Monthly Archives: May 2011

Paul Scholes: one of the greats

With Paul Scholes retirement we are invited again to confront the nature of footballing greatness. Over on TiFF someone has made the point that Best and Charlton are legends, not Scholes. But surely this is incorrect.

Footballing history as we know it is based on 120 or so years of competitive play. In that time a handful of great sides have emerged. A list of teams that have been good for at least three seasons might go something like this: Preston, Villa, Sunderland, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Arsenal, Wolves, Liverpool, Liverpool, United, Chelsea.

I’ve missed off a few there, but if you look back there are remarkably few teams who have a) been really good and b) been really good for a long time. The modernish era essentially comes down to Liverpool’s late seventies team, United’s 90s dynasty (still going) and perhaps (albeit briefly) Mourinho’s Chelsea side.  Arsenal had very good teams in the middle of all that (91 and 04) but in historical terms haven’t been able to sustain anything. Liverpool had a good team in the late 80s but didn’t test it in Europe. I don’t know that there’s a strong case to go far beyond this Liverpool and United (which makes sense given their success).

It’s hard (impossible?) to argue that the United side we’ve watched in the last 15 years or so is not among the best club sides this country has seen. You would need to pick out individual teams to go beyond this, but the Ronaldo United sides and the 1999 side (to name two) are surely right up there.

And if they are among the best couple of sides we’ve ever seen, what does that tell us about the players who played in this team from the start of its greatness to the end?

Paul Scholes not a legend? Don’t make me laugh.

Europe next season

So, Europe, eh?

It hit me last night while watching Britain’s Got Talent. The judges came on to the same music we used to play in our Europa games, and I realised what last season had lacked: frightening games.

Sure there were tense matches, games that meant things, but never games that made you feel sick, games that had you wide eyed and awe-struck. Last season’s successful league matches were fun; the unsuccessful matches were not.

Which is not to say that league games are not interesting. They are. Every week we turn up to watch history, for every game is important and part of the game’s and the club’s long-running journey. We’re there for that, watching things develop, watching Fulham edge on and on. This is partly why pre-season friendlies are such a turn-off; they disappear into thin air when they’re over. It’s also partly why I love the players’ “Career Stats” at the back of the matchday programme: our current squad are racking up some numbers now. Not by historical standards, but several of the team are in three figures, which after a period of extraordinarily high player turnover is very much a good thing.

Anyway, Europe is different. The last journey went from happy curiosity (prelims) to outright excitement (Roma! In a competitive game!) to joy (we’re playing Juventus! We’ve beaten Juventus!  Juventus!) to awe (Shakhtar) to raw fright (the German phase – QF/SF/F).

That’s what I’m looking forward to. The worst case scenario is that we lose to a team of part-timers from Iceland or Ireland, and even that would be better than not taking part.

Open up

This year there were 918 shots in games Fulham played, 24 per game.

Last year there were 826, 22 per game.

In 2010/11 home encounters with Man Utd, City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal there were 30, 20, 35, 26, 22 shots (133 in total). Away to these teams we saw 28, 25, 24, 23 and 26 (126).

Last year 26, 24, 16, 16 and 32 at home (114), 41 (33 to 8 for Utd! Ow), 31 , 21, 20, 21 away (134).

Does this show us anything?

Probably not, but I’ll be interested to see where it takes us next year.  If you look at the results under Hodgson and Hughes a position could be taken that under Hodgson we were better against the big teams but not as good against the bad ones.  Under Hughes we have struggled against better teams than us, but beaten those inferior to us.

It’s not hard to take a guess at why this might be.  By closing a game there are fewer chances, fewer opportunities for the best teams to prove their superiority. Think about it: if Fulham play Manchester United in a game lasting two minutes they have a very good chance of getting something from the game. If Fulham play United in a game lasting for five hours then the chances are United will prevail. Equally, if each team has two penalty kicks the weaker has a good chance of taking something; if each team has 500 penalties you’d expect the stronger side to prevail easily.

You can achieve the same effect in a 90 minute game by either playing an open or closed game. Blackpool played a massively open game this year, the effect being (beyond that of surprise) that they were challenging opponents head on: in these games the best team is likely to prevail because there are more goal chances to prove this (had Blackpool stayed up this year I’m convinced they’d have gone down by a spectacular margin next).  In closed games the opposite is true: if there are few chances, the weaker side has a better chance of coming out on top.

It was a frustration under Hodgson that we didn’t open up against weaker sides and give ourselves a better chance of beating them, especially away from home, and I think this has been a big improvement under Hughes. Against that, the open approach against the bigger clubs seems to be ceding the Hodgson advantage, leaving us more or less where we started.

The numbers above don’t necessarily bear out the above as happening, but I think it is, to a degree.

Back to the future

In the latest WSC magazine there’s an article suggesting that, for most fans after they get to about 30, all the great goals have already been scored, all the great albums have already been made, and from there it’s a case of comparing things unfavourably with when you were younger.

I can see this to a point, and it was with great delight that I was reading about Howard Kendall’s mid-80s Everton side this morning. This was the first really good team I can remember, and reading about its accomplishments unlocked some wonderful memories of early football watching (isn’t the human brain great like that?).

The first XI:

Neville Southall – a great goalkeeper
Gary Stevens – a solid right back who could attack and defend
Derek Mountfield – a big man at the back who could score goals
Kevin Ratcliffe – a small man at the back who could not score goals
Pat van den Hauwe – a hard man left back
Trevor Steven – goals from midfield, Steven worked really well with Stevens up and down the pitch
Peter Reid – snappy midfielder
Paul Bracewell – like Reid, Bracewell could tackle, but also had a good range of passing
Kevin Sheedy – the man for whom the term ‘cultured left foot’ was made. Didn’t defend much but scored and made lots of goals
Graeme Sharp – big man up front, capable of scoring all sorts of goals
Gary Lineker/Andy Gray – depends which side of the Cup Winners’ Cup you go: Lineker the pacy, prolific striker who gave Everton so much fun on the break (NB they never won anything with him in the side); Gray the hard as nails centre-forward who gave Everton two big men up top.

There are some parallels with what Fulham have here. Southall and Schwarzer are of comparable quality, and the centre-back pairing is uncannily similar. In centre-midfield Peter Reid is a really nice comp for Steve Sidwell (stylistically at least) and there are some similarities between Murphy and Bracewell. At a push you can compare Sharp and Zamora, at least in the way both are capable of the spectacular. Back then a straight 4-4-2 might have been more successful than today, but the Steven/Sheedy wide pairing is quite like the Dempsey/Duff combo in output if not style. Chris Baird is not as athletic as I remember Gary Stevens being, but can play at a fair level. Finally it’s worth noting that this Everton team was considered a team without stars, a team greater than the sum of its parts. That works too.

The two differences are at left back, where I’d be quite interested in an uncompromising hard man type (the trick here was that the left back needed to be an excellent defender because Sheedy didn’t track back; on the other side Steven/Stevens worked much better as a pair). If Carlos Salcido does go back to Mexico, who might we find here to lend some steel and presence to the defence? Wigan’s Figueroa is a good player but unlikely to be available, otherwise, let’s see what Hughes might scare up.

The other one is at centre-forward, where we can cope but where an international class poacher might add another six points to the team’s total fairly easily. But who?

