Will Fulham win the sack race this season?

Mike Miles reports on a trip down to Craven Cottage.

I may support West Ham, but I love going to Craven Cottage. Not least because it is a 45-minute walk from my front door, most of it along the banks of the Thames, with some very enticing pubs en route.

Fulham 2 Cardiff City 2 – Craven Cottage – Saturday 20th August 2016
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.

As 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 a Grade 2 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 on the pitch Fulham have been going through tough times. They were relegated from the Premiership in May 2014 after a season when they went through a bewildering number of managers. Felix Magath started the 2014/15 season in charge, with the Cottagers widely expected to be challenging for promotion. The sad reality was one point gained from seven games. Magath was sacked in September 2014, with Kit Symons appointed as Caretaker Manager. Former players slated Magath. My favourite has to be Brede Hangeland, who claimed Magath ignored doctors and instructed him to place a block of cheese on his thigh in order to get him fit for the next match.

Now Slavisa Jokanovic is charge, though it appears the term should be used loosely. He has been venting his frustration at Fulham’s transfer policy, claiming he has no role in buying players since that responsibility rests with the club’s data analyst, Craig Kline, ominously, a friend of the clubs’ owner. He told BBC Radio “The last decision (on signing players) is in the hands of this man. It is not my business….It is in the hands of people who believe they’re more prepared.”

Alas the current team show few signs of matching their historical surroundings. This was their fourth game in this season’s Championship and although unbeaten they had to rely on a 86th minute goal from Kevin McDonald to salvage a point.

Skipper Scott Parker was still doing his tidy thing in midfield , not surprisingly the only player to start here who featured on the day Fulham were relegated at Stoke two seasons ago. The 40-goal partnership of Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele departed in the summer, and Jokanovic knows he needs to replace them.

There were some glimpses of quality but the new players and many youngsters have yet to gel enough to threaten a realistic promotion drive. This division is no place for rookies to learn their game. Enforced substitute Ryan Sessegnon’s (useless fact: the first player born in 2000 to score in the Championship) close-range goal capped what had been a dominant first-half display from the hosts. But two goals in six minutes early in the second half turned the game Cardiff’s way, as Joe Ralls’ 25-yard half volley was followed by Anthony Pilkington’s curling effort. Peter Whittingham was denied a third for Cardiff by the Fulham crossbar direct from a free kick. It was difficult to believe that the only goals Cardiff had scored this season had come courtesy of Blackburn Rovers’ unfortunate defender Shane Duffy. Concerted home pressure was finally rewarded when new signing Mcdonald drove home a first goal for his new club.

I would willingly make that walk to the Cottage again but I have a feeling it will be to see a Fulham team playing under yet another manager.

The best seats in the house

Our week of sun, sand and looking at crap tattoos in South Wales was coming to an end. With work calling us back to London it was time to back up the TBIR bus and head on down the M4. But wait, what is that I can hear calling? Is it a bird? Or a plane? No, silly, it is another football match. AND it is literally on the way home (well bar a mile diversion off the motorway). Now how could I sell this to CMF and the Little Fullers? Of course! It was Port Talbot Town. Hmm, still not enough? Well what about the fact that they wouldn’t have to actually leave the car?

Port Talbot Town’s GenQuip Stadium has one unique value. Certainly something I have never seen since they banned those little blue cars from parking behind the goal at Stamford Bridge for “health and safety” reasons back in the late 1980s. You can drive your car in and park it by the side of the pitch….(steps back awaiting amazed response). Yep, it is genuinely too good to be true.
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Surely it’s a wind up?

