What a magnificent performance that was last night, it easily won out over Debate III – The Law of Diminishing Returns. For a short while in the early eighties I used to lodge with a Fulham-supporting friend round the corner from Craven Cottage. His mother, the Dowager Lady Diana, used to loathe match days as these occasions served to emphasise the proximity of her terraced house to a matter as vulgar as the playing of Association Football – ‘All this double parking, darling, it’s simply atrocious.’ In common with many of the residents of the streets to the west side of the Fulham Palace Road she wanted the club closed down, or at the very least re-located to New Malden (I seem to remember there was a petition about this). I would occasionally go down the Cottage on a Saturday afternoon after a lunchtime session to watch a very poor standard of third division football and to ‘enjoy’ the accompanying ‘terrace banter’.
In the early nineties when Stoke were relegated down to ‘Barclays Division 3’ I went to visit the old friend and took in a night match between our two sides. Stoke lost 1-0 in a game that attracted an attendance of 3,131. I dimly remember it as being rubbish, and of watching Liverpool playing a European tie at half-time on a primitive TV screen. The a dim memory is confirmed in the summary from Stoke City, the Modern Era, a Complete Record, by Simon Lowe.
A paltry crowd witness a dour match with Stoke just having the edge. Neither side has bought its shooting boots. Blake produces a moment of rare inspiration, breaking free to cross for Biggins to fire in. The Fulham faithful want boss Alan Dicks out. No new manager until the summer.
Things have changed on all fronts there. Fulham gentleman boss Roy Hodgson, having fashioned this miracle on a relative budget, (did I mention that Liverpool are out of everything yet?) is clearly Manager of the Season*, both Stoke and Fulham are top flight sides (though only one of them plays football) and Liverpool are out of Europe and everything else. For most of my life I’ve admired Liverpool teams – they have usually been flamboyant and swashbuckling. But under Rafa Benitez, the most grumpy little shit in the history of grumpy little Spaniards (a matter about which I know plenty, having once had a stepfather who started the type) the side are a gloomy unit in chaos and disarray. They are now in the position of being in contention for nothing whatsoever other than perhaps beating Chelsea on Sunday to deny them the title; if they achieve that, which I very much doubt, they effectively hand the silverwear to their most deadly rivals over at Old Trafford. Win or lose, that’s a lose-lose situation. The manager has spent more than the Greek debt to get here and says he needs a bit more (60 million) to finish the job off. Get some self knowledge Rafa: clear your desk and apologise while a pig flies overhead.
But back to the winners. Craven Cottage itself, as I record in the remaindered And She Laughed No More, is the most civilised place to watch football in the Premier League, including, amongst other extraordinary urbane delights, the bizarre concept of a ‘neutral fans area.’ If I were in London now, I think I would be a regular arriviste down there with my glass of Sancerre. I noticed Hugh Grant in the crowd last night; nothing could be ‘more Fulham’ than having the quintessential foppish Englishman as your famous fan.
Hurrah for the Cottagers!
* see comment one for a mild disagreement with this assertion