Here are this year’s Golden Shoe award people:

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 40 x 2 = 80
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 31 x 2 = 62
3. Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich) 28 x 2 = 56
Antonio Di Natale (Udinese) 28 x 2 = 56
5. Edinson Cavani (Napoli) 26 x 2 = 52
6. Papiss Cisse (Freiburg) 22 x 2 = 44
Moussa Sow (Lille) 22 x 2 = 44
8. ‘Alex’ de Souza (Fenerbahce) 28 x 1.5 = 42
Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) 21 x 2 = 42
Samuel Eto’o (Internazionale) 21 x 2 = 42
Kevin Gameiro (FC Lorient) 21 x 2 = 42
Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) 21 x 2 = 42
13. Sergio Agüero (Atletico Madrid) 20 x 2 = 40
Alessandro Matri (US Cagliari/Juventus) 20 x 2 = 40
Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla FC) 20 x 2 = 40
16. Alexander Frei (FC Basel) 26 x 1.5 = 39
Kenny Miller (Glasgow Rangers/Bursaspor) 26 x 1.5 = 39
18. Marco Di Vaio (AC Bologna) 19 x 2 = 38
19. Garra Dembele (Levski Sofia) 25 x 1.5 = 37.5
Dame N’Doye (FC Kobenhavn) 25 x 1.5 = 37.5
21. Fernando Llorente (Athletic de Bilbao) 18 x 2 = 36
Robin van Persie (Arsenal) 18 x 2 = 36
Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal) 18 x 2 = 36
Roberto Soldado (Valencia) 18 x 2 = 36
David Villa (Barcelona) 18 x 2 = 36
26. Hulk (Givanildo Vieira de Souza) (FC Porto) 23 x 1.5 = 34.5
Bjorn Vleminckx (NEC) 23 x 1.5 = 34.5
28. Youssef El Arabi Caen) 17 x 2 = 34
Darren Bent (Sunderland/Aston Villa) 17 x 2 = 34
Milivoje Novakovic (Cologne) 17 x 2 = 34
Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria/Internazionale) 17 x 2 = 34
32. Dmitri Bulykin (Den Haag) 22 x 1.5 = 33
Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos) 22 x 1.5 = 33
Ivan Perisic (Club Brugge) 22 x 1.5 = 33
35. Lucas Barrios (Borussia Dortmund) 16 x 2 = 32
Theofanis Gekas (Eintracht Frankfurt) 16 x 2 = 32
Srdjan Lakic (Kaiserslautern) 16 x 2 = 32
Lisandro Lopez (Lyon) 16 x 2 = 32
39. Milan Mrdakovic (Apollon Limassol) 21 x 1.5 = 31.5
40. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) 15 x 2 = 30
‘Gervinho’ Yao Kouassi Gervais (Lille) 15 x 2 = 30
Brown Ideye (Sochaux) 15 x 2 = 30
Mads Junker (Roda Kerkrade) 20 x 1.5 = 30
Peter Odemwingie (West Bromwich Albion) 15 x 2 = 30
Gregory Pujol (Valenciennes) 15 x 2 = 30
Andre Schürrle (Mainz 05) 15 x 2 = 30
Francesco Totti (Roma) 15 x 2 = 30
Jelle Vossen (Genk) 20 x 1.5 = 30

Kevin Gameiro of L’Orient in France stands out there. He scored 21 times this season in Europe’s most defensive league (I like this sort of thing as a guide). He has 49 in 107 games there, a good tally, and is described as “a fast, energetic player with good dribbling abilities”. Interesting. Otherwise your guess is as good as mine (the availability of Arsenal’s Bendtner would echo the Sharp/Gray approach perhaps!), but looking at the squad in this way does make me think “centre forward” and “left back”.

A quick look down the league.

In America they have a saying: flags (trophies) fly forever, and surely this applies to Birmingham City. They’ve won a major(ish) trophy and ought to be promoted quite quickly. So on balance I’d say that they had a pretty good season.

Same applies to Blackpool, who had no business going even as close at they did to staying up. They played well but on MOTD last night it was very clear that they’re short of talent in a couple of key areas.

West Ham went down with Green, Upson, Bridge, Parker and Cole. The supporting cast included Hitzlsperger, Demba Ba and Mark Noble. How did they do it?

My goal difference scrutinies always flag Wigan as clear relegation candidates, but this year Roberto Martinez’s side actually improved their GD. No longer liable to be spanked 3/4 times a season, they really do seem to be moving in the right direction. With the likes of Moses (who I think will be a star), N’Zogbia, Rodellega and Figuero well supported by their teammates perhaps the issue will be depth, but having escaped this season I expect Wigan to be half-useful next.

To everyone’s annoyance Wolves stayed up, but credit where it’s due, they fought hard for some impressive points. Also it gives us a nice pantomime villain game next year.

Blackburn could be in trouble next time up. They don’t seem to have a defined approach. They do seem to have an odd side, cobbled together along various lines. If Christopher Samba goes to Arsenal they could disappear a la West Ham.

For all the fanfare about Coyle’s approach, Bolton didn’t really impress me.  I like Kevin Davies but I don’t see a lot here that will concern Fulham next season. Outisde relegation candidates perhaps.

Stoke, on the other hand, have built on their survival and ought to do what they do well enough to stick around. Their cup final defeat will have disappointed, but I suspect they’re moving in the right direction, with Pulis seemingly cast as the Sam Allardyce of his time (not really fair on Allardyce, who was brilliant at putting sides together cheaply and winning with them).

Newcastle ummed and arred and don’t seem to really have much about them, do they? A team that could go either way depending on recruitment over the summer. Their midfield of Nolan, Barton and Tiote might be as good as anyone’s, but they lack a forward of quality and this will stop them pushing on, I suspect.

WBA will probably follow Fulham’s footsteps quite neatly. Hodgson arguably has a better squad to work with than he inherited here and unless he makes some mistakes ought to be able to solidify his team in the top division. Sharp signing by the West Brom board, harsh on Di Matteo as it may have been.

Sunderland… pass. Seriously, what on earth is going on? Spent a lot of money but now Bruce wants to overhaul it all again. Injury concerns are harsh, but my suspicion is that these things are not always random, and if one side has half a team or more on the sidelines then they’ve either bought fragile players (staying fit is a valuable skill) or aren’t treating the squad very well.  I have nothing to back this up, of course! Selling Darren Bent obviously cost them dearly, but they had enough points to get by. Next season? Should be fine, but another team that needs to get its act together. (or is this a primacy and recency illusion: Fulham finish strong so we assume all is well; Sunderland finish badly so we assume all is not. In reality it could just be the expected fluctuations of a team of this quality, and a fresh start will see both at about the same level.)

Villa are the same but different. With the underrated Downing conceivably following the well-rated Young out of the club they’ll have a new look next year, and perhaps that’s for the best. With Darren Bent around they’re almost certain to score goals anyway, so perhaps it’s time to bring in some new faces (which will surely happen if Houllier isn’t retained). A strange season.

Fulham essentially came second in our little league, behind Everton but ahead of other comparable XIs. In the weekend’s programme both Hughes and Murphy suggest that changes are not likely, so it’ll probably be a case of a left back here, a centre-forward there, rather than anything too dramatic.

Everton did well in the end, from a distance appearing to have the season they always have. Not rich enough to compete with the big clubs, too good for the middle clubs, here they stand, 7th. It’s the right place for them.

Liverpool and Spurs are grouped together here as I’m not a huge fan of either and don’t have a great deal to say about either. Liverpool looked awesome at the Cottage, Spurs just seem a bit strange, unbalanced, unfun. More of the same next year I assume.

Arsenal, as I’ve said before, would surely have won the league with Hangeland and Schwarzer at the back this season. Wenger could have paid £20m to make it happen, we assume, but didn’t, and instead watched a perfectly catchable United side win the division by nine points, and lead Arsenal by 12. That’s a big gap.

City probably should win the whole shebang next year. I like Mancini’s approach, I like the players he’s signed, and I think he’ll be very successful soon.