The current most fashionable place to be seen as a football club is in court facing a winding up order. Virtually all of these relate to debts owned to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – i.e unpaid tax. So far in January we have seen Portsmouth, Crystal Palace, Cardiff City, Plymouth Argyle and Southend United from the league, and Lewes and Chester City in the Blue Square. So why now? Southend’s Chairman Ron Martin has a theory:-

HMRC appear to be sending out winding-up petitions against football clubs like confetti,” Martin said. “The club may now need to apply to the court for an injunction against HMRC“. HMRC has indeed become more aggressive in its dealings with debtors after it lost its protected creditor’s status, meaning that once football debts have been settled in full in insolvency cases, the taxman must wait in a queue alongside all other creditors. HMRC refused to discuss the specific case at Southend, but a spokeswoman said: “We do not take these steps lightly.”

Chester City's Deva stadium

Winding up orders rarely lead to the end of a football club.  We did see the demise of Kings Lynn in November 2009 when the courts took the side of HMRC and wound the club up for a debt of £77,000.  Lewes, on the other hand have faced 3 in the past year, despite paying off most of their outstanding debt in accordance with a plan agreed with the Tax man.  Unfortunately it appears a new man took over the case and got aggressive, giving the Blue Square South club just 72 hours to find £48,000 a few weeks ago, which they managed to do at the 11th hour.  Chester City face a “final” hearing on 10th March where they need to stump up £26,000 otherwise they will go the same way as Kings Lynn.

Selhurst Park

However, winding up orders do more than often lead to Administration for a club.  In the last 25 years, 69 Football League clubs have entered Administration, some more than once. This week we have seen Crystal Palace decide for a second time that they cannot afford Simon Jordan’s sunbed sessions and have appointed P & A Partnership as the clubs only hope of survival.  The administrator, Brendan Guilfoyle admitted he was not a football fan to Talksport’s Danny Kelly.  His stance was very clear – “I will do everything to ensure the long term survival of this football club.” It is no surprise that the club’s biggest asset currently is Victor Moses, the 19 year old utility player.  Rumours of his departure had been circulating long before Guilfoyle was asked to try and rescue the club.  The Administrators first act was to “ban” Moses from playing at Newcastle on Tuesday.  When asked by Kelly why, his response was cold –

“One of the options for the administrators is to sell players during the transfer window,” he said.  “Independent football agents appointed by the administrators to assist with player sales have reported that there is a great deal of interest from clubs wanting to buy Victor Moses.”

Wearing the shirt for the last time?

“I could not sleep last night worrying that Victor might be injured in the forthcoming match against Newcastle which could jeopardise the future of this long-established club.  I therefore took the tough decision to instruct the manager that Victor Moses was not available for selection. The manager was very disappointed.”

Interesting enough, one of the liabilities of the club was payments to agents (Palace paid nearly £250k in agents fees in 2008 alone), yet here is the administrator using one (in this case WMG) to try and get the best deal for the club, and of course themselves.

Asked if a situation could arise when other players were under offers would be “banned” from playing, Guilfoyle stated of course, and even if the club were forced to field less than eleven players.  Luton fans may remember Mr Guilfoyle from their time in administration last year.

But what is Administration, why do clubs do it, and why don’t any ever actually go out of business?  Administration is essentially another world for Insolvency.  A business is deemed as insolvent when its debts outweigh its income.  A company can call in an Administrator at any time if it feels that it cannot continue with its ongoing business.  The Administrator is there to protect the long term and secured creditors (such as staff) and will do everything within their power to ensure the long term survival of the business.  In footballing terms it means as soon as a club goes “into administration” they lose control of the club.

The Administrator takes sole charge and can essentially dictate all affairs, apart from naming the team of course, within the football club.  Their interest is to freeze all debts, including those to staff and players, and find a viable solution to the issue.  Normally, a creditor will negotiate a settlement of x pence in the pound.  Which means that if a club owes £100,000 and a settlement is agreed on for 50pence in the pound, all creditors would get half of what they were owed – but not immediately.  This is where the Company Voluntary Agreement comes into play – the CVA.  This is the reason that Luton were docked further points.  They had what they believe was an agreement, but it was not ratified so by coming out of Administration they had no legal backing and the league thought they were naughty boys.

