Monthly Archives: October 2011

Déjà vu?

From Michael Cox of the Guardian, though they used different Chalkboards:

Fulham may have appointed two managers since Roy Hodgson left the club, but their performance in the weekend win over Wigan was classic Hodgson. They sat back, played very narrow and won the ball on the edge of their area, before occasionally moving up the pitch to construct attacks of their own.

Passing stats on each day:

  • Wigan: 79.4 % (551; 438, 113) Fulham: 76% (463; 354, 109)
  • Burnley: 74.5% (511; 381 130) Fulham: 73.4% (535; 393, 142)

Hmm…

Clint Dempsey and Wigan

Following up on Rich’s point about Clint, from statto:

29.10.2011

Wigan Athletic

0-2

Fulham G

15.01.2011

Wigan Athletic

1-1

Fulham A

30.10.2010

Fulham

2-0

Wigan Athletic G x2

04.04.2010

Fulham

2-1

Wigan Athletic 90’

08.11.2009

Wigan Athletic

1-1

Fulham G

07.02.2009

Wigan Athletic

0-0

Fulham 90’

29.10.2008

Fulham

2-0

Wigan Athletic 27’

22.12.2007

Fulham

1-1

Wigan Athletic G

15.09.2007

Wigan Athletic

1-1

Fulham G

17.03.2007

Wigan Athletic

0-0

Fulham DNP

Since Clint arrived at Fulham in Janaury 2007, Fulham have played Wigan 10 times and scored 12 goals total in that span. Clint played in nine of these fixtures, and has scored 6 goals.

In the past 5 fixtures against Wigan he’s scored 4 of the club’s total 8 goals, and assisted in another.

So of Clint’s 36 total league goals, 6 [ed. oops, not 12. too many numbers in this here post]  have come against Wigan. That’s probably the most for his career, but if anyone could point me toward a site that tallies all his goals scored against each club, I’d appreciate it.

Wigan 0-2 Fulham

Fulham playing Wigan means one thing: Clint Dempsey will score a goal. Those of us bold enough to put money where our mouth is were able to turn £3 into £13.38. Thanks, Clint; thanks Wigan!

Perhaps the result was a bit hard on Wigan, who had most of the ball and spent much of their time in Fulham’s half, but when you’ve lost six on the spin you need a spot of luck, and that was missing today. Victor Moses – a player I’ve long hoped might end up at Fulham – hit the angle of bar and post with a big dipper of a volley; Maynor Figueroa hit the post with an absurd long range strike that veered back towards the goal as if Wasim Akram had bowled it.  Other than this they were there or thereabouts, although Mark Schwarzer wasn’t overworked.

Wigan feel like a good team’s B side, with lots of interesting players who aren’t quite what they might be: the aforementioned Moses will be a decent player for someone someday, I like Figueroa, and Ben Watson goes underappreciated because of where he plies his trade. Hugo Rodellega is an enigma, but an enigma with some pedigree of scoring Premier League goals.  They’re not the only ones.

But somehow they’re less than the sum of their parts.  Perhaps a couple of good centre-backs would make the world of difference; perhaps for all his pleasant traits, Roberto Martinez isn’t quite the man to lead this team on to better things.  Who knows?  But it does look like this odd club is teetering on the brink of a relegation that now feels overdue.

Fulham weren’t all that today, but did enough. Danny Murphy banged a long ball over the top for Bobby Zamora, who squared for Dempsey to make it 1-0.  Simple.  Fulham’s second, also at the end of a half, also involved Clint Dempsey being clear, but this time the ball-carrier, Dembele, rolled the ball into the bottom corner past a curiously compliant Al-Habsi.  Perhaps the keeper expected Dembele to do the right thing and lay the ball off. Whatever, the shot wasn’t exactly unsaveable.

So yes, we did enough. Danny Murphy enjoyed a welcome return to form before making way for Dickson Etuhu (who didn’t give the ball away once), Andy Johnson looked lively-ish wide on the right, and while Dempsey and Dembele were quite quiet, both scored.  Bobby Zamora isn’t the menhir up front we’ve previously enjoyed, but he set up Dempsey’s goal and is contributing in other ways.  He really is a fine all-around player, even if he is only using about half of his talents in his current role.

These points matter and the team will be relieved to have won them.