I thought Carlo Ancelotti was unlucky to be fired, but we must also note that his team did lose nine league games. That’s partly a function of the way the league was played this year – more teams seemed inclined to ‘have a go’ – but equally it suggests that something came unstuck that shouldn’t have. Ray Wilkins’ departure (unlikely as it may seem) does look to have destabilised the side, and Fernando Torres’ arrival may not have helped (especially given the strength Chelsea have in that position relative to others). But unless Abramovich has Guus Hiddink lined up this seems like a rash move.

United won because they were unstoppable at home and, as has been noted in many places, really did find ways to win when it mattered. The season, as Birmingham have found out, is decided on the smallest of margins, and United worked those margins so well for so long that they ended up clear and deserved winners. I don’t really buy into the Giggs hype, but do believe that the Vidic/Ferdinand partnership is as good as we’re likely to see, and that Rooney and Hernandez were a lovely throwback partnership akin perhaps to the old Dalglish/Rush or Beardsley/Aldridge combinations of the 80s (not like-for-like, obviously, but certainly in approach and success there’s something there).  I doubt they’ll win it again next season, but immense credit to Ferguson for putting together a young side capable of this. Final note: well done, Chris Smalling.

Fulham 2-2 Arsenal

How strange. As time ran out on this most odd season, the Arsenal fans got angry. It’s hard to be sure what this was about, but perhaps there was a clue in last week’s ‘lap of appreciation’ at the Emirates, during which the team was booed.

Booed for finishing fourth. What kind of fans are these people? It just seems like simple bad manners, bad form (for an example of good manners I present myself on the 220 bus on the way home: I sat on my seat, stepped on something, then turned round with a sincere apology… to a half eaten corn on the cob on the floor). Something has gone horribly wrong with Arsenal, the beautiful girl who, once so nice, became a bitch.

They were lucky not to have been beaten by an increasingly strong Fulham side. Everywhere you looked on the pitch a Fulham player was winning his individual battle. The defence was in good form (although Wenger really should have attacked young Matthew Briggs more than he did; leaving Walcott out may have been a mistake), the midfield (with Sidwell playing how I like to imagine Graeme Souness might have done in those great Liverpool sides) was every bit as good as it’s illustrious opponent’s, and Zamora was by some distance the best forward on the pitch.

Sidwell it was who scored first, Dempsey combining cleverly with Zamora (who strayed towards the right a good deal today), who squared for Sidwell to score.  Robin van Persie equalised quite quickly with a typically neat goal, but at no point did Arsenal take control, the excellent Wilshere’s efforts notwithstanding.

Fulham scored again in the second half after some more fabulous work on the left by Jonathan Greening. It was great fun to see Greening take Birmingham apart on the flank at half-pace, and here he did it again, twisting and turning before sending over a lovely cross for Zamora to head home. Three assists in two games from our hairy midfielder now: good work that man.

We might have had a few more, AJ scampering clear but again showing that he has lost those vital few yards of pace (pace measured in yards doesn’t feel right but we’ll go with it) required to get in good strikes. Simon Davies nearly scored during a good spell of “bombard the Arsenal defence”, and a few more quick transitions through the midfield might have caused them bother had we been a bit slicker. Briggs might have won a penalty after a fine slalom through the Arsenal defence was ended clumsily, too.

The game turned when Zoltan Gera came on for what might have been his last Fulham game. He had a few half touches then launched into a studs-up challenge that drew a straight red from Martin Atkinson (who had a horribly fussy game but couldn’t say no to this one). From then on Arsenal, with four forwards on the field (not including Nasri) took it to us, and AJ as a lone striker wasn’t enough to make the ball stick.  It was then no surprise when Walcott nicked an equaliser, the heretofore brilliant Schwarzer beaten with a low shot across him.

2-2. A decent end to a decent season. In many ways it’s hard to assess the team’s performance:  it feels like we’ve progressed, but perhaps next term is the time to judge this.  Hughes, by then, will have had the time to really imprint himself on the team, and if the glass is as full as it might be then good things could happen.

New Fulham away shirt featuring exclusive “underwiring” technology

This is annoying.  The new “Back in Black” kit seems to have been found, and again seems like a missed opportunity.

Fulham have been selling this year’s kit at a discount for a large part of the season.  This is presumably because sales have been slow.

They shouldn’t have been, the kit being a nice classic white with a black v-neck.  It should have been a top seller.

But it wasn’t because of certain fundamental issues:

Sizing: nobody knows what size to buy.  Vague ideas about it being ‘tight’ and therefore “aim a size higher” is no use to people these days.  If you buy a football shirt and it’s too tight it’s no use to you.   If you were going to get the shirt printed then you need to get the size right.   Rule 1, then:  make shirts in sizes people will be able to understand.

Fit:  most of us aren’t all that up for skin tight clothing.  So if you make your kit like this, don’t expect fans to buy it in vast numbers.   This is not unrelated to point one, in that people will then think “hmmm, I don’t want a skin-tight shirt.  Should I get a size bigger?  Does that mean two sizes bigger then, or just one?  Oh, feck it, I’ll leave it.”   Rule 2:  sell shirts in sizes people will want to wear.

Design:   While the home shirt this year was pretty nice, it also looked quite cheap.   This is partly the red of the sponsor’s logo, so prominently placed, and partly I think the Kappa people on the shoulders.   Also the fabric, which felt cheap, too.    The away shirt was in some ways bold, in others a poor choice.  The graphite looks good, but they’ve managed to lose the good of that with a strange red pattern.   The third shirt divides people, but again seems to me like a good(ish) idea badly executed.   In the past a number of clubs have offered fans three designs to choose from, and the popular vote has dictated choice.  Having suffered (we assume) such poor sales this time around I’m quite surprised the club haven’t gone down this road for the 11/12 season.   Doing this market research would – one would assume – get a shirt the fans like most, and – one would assume – then result in higher sales.   To blunder on with a “we’re designers, we know best approach” leads you into the same position we’re in now:  shirts people don’t want to buy.

Which brings us to the “Back in Black” shirt.   I like the concept, I hate the design.   The skin tight material looks like a wetsuit, the high neck looks like I don’t know what, a sporting undershirt I guess, the red Kappa people on the shoulders look weird, and as for the stitching on the front…. what on earth is that about?  It looks like some kind of underwiring.

It might look genuinely excellent in real life (this is actually quite a big “but” – the players might look tremendous in this, in which case fair enough), but again it seems to be a decent idea carried out badly.  One only has to look at the simple designs John Cummins puts up on Friends of Fulham to see how well these things can be done, but sadly Fulham seem set on releasing shirts that are mad, bad and dangerous to own.   A simple black shirt could have been a winner, but again, it looks like a missed opportunity.

Latest Premiership finances

From David Conn.

The key in all this is always the wage bills.  Fulham are in at £49m.

Chelsea: 174
City: 133
United: 132
Liverpool: 121
Arsenal: 110
Villa: 80
Spurs: 67
Sunderland: 54
Everton: 54
West Ham: 54
Fulham: 49
Blackburn: 47
Newcastle: 47
Bolton: 46
Stoke: 45
Wigan: 39
Birmingham: 38
Wolves: 30
WBA: 23
Blackpool: 13

These are 2010 figures, so may have shifted (City and Chelsea probably both up, United too I guess).

This is the going rate then: a half decent Premiership side for £45-55 million a year, which should make you safe enough if you don’t waste it (West Ham) but might not (Blackburn and Birmingham aren’t paying much less than us. You can argue that we’ve spent our money more effectively, but it does go to show that the margins are quite fine.)

I can’t work out Spurs at all.  It feels as if they ought to be much higher – how can they have a wage bill that’s just over half that of Liverpool’s?