So why also dock clubs 10 points?  Surely this will make it harder for their long term survival?  Yes and no, but the sole reason for this lays in the Leicester City case.  At the start of the 2002/03 season the club moved into their new 32,500 all seater Walkers Stadium.  Unfortunately the club had run up monsterous debts of £30m and just ten weeks after the start of the season they went into Administration.  The club was eventually purchased by a consortium led by Gary Lineker and creditors were forced to settle for a tiny fraction of what they were owed.  The club were then free to start spending again, and off the back of this they won promotion to the Premier League just a few months later.

So the Football League (note – not the Premier League – we will get onto them shortly) decided to stop this happening again, where a club could essentially gain a competitive advantage on the pitch by wiping out their debts.  So in came the 10 point Administration penalty.  Now the rules are that if you go into administration prior up to and including 6 weeks before the end of the season you get a 10 point penalty there and then (as Darlington have done this season).  If you apply for an Administration order after this date then you might get 10 points now, or you might get 10 points the following season – it depends where you finish in the league.  If you are a no hoper and already relegated then you may think that heading off into Administration may seem like a good idea – wrong!  You will get minus 10 points next season.  However, if you are fighting for survival against relegation, or pushing for promotion then it will deducted there and then.

In the Blue Square Leagues it is different once again with points penalties ranging from 10 points up to 25 points as Chester City found to their surprise in the summer.  They can also force teams out of the conference for other financial irregularities as well – just as Boston United – see Gary Andrews excellent article here. This season we have seen the first club in the top four levels of the pyramid go under for quite awhile as Kings Lynn lost their mid season fight against their debts in the Unibond Premier and folded, meaning the expunging of their records (is their an official expunger I wonder?)

And finally we have the Premier League.  The top table, the creme de la creme.  So what is the penalty for such misdermeaners here?  Well there isn’t any actually!  No Premier League club has ever gone into Administration and so they have never had to decide on a fate.  There have been a number of near misses, most recently West Ham’s situation after the collapse of the Icelandic economy (in theory West Ham were in default of a number of long term commitments in 2008 and should have filed for Administration immediately, but appear to have forgot) and Portsmouth’s current situation is fingernails if ever there was one.  Rumours circulate that the penalty will be 9 points, but any such punishment will almost certainly relegate the club, and with their precarious position it is hard to see them returning to the top table.

In 1923 the Football League consisted of 88 teams.  Seventy Five years later 85 of those teams were still in existence.  Simon Kuper in a recent article for FourFourTwo compares this with traditional business – how many theatres for instance that were in existence 75 years ago are still open today?  And what about Airlines?  Remember such greats as Pan-Am, Pacific South West, Danair or very recently Sky Europe?  All no longer in existence.  So why can football clubs “bend” the rules? Banks anyone?  Lehman’s, Barings, Northern Rock – yet little old Rochdale still carry on as normal.

So in some ways football clubs are more solid than banking institutions.  But why do they get into such a state.  We can understand some of the debt at the top of the tree as clubs chase the impossible dreams of “breaking into the big four”, or even some Championship teams who gamble on getting into the Premier League. But what about the likes of Palace?  Where did the £30m worth of debt come from?  A club living beyond its means?  Simon Jordan does not strike many as a reckless businessman, and indeed saved the club from oblivion in 2000 after their previous administration.  Cardiff City – smart new stadium, playing at the highest level they have been for decades, yet all of a sudden the vultures are circling above the Cardiff City Stadium.

The club had raised around £3m from a season-ticket initiative to buy players in the January window, but it will no longer be used for that purpose.  They will also be selling off “assets” which refers to land and holdings rather than the playing squad.

Cardiff's City Stadium

A statement issued by the club this week said: “The financial health of the club is the ultimate priority.” The Bluebirds face a second winding up order 10 February if they fail to pay an outstanding tax bill of £2.7m owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.  Chairman Peter Ridsdale made assurances earlier this month that the club was “trading as normal” and there was “no immediate threat” to the future of the club.

