now revel in glorious defeat after a monumental season, but what might have been if it weren't for the movement of one of Europe's best goal poachers. It's hard to distance the game from the epic journey it took us to watch the game.
2.40am Wednesday morning I set off in our hired Renault Scenic picked up another five near West Brompton station and the final straggler Col at his house in Bromley before heading for our 6.20am Eurotunnel crossing. What I thought might be an excited, giddy journey was instead punctured by complaints of tiredeness and illness as the West Brompton lot went out the night before and only managed an hour or so's sleep.
We were at Folkestone early enough (I'm not sure whether to expect a speeding ticket) to catch an earlier crossing and made it into Calais by 8am local time.Within seconds we were on the motorway and 20 minutes later out of France and in Belgium. We were not the only Fulham fans ploughing this furrow. There were many other cars sporting flags or at the very least British licence plates so we were in good company.
We only had two drivers amongst our number - one had to drop out after his boss wouldn't let him have the time off, while another didn't have both bits of paper in order top be registered on the insurance remotely. So that left two of us to do the brunt of the driving - neither of us had driven in Europe before. We needn't had worried - 98 per cent of our driving was done on the motorway/autobahn where driving on the other side of the road wasn't really an issue.

When I wasn't driving - I was instead sleeping - and it was during this period where we fell foul of the new road layout around Eindhoven which is not recognised by the SatNav which probably added another hour or so to our already tight journey. When we got back on track we decided to forgo the German A1 autobahn (famous for Fulham's previous embankment warm-up) and head up the A7 near Hannover, which would take us straight to the station designated for Fulham fans. However the traffic in Germany was appalling. In fact the last 7 miles took us over an hour. Our original ETA of 4pm became 6.30 and obviously left us short of time. We would have to miss out on the fan preparations in the Reeperbahn and more or less go straight to the stadium on the shuttlebuses. Fortunately, and contrary to expectations, there was a food and drink 'German village' erected outside the stadium and it was here where we finally got into the occasion with incidents such as the Fulham fans serenading one of the food stall workers with 'there's only one Rodney Marsh'.
As we made our way up to the impressive stadium (all football grounds should be built on hills) we went through the rigorous security checks, with one over zealous guard convinced our satnav was a makeshift bomb to climb up the stairs. And then climb up the stairs. And then climb up the stairs. It turned out our 105 quid tickets were one row from the back and we really required oxygen tanks and a sherpa to find our seats. The view was good though and we got a perfect look at the opening celebration which for some reason featured creepy women with lightening farts being transported around the ground on buggies. The music system was oppressive though and UEFA should consider that instead of adding to the atmosphere it might actually prevent the fans from creating an atmosphere of their own.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The night before a big game

I'm off to Hamburg at 3am so I'll make this quick. The parallels with Fulham and the Boro team that reached the UEFA Cup final in 2005 are numerous. Unfashionable club, bankrolled by one rich enthusiastic fan, defies the odds to get to the final in only their second ever foray into European competition. Both had managers mooted to take the England job.
Both teams mounted unlikely comebacks in the knock out stages (although Middlesbrough tended to leave it until the last minute), both played Roma and Basle and met a Spanish side in the final. Christ - they both had the same goalkeeper! But hopefully that's where the parallels end. Boro got spanked in the final 4-0 by Sevilla and in four short years were relegated when the owner was forced to turn off the money tap. It could very easily happen to Fulham.
This is why it's important to make this final count. And count hard. Athletico's season isn't over. They have another league game and the Copa Del Ray final next Wednesday. Let them concentrate on those ties. Fulham have got to be as focused and disciplined as their manager and not have some of the bizarre play that we saw in Turin that allowed Juventus to come away with three goals.
And hopefully Schwarzer's wobbles have all gone. After a great season it would be a tragedy if he 'dropped the ball' for the last three games, especially will a World Cup to play in. My head says that it will be 0-0 but you get the inkling that Fulham might sneak it 2-1. It's a brave new world - hopefully the players will be able to embrace it. They've done themselves proud getting this far. Just one more push and they can become legends.

