F in Fulham


“Let’s all laugh at Fulham” was one song I thought I’d never hear in England (apart from at Loftus Road) but it seems that the Cottagers are quickly becoming the butt of jokes due to the going’s on at Craven Cottage.  Our roving reporter, Mike Miles, took the short trip to West London last week to see what was going on.

Fulham 0 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 – Craven Cottage – Saturday 20th August 2014
Craven Cottage is only a 40-minute walk alongside the Thames from my Chiswick home, and for that reason alone has long been one of my favourite grounds to visit. Fulham were the last team to have standing accommodation in the Premier League, as Craven Cottage included terraces as late as the 2001/02 season-eight years after the Taylor Report outlawed terraces at that level. I have a fond memory of seeing Freddie Kanoute score a winner for West Ham whilst standing at the Putney End.

8431476952_3bbe5b4b42_zAs with terracing, the statue of Michael Jackson, like its subject, is alas no longer with us. The original Craven Cottage site was covered in woodlands, and allegedly, one plane tree survives today in a corner of the Putney End, the sole tree to be found in any senior British senior football stadium. Not the least of Craven Cottage’s continuing charms is the Johnny Haynes Stand. This wonderful structure is the oldest remaining football stand in the Football League, originally built in 1905 , designed by Archibald Leitch,  and is even a Grade 11 listed building. It even features the original wooden seating. You may not be as comfortable as in say The Emirates, but you are sitting on history.

Alas the current team show no signs of matching their historical surroundings. Pointless and ponderous, this is not how the season was meant to begin for Fulham. The club that slipped out of the Premier League in May are now joint bottom of the Championship after three matches, the latest defeat inflicted by an accomplished Wolves side who secured victory thanks to Bakary Sako’s early effort.

A penny for the thoughts of Shahid Khan the Fulham owner who was making one of his infrequent visits to the Cottage. It has been a summer of upheaval at the Cottage – skipper Scott Parker was the only player to start here who featured on the day Fulham were relegated at Stoke – and the results so far have been disappointing. £11 million was spent on Ross McCormack, but he was a pale imitation of the striker who had scored 29 goals for Leeds United last season.

There were some glimpses of quality but the new players and many youngsters have yet to gel. This division is no place for rookies to learn their game. In the end, Sako’s goal was enough but Fulham were in more danger of conceding again than scoring an equaliser, surviving a late penalty miss from Sako who hit the post in injury time.

Predictable cries of “Felix Out” (Fulham fans are a very polite lot) greeted the final whistle. And though I would willingly make that 40-minute walk to the Cottage again, I have a feeling it will be to see a Fulham team playing under yet another manager. Since Roy Hodgson took the Cottagers to the Europa Cup Final in 2010 they have had four managers, including three in 2013/14 alone, and the cumulative effect of all this chopping and changing was relegation to the Championship. Based on tonight’s abject performance they could be taking a similar downward trajectory to that once experienced by tonight’s visitors.

All is wet on New Year’s Day


New Year’s Day was supposed to be a day of celebration.  Since the fixtures were released back in July we had been looking forward at welcoming Maidstone United at The Dripping Pan today.  With an expected four figure crowd, a special bumper edition matchday programme written and enough organic burgers to feed at least a dozen people we were ready to put on a show.  On Saturday our pitch team battled against the elements to get our game versus East Thurrock United on and we all did a collective sigh of relief when the final whistle blew and over 650 fans applauded the efforts of those who had not only performed but had got the game on.

photoAlas, the forecast for the days before the New Year was poor, and so it was.  We put “Pitch Watch” in place via Twitter, with images of the ground posted regularly to give us all hope.  Alas, the torrential rain on New Year’s Eve meant that the standing water on the pitch wasn’t to the referees liking and with a very heavy heart our game was cancelled.  The cost to us?  Thousands of pounds.  Instead of welcoming a crowd of 1,200, we will be lucky to get 400 when the game is squeezed into a midweek slot in February.  Gate receipts will be down by £8,000.  Programme sales down.  Catering down. Bar takings down.  Yet our costs don’t change.  Players still need to be paid this week, utilities have to be paid, printers still want their invoices paying.

We weren’t alone.  In fact every game in the Isthmian Premier fell by the wayside, and only one game in the Conference South made it to 3pm.  But with a “free game pass” I had little options as to where to go.