Special report from ‘nam

Hello!

This note comes to you from Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it once was and in some ways still is.

Nothing too dramatic to report as I’ve spent most of my time here either asleep (jetlag isn’t, as I had thought, a made-up thing that people who have spent time on aeroplanes use to make a fuss) or working in my hotel room.

It’s hot. There are lots of people whizzing around on motorbikes.  Everyone seems really nice.  I haven’t seen a single person who could be described as overweight. It is a bit uncomfortable to be treated so well. Every time I come and go from the hotel someone wants to carry this, someone wants to open a door.  I appreciate that this is service and a half, but it feels a bit weird. I’ve done nothing to deserve this.

I’ve learned how to use Skype (Stanley was present, but as usual was more interested in smashing the keyboard than speaking to his home-sick father), and the sport on the tv is good.  I’ve watched a bit of NBA, some football (Star Sports, which old school streaming fans will know) and every morning get Australian CNBC for some reason (Australians doing business sounds wrong, like a Brummie high court judge or Brede Hangeland rapping might sound.).  (Yesterday Wayne Rooney was on an advert for an event (in Singapore): “get yourself to (name)” he said with all the purpose of a man asking his wife to pass the crisps. At the end of it he pointed at the screen, with all the purpose of someone who’s been sleeping on their arm and is gently testing it to see if it’s still working. Hilarious, especially so given that Wayne was obviously paid money he clearly doesn’t need to promote an event he clearly neither knows nor cares about, and whoever shot the video didn’t have the balls to say at least try, Wayne?  Hmm?) Anyway, nice to see Reading beating Cardiff, and hopefully they’ll make their way back to bring some more Southernness to the league.

With all this fun I’m due in town in an hour. A suit in 35 degree heat.  Nice.

Our potential Europa Opponents

I may be putting the cart before the horse a bit here, but there seems to be some worry about the extremely early start our squad will have to endure if we make it to the Europa League. Yet upon further examination, I wonder how many of the First XI, if not XVIII, will even be needed until August.

This year the First Qualifying Round, where we enter if we earn the Fair Play spot, starts June 30. Second leg is July 7. If we advance, the Second Qualifying Round starts July 14 and ends July 21. Third Qualifying Round starts July 28 and finishes August 4.

So let’s look at who won the Fair Play the past two seasons and chart who they faced and how they fared for the first two rounds. I’ll stop at the Third Qualifying Round as its where we entered the competition two years ago, and its when things start to take shape per se heading in to the Group stage.

Last year’s winners were MYPA of Finland, Randers of Denmark, and Gefle of Sweden. They faced Narva Trans of Estonia, F91 Dudelange of Luxembourg, and NSÍ Runavík of the Faroe Islands respectively. MYPA won 7-0 on aggregate, Randers 7-3, and Gefle 4-1.

In the Second Qualifying Round, MYPA faced UE Sant Julià of Andorra, Gefle faced Dinamo Tbilisi of Georgia and Randers were drawn with Gorica of Slovenia. MYPA advanced with an 8-0 aggregate, and Randers on a 4-1 aggregate. Gefle ended up losing by a 4-2 aggregate to the Georgian side.

Two years ago, the Fair Play Winners were Motherwell, Rosenborg, and Randers (again — those polite Danes!). In the First Qualifying Round Motherwell faced Llanelli of Wales (of the Welsh Premier League), Rosenborg took on NSÍ Runavík, and Randers played Linfield of the IFA Premiership. Motherwell advanced 3-1 on aggregate, Rosenborg 6-1, and Randers 7-0.

In the Second Qualifying Round, Motherwell spanked Flamurtari Vlorë of Albania 8-2 on aggregate, Rosenborg lost 1-0 to FK Qarabağ of Azerbaijan, and Randers beat FK Sūduva Marijampolė of Lithuania 2-1.

I’m not going to spend the time researching whether or not each Fair Play team fielded their First XI, something we probably won’t, but the Scandinavian clubs were probably buoyed by the fact that the beginning Europa stages are in the middle of their season.

So in summary, the nations from which clubs were drawn against Fair Play opponents are: Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Estonia, Andorra, Georgia, Slovenia, Wales, Northern Ireland, Albania, Azerbaijan, and Lithuania.

Now, a lot of this depends on who you draw. Two years ago Galatasaray and our Group-Mates Basel were in the in Second Qualifying Round. Last year, it was Olympiacos. This year, FC Sheriff Tiraspol of Moldova — champions 10 straight years until now — start off in the first round.

But I think my point about the depth of competition, or the lack thereof, remains even if the club’s summer vacation is non-existent. That’s not to insult any future opponents, but just a statement of fact. And I’m pretty sure Hughes’ et al are aware of that.

So we may just get to see the likes of Lauri Dalla Valle in a Fulham shirt after all.

Odds and Ends, This and That

I’m going to put on my hackneyed newspaper columnist hat and write a whole bunch of random, non-sequiter drivel. Enjoy!

  • Say, yesterday’s gutless display in a must-win situation by Birmingham City reminded me of this particular match three years ago.
  • West Ham are down. Huzzah. Should have happened four years ago.
  • Anybody else pining for a Swansea/Cardiff City Playoff Final? The thought of two Welsh teams playing in the English Second Division at the English national stadium for the right to ascend to the English Premier League makes me smile.
  • Congratulations to storied Ajax in winning the Eredivisie for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Crazy to think it’s been that long.
  • Poor Sampdoria. Nine months ago they were a whisker away from qualifying for the Champions League Group Stage. Now they will travel to the mighty Associazione Sportiva Cittadella, F.C. Crotone, and A.S. Gubbio 1910. Let this be a warning sign to any owner as to what can happen if you choose to not let the inmates run the asylum. You need the egomaniacal players more than the egomaniacal players need you.
  • Need another indictment of the SPL’s imbalance? No, it has nothing to do with Celtic and Rangers. After losing to Dundee United yesterday, Hearts completed their season by winning once since March 19 and just three times since February 12 (equaling three wins in 14). Yet they still managed to finish in third place.
  • For all their talk about the winning the treble back in February, Arsenal will drop to fourth if City beat Stoke tomorrow. If City win at Bolton on Sunday, then no CL AQ for the Gunners. For a club that is notorious for “collapsing”, this year has to rank up there. Sunday’s match at Fulham is pivotal.
  • Speaking of us, a win over Arsenal and a Everton loss to Chelsea means Mark Hughes will have tied Roy Hodgson’s 7th place finish (our best ever) two years ago. Not only were we in the relegation zone (18th) after that 3-1 Boxing Day disaster to West Ham, we were a point off bottom. On Boxing Day 2008, we sat 8th. Shouldn’t Hughes be considered an honorable mention for Manager of the Year then?

Birmingham City 0-2 Fulham

That was painful. Fulham were excellent, but so bad were Birmingham that the victory seemed almost cruel.

Why should I care? I think it’s that about a year ago Birmingham and Fulham seemed so similar: defensively very sound, occasionally prone to lack of invention, but good enough to win enough games to stay in the league. Now we’ve moved on and Birmingham look a shambles. Today they started with the polite combination of Kevin Phillips and Matt Derbyshire up front, two decent players in the right system, but the right system is one that’ll give them chances. As it was the pair of them might as well have played conkers by the corner flag for 90 minutes for all the good they did.

And it probably isn’t their fault. Birmingham have that solid axis of Ferguson and Bowyer in the middle of the pitch, a combination that does its job fairly well, and the flair of Larsen and Bentley on the wings. So far so good, right? Not a bit of it. Somehow the whole unit ceased to be. It was like playing against a team of hungover ex-pros.  In the past any attacking deficiencies have been papered over by a rugged ‘thou shalt not pass’ defence, but Fulham swept through that with ease. We scored two, and both from set pieces, but there could have been many more.