Mistaken for a real poet

Friend of CCN Mike Hopkins has a new website where you can read some of his work and other odds and ends.  Mike’s tagline is “odd posts from an occasional poet (or vice versa)” which seems like a good starting point to me.

Here it is, anyway. Do have a read – worth bookmarking and checking every so often I reckon.

Next up are Wigan, who are “eyeing a better run of results boost”

When you look at it this way Wigan couldn’t really have done a lot worse.  Curiously, the fixtures computer donated them three games against the division’s promoted clubs to open up and Wigan drove home that advantage to the tune of five whole points.  But here they are, six games later, still sitting on those five points.  Put another way, they’ve lost seven matches in a row (one of which was in the league cup, just like us).  They haven’t been batterings or anything, but it’s a terrible run.

The question is: “can Fulham keep that run going?”

History would suggest not – we tend to draw up there - but honestly, this must the moment when Fulham make a bit more “6-0 v QPR” style noise.  Wigan are a bad team and have been for years; we need to make this one count.

Predictortron ’11

Further to Timmy’s post, perhaps it’s time to revisit the predictortron.

As you will recall, we fired this up last year to see if a slow start necessarily meant we were doomed. The predictortron was comforting, told us not to worry and gave us a hug. It said we’d finish with 46 points, and we got 48, so that was nice.

What does the predictortron say this year?

Once more, we make use of exotic sounding Monte Carlo simulations, in this case running 5,000 of the buggers. We estimate how good the team should be using results from the previous three seasons (more recent seasons get higher emphasis), adding in Martin Jol’s managerial record, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper, and the all important knob of butter. Then the predictortron takes this record and runs those 5,000 seasons on a game by game basis.

The answers:

Predictortron, at the start of the season, would have had us down for 52-57 points. We seem to get a slight bump because Jol was successful at Spurs, but also because some of our poor seasons were long enough ago that they no longer drag us down. So there we are: 50+ points, with 54 being the most likely.

Unfortunately we currently only have seven of these, so all we need to do is consult Predictortron and see what happens when the team only has 7 points at this juncture:


Once more, there’s no need to panic. 46 points is a likely destination, with various values around there also common. We have very little chance of hitting the expected target in the mid fifties, but for the time being should feel relatively comfortable about not being relegated, either.

Fulham after 9 games

This season seems par for course, no?

Worth noting that in 2008-09, we had a game in hand compared to other teams due to United’s involvement in that UEFA Super Cup silliness.

And were we really 8th in 2006-07 around this time?!?

Loaner Report 10/25/11

David Stockdale started and made 6 saves in Ipswich Town’s 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace. Last Tuesday he started and made 7 saves in Ipswich Town’s 1-0 win at Portsmouth.

Bjorn Helge Riise did not dress in Portsmouth’s 2-0 win over Barnsley. Last Tuesday he was an unused sub in Pompey’s 1-0 loss to Ipswich.

Carlos Salcido started, played 90 minutes, had 2 shots on goal and received a yellow card in Tigres’ 0-0 draw with Monterrey on Saturday.

Lauri Dalla Valle started, played 76 minutes, and had 2 shots on goal in Dundee United’s 0-0 draw with St Johnstone on Saturday.

Danny Hoesen started, played 90 minutes, and scored a goal in Fortuna Sittard’s 2-2 draw at Helmond Spor last Friday.

Time for Riise to sit?

I’m not trying to make one of those posts that exist solely to generate pageviews, but I’m seriously wondering if it’s time for Riise to start the next game on the bench.

What is he offering at this point that is so unique that different looks through Briggs or Baird or Kelly can’t provide? Sure, he’s a better player than those three on paper, but consider what Rich wrote about him when he arrived:

He’s aggressive in his attacks, goes inside and outside the full-backs, and has a history of getting into the box. It’s an intriguing combination, and one that should give us our best attacking full-back pairing for a while.

Yet, outside of the first few matches where Jol tinkered with the back four to compensate for Riise bombing down the left, Riise has barely featured in our offense. Overall, his 77.5% passing completion rate is second-lowest among defenders (except Aaron Hughes) and midfielders (except Pajtim Kasami; hmm).

For someone who supposedly is the ball-crosser and attacking back, those numbers make sense. But below are the unsuccessful passes from yesterday (includes Baird UPDATE: Grygera for reference. Riise is on top).

Riise got much for forward than Baird Grygera, but completing one out of 10 crosses may is not a great stat to have (though better than Duff’s 1-for-13 a month ago).