I was literally driving around Essex and Cambridgeshire looking for a game to go to as my options reduced.  I had one last chance.  Dagenham & Redbridge.  Despite the appalling weather, it looked like the game at Victoria Road, or the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium to give it its catchy shorter name was on, so headed down the A13 to meet up with the Daggers Diary team for the first game of what promises to be a great year of football. Continue reading

Daggers leave it late against the Shrimpers


The Daggers Diary team take the long road up to Morecambe to see whether their promising start to the season could continue.

Last weekend’s win over Bristol Rovers at Victoria Road was a first win in five league games for us. Granted, there had been three 1-1 draws in that run, but also a 3-0 defeat at Mansfield which was described as “not the best day out we’ve ever had” by those that attended. The defeat at the Conference champions was swiftly followed by a home tie in the JPT against Colchester.

Going one down just before half time had us facing up to another early exit from a cup competition, but a second half recovery, aided by a much better performance and a red card for former Dagger Magnus Okuonghae produced four goals without reply to earn a second round trip to Southend United.

Exeter City then provided tougher opposition a few days later. While the performance was good, the wasting of so many chances when we were on top meant that we never capitalised on our one goal lead, and in the end, were grateful to hang on to a point, as the visitors scored their first away goal of the season, and threatened to follow it up with a second.

It was a similar story last Saturday against Rovers. Once again, we scored first, and were playing quite well, but gradually it levelled out and soon we were under the cosh. When Brian Saah was penalised for handball inside the area, the feeling of deja-vu was the overriding emotion as the ball was placed on the spot. Matt Harold’s spot kick though was well saved by Chris Lewington, and despite a few more nervy moments, the game was settled by a second Daggers goal to produce that first win since York City visited in mid-August.

morecambe 1The new style of play is winning a few people round, although this is certainly not being reflected in attendances. For the last few years, we could take some small comfort in the fact that we were at least getting more people than Accrington. Last week’s gate of 1,423 was the lowest for some time, but follows a trend that started last season. In a week when Leyton Orient’s request for a review of the decision to allow West Ham to take up tenancy in the Olympic Stadium was refused (and with it, the possibility of cheap tickets flooding the area), it’s slightly worrying to see so many empty gaps appearing at home games. There are some deals on to get more people into places like the Boleyn Ground at the moment (the league cup tie on Tuesday against Cardiff is £15 for anywhere in the ground), but will this take floating fans away from clubs like ourselves and Orient? Mostly, ourselves and Orient are at home when West Ham are away, so it could be argued that they are not denying either of us supporters. However, I would suggest that perhaps the pricing structure at the lower level is turning people away. Continue reading

City go to Town in a real Away from Home


The Daggers Diary team head up the M1 to see what is going on at Northampton when Coventry are at “home”.

When it was announced during the summer that Coventry would be playing home games at Northampton, it was almost a given that we would try to attend. As the fixtures had already been announced, many of the games would be played on a Sunday, which also meant that it wouldn’t clash with our Daggers fixtures.

Of course, we waited to see what kind of attendance would be at the first game against Bristol City, before we could gauge what kind of crowds the club would be attracting, but the two thousand or so that paid to go in meant that we wouldn’t have too much trouble getting tickets.

1184954_10153209388545223_1887317190_nThere is though, a moral issue to be confronted about this. From an outsiders point of view, the whole thing is a minefield of opinion, what’s correct and what isn’t. From what I can understand of the whole issue, the point is that the owners of the club, SISU, won’t pay the rent on the Ricoh Arena, which is owned by a separate company, and it is this that has precipitated the move from the city of Coventry. There have also been two periods of administration, and you then have a club that has been in a right old mess in the last ten years.

It was late in the day that the Football League sanctioned the move but, and I may be wrong here, but does this have some of the hallmarks of when Wimbledon were allowed to move to Milton Keynes? I know that there is an agreement in place whereby the club have to be back in Coventry in three years time, but is there any chance that this will happen? Allowing a club to move out of the place that it represents is never a good move. It took Charlton six years to get back to their home town, Brighton took a couple of years (at Gillingham) to get back home, eventually pitching up at the Withdean and Rotherham spent some time at the soon to be demolished Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield before eventually getting back to town, just a few hundred yards along to road from the their original home. Continue reading

Seagulls soaring towards the Premier League


After last week’s ultimate day drama, the Daggers diary team crave some more desperation and so head down to the Amex to watch Wolves’ last stand against Brighton & Hove Albion.

For some excellent pictures of the game head on over to Danny Last’s set here.