The first came after Mark Schwarzer sent a bomb of a goal kick over everyone. Ben Foster was on another planet as the ball sped towards him, his faculties returning in the nick of time for him to paw the ball wide for a corner. Smiles all around, but not for long, as Greening’s cross dropped into the six yard box, where Brede Hangeland was simultaneously soaring and stooping to head home.

Fulham were passing the ball around with great comfort, a nifty mix of nice close passing and direct pumps for AJ and Zamora to work on. These two reminded us why Roy Hodgson had liked the idea of them in the first place, and Birmingham didn’t know what to do about it. On the left Greening was a revelation, looking for all the world like a slightly trickier version of David Beckham with his twisting work against Stephen Carr (I have recently seen a photo of Stanley Matthews attacking Jimmy Langley, the duel being fought on the back of a combined 84 years of age, or similar; seeing Greening skinning the less than speedy Carr brought this to mind, for some reason).  Greening’s passing and crossing was devilish, and it was nice for him to play so well on his return to the side.

On it went, men against upset but not combative boys for the most part.  In the second half Fulham scored early again.  Zamora missed two takeable chances, Sidwell hit the post, then another Greening corner saw chaos in the Birmingham area before Hangeland lolleyed a volley into the net from eight yards. Two for the big man.

Zamora went off and Gudjohnsen came on, and Birmingham finally got a bit of momentum, but not to the point where Fulham were troubled. Eighth place for Mark Hughes’ side, who are flying.

Simulations

Interesting:

This seems to have come remarkably close.  As a reminder, I took Fulham’s last four seasons, weighted them so recent seasons were more important than older ones, and added Mark Hughes’ managerial record for good measure.  This gave me an idea of the proportion of wins, draws and losses we might expect.

Then I simulated 1,000 seasons to cover natural variations. 47 points was the most common outcome, and with 45 on the board and two games left that seems likely to be about right.  Might be worth doing this for the whole division next season.

London last week

My job is in a place not especially well served by the tube. Well it is, but I have to make a few changes, so usually in the morning I get off about a mile away and walk. This is pretty good fun, in that it gives me 20 minutes of walking, fresh air and music, as well as the niceness of seeing London before it’s busy (I’m usually out and about at 730am or so – get the day out of the way and back to Hade and Stan by 530). Anyway, it makes London feel pretty good.   I rarely get round to taking pictures, but here are a few, meaning little:

Fig.1.0:  must’ve been a hell of a party.  Oh, it’s a restaurant is it?  My mistake.

Fig.1.1 – Here we have some pretty clever work by a street cleaner, gathering a load of cigarette butts with a face mask. Art.

Fig.1.2. Next is the side of a restuarant (The Shaftesbury Bar and Dining Room), strangely covered in water on a dry, sunny day. What can it all mean?  I have no answer to this question.

Fig.1.3. Last but not least is Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which is a) very nice and b) quite present in literature.  It’s in Dickens’ Bleak House, and I also found it in Geoffrey Household’s excellent Rogue Male.   And something else, which I’ve forgotten.  Anyway, there we are.

The decline of Mark Schwarzer (or not, as the case probably is)

I read on FOF that Schwarzer going away in January cost us, that when he got back we were worse off and that because he wanted to be elsewhere his performances have dipped which is also partly because he’s older now…. and so on.  I don’t believe this, frankly, and if he’s declined at all a) it was from a very high starting point and b) I don’t know that any of us would really notice it.  As I mentioned to Mart on Monday, if Stockdale had played like Schwarzer against Liverpool it’d be evidence that he’s not ready/to be trusted, when it’s Schwarzer he’s too old.   In reality it was a bad day at the office brought about by the unhelpful behaviour of others (in this case his defence and the people dressed in red).

Anyhow, here are some quick numbers:

Goals allowed Shots on target % sot that went in
Stockdale 6 38 16%
Early Schwarzer 20 106 19%
Late Schwarzer 15 87 17%

This season there’s more or less nothing between our keepers when we look at how good they’ve been at saving the shots they’ve faced.  Early Schwarzer is almost identical to late Schwarzer, Stockdale is Stockdale.  If there were any glaring problems they might show up in these numbers, but I can’t see anything.   There are other elements to goalkeeping, of course, but ultimately it comes down to keeping the ball out of the net.   And if you take Monday out of the equation Schwarzer’s conceded only ten goals from 76 shots, or 13%, which you’d have to say is pretty good.

So, what do you use for evidence?   One terrible game or a good number of excellent ones?

The wider question is what this (Monday) means for Stockdale, but I would assume the answer, for now, is nothing.

Balotelli as Otis


This story caught my attention today.

The Sun reports that the Italian striker was asked for an autograph by the young fan at City’s training ground, but turned the tables on the lad by asking him why he was playing truant from school.

The boy explained that he was absent because he was being bullied – sparking an incredible reaction from the 20-year-old superstar.

The City ace drove the boy and his mother to the school and demanded to speak to both the headmaster and the bully, during which he apparently mediated as the two boys buried their differences.

That it appears soon after this interview probably isn’t a coincidence, but it does make you think.

“See, I do smile,” Balotelli says. “My public image is absolutely not a fair reflection of who I am. Sometimes I do the wrong thing and there are things I regret but I’m 20. People who know me are aware I’m not a bad guy but I’m shy; it’s difficult to be here giving an interview.”

Do any of our American readers remember Amos Otis?  Otis didn’t have the bad boy reputation that Balotelli has, but was seen to be a slightly tricky customer, so there are intriguing parallels.

This from Bill James’ 1984 Baseball Abstract:

In the years that Amos Otis was in Kansas City you would occasionally, maybe once a year, see a note in the letters section of the paper that went something like this:

As I was leaving Royals Stadium after the Royals/White Sox game of June 13 I experienced car trouble and was stranded for 25 terrible minutes in the heat beside I-70 as the postgame traffic rolled by. I was wondering how we would ever get out of there when a car stopped behind me and the driver asked if we needed help. To my amazement, the driver of that car was Amos Otis.

Amos had been cast by the media as a moody and unapproachable man, and that he is; he is moody, and he is unapproachable.
….

Amos Otis was an intensely private man leading an intensely public life. He disdained showmanship—probably he hated showmanship—of any type and to any extent. He could never quite deal with the fact that his business was putting on a show. This is what is called ‘moodiness’ by the media. Yet there was a rare, deep honesty about him that was the defining characteristic of him both as a man and as a ballplayer. He could not stand to do anything for show. He could not charge into walls (and risk his continued existence as a ballplayer) after balls that he could not catch. He could not rouse the fans (and risk his continued existence as a baserunner) with a stirring drive for a base too far. He never in his career stood at home plate and watched a ball clear the fence. McRae and Brett, they did that sort of thing; Otis would sometimes turn away interview requests with a sardonic comment, ‘Talk to Brett and McRae. They’re the team leaders.’

It went further than that. Amos could not quite walk down the line when he hit a popup (that, too, would be dishonest) but he could not bring himself to run, either. Because it was false, you see? He wouldn’t have been running for himself or for the team or for the base; he would have been running for the fans, or for the principle that one always ran.

But what you must also see is that the same honesty which denied Otis the indulgence of flair, the same feeling which required that he keep his kindnesses out of the view of the public, this is what built the wall around Amos. He could not give interviews because he could not recite cliches becase they are false.

James goes on and it’s all good stuff, but I had better not keep typing as a) it’s copyrighted and b) it’ll take forever.  In any case, it’s hard to know what to make of the media perception of Balotelli.  The suspicion remains that he’s one of the few sane people in the mad world of football. Or not.  Who knows?