So how many more will fall foul of the taxman this season?  Surely it is only time before a club in the league is wound up, and if that happens do we enter the forth age of football in England?  Author Alex Fynn famously quoted that the first three ages were 1) The creation of the Premier League, 2) The first Sky TV deal, 3) The arrival of Roman Abramovich….All positive measures in terms of money creation…so now are we seeing reality at last hit the beautiful game? Maybe just maybe.

I’m not gonna lie to you…Wales is lush

The Fuller family this year decided to take our summer holiday in Wales.  We could have gone to Florida with (In)Active Matt, or to Denmark to live in the flat but we decided on the Gower.  Sure we expected the weather was going to be crap but the upsides of a week down here completely outweighed the rain.  And I could slip in a couple of games in grounds I had never been to, nor would likely to visit on a cheeky day out. So here are my ten observations from a week in South Wales.

1. Welsh women…On my latest laminated list (see Friends Episode 3.05) of 5 I have two who were born and bred in the south Wales valleys – Charlotte Church and the goddess that is Catherine Zeta Jones.  Isn’t that an endorsement enough of Welsh women?  Sure you get the odd Nessa but having spent many a night in the discos of Bridgend, Neath and Swansea I can say hand on heart that they are tops in terms of UK talent.  Quite why some of them have the most ridiculous tattoos is still beyond me though.  On a visit to the LC2 (Wales’ Premier Indoor Water Park – I believe it is the only indoor water park) I saw the following.

  • Young girl with a lizard with its tongue out crawling down below her bikini bottoms
  • Late 20’s / early 30’s woman with a tattoo of a man’s name on her arse, which was then crossed out
  • Young girl with an arrow pointing upwards on her inner thigh…no instructions what to do but just an arrow
  • 40’s aged woman with a huge tattoo saying just Dad on her shoulder, inked as if she did it herself looking in a mirror

These were just four examples in a period of 2 hours…Head to Wind street in Swansea on any night of the week and just stand back and watch to see a real life Miss World competition.

2. Welsh Men….I get the tattoos bit but some of them need to stop doing them themselves (see above).  And Welsh fathers need to take their sons aside at puberty and teach them how to shave.  Bumfluff moutaches were sooo 1980’s.  Nice people though who are more than helpful, even to us English.  They are very proud of their cars although teenagers think that riding mopeds means they can hold up all the traffic doing 20 miles per hour thinking they are Valentino Rossi (how times have changed – in the past we would have said “like Barry Sheen” but he died almost a decade ago).

3. Supermarket check out girls.  In two separate events I got the life story of one girl at Tesco’s and how her sister was marrying a “wrong un” and that is why it was raining today, and from another that her best friend had told her boyfriend that she (checkout girl) wasn’t the marrying type and would jilt him at the altar.  No wonder the self service tills are so popular in the supermarkets….which gets me onto..

4. Retail Parks.  What is it with developers here?  Almost every roundabout in a town or city has a retail park and/or a supermarket on?  Drive from Swansea to Llanelli, a journey of no more than 6 miles, and you will pass 3 Tesco Extras, a Sainsburys, god knows how many Currys/Next/MFI’s.  Do they not know there is a recession on?  And they are still building them!  Have they not heard of the Ring Donut Effect?  (A-Level Geography – where building on the pheriphery of a city causes people in the middle to move outwards causing decline and slow death of commercial activity in the city centre).  And they are almost always full!

5. Traffic Lights.  Far too many in Swansea and Cardiff and they stay on red for ridiculous amounts of time.  One set near Ffordbach on the outskirts of the city stayed at red for 134 seconds – madness.  Traffic jams appear and disappear all over the reason due to poor traffic flow.  Perhaps Ken Livingstone has been altering them again as he (allegedly) did in London prior to the Congestion Charge being introduced to prove that his unpopular move actually speeded up the traffic.