We must have a fatalism fetish at the moment, as last weekend, we were watching Dagenham survive on the last day of the League Two season despite losing at home to York City. This weekend, to mark the end of the Championship season, we’ve ventured down to the south coast, to watch Brighton take on Wolves. For the home team, just two years after leaving the Withdean (and beating the Daggers to gain promotion to the Championship), they are a few games from promotion to the Premier League. For the visitors, the prospect of a second consecutive relegation is looming ominously on the horizon.

6014657781_730d0cdb96_bWhen Dagenham Dan mentioned the idea of attending the game, I agreed almost immediately. After all, I haven’t been to the new stadium yet, and after Dan and Graham visited in March for the game against Crystal Palace, their reports about the place were glowing to say the least. Not normally being a person to turn down the chance to go to a game, I took up the offer of a ticket as soon as they asked.

In a way, I’ve been looking forward to this more than the Daggers games of late; at least I should be able to relax and enjoy this one, safe in the knowledge that the outcome won’t affect me. This is more than can be said for Neil, though. Our driver throughout our February trips to mainland Europe for our four game weekenders, Neil’s team have plummeted at an alarming rate in the last eighteen months. Top of the premier league after three games of 2011/12, they are now third from bottom and need a win today, plus results elsewhere to go their way to stay up. Last weekends home defeat to Burnley was met with a pitch invasion at the end, and if I am being completely honest, I can understand the frustration with it all, even if I am not completely comfortable with how it is expressed. Continue reading

Yann-dabby-dozy


Three weeks ago Charlton Athletic’s season was still completely wide open.  In one of the tightest divisions we have ever seen they could still be relegated, yet were only a few wins off the Play Offs.  The Addicks fans aren’t known for their optimistic outlook on life, yet even they were finding it hard to keep their emotions in check.  There was even a swear word used on one forum, and a suggestion that Chris Powell “may” be out of his depth.  But recent form saw them rocket up the table, and coming into the final game of the season a top eight finish was almost a certainty.

8706585543_acec13d592_bThe visitors, Bristol City, on the other hand had nothing but pride to play for having already been relegated.  In a day of twists and turns to decide everyone’s final fate, this was one of the very few games where nothing rode on the result.  So it wasn’t a surprise when I rang up Active Matt and asked if any of his six season tickets were going spare.  “Take your pick from 5…everyone seems to have better things to do today”.  On a day when football options in the South East were at a premium, this would fill the gap.

It is hard not to admire what Charlton have, and continue to achieve.  I know that Palace and Millwall fans would disagree, but it is a nicer club to visit, without the need to look over your shoulder, or constantly cover the ears of any children you bring.  And this is a family club.  Season tickets for youngsters are just £49 next season – just over £2 a game.  When I rule the world of football I will set maximum prices for all clubs, ranging from free admission at all non league ground, to a maximum of £5 in the Premier League.  Children are our future (or is it garlic bread?) but so many clubs have simply priced them out of the game already, meaning at some point a whole generation will be missing from our Premier League palaces.

My first experience of football was here at the Valley, back in April 1974.  It was a very different place in those days, with the biggest terrace in English football a crumbling, weed polluted backdrop to a game being played on a pitch of sand and dust.  I remember the programme shop in the corner, the crawl space under the main stand (where my brother told me the devil lived) and the noise when Charlton took the lead thanks to Derek Hales.  And here I was, taking my seat in the East Stand just as young Derek (now a sprightly 72 years old) was being introduced to the crowd on the pitch.  Derek was a legend in these parts, scoring goals for fun and even getting himself sent off for having a fight with team-mate Mike Flanagan in a FA Cup game once.

8706582855_4a163c452b_bToday it is all so civilised.  Parking in Makro, a short walk across the Woolwich Road, a quick burger at Come Dine With Me (alas no comedy voice over from Dave Lamb) and into the ground.  Because the ground is in a valley (wonder how they got the name of the ground?), views from the stands are excellent.  Our timing was perfect, arriving just as the heavy rain begun to fall.  The away fans seemed not to have got the message sent around by a few fans that it was “fancy dress away day” and apart from a Zippy, a rubbish looking superhero and what appeared to be a cross between a Smurf and David Hasselhoff, they looked a sorry bunch, already resigned to trips to Port Vale and Crawley Town next season.  The pitch certainly seemed to have seen better days but what the heck.  It was the last day of the season and this was sure to be a dramatic final ninety minutes, albeit not in Floyd Road, South East London. Continue reading