Secondly, look at Riise’s successful passes from yesterday and last week at Stoke:

Again, he did get forward a lot yesterday, but notice where the successful passes in Everton’s third are all made from: directly on the sideline. Not once did he cut into the box for that “killer pass”. Perhaps that’s because Jol had about 9 forwards on the field already, but an attacking line-up calls for someone like Riise to show a bit a of magic. Heck, Hangeland tried it.

Um, let’s not even discuss last week. I could post more chalkboards, but going back a bit he was a marauder in our 6-0 win over QPR (as was everyone on our side), and a non-factor in the 0-0 draw with WBA. So, push?

Another facet of Riise’s game is he free-kick-taking-skills. Well, we’ve yet to score a single goal from a free kick yet (us and 16 other teams), and only have one goal from a header. HatterDon’s “View of South Texas” on FoF summed up our current position wonderfully:

Our free kicks have gone from useless to comic opera to cringe-making. Why does the referee bother making the defensive wall retreat 10 yards when we’re only going to have Murphy touch it to either Riise or Baird who will shoot with a defender 5 feet away?

Now this isn’t all on him, but taking into account the other issues it does make one scratch their head, no?

Put Briggs in on Saturday at Wigan. History dictates we’ll probably draw that match anyway.

Chairman Mo Does His Damn Thing

Per the official:

What a strange man Mark Hughes is. Sacked by Manchester City, he was becoming a forgotten man when I rescued him to become manager of Fulham Football Club.

Even when results were bad, I did not put pressure on him. I gave him every support — financial, moral and personal.

He fully negotiated a two-year extension to his contract. On the day he was due to sign, he walked out without the courtesy of a proper explanation.

And now he insults the club, saying it lacks ambition, and the players who delivered an 8th. position finish last season and a place in the Europa League.

He is not just disrespectful but entirely wrong. Fulham has just announced plans for a splendid new riverside stand that will substantially increase the capacity of Craven Cottage.

In every aspect of its work, Fulham is a progressive club with a top manager in Martin Jol, the man we had really wanted when Hughes was appointed.

We shall endeavour to prosper without him simply because, when the challenge came, it was not the Club but Mark Hughes who lacked the courage and ambition to take on the task of leadership. If people are looking for a flop, they only have to [ed: look?] no further than the man who has lost his spark.

Yours faithfully,

Mohamed Al Fayed,
Chairman,
FFC

Besides the typo, HOLY CRAP HUGHES GOT SERVED!

(if it’s not cuing appropriately, just go to the 7:48 mark)

Ups and downs in SW6

In the cold light of day that was sporting theatre at its finest. Two teams in a bit of a rut gave the afternoon a tension that never left us, and we got a number of notable twists and turns:

Nervous? How about going a goal down after two minutes?

Because of a mistake by our captain.

Who had been rested in the week to improve his chances of a good performance.

The shot was hit by former prodigy Roston Drenthe, making his first Everton start.

Past Mark Schwarzer, who opponents may wish to test with hard, low shots owing to his advancing age.

Danny Murphy’s having a difficult time.

He wangs a drive against the post, it rebounds out, hits Tim Howard, and lollops out of danger. When it’s not going your way, eh?

The equaliser came from Bryan Ruiz, on for Murphy, and as yet unvconvincing in a Fulham shirt. He’d had that debut against Blackburn and missed a key penalty against Chelsea. So he had a bit to do. How about chipping an equaliser into a gap that nobody else even saw? Gasps everywhere.

Then all that got forgotten in the game’s madcap climax.

Zamora scoots through for a 50/50 one-on-one chance with Tim Howard, who is good at these things. Zamora does the hard part, slicing inside the goalkeeper with marvellous skill, then thwacks the ball wide with the net gaping!  Have you ever tried dribbling a football in a game? It all starts out well but the further you go the less control you have (over yourself and therefore the ball), and by the end it’s sort of getting away from you and the final act of your adventure is not at all glorious. That’s what I think happened to Zamora. To execute that move to get inside Howard at full-speed took him to the limit of his control, and the resultant shot betrayed this. Only Dembele among our players could have danced inside Howard like that; that Zamora did so was surprising but the finish perhaps less so.

Then Grygera is pulled off because he’s bleeding, and Hughes sent on as a CB with Baird shifted out to the right. Everton score going right through Hughes’s zone.