Monday, 10 May 2010


We're going to Hamburg! Which is a bit scary. I did question whether I had any right to attend the final but as a season ticket holder for four years (will I will be) and having already been to watch Fulham overseas in Switzerland then I think I'm justified in having one of the 12,000+ tickets made available.
Also my trip has been funded by Mr Paddy Power after a successful punt on Fulham and Athletico getting to the final as mentioned here and also a bet on Chelsea betting Wigan by more than five goals this weekend. It's hard to like Chelsea but the way they have pummelled teams this season is worthy of the title.
Here are some OFFICIAL UEFA statistics:
  • Atlético have reached the final of a major UEFA club competition on four previous occasions, enjoying just one triumph. That came in the 1961/62 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup when they drew 1-1 with ACF Fiorentina in Glasgow before beating the Italian side 3-0 in a replay at the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart on 5 September 1962. Thus, Atlético won their only major European trophy on German soil.
  • They also reached the 1962/63 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final, but – in their only previous final meeting with an English side – lost 5-1 to Tottenham Hotspur FC at De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam.
  • Overall, their record in six major UEFA showpiece matches reads W1 D2 L3 (not including the European/South American Cup), scoring six goals and conceding 14 in those games.
  • Current Fulham manager Roy Hodgson has been involved in one major European final before, with his FC Internazionale Milano side losing the 1996/97 UEFA Cup showpiece 4-1 on penalties at San Siro after trading 1-0 home wins with FC Schalke 04.
  • Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer played for Middlesbrough FC in the final of the 2005/06 UEFA Cup, which his side lost 4-0 to Atlético's Liga rivals Sevilla FC.
    • Danny Murphy is the only Fulham player to have won a UEFA Cup final, having been on the victorious side with Liverpool FC in the 2000/01 edition. The Reds beat Spanish side Deportivo Alavés 5-4 thanks to an extra-time golden goal at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund. Thus, his only previous UEFA club competition final against a Spanish side in Germany ended in victory.
  • The final will be Atlético's 75th UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League outing and Fulham's 25th. Atlético have disputed 211 UEFA club competition games to Fulham's 32.
  • Fulham are now unbeaten in their last five European games since a 3-1 loss at Juventus in their round of 16 first leg. The London side will be competing on German soil for the third successive round after meeting VfL Wolfsburg and HSV in the quarter and semi-finals respectively; away from home, they beat the 2008/09 Bundesliga champions 1-0 before drawing 0-0 with Hamburg.
  • The final will be Fulham's 19th game since they started their UEFA Europa League campaign in the third qualifying round. Their record in 18 European fixtures this season reads W11 D4 L3, scoring 30 goals and conceding 16. It will be Atlético's 17th European fixture since their campaign began in the UEFA Champions League play-off round. Their 16 games thus far have given them the tally W4 D8 L4, scoring 17 goals and conceding 22.
  • • Atlético have lost all three of their UEFA club competition penalty shoot-outs to date; 7-6 at home to Derby County FC in the 1974/75 UEFA Cup, 3-1 at Fiorentina in the 1989/90 UEFA Cup and 3-1 at home against Villarreal in a 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup final.
  • The referee is Italy's Nicola Rizzoli, who bossed Manchester United's game against Bayern Munich from which the German side advanced on away goals after United's right back was dismissed for two soft yellow cards. Well, a soft second yellow at any rate. He has refereed Atheltico before - an Intertoto cup defeat by Romanian side Gloria 1922 Bistriţa in 2007.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Fulham 0 - 1 Stoke City