6. Welsh Food.  Hands up who has tried Lava Bread?  If not let me describe what you have missed.  Take some seaweed lava and boil it for several hours: the gelatinous paste that results is then rolled in oatmeal and fried. Laverbread is traditionally eaten fried with bacon and cockles for breakfast. Mmmmmm…and you can buy it in Tesco’s.  Welsh cakes are a bit more palatable, being a cross between a scone and a hot cross bun.  And of course there is Welsh Rarebit – or cheese on toast to us uneducated English people.  Failing that head for McDonalds/KFC/Pizza Hut which are on every retail park (see point 4 above) so you will never go hungry.  However, there are still those who demand more.  Overheard in a chip shop in Barry Island – “I’ll have chips with gravy plus a burger in batter…”

7. The Language.  Nearly 21% of the country understand Welsh and every roadsign is in both English and Welsh.  Some words are simple to pronounce – Abertawe is literally Mouth of the Tawe and flows nicely off the tongue but you will come across some places where vowels have done a runner such as Cwmffrwd.  The language was used by the Welsh Guards during their tours in the Balkans as a code language.  Always worth a go to impress the local ladies – Bwria belten job ydy oddi ‘r chwestiyna?

8. The Beaches.  When the sun is shining (and it does – see below) there is nowhere better than Oxwich Bay on the Gower.  The beaches here are Blue Flag ones, spotlessly clean and rarely busy.  Head to the west of the Gower and there is the amazing Rhosilli Bay which must be 3 miles long and picture postcard perfect.  You can stick your Portobanus and give me Port Einon any day!

9. The Weather.  Yes we know people call it Wet Wales, and we know why.  It does rain ALOT down here, but people who expect sunshine everyday should not come down here.  Even with the rain falling there is loads to do here.  A pint of Brains doesn’t need the sun to make it taste good.

10. Football and Rugby.  South Wales is all about rugby.  For every car you see driving around Swansea with a Swans sticker in you will see five with an Ospreys sign in.  A few years ago with the domestic game in disarray the Welsh Rugby Union decided to announce a new Super League structure and almost overnight some of the more traditional teams such as Bridgend, Neath, Pontypridd and Port Talbot disappeared, replaced by regional superclubs in the Swansea Neath Ospresy, Newport Gwent Dragons and the Cardiff Blues.  Football, on the other hand at a regional level is still small time.  The Wlesh Premier League comes a poor second to rugby.  You just have to see that AFC Llanelli, champions of the Premier League in 2008 still only get 900 fans on a regular basis whilst the Llanelli Scarletts get 7 or 8 times that in their brand spanking new 15,000 capacity Parc y Scarlets.  This season the football club hosted Motherwell in the Europa League here and got a decent crowd (see Danny Lasts excellent story from this game here).  In such a small region with two clubs on the rise, local teams are falling in popularity, which is a shame.  For a view of some of the fantastic arenas in South Wales have a look at the next article.

But I was here for a reason.  Yes the Fuller family holiday is important, but with only one new stadium opening in the English leagues this season I couldn’t miss an opportunity to tick it off prior to the start of the season.  So, ladies and gentlemen I now give you the main event – The 2nd opening of the City Stadium in Cardiff.

Cardiff City 0 Valencia 2 – The City Stadium – Saturday 1st August 2009 3pm



The new stadium was over a decade in discussion before work finally started in 2007 on the stadium, located across the road from Ninian Park.  The new ground opened its doors for a friendly with Celtic in late July (there was actually a test game played against Chasetown first) and this was to be the final warm up game before the start of the Bluebirds Championship campaign.  Hopes are high for a good season, with the club finishing last season challenging for a play off spot right up until the final day when they missed out on goals scored to Preston North End.

The visitors Valencia could hardly be in a worse shape.  Laden with debt, a new stadium that construction has halted on and no buyer in site for their existing home it is a surprise they could afford the airfare over to Wales.  They were also due to play Manchester United and Arsenal in the next few weeks and whilst their squad included the four David’s (Villa, Silva, Albelda and Navarro) it was unlikely that any of them would take part in the game.

