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.

Championship reputation


There can’t be many fans who dislike Fulham.  OK, perhaps apart from Queens Park Rangers fans and a smattering of Chelsea supporters, although the vast majority of the “new blues” probably have no idea where their nearest neighbours actually play.  The club has tried to retain a sense of history and tradition whilst a maelstrom of off the field activities have directly impacted on the field performances.  But coming into the new 2016/17 Football League season (hashtag EFL for those down with the kids) there was a sense of optimism that things could be different this term.

unnamedSome things never change though as this Friday night season opener proved:-

  1. Despite the travel logistics, Sky felt that it was justifiable in ensuring that Newcastle fans couldn’t get back to Tyneside after the game by public transport;
  2. Despite point 1, Newcastle still filled the whole of the Putney End;
  3. The only beer you could get in the ground was Carlsberg;
  4. At the age of 35 Scott Parker is still as mobile as he was when he joined West Ham back in 2007;
  5. The police still haven’t worked out how to manage the crowds at Putney Bridge tube station;

Prior to the game, which had seen an eventful tube journey where football fans had been called into action to prevent a fight on the train between a heavily pregnant woman and a young “lady” with attitude who felt it was her right to stand blocking the doors “to get some air”, I chatted with a member of Fulham’s new marketing team.  It seems that owner Shahid Khan was now in action not words mode and wanted to press ahead with an ambitious development of the Riverside Stand that would see it built up and back into the Thames, supported by a man-made island.  Fans would then be literally shipped into the ground.  Not the craziest plan I’ve heard and actually one that would have been more than ideal for The Boleyn Ground (swap River Thames for access road leading to bus garage).  The current capacity of just under 26,000 with limited space for corporate hospitality simply does not allow the club to increase the ever-important match day revenues.

By retaining Benitez, a significant number of players from last year and boosting the squad with some new signings, the bookies unsurprisingly have made Newcastle favourites for an immediate return. From experience of West Ham’s foray’s into the Championship you know that the novelty of visiting grounds you haven’t been to in a while soon rubs off when you are losing though.

unnamed (3)The atmosphere had been turned up at the Cottage as kick off approached.  Newcastle were being backed by 6,000 fans, an outstanding achievement considering the kick off time and distance.  Fulham fans in the Stevenage Road stand were making quite a din themselves, fueled by those card clappers and the acoustics of the metal roof.  One noticeable fact was the lack of home fans wearing replica shirts.  Perhaps I’d just been accustomed to seeing virtually every fan in one during the European Championships or that the new ones, complete with the statement “VisitFlorida” on the front weren’t yet on sale.

Fulham 1 Newcastle United 0 – Craven Cottage – Friday 5th August 2016
After 10 minutes of this game I turned to Tall Tom and pointed out the Newcastle game plan.  “Every time the right back gets the ball he hits it diagonally behind the Fulham left back”.  I hadn’t even finished the sentence before another ball was hoofed up field for Perez to chase.  On this occasion he did earn a free-kick on the edge of the box as Odoi pushed him over but if we could see their tactic from the stands so quickly then I’d have hoped Fulham boss Slaviša Jokanović (described by Wikipedia as a “physical player”) would have too.

unnamed (1)The game was played at a good pace although neither team seemed willing to progress further than the edge of the penalty area.  Newcastle should have had a penalty when Ritchie’s cross is punched away for a corner by Tunnicliffe.  New season, better technology, same basic decisions being missed.  Ten minutes later Fulham went ahead when Matt Smith rose the highest to head home a corner.  Men on the posts? That’s so 2015/16.

The second half saw more of the same from both teams.  Newcastle’s fans seemed to be permanently on edge every time the ball was played towards their goal, whilst the Fulham back line opted for a no-nonsense approach in defending.  They had another decent shout for a penalty when a last-minute shot appeared to hit a Fulham arm but rarely threatened the home team’s goal.  I can only assume they have neglected to work on set pieces in the pre-season based on the efforts of Perez and Shelvey (or as Sky refered to him “England’s Jonjo Shelvey” which still gives me hope of an international call up).

Full time saw Benitez stride purposefully towards the referee although the Spaniard kept his dignity and simply shook hands.  He had a right to feel aggrieved but this would have been a harsh lesson for him and the team.   The Championship is a brutal league where pre-season odds and reputations count for nothing.  Teams will raise their game at home to Newcastle and will park the bus at St James’ Park.

For the thousands of Fulham fans disappearing into the London night the dreams of a return to the promised land may just remain a little while longer.

Italian stallions held by the Super Eagles


Being the city that London is, and with its wide variety of nationalities contained therein, it’s not much of a surprise any more that more internationals are being played here and you can be guaranteed that when one of these takes place, the Daggers Diary team will be there.

Last month, Dagenham Dan and I traipsed across London to watch Australia v Canada at Craven Cottage. While others were watching England beat Poland at Wembley, we were getting cold down by the Thames watching the green and gold easily defeat a spirited but inferior Canadian team.