The last home game of a momentous season ended up something of a damp squib because a) it was a Wednesday night, b) it was the third home game in a week, c) there is a small matter of next week's Europa League final and d) it was against Stoke City.
I must admit that I quite admired the Potters for the way they have comfortably remained in the Premier League and pulling off some shocking results along the way. However this is because I've never watched them actually play. They're in danger of being categorised with Bolton and Blackburn as another side that uses the physical approach to bridge any perceived skill gap.
I've never seen so many off the ball incidents go unpunished by a referee - who got booed off at the end of the game. The ref seemed to let all Stoke's niggles pass as legal, yet every time one of their players hit the deck it seemed to be a foul. Bizarre.
There wasn't a whole lot else going on pitchside. There were a couple of shots each before Fuller's deflected cross (off Tuncay's hand irritatingly) caught the defence cold-footed and allowed Matty Etherington to put the ball beyond Schwarzer, who had a bit of a shakey game. Get it out of your system here, Mark. Good thinking!
The Stoke fans were amusing - at one point doing a conga in and out the bowels of the Putney End. It looked more fun than watching another cold match at the Cottage.
After the match a rather the players conducted a rather half-hearted lap of honour around the ground in front of a set of lukewarm fans. Everyone knows that Hamburg will host the true end to this season rather than a low-key league match. Fingers crossed for a better outcome.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Fulham 3 - 2 West Ham United

Now this was satisfying, although with the Hammers' Premier League survival ensured, not as satisfying as it could have been. I have a long-standing apathy for West Ham United - mainly because they keep beating my teams - so to see them beaten, and beaten relatively easily, was succour for the soul.
West Ham's self-aggrandizing owners had complained to the Premier League about the 'weakened' team put out at Hull City last month, saying that a ladies team would have beaten Fulham's starting XI. However the fact that 8 of the players from that game started this time around and managed to get past West Ham's strongest side speaks volumes on both the weakness of the complaints and the Hammers' team.
Resting after Thursday's extravaganza, Fulham put out its second string and it was still comfortable enough against West Ham. The first half had nothing in it - a couple of saves from both keepers and a Dempsey shot that bounced off the top of bar, so it was surprising when a one-two between Davies and Demspey opened up the Hammers defence with a minute to go and the American's quick shot beat Green at his near post. The way the ball bounced out of the goal fooled me into thinking the shot had gone wide at first, but no. A 1-0 lead plundered from nowhere and West Ham barely had time to kick off before the half time whistle was blown.
Craven Cottage was wet and cold on this day - such a contrast from the semi-final a few days before but not that the West Ham fans seemed to notice. Giddy from staying up (more because of the dearth of quality below them than anything their team did), the Hammers were noisy and boisterous and easily outsang a Fulham crowd emotionally spent from their European exploits.
Second half began and once again Fulham improved. When the second goal came, it was from an unlikely source. The ball bounced out from a corner and Chris Baird smacked it back into the mixer. At first I thought it had gone straight in, but everyone kind of stood around and Baird himself wasn't celebrating, so I assumed there had been a whistle and the goal disallowed. But no - the ball had deflected off the hapless Carlton Cole past his keeper, which is why Baird didn't really celebrate and Fulham suddenly had a cushion.
Not for long though. A long free kick into the box was met by the powerful English striker, who glanced the ball past Schwarzer into the goal. Cole had now scored two in five minutes after doing nothing all game. It's been a while since I've seen someone score for both teams though.
Then West Ham did what they've been doing all season - they shot themselves in the foot. Behrami fell over which let Konchesky have the ball. Jonathan Spector cut out the cross, but then tried to take on Erik Nevland (who had been transplanted onto the left wing to make room for Okaka). Nevland won the ball and swept the ball across the box for the Italian loanee to tap into the goal. All the players went to congratulate Nevland, while Okaka went off celebrating on his own.
West Ham plundered another goal in injury time but it didn't matter by then. (why do Fulham concede so many late goals but score so few? Maybe it's because they do most of the work before the end of the 90 minutes).
A five goal non-thriller then, but who cares when there's a cup final in Europe still to come. I wonder if Roy will don his boots for the game at Arsenal? Got keep them first-teamers fresh!

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