Chris Baird hacks away to give away a free-kick; Rodwell blasts the ball home. Game over.

Meanwhile, Damien Duff, one of our best players, warmed up for the entire game. Here he watches, forlorn, bemused, or just ready?

Fulham 1-3 Everton

What about that then, eh?   What can we say?  Taken in isolation, two evenish teams played out an entertainingish game which was ultimately decided by the two centre-forwards: ours missed, theirs didn’t.  But there’s so much more to it than that, isn’t there?

Everton scored in the second minute, Royston Drenthe smashing home from ‘downtown’ with a skimming drive that Mark Schwarzer couldn’t get to.  He absolutely belted it: funny how many Dutch players can hit the ball very hard, isn’t it?  This had been immediately preceded by Danny Murphy losing his way in midfield, the first of several curious mishaps from the skipper.

After that we were even-Steven, Murphy hit the woodwork via Tim Howard, Everton wasted a couple of very good headed chances.  Baird was having a good game at centre-back, but otherwise it was hard to see a Fulham player who looked in good shape.

The second half saw more of the same, and we were rapidly entering afternoon nap territory when something rather wonderful happened.  Bryan Ruiz, on for Murphy, found space on the left of the area, then clipped an absolutely delicious chip over Tim Howard for a splendid equaliser.  Wow.   Hello, Bryan Ruiz: now we see.

Fulham, with Sidwell and Dembele a livelier engine room and with Johnson showing surprising spark on the right, suddenly grew into the game and perhaps looked like the more likely winners. Zamora found Ruiz with  a nice far post cross, but our new hero’s well met volley couldn’t beat Howard.  Another – better – chance came in the last minute when Zamora skipped inside Howard (with impressive skill, it must be said) then blasted the ball over the open goal.  Mouths agape: unbelievable miss.

At which, Everton went up the other end and scored, Saha beating Hughes (only on the field for a few moments) then Schwarzer.  Oh.  Then Jack Rodwell drove home a third, and our afternoon was done.

What to make of that, then?  We looked ordinary for long stretches, with the aforementioned Baird the only player to emerge with much credit. Dempsey seemed crowded out by Riise’s adventure, Dembele – still such an important player – flitting but not with conviction (Everton had done their homework on him) and the forwards somehow not featuring. Johnson’s running is supposedly a strength but Everton’s defence seemed happy to let him go, passing him over to whoever’s zone he ran into.  Distin, Jagielka and the excellent Baines hardly needed to break sweat.  Johnson’s demotion to the right flank following Ruiz’s introduction showed a new side to him and he was at the heart of much of our good approach play, but he still doesn’t look like he’s going to be an important part of the next good Fulham team.

When that team emerges is, of course, the big question.  The side looks badly out of sorts and needs a bit of luck, a moment of genius (which we got today, then wasted) if it’s to get through the next few months without more tears.  I suspect this was a better performance than it now feels like, but we need something to change soon.

Hughes, Jol, etc

“Danny Murphy is a fantastic player and he was great for me last year but he is not getting any younger and his influence on the team is huge.

“He knows and everyone knows that at some time in the near future he will have to be replaced and to replace his input, that will have to be a quality player.

“That costs money and they haven’t got that. If you haven’t got that within the building, you are going to have to spend money.

“My worry was that maybe the team would go off the side of a cliff, which wasn’t something I wanted to be involved in.”

So says Mark Hughes.

Also:

“I felt Fulham were probably a little bit too honest with me. In conversations, they were saying, ‘We know exactly what you’re about Mark, but, really, we are just quite happy to stay in the Premier League.’

And:

“There were players that I wanted to sign for the club and those negotiations weren’t going well. I had given them a couple of names and I saw a slowing down of the process.

“They were saying, ‘We will do it’ and ‘We’re speaking’ and I read that as the fact that maybe they didn’t want to do these deals.

“I read that as maybe they didn’t want to take the club and keep them in the top half of the Premier League – which was my ambition.”

This actually confirms what has been suspected (and indeed suggested by a couple of people): that Martin Jol’s job is to keep Fulham in the division while getting younger and saving money.