IMAG1125This month, the good people at Fulham have attracted Italy to the Cottage, for a friendly international against Nigeria. While Italy qualified for the World Cup in September (winning their group by six points), Nigeria secured their place at the weekend, becoming the first African team to qualify for Brazil by beating Ethiopia 4-1 on aggregate. For both, the start of the World Cup on June 12th starts to loom large on the horizon, although the draw on December 6th will be the most immediate thing to worry about.

For both (and indeed, all) teams taking part next summer, this will be one of the last opportunities to have a look at their team before the month of wall to wall football kicks off. With one international date in March, and then probably two just before the tournament, any player wanting to make an impression on the coach of their national team doesn’t have that long left. It may even be that players will be going to the World Cup with no international experience at all. While that may not be a bad thing, a quick look at England’s defeat to Chile last Friday shows that it isn’t always desirable. Continue reading

The nicest club in the Premier League


8431476952_3bbe5b4b42_bDoes anyone really dislike Fulham? I’m sure I can see some hands at the back of the room belonging to some QPR fans, but gents you should really worry about what ‘Appy ‘Arry is doing rather than your rivals down the Fulham Palace Road. No, I didn’t think so. In a city where Premier League rivalries are so intense, it is always amazing that Fulham sit in the middle, completely unaffected by the missiles flying over their head. A bit like Switzerland really. Neutral, steady but with less chocolate. Even with a money bags chairman who essentially bought his way into the Premier League over a decade ago they still rarely offend anyone.

Back in the mid 1990’s the club were on the brink of losing their existence. They had fallen almost as far as they could have gone, finishing in the lower reaches of the fourth tier of English football in 1996. Around this time I adopted them as my second team. I was living in North Kensington (a posh way of saying Olympia) and with the Cottagers playing at home on alternate weekends to West Ham and the then FMF (Future Mrs. Fuller) working on a Saturday, I would wander down North End Road, with a few stops enroute at the The Clarence, Old Oak, Seven Stars and the Elm with my flat mate Marc. We would pay our £6 to get in and could stand on a crumbling terrace, watching some terrible football. We were actually two of the attendees in the game versus Scunthorpe United that attracted just over 2,000 spectators, the lowest attendances for a league match in the club’s history.

fulham

Thanks to Flick to Kick for this picture

The club around this time launched its Fulham 2000 appeal. It was a last throw of the dice to try to secure a future for the club, with the Royal Bank of Scotland refusing to discuss the future of the club and the ground. I signed up, in what was a prototype for the current Community Ownership schemes such as Lewes’s, and even became an “agent” for the club, selling the £10 membership packages (a letter from Jimmy Hill I remember was my highlight). The club soon pulled in a few football luminaries such as George Best and Johnny Haynes to become members and within a remarkably short period of time, the bank had come back to the negotiating table. The immediate future of the club was safe. Continue reading

Swansea make themselves at home at the Cottage


On another amazing weekend for Welsh sport our resident Swansea City fan, Abi Davies made her way back from London with a smile as wide as Swansea Bay after an excellent win at Fulham.

On the back of their sensational 1-0 victory over Manchester City last weekend, Swansea knew that a win at Craven Cottage would see them move to 8th in the league with only one other Premier League fixtures being played on Saturday.

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s second brace since joining Swansea, along with a Joe Allen strike guided the Swans to their fourth away win of the campaign, in doing so, the Welsh side all but mathematically secured their Premier League status and now look set to further prove critics wrong as they seek to finish the league in the top half of the table.

The only change to the side that started last weekend’s game against Manchester City came in defence as Ashley Williams run of 169 consecutive league games came to an end, with the Welsh international suffering from a virus. Williams absence meant club captain Gary Monk partnered on loan centre back Steven Caulker for the first time.

The euphoria of last weekends win seemed to play no part in Swansea’s performance as it was back to the grindstone, with the whole side demonstrating all the credentials that has seen them earn mass success so far this season. Continue reading

Fulham’s Europa adventure comes to a very late end


It was interesting to note last week that, after both Manchester clubs went out of the champions league, the considered opinion of at least one national newspaper was that they now faced the humiliation of Thursday night football in the Europa League.

So are clubs that annoyed at being asked to play in a competition that in the eyes of many, is like sour milk to the godly ambrosia that is the champions league?

I’m sure both city and united will find a way to cope with this “humiliation”, and I would expect them both to try and win the competition as well. Of course, what does that headline say about Stoke or Fulham? Neither of these clubs would probably find it embarrassing to play in the Europa league; sure, united have been very successful in recent years, so it could probably be considered a step backwards. But city haven’t played in the main European tournament since 1968. With no recent history in either the European cup or Champions league, is it really a humiliation? The amount spent on the team might suggest so, but it does take time for a team to settle, and no matter the opposition, European competition is very different to the premier league. Continue reading

Fulham enjoy a Crusade of their own


Brian Parish brings us a familiar story on a European success from Craven Cottage.

After a 3-0 aggregate win in the first round against NSI Runavik, Fulham were rewarded with a slightly shorter journey just across the Irish Sea last week to play the first leg of their second qualifying round tie against Crusaders. A 3-1 win in Northern Ireland meant that they should have one foot in the next round, but you never can be sure about what will happen in these games. Dagenham Dan reckons that they were already through, but I was urging on a bit of caution. Continue reading