Final Loaner Report 5/10/11

Diomansy Kamara came off the bench in the 26th minute and scored a goal in Leicester City’s 4-2 win over Ipswich. He ends his brief loan stint at Leicester City with 7 appearances and 2 goals.

Kagisho Dikgacoi did not dress in Crystal Palace’s 3-0 loss to Nottingham Forest. A fixture in the side until they achieved safety, he appeared in 13 matches for Crystal Palace and scored one goal.

Eddie Johnson did not dress in Preston North End’s 3-1 win over Watford. He made 16 appearances for PNE, registering just two assists.

Bjorn Helge Riise did not dress in Sheffield United’s 4-0 loss at Swansea. He made 13 appearances for the Blades, scoring 1 goal and registering 2 assists.

Lauri Dalla Valle was an unused substitute in Bournemouth’s 2-1 loss to Rochdale on Saturday. Although Bournemouth are in the playoffs, Lauri’s twitter suggests he has been sent back to SW6. He made 8 appearances for the Cherries and scored two goals.

Keanu Marsh-Brown started, played 66 minutes, and scored a goal in MK Dons’ 2-1 win at Oldham. Unless Marsh-Brown plays for MK Dons in the playoffs, he will have made 17 appearances for the club, scoring 2 goals and registering 2 assists.

On That

Just goes to show you how our 3-0 win over Bolton two weeks ago could have been quite different if Fabrice Muamba converted his early chance, no?

Rich is right, we were awful. But we were awful at moments. And in this league, good teams makes you pay at such moments. Especially by players that cost £4.4million-a-year in wages (Maxi went to Liverpool on a free, oddly in January), and £22.8 million on a transfer respectively. (I’ll let Dirk Kuyt and his £9 million tag slide, as Schwarzer pulled a Warner on that one. Sheesh.)

On our telecast stateside Steve Mcnamanman drew the comparison between today’s romp by ‘Pool and City’s demolition job around Thanksgiving. Well, not really. Below are the passing charts for both teams in both games as compared to ours.

Amongst that sea of blue, City managed to complete 474 of 580 passes. Comparatively, we completed 351 of 490 passes. But who are they to? City was a machine that match; have they ever been so dominant since? We chased shadows of shadows.

Today? Liverpool deserved it, but I felt it was a wacky 6-2 loss as you’ll ever see. JamieR is 100% right by saying the match “felt more random than significant.” The whole time I just wanted to press the ‘reset’ button and start all over. The whole back line and goalkeeper were out of sorts, which for this team is beyond bizarre. Liverpool played a high line to match our high line, and one errant pass would lead to a fast break for them. Would Etuhu have helped in this match?

We completed 390 of 520 passes, and appeared to have some semblance of a game plan and some control of the midfield—even with all the brainfarts on defense. Liverpool completed 382 of 528 passes, but a majority were between their back line.

[Total tangent, but today and Liverpool's recent and incredible run just further illustrates how potent a team can be when they want to play for their manager. It's becoming increasingly apparent to me that our opponents today never gave Roy a chance from the get-go, and hid behind the ownership debate(s) and debacle(s). They knew what they were doing all along.]

Ah well, St. Andrews on Sunday and then Arsenal the week after. Things could get a whole lot worse, but also a whole lot better.

Personally, I just want this season to end, now.

Fulham 2-5 Liverpool

Well bugger me. Who knew?  Last we heard Liverpool were a deluded team caught up in their glorious but distant past, on the rebound from appointing our best ever manager. Then this.

Fulham were in many ways the archetects of their own downfall – how many times have you seen Hangeland and Hughes made to look like amateurs? – but Liverpool brought something special with them tonight. Curiously you could almost see it before kick-off: they had the body-language of Roman centurions about to do battle; they seemed to know that they would win.

News to me, as I had thought we had a good chance, but Liverpool scored in 30 seconds when Suarez skipped off down the left, cut inside and eventually found Maxi Bloody Rodriguez, who scored.

Then he got another, Glen Johnson beat the offside trap (!) and crossed to the far post, from where Maxi volleyed past our yellow suited goalkeeper.

Then a third, Kuyt this time, drilling hard and low and past Mark Schwarzer’s hands and in.  Whooops.

At this point an argument could have been made for making three subs, as we were getting embarrassed. At half-time no single player could claim to have earned 5/10.  In the event we saw Zamora on for Davies, when the introduction of Etuhu might have given us more chance in the middle of the park.  But it made a difference, as Sidwell and Murphy stepped up and Zamora bounded around with that endearing optimism he sometimes has.

We got one back when Zamora teed up Dembele in the Duff zone, 3-1.  Then came the game’s best spell, as the crowd roared the Whites on.  A goal here would make all the difference, and momentum was with us.

Then it wasn’t. Maxi blasted one of those goals that makes you think “that’s the hardest I’ve seen a football kicked”, the Suarez flew past Schwarzer and tapped home a fifth.  Steve Sidwell got in on the screamer fun with a belter of his own, but sensibly opted not to celebrate such a meaningless moment.

It was the sort of match where you find out afterwards that Aaron Hughes had a cold and Brede Hangeland’s hamstring wasn’t quite right after all.  I’ve never seen those two outplayed so comprehensively, and while much of that is a result of Suarez’s skill and general slipperiness, we’re better than we showed.  Murphy had a poor first half but stepped up in the second, and it was encouraging to see Zamora so strong again.  Kakuta’s play suggested that he might have been a good choice to start, but, well, we got hammered anyway.

One minor annoyance: Liverpool’s players were poleaxed six times (I counted them), and while Mereiles went off, the remainder were surely in the “you don’t need to act like that” category.  Anyway: have we just seen next season’s champions? They looked awfully good.  We just looked awful.

The playground legends

Dave Kidd (for the second time in recent weeks, worryingly enough – the first was his suspicions over the now disappeared “Fulham Daisy”) recently tweeted about Seve Ballesteros (funny how it used to be “baLL” and now we’re all sophisticated it’s “baY”; I remember either Barry Davies or Martin Tyler called Soren LerbY “Soren LerbU” in some tournament or other and it just sounded wrong… what do you do?).

Anyway, Kidd’s point was that when we were younger there were some sporting legends everyone knew: Ian Botham, Seve Ballesteros, Diego Maradona and one other (John Mcenroe! But it might easily have been Steve Davis, Steve Ovett, Sir Bastian Coe, Kenny Dalglish etc).  These were the sporting reference points for everyone, the people we always saw when Grandstand was switched on on a Saturday afternoon or who we always talked about at school, and so on.

Who are the sporting ubiqities of today? The people that Stanley and his friends will all know, the people that even our wives and girlfriends all know?

Wayne Rooney – love him or hate him, he’s the top man in English football
Lionel Messi – the top man in world football, although does he pass the wife and girlfriend test?  I don’t think he does
Andy Murray – I suspect he’ll win something important soon. Lacks transcendental star quality, but winning Wimbledon will change that
Someone who does well in the 2012 Olympics, as long as it’s in a proper sport – TBC
Tiger Woods – or is he too late?
Erm…

Some rainy sunday

Here’s the Grateful Dead with Branford Marsalis adding some tremendous support to a very moving “Standing on the moon“:

With Fulham safe there’s no serious business happening on the field for us to worry about this weekend, but these relegation scraps are always interesting, eh?  And tomorrow’s United – Chelsea game’s worth our attention, if only because it really is a big match.

(comments off – being spammed by someone trying to sell handbags….)

Peter Thomson

Yesterday we learned of the sad passing of Peter Thomson, who posted here and elsewhere under the name of Pensioner (By my reckoning he made about 150 comments on this site).

