Life after Fulham and beyond
It all started on July 18th 2010 with a strap line that read, “Where next for the Europa League runners up?”
Retrieve those old ESPNSoccernet Fulham pages from the web and you will find both the newly appointed site blogger and our posters bubbling with optimism and positive thoughts for the season ahead. It's true, Fulham FC were between managers at the time. But I took it as a good omen -- and timely boost to my ego -- when the ESPN blog published breaking news that summer of Mark Hughes appointment a full 12 hours ahead of the BBC. We were up and running.
Now the journey ends in shock and bewilderment by examining how on earth could Fulham sink to such an abysmal level, epitomised by the most porous defence in the division? And the question for May 2104: what chance does the team have in the Championship?
Firstly, some observations on Sunday and Fulham’s 38th game of a sorry season. Even the weather was sombre as the Whites managed, barely, to have the final word in this London derby. Twice behind to this enterprising Crystal Palace side, Chris David served up a cracker in stoppage time to prevent a 25th defeat of the season. Before that the Hammersmith End were also on their feet to salute another fine strike in Cauley Woodrow’s first goal for the seniors.
Five changes from Felix Magath however, in keeping with his time with the club, failed to produce a winning formula. The kids were kept under wraps, apart from the two scorers, and that decision was the right one. The senior players brought Fulham down to this level. It is only just they should be the ones to make the walk of shame at the final whistle. While it is a redundant exercise to examine this match in any depth, Magath surely would accept Palace did not have to work hard for either of their goals. Fulham’s failings in defence were apparent to the end. The German tyro went on record lamenting the lack of fight shown in battling relegation, comparing Fulham’s attitude disparagingly to the likes of Sunderland.
A damning indictment indeed for all responsible in just how rotten the body politic down at the Cottage had become. For which, blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Martin Jol. Magath only managed three wins, as did his two predecessors. But surely Rene Meulensteen deserved backing in mid-February? How much was the Dutchman hampered by those redundant figures parachuted in to muddy the waters? And is it not significant that Louis van Gaal seems prepared to bring Rene back into the fold at United?
The final word on the madness that took hold at Craven Cottage this season? The players were instructed to return this week for additional training before allowed to head for the beach. We can all guess how committed they must have been to that pointless exercise! Many have thankfully donned the white jersey for the last time.
For this blogger, too, it is the end of the line. But for the club just the close of a chapter. Shahid Khan promises the necessary funds to return Fulham to the top flight after one season in the Championship. His fiery programme notes showed here is a character ready to come out fighting rather than throw in the towel. Such are the riches distributed from TV revenues. Fulham slip down a division while banking a bigger pay cheque than Manchester United received last season for winning the title. So for now the funds are there to make the Whites a force on the Championship.
But a note of caution. I also heard Fulham’s all-time record goal scorer Gordon Davies on the radio at the weekend. Preparing for his matchday hosting duties Sunday he reckoned the Cottagers might need one season of adjustment before making it back. I have a feeling that may be the case.
Life after Fulham? Well, for your correspondent a landmark event in June. I wrote a play called Tomorrow Never Knows in 2010 and now we have our world premiere June 4th. Knowing how much Americans fell in love with the Beatles, I very much hope to bring it to the USA next year.