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May 9, 2014

A Fulham postmortem

Relegation confirmed after 37 games and a hollow final fixture this Sunday with Crystal Palace that must conjure mixed emotions for the Fulham faithful. The curtain comes down on the Whites' 13-year run in the Premiership against another London side I was convinced would finish the season below Fulham.

- Report: Magath vows to stay at Fulham

There is no denying the magnitude of what manager Tony Pulis has achieved with a Palace side Fulham whipped 4-1 last October. It would have required some readjustment in my perception of Pulis to have embraced the Welshman as successor to former Fulham boss Martin Jol last autumn, but there is no denying he has delivered the goods while the Fulham board has made a monstrous string of poor calls. A number of P45's should be handed out at Motspur later this month as a consequence.

Those whom the gods wish to punish they first make mad. Every follower of London's oldest club saw the writing on the wall as the team stumbled inexorably from the heights of Hamburg to the humdrum of trips to Huddersfield and Millwall. I reproduce here lines after the first home game of the season against Arsenal.

"All the usual networks and forums I monitor after matches were running hot. I've not seen such determined Jol bashing before. It is enormously frustrating to keep coming on here lamenting the same old woes. The only question worth putting, is how come the manager can’t see it when 25,000 people at the game so obviously can"?

There is a damning psychology of always coming second at Fulham Football Club that has shrouded the club like mist off the Thames for far longer than I have been following the team. It goes right back to days between the wars and we saw the latest manifestation of it Monday night as the club's plucky kids failed to see it through at Stamford Bridge in the FA Youth Cup final.

All long-term supporters recognise this psyche and in some perverse way even embrace it as part of the journey of believing in this idiosyncratic little club. Is it a very British thing, I wonder, to espouse pessimism and self-deprecation, to take comfort in the certainty that life inevitably will kick you where it hurts sooner or later? I certainly feel Fulham have been kicking me from pillar to post and toying with my emotions all my life. I am angry for the mis-management that has brought relegation upon us, but no bitterness. And I shall be back for more self-flagellation next season.

Senior players have this week admitted that they feared the worst before a ball was kicked. Fans have suffered the worst football played at the Cottage in nigh on 20 years. Now we must hope for a period of stability and evolution to turn things around. It is time to lose that mentality of also-rans. Owner Shad Khan has a bigger task than he could ever have envisaged when he bought into Fulham.

But is manager Felix Magath really the man for the job? He swore repeatedly Fulham would beat the drop. Another in the line of delusory managers? What does he know of football in the Championship? Where will he look for the players needed for regeneration? Will we squander the promise flowering in the ranks of youth by exposing them too soon to the toughness required for first team football?

Right now, ahead of our curtain call, there are far more questions than answers. Society loathes a vacuum. The team selected for Sunday's game may provide some clues as to future direction. Please let the boys not leave the stage with a whimper. Last week's performance at Stoke was a disgrace. Fans may not wish to embrace the side Sunday as they leave the field. But please allow a kiss of the badge with pride one more time before whatever comes next.

This writer only has a couple more blogs left. THANKS to all who have followed my musings and contributed since 2010. It has been an honour and a pleasure.

twitter@fulhamphil