I never did meet Peter, although last year we corresponded a fair amount. At one point he suggested meeting for a glass of fine wine to discuss matters Fulham, and specifically writing about Fulham, but like so many of these good ideas it never happened. I’m really disappointed about that. I still have his “Following the Fulham” books to read, which is something.

By way of a sort of tribute, the following are some of the emails Peter sent me. You might feel that this is a little invasive, but they are so unique, interesting, funny, barmy, and yes, downright eccentric, that I think.. well I don’t know what I think. I hope their reproduction isn’t taken the wrong way.

So, ladies and gentlemen: the wonderful Peter Thomson.  Rest in peace.

(On learning that his Notts County match report for this site had been
mentioned in the “Black and White Eye” section of the next matchday
programme.)

Fame after 59 season following the Fulham?

Perhaps I can borrow a prog. Having treated Mrs Pensioner on
Valentine’s Day plus gifted Eurocopy by guest on Thursday I meanly
failed to stump this p.m

Given your genius with IT perhaps you would very kindly scan and post.

Failing that my son in law usually has a prog

What a week……..what a week and so back to school in the morning
where even the hundreds of CFC fans will have a kindly word for us
when they have done with Drogbarapture.

Best wishes and thanks
Peter

——————————–
Found
My thanks for the tip off
Mrs Pensioner less pleased as she assumed that B and W Eye would be
more concerned with County choir

best wishes
Peter

——————————–

Dear Rich
Do you have your man in Turin?
I am on the VACATION CLUB plane and am ready to send some observations
if you are not at the match yourself

Mrs Pensioner has opted out as no overnight stay plus her book club Thursday pm
Once upon a time you could be certain that Thursday was football free
but EuroTV has arrived to complicate that once sacrosanct evening.

AtbCOYWpft
Peter

——————————–
Dear Rich

Many thanks

If I can keep awake after VACATION CLUB in and out (no hotel) dawn
landing I will send you text before going to work on Friday morning

Mrs Pensioner unable to travel as it is her book club and she chose
the book………..

Must attempt to avoid RED CARDS
How such a well behaved team in Pmship could suffer such penalties in
Europe is a mystery

Again my thanks for contact restored
Peter

——————————–
Down but not out

You refer to the match. I refer to the Fulham fans out there.
Yes – we were less than happy with the first half but the colour, the
banners and the banter were very remarkable. Certainly we outsang Juve
throughout and even after the customary lock in at the final whistle.
Instead of “Why are we waiting?” It was a mighty blast of “We’ll win
it 2-0! We’ll win it TWO – NIL”

Gallows humour? Perhaps but humour in adversity and duly noted by MS
and Brede who went the extra mile/200yards to thank the travelling
fans.

0439 hours and via Gatwick  back at my desk. Almost time for school
hence the good Dean Colet’s Erasmian quip -”Falling down despair not.
Ever take a fresh new good purpose”

Va bene Fulham

Pensioner

——————————–

“Home thoughts from abroad”

Posted by dawn patrol

AtbCOYWpft
Peter

——————————–

“DOWN BUT NOT OUT”

Three paras were posted to you at 0439hrs direct from Gatwick

GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR! perhaps pressed wrong buttons as fell asleep at my desk

Will write again this p.m.

You can imagine the reception  I got from Chelsea/Man Utd/Arsenal kids
in playground.
T’was ever thus

Anon
Peter Thomson

——————————–
Buzzing in Barnes

Three different conversations in school  16th March
Dave Swindlehurst (football coach ex Palace ex Hammers) “Juve won’t
fancy such a narrow pitch”
Senora E B ” Fulham v Juve – my first ever football match”
Francesco (9 years) “Juve my team. Me and my three brothers – we have
tickets, We are really, really excited”

Email from NZ pensioner _ “Flyimg back for the big game 18th March”

This Pensioner – apprehensive having counted on Murphy to motivate,
direct and create.
Early goal essential- Dempsey?  Duff to score a brilliant second as
for Everton as for Birmingham.

Viz  TOOFIF “We can dream, we can dream”

See you all there, hear you all there
E pur si muove……..muove, muove!

——————————–

Morning Rich

Following the Fulham 1951-2001

Not many big nights in Europe
33 years in the wilderness
Two big away wins – Goodison to beat Everton in 1975 and Stamford
Bridge to beat Chelsea in 1979 and one great night out as we stumbled
into FA Cup Final with a late, late scrappy goal.

Let’s hope for any sort of early goal this evening.

As Mr Adams would say – SOLA FIDE

COYW
Peter

——————————–

Morning Rich

Congratulations on both your essays 18th March

Buzzing in Barnes
Still buzzing after an extraordinary week
This time 11th March we were down – very down after a long day in
Turin and an underperformance at
Stadio Olimpico. Then to Old Trafford………just what we didn’t
need. And so to the Cottage where we
seemed to hand it to Juve with that early goal. My guest (the great
Ken Coton) sighed and pointed to the exit but with this Fulham the sum
is indeed greater than the parts and the impossible was achieved.

Ken Coton and I have been around Fulham since 1951 and we stumbled
into other pensioners after the
game – David Shrimpton whose grandfather founded the club. General
agreement that this was the night of nights. Even the less than loyal
Alan Mullery declared it as good as anything he had ever seen from
Fulham.

“Will they wear pink?” They came in gold that golden team but some
must be pink with blushing now.

Off to school and then for a quiet Saturday on the allotment ahead of
the other team from Manchester.
Voltaire advocates the cultivation of the garden. Hodgson cultivates
the Cottage garden and harvests
in March. Our thanks yet again to manager Roy and (good to see back on
the pitch) chairman MO.

va bene maestro

Peter

——————————–

Morning Rich

Let me take you back to another night when we knew it couldn’t go
right for Fulham
Owing to weeks of snow the final fixture was after the Cup Final. One
promotion place left. Fulham v Chelsea? No Fulham v Lincoln City, 2nd
v 3rd in the days of two up and no play-offs.

1-1 with 15 mins to go and Fulham;s captain and defender LES STRONG
limping off. Send for teenage
striker Tempest (what a name) to weather the storm as Lincoln
battered us. Hammersmith End under siege for what seemed like an age.
Tempest twice cleared off the line. Percy post and Billy bar performed
as they did for Juve on Thursday. 3rd division crowd of 21,000 howling
for final whistle terrified that Lincoln would get a thoroughly
deserved late, late winner. They didn’t thanks to improvisation
ofTempest.
( viz Simon Davies born again out of position Thursday}

See Ken Coton photos  of  Roger Brown (blood and cigars)

fast fwd to Derby and last match of season
Mrs Pensioner smuggled me out of Speech Day in cap and gown. (viz
Clockwise and vanishing headmaster}
Raced to Baseball Ground for second promotion and return to top table
Pitch invasion by Derby. Fulham players assaulted. match abandoned.
Replay neutral ground? Ho,ho,ho    too little and too late Derby
fined. Result to stand and Fulham to fall, fall, fall apart.

Ernie Clay sold club and 12 players (Ray Lou/Tony Gale etc)

Win some, lose some. Elation, depression. Seldom boring.

Sorry have not met John Cheever but have staggered through H Mantel WOOLF HALL
A difficult read tho well researched. Might send a copy to Sir Roy for
his book club.

Dreading reaction of tired limbs and minds v Man City and Spurs but
looking fwd to Larkin about in Larkin land next Saturday.

——————————–

RICh

Am off to Hanover and VW XI so happy to send report from those parts

NOT going to WHL
Went there for the Bazza Hayles show when we won 3-0 and I vowed never to return

TV for the Pensioners who once saw Max Bygraves sing and dance there
before match
We had a good goal disallowed and lost 1-0 only to see replay after
relay with pundit commenting” Bad luck Fulham that looked a good goal”

Cheeveresque?