The scope of the task can be seen by looking at the squad we have now:

Past peak (we know what the player was, we know what he is, and there’s a difference)
Schwarzer
Riise
Hughes
Grygera
Murphy
Duff
Davies
Johnson

At peak (what we’re seeing now is the best the player is going to be)
Kelly
Hangeland
Baird
Senderos
Sidwell
Etuhu
Dempsey
Zamora

Not yet peaked (we don’t yet know what the player might become)
Briggs
Gecov
Fri
Kasami
Sa
Ruiz
Dembele

There is a growing realisation in the game that you have to bring through your players if you’re to get value, if you’re to keep costs down.  I don’t know what Matthew Briggs earns but you can bet your life it’s less than John-Arne Riise, and the performance gap isn’t huge; a club that can bring more Briggs’ through rather than paying for more Riise’s will be in a better position than one that must consistently pay big transfer fees, signing bonuses and wages.

The other element, one which Fulham have been awful at for a while now, is resale value.  The marketable players are in the bottom two groups, but these are the players we want to keep hold of.   If the club wants to raise any money from transfer sales, there isn’t a great deal of time left to do so.  In fact you could argue that there is no time left: the only players who might command a half-decent fee after this season are in the bottom group (with Dempsey and Zamora thrown in, although the former’s contract doesn’t have forever to run, and Zamora’s form means his value will never be higher.  If the club can get money for Johnson they probably should).

Further to this, beyond the need to balance the books and bring in money while it’s still possible, is Jol’s own preference for a different type of player.  I sense that he’s frustrated with his options and longs for a team that can play a different way.  It has been noted that the team is one of the few that doesn’t operate an aggressive pressing defence, and while I don’t know what other teams do, it’s true that we tend to sit back in our positions and let teams play in front of us.  This can lead to us being pushed back, but without pace to transition, can lead to frustrating matches as we attempt to putt-putt our way up the field and through an already massed defence.  I suspect Jol would much prefer to play further up the pitch but our midfield isn’t built for pressing all game (Sidwell could do it, but not sure about the others) and the back line isn’t quick enough to play higher up the pitch anyway (pressing is almost always accompanied by a high defensive line).    So we’re stuck in this neither fish nor fowl situation where the team is trying to attack from deepish positions but lacks the pace to do this really effectively.

Ambition? Well we’d all love to ‘kick on’ and it perhaps seems as if this is within grasp, but there’s real pressure to sort things out financially and now is not the time for a death or glory spending spree.  Hughes was right to suggest that Murphy is important and needs replacing with quality, but I suspect Jol’s realised that another Murphy isn’t within reach and therefore will strengthen in other ways.  He wants a genuinely creative player, he wants pace; whether he gets them might depend on what he can raise in sales, which could lead to even more raised eyebrows amongst fans as relatively established players are moved on.

Or not, we’ll have to see how things shake out, but this is a team in transition and it could make for an uncomfortable season. The rewards of getting this right could be exciting though.

Wisla Krakow 1-0 Fulham

Bah. One of those annoying games that you wish hadn’t happened. A decent looking encounter was spoiled by the needless dismissal of renowned hard-man Moussa Dembele, whose wayward arm sent Wisla’s Nunez spiralling into deep agony.  That Dembele barely touched Nunez, that the touch was on his shoulder, not in his face (as suggested by Nunez in his distressed state), perhaps suggests a mistake by the referee, and with that mistake went the game: we lost 1-0 to a team that lost to Odense.

Another argument is that Fulham’s attacking ‘force’ essentially amounts to Danny Murphy controlling attacks, and Bobby Zamora and Clint Dempsey finishing them off.  These three were all rested tonight, so it became a case of “Hangeland from a corner or nothing”.   We can look woefully unimaginative on occasion, and while the ten men thing didn’t help, we played more as if we were down to nine.  There was no cohesion, the midfield, with Etuhu and Gecov sitting and Duff supporting Sa and Johnson (Dembele absent, of course), seemed so distant from everything, neither fish nor fowl.  It’s hard to remember us creating any good chances, much less missing them.

So set pieces became crucial, but we wasted those.  We even ended up with the bizarre site of Andy Johnson shooting from a free-kick.  Senior pro perhaps but there are others in the team (or are there?) who can do that better.  It all feels a little chaotic.

Reasons to be cheerful: another game (albeit a quiet one) for Gecov, who looks tidy; ditto Kerim Frei; Briggs looked alright again; Aaron Hughes back in; Kelly looked decent; Etuhu passed well; we should still qualify anyway.

 

Gremlins

sorry, seemed to be some gremlins. Apologies if this is the second time this has appeared for you.