Truth be told this was a disappointing game.  Just over 13,000 home fans arrived (and 10 from Valencia) to witness the Spanish team control the game from the first minute, hardly breaking into a sweat.  Cardiff’s star was Chris Burke on the right hand side, and he often took on the Valencia defenders, creating the first real chance of the game on the 5th minute.  But it was Valencia who struck first with Nikola Zigi heading home with ease on seven minutes.  Ross McCormack replaced the injured Boothroyd midway through the half and added an extra bit of bite to the Cardiff team, and he forced centre back Alexis into one rash challenge too many for the referee and he became the first player to go into the book.

After the 0-0 draw with Celtic Cardiff were looking for that illusive first goal in the new stadium and they had the perfect opportunity on 62 minutes when substitute Pericard was hauled down in the penalty area, but McCormack’s spot kick was well saved by Valencia’s pink shirted keeper Miguel Angel Moya.  Five minutes to go in the game and it was all over as a well worked free kick from the edge of the penalty area was met on the volley by Joaquin and it was 2-0.

And that was it.  A first look at the stadium which could have been any new one in the UK.  The “inners” gave the feeling it was unfinished with bare pipework and breeze blocks, whilst the arena was smart if a little sterile.  The fans in the Home End tried their best and when the visitors are the likes of Swansea or Newcastle  then I would imagine it will be quite a venue, but for a friendly in August it had that pedestrian feel.

CMF and Littlest Fuller picked up from their shopping spree in the city centre we headed off to Barry Island.  I forgot to mention today was our wedding anniversary and what better way to celebrate it than a fish and chip supper in one of the most famous TV sitcom locations around today.  We would have visited Nessa’s amusement arcade or even Pleasureland but they were closed….at 6pm…on a Saturday…in August….Where to we now!

About the Cardiff City Stadium
The Cardiff City Stadium (Stadiwm Dinas Caerdydd) is a 26,828 all-seated ground in the Leckwith area of the city, which is the home of Cardiff City Football Club. Owned and operated by Cardiff City F.C., the stadium also hosts the home matches of the Cardiff Blues rugby union team. The stadium is part of the Leckwith development which essentially means it is in the middle of a huge retail park. It is located opposite the old Ninian Park on the original Athletics stadium site. The stadium was officially opened on 22 July 2009, with Cardiff City drawing 0-0 in a friendly against Celtic althogh it actually hosted two smaller ramp up events prior to this in July 2009.

The stadium is rather disappointingly similar in design inside to most new builds in the UK with three single tier stadiums and one two tier main stand with a uniform roof. Views are excellent from all seats and the home fans are now located in the North (Canton) Stand.

How to get to the Cardiff City Stadium
The new stadium is literally across the road from the old Ninian Park stadium in the west of the city.  It is well sign posted from the motorway, where you should exit off the M4 at junction 33 then follow the A4232.  You can get a train from Cardiff central to Ninian Park but most fans will chose the 20 minute walk down Wellington Road, past the Millennium Stadium to the ground.  Parking at the stadium is for permit holders only although there are currently no restrictions on parking on the retail park or in Asda.  Otherwise the streets off Wellington Road are restriction free.

How to get a ticket for the Cardiff City Stadium
You need to be a member to purchase tickets for the new stadium.  Membership costs £3.50 and can be purchased from the club’s online ticket store (click here).  As the stadium is ticketless (you enter using your card) you will have to have this before you can buy tickets online.  The home end is the Canton end and tickets here will cost £24 for Adults and £15 for concessions.  The Family stand is ideally located next to the away fans in the Grange End, and tickets cost the same.  The Ninian stand is sold out to season ticket holders so the only other alternative is the Grandstand at £30. Details about tickets for Cardiff Blues rugby games have not yet been announced.