Peter

——————————–

Busy packing again

Pensioner plus son-in-law plus grandson all aboard for Hanover

Do you have your man in the (VW) van with pen poised?
If not please allow me to send you some lines

Probably from home early Friday unless son-in-law sends you text via his phone

Mood in camp not as positive as I would wish.
Too many fans muttering about the late, late German goal

Wir gegen nach VW              Fulham, Fulham uber alles

Best wishes
Peter

——————————–

Words in the morning……………

from the V.W.  ARENA 8th April 2010

Fergie called it:  “Typical Germans”
How right he was – get an away goal, defend that advantage
efficiently, move on to the next round.

Fulham with Teutonic thoroughness disposed of the Geman champions.
One moment of early brilliance from Gera and Zamorra – very early brilliance.
One moment of late brilliance from MS – very late brilliance by a
wonderful goalkeeper.
In the meantime, in between time a thoroughly professional performance
from the whole team.

Davies moved forward to cover for the injured Dempsey and Baird
settled in at right back (very settled)

Difficult to pick our man of the match……BZ or Gera? Gera or BZ?
Easy to identify the most improved player ……Etuhu

Some scores appended as seen from on high in the crow’s nest of the V.W. Arena
Those withe benefit of TV close ups and replays may correct these
fading (tear filled) old eyes

MS 9, Baird,7, Hughes 7, Brede 7, Konch 7, Duff 8, Etuhu 7, Murphy 7,
Davies 7, Gera 9, BZ 9.

Final word for the travelling fans – Congratulations.
A huge noise. All the old favourites from the away day songbook, all
the old favourites from the Hammersmith End Hymnal plus long , long
after the final whistle and indeed all the way to Clapham Junction at
0349hrs: “Roy, Roy, Roy…….Roy, Roy, Roy!”

——————————–

Rich
Sorry about the delay
Mrs Pensioner insisted that I take a snooze on reaching the old folks
home in Mortlake
Three generations of the family were there to see it and believe it.
Wir gegen nach Wolsburg, wir gegen nach Hamburg.

Loaner Report 5/4/11

Sorry for the tardiness of this post. I don’t really have an excuse, as it’s not like our boys were up to much…

Diomansy Kamara came off the bench in the 51st minute in Leicester City’s 1-1 draw with Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.

Kagisho Dikgacoi did not dress in Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw at Hull City on Saturday.

Eddie Johnson did not dress in Preston North End’s 2-1 loss at Ipswich Town on Saturday.

Bjorn Helge Riise started and played 71 minutes in Sheffield United’s 2-2 draw with Barnsley on Saturday. Sheffield United have been relegated from the Championship.

Lauri Dalla Valle was an unused substitute in Bournemouth’s 2-2 draw at Hartlepool on Saturday. The draw clinches Bournemouth’s playoff credentials as the sixth spot.

Keanu Marsh-Brown started and played 73 minutes in MK Dons’ 2-1 win over Notts County on Saturday.

How much difference does one player make?

We beat Sunderland without Hangeland, Dempsey and Dembele.  If a big club were to sign three of our players it probably wouldn’t be these three, but they’d all be in the discussion.  So how did we manage it?

My thinking:

A single player doesn’t make that much difference in any single game.  Over a season the small variations in ability add up, but in a single game you can cover for most absences reasonably well, particularly if the squad is of a uniformly decent standard.

The exception to this is when a player’s contribution cannot be replaced, either because he is unusually good, or he plays a certain way that cannot be replicated.

When you look at it this way, the Fulham team is actually quite nicely set up.  There is only one player in the squad (Zamora) that we can’t adequately cover:

If, for the sake of argument, you take our first XI as: Schwarzer, Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Salcido, Davies, Sidwell, Murphy, Dempsey, Dembele, Zamora we can put forward the following as useful alternatives:

Stockdale, Paintsil, Halliche, Senderos, Kelly, Kakuta, Etuhu, Greening, Duff, Gudjohnson, Johnson (A).

Now you might argue that the first list of players is better than the second by some way, and perhaps it is, but all of those players have a history of meaningful contribution to football.  Stockdale we know can do a job, Kelly has done so for Fulham whatever his critics might suggest, same for Paintsil. Halliche played well in the world cup and we must assume could do a fair short-term cover job for Fulham. Senderos you would hope could do a longer-term cover job, as he has history in the league and ought to be approaching a similar level to Hangeland and Hughes. Baird can cover anywhere, and there would be no concern if Etuhu was needed to fill in for Murphy or Sidwell. Duff and Davies is a toss-up anyway, and Gudjohnson could reasonably start every week (and may deserve to do so).  We have no obvious replacement for Salcido, but of all the positions full-back is probably the easiest to cover, particularly short-term.

In retrospect, the only thing this squad couldn’t have got over this season was a long-term injury to Zamora. Why is Zamora harder to replace than Hangeland?  Brian Quarstad once put it to me that defending is like making bread (you follow a set recipe exactly), attacking is like making dessert (you can improvise).  Put another way: when you defend, you defend. Within various parameters the job is the job, it’s reactive, it’s replicable.  Attack is the opposite: proactive, variable.  Take away the main defender and you can substitute in a slightly lesser version of the same thing. Take away the main attacker and the whole team’s attacking dynamic changes because all the things you like to do, you can’t.  Zamora is so good and so unique that we couldn’t cover him.  But we’ve done okay anyway. (NB Gudjohnson does seem to share

If he stays fit next season we might reasonably expect to be hunting for those 8th/9th positions again.  (see how easily optimism can be conjured up when things are going well!).

Back to the boards: Davies v Bolton, Gudjohnson against Bolton and Sunderland, Zamora against Sunderland

Simon Davies was awesome against Bolton. The chalkboard shows just how much work he did in that critical final third.  Bolton’s defence must have been begging him to leave them alone by the time 90 minutes was up.

Eidur Gudjohnson reminds me of a fairly mobile basketball centre. He’s all get and give.  Here we see how Bolton could never be sure where he’d pop up next.  Our forward positions have always been quite fluid; lately we’re taking this to another level.

The same but slightly different against Sunderland.  It may be a coincidence that we’ve won two games in a row 3-0 with him playing, but it may not.  I suspect he does an awful lot of good work that doesn’t show up in this sort of analysis, sly movement, gentle but deadly passes, and generally making those around him play better.

Zamora liked the way this was working, and had a stormer at Sunderland. The two of them work together naturally. Both can be unselfish, both have excellent touches and awareness, and between them they’re hard to handle.  As noted at the weekend, when I saw that these two were up front I was disappointed that Dempsey and Duff weren’t to be crashing behind them. Well it didn’t matter; Davies and Kakuta got the goals instead.   But this pair could give our wide midfielders all kinds of fun if they play together next season.

My curse, by Real Madrid

Real Madrid explain how they were wronged in the semi-final.

It’s a good video.

It occurs to me that all teams should do this every week. Would such naming and shaming not sort something or other out? MOTD could play them all.

On the matter in hand, the Real/Barca thing is quite chuckleable, a dysfunctional, horrible relationship that neither could do without.

And so some Afghan Whigs:

Ooof!

I saw a trailer for the new series of Luther yesterday. So here’s this:

Ooof!

(the eagle eyed among you may recognise John Luther as the spectacularly and unfortunately destroyed Stringer Bell from The Wire. Well never mind that, he’s awesome in this, too. It’s a bit over the top, but aren’t all these things to an extent?  My judge of a good tv series is “do I want to be that person?” I do want to be Morse, even Lewis now (and his assistant), and most definitely I want to be John Luther.)