Further to yesterday’s waffle, it occurred to me that I was unduly harsh on Julian Barnes. I think he’s tarred by the Amis/McEwan brush, and while they write perfectly good books, they seem to be writing for and about other people.  A central tenet of fiction writing seems to be that your characters should be drawn in a way that makes readers take an interest in them, perhaps even want to be them.  It’s why we read Kerouac when we’re young and get all starry eyed, why Holden Caulfield resonates with teenagers so much, why Henry Miller can play weird tricks on our minds, why Hunter S Thompson is such a hero to so many.  You don’t even have to admire these characters, but there has to be something about them that you identify with or tap into.

McEwan and Amis are gifted writers but their characters are a million miles away from anything I’ve come across or am interested in.  So while I appreciate that they write good books, they’re not good books for me.  Which brings things like the Booker Prize into question: all of these are good books, but what makes one better than the other?  It depends on how you’re judging them. This can’t really be broken down (we’ve heard about the panel looking for ‘page-turners’ but this smells fishy) so leaves lots of room for interpretation and disagreement.

As we said yesterday, we get the same for footballers.  So a player might be a good player, but might not be a good player for all of us, owing to our own personal set of parameters.

If you are Martin Jol your criteria for each player might be:

Helps the team win football matches
Can be relied upon
Does what I tell him

And he’ll have more specific things in mind for each position. Pick up any general coaching manual and you’ll find a list of attributes for each role: coaches then adapt these to the systems and the players they have available.  So if the archetypal right-back should have good defensive qualities, pace, stamina, and the ability to join attacks, Jol has to decide which of these he prioritises most.  If he (or his system) needs pace he will look at someone like Chris Baird and have to make a decision about what he can accept and what he can’t: Baird has little pace, but good distribution and is otherwise solid; Jol has to decide whether this is acceptable to him, and if it isn’t, Baird doesn’t get to play right-back.  And so on.

As fans we have other criteria. The commonly held stereotype of an English fan’s ideals might be:

Runs around a lot/Gets ‘stuck in’
Claps us afterwards
Does important things in high-profile situations
Avoids glaring mistakes

Another fan might look for:

Players who aren’t afraid to try things
Players who take people on
Players who don’t take things too seriously

Personally I like players who:

Other people don’t seem to like as much
Have something to prove
Seem like nice people
Play in a pleasing manner

(So I’m a big Gecov fan at the moment)

Where is this all going? Just, I suppose, to reaffirm that we really all do look at the same thing in different ways.  This is obvious, of course, but we shouldn’t be blind to these biases, either.   Which is an odd thing to say, except most of us spend far more time than is healthy discussing various footballers and a little pondering has helped me to understand why other people see things differently to me.  As individuals we’re the product of a million influences that mean different things affect us in different ways: as best I can tell, women tend not to like Philip Roth’s books; men can’t understand why anyone would watch Sex and the City deliberately.  Both of these things have value, but different value to different people.  Same goes for football, I think.

Today’s Press Kit

Is here.

As the Guildford-based band Bennett sang in the 90s, Someone Always Gets there First.

In this case it was Spurs, who won their tie 3-2 on aggregate. Also Blackburn Rovers in 2006, a 2-1 win for Rovers in Poland.

Wisla are European regulars, too.  Which might count for something.  Also, David Biton seems to be the man to watch – regular goalscoring form this year.

On being convinced: Julian Barnes and Dickson Etuhu and the subjectivity of it all

A strange revelation hit me today.  It’s not surprising that Fulham fans don’t all agree about what they see; it’s surprising that they agree on so much.


The slightly pretentious root of this thought is as follows: this morning I was reading Tim Gautreaux, the American story writer. At lunchtime I read an interview with him, then noticed at the end of the piece that there were other interviews with writers, and, seeing the award winning Julian Barnes, clicked to that interview, where I saw the following exchange:

RB: You really don’t mind if people don’t like your books?

JB: I prefer people to like them, of course. For everyone who likes my books there will be someone who doesn’t. Fine, read someone else. Sorry I didn’t convince you. But that’s it, you know.

RB: I take that to mean if some people didn’t like your books, okay. If nobody liked your books, you would be very troubled.

Which is about the size of it. Martin Jol would prefer us to like him and the football his team is producing, but aside from the Fulham glue that means we’re all trying to give him a chace, to a degree we’re not all going to agree.  In no other walk of life do we agree.  We all have political leanings that seem very obvious to us but which others – incorrectly, of course – think are completely wrong.  We like music that others hate. Some people we take a dislike to just from looking at them (David Cameron, for instance).

This has struck me as something of a revelation. Which I suppose shows how stupid I can be, but with 25,000 people watching Fulham there are going to be hundreds of interpretations of what happened out there. There are certain truths, that if you score goals or always look busy out there then fans will warm to you, but leave too much to ambiguity and we have to make our own minds up.

Dickson Etuhu is a good example here.  He plays a position that is probably the hardest for fans to appreciate.  Much of his role is in shielding his defence, which means he’s doing well if he forces opponents to, say, pass the ball to the left wing instead of going through the middle.  (The American corner-back Deion Sanders used to be good this way, so good that opposing teams just didn’t throw to his side after a while. So he had really ordinary stats, but everyone knew that there was a good reason for this).  So anyway, Etuhu might indirectly impact a game dozens of times over the course of 90 minutes, but we won’t notice this. We’ll only notice him if he does a big show-off tackle. Then he’s getting ‘stuck in’ and is no longer a ‘pussy cat’.

Equally, when he gets the ball he does the sensible thing and gives it to someone else on his team.  He rarely gives the ball away and in this sense is being immensely useful. Barcelona keep the ball for 75% of their games, which is a bit like a test match in which one team gets to bat three times and the other once.  Possession is everything, but in England we don’t really go for this and so get cross with players like Etuhu and their safe, sideways passing. It’s a weakness that isn’t really a weakness.  How many defensive midfielders are really good passers?  He’s not a Sidwell or a Parker but he does a job, as results have shown over the years.  But because we don’t really get this we make up our own minds, and if we’re looking for a certain thing in a player and that’s not Etuhu, we get negative.  Just as we do if we read a book we don’t like or hear a record that’s not to our tastes.  All this urban music people listen to must be doing something right or they wouldn’t all listen to it, but to me it’s bloody awful; same process for how we see footballers.  Once we get beyond the universals (scores goals, looks busy, pretty obviously a really good player) it’s all up for grabs.

Does this matter?  Not a jot.  There is no absolute truth in football outside of the points earned on the field, and even those aren’t always fair.  It’s a subjective game based on a million reference points – no wonder we can’t make up our minds about it.

That exchange again, doctored to fit the above:

RB: You really don’t mind if people don’t like you as a player?

JB: I prefer people to like me, of course. For everyone who likes my play there will be someone who doesn’t. Fine, sorry I didn’t convince you. But that’s it, you know.

RB: I take that to mean if some people didn’t like your play, okay. If nobody likes your play, you would be very troubled.

(the actual truth: David Cameron well deserves my scorn; Barnes (in my mind, I can’t remember reading him though I’m sure I must have) is overrated and Dickson Etuhu is pretty good at football)

Loaner Report 10/17/11

David Stockdale started and made 11 saves in Ipswich Town’s 2-2 draw at Cardiff on Saturday. On October 1 he started and made 7 saves in Ipswich’s 3-1 win over Brighton.

Bjorn Helge Riise did not dress in Portmouth’s 2-0 win over Barnsley on Saturday. He started and played 45 minutes in Portsmouth’s 1-0 loss at Leeds on October 1.

Carlos Salcido started, played 90 minutes, and received a yellow card in Tigres’ 2-0 loss at Morelia on Friday. On October 8 he started and played 90 minutes in Tigres’ 4-1 win over Pumas. On October 2 he started and played 90 minutes in their 1-1 draw at Tijuana.

Lauri Dalla Valle came off the bench in the 40th minute and scored a goal in Dundee United’s 3-1 loss at Aberdeen on Saturday. On October 1 he came off the bench in the 29th minute in Dundee United’s 3-1 loss to Motherwell.

Danny Hoesen and Fortuna Sittard take on Telstar this evening. On September 30 he started, played 90 minutes, and scored a goal in Fortuna Sittard’s  3-2 loss at FC Volendam.

We need more, not less promotion and relegation

Close off the Premier League?

Honestly, I’d go the other way and open the thing up.

The rewards on offer are so great that millions upon millions are spent by desperate Premier League clubs who will do anything to stay where they are.  Some clubs (Wolves did it once, I think, Burnley and Blackpool have been shrewd) can make a profit from the silly TV money, the rest write the disappearing zeroes off as the cost of doing business and keep on keeping on like a drunk guinea pig stuck on a hamster wheel and starting to feel a bit sick.

Clubs in the bottom half of the league fight like anything to stay there, and the clubs in the Championship spend over the odds to try to get there.  (But, like our hamster wheel, it’s not that good really, particularly if you can’t enjoy yourself like you could before you got stuck on the wheel).

Sometimes we need saving from ourselves, and here’s the answer: not less but more promotion and relegation.  Let’s be adventurous here: if, every season, you promote and relegate six teams from the Premier League what do you do?  You lower barriers to entry.  You lower risk.  You spread wealth.  You make life more interesting, too.

Where’s the downside?

It’d never happen, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t.

While Fulham were losing

We took the day off from football and had a lovely afternoon on Hampstead Heath. Despite getting the wrong bit of the Northern Line and ending up in Highgate, we had a good walk, then found a bit of hill where not so many people were and did some walking practice with the little fella, who hasn’t really come across slopes before.  The sky was as blue as it gets, the sun was out, but the October undertones kept things beautifully pleasant.  What it’s all about.

Friday night music club

Been a while since a Friday music post. So here we are, in honour of a couple of Dave’s recent “Top Fives“.

I was at one of the shows on the ’94 tour, Milton Keynes Bowl.  We saw Magnapop, then Belly, then Blur, then REM.  It was one of the best days I ever had.

A few of us went along. We would’ve been 18 at the time and I remember REM’s Monster album had just come out.  The press were a bit miffed that they’d so obviously departed from the Out of Time/Automatic trajectory but me, I loved it.  The first single, What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? really blew me away in ways that I’m not sure I can understand now (it’s not that good!) but nevertheless the whole thing went round and round on my walkman.  It’s a fairly repetitive album but I loved all the fuzziness, and in Strange Currencies they had their big gooey sinister ballad as well, which I dug.  Also that bright orange cover!  Tremendous.

Anyway, I guess there were four of us that made the trip to Milton Keynes that day.  All REM fans to some degree or other (seemed like everyone was back then).  It was a scorching day and we got there pretty early.  I remember a longish walk from the car (whose car?) to the bowl.   The bowl’s a big ol’ place, all open air and grass, and being young we ended up quite near the front.  Magnapop came and went, Belly charmed the pants off us (listen to Feed the Tree again, wonderful pop), then came the Blur whirlwind.  This was them just before Parklife came out I think, so they had all the songs but not yet the album. Anyway, Damon Albarn put on a hell of a show and we loved that, too, getting gradually more sunburned as we did.

Later, and time must have flown, we got the main event.  I’m getting goosebumps just writing this now, but we had a good view and the sound was vast and the band rocked in that special way they had (this was their distortion phase).  Stipe was (and perhaps still is) an absolute god to me and seeing him up there in the flesh was one of those moments that reduces self-conscious teenage boys to act like thirteen year old girls.  He was excellent, and that voice still resonates now.   They played a long set and a good number of old favourites.   Particular highlights were massive versions of Country Feedback (see below), the encore of Let Me In (awesome) and exciting live interpretations of otherwise ordinary songs like Man on the Moon and Star 69.   We got other stuff like Finest Worksong that allowed the keenos amongst us to beam knowingly at one another, too.  South Central Rain is epic live, and Orange Crush and Undertow were beasts, too. It’s the End of the World was a fine closer, blasted out with the intensity you’d hope for.

Here’s the setlist in full:

I Took Your Name
What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
Crush With Eyeliner
Circus Envy
Try Not To Breathe
Orange Crush
You
Bang And Blame
Undertow
Welcome To The Occupation
Strange Currencies
Revolution
Tongue
Man on the Moon
Country Feedback
Losing My Religion
Finest Worksong
Pop Song 89
Get Up
Star 69
Encore:
Let Me In
Everybody Hurts
So. Central Rain
Departure
It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

And here’s a version from around that time of Country Feedback, which was one of those f*ck me musical moments you get every so often if you’re very lucky.

Steve Sidwell explodes into a sweet ginger nirvana

Or something.  In any case, Martin Jol said today that Sidwell’s peformance against QPR only lacked a goal to have been perfect.  I noticed this at the time but didn’t get round to chalkboarding it, but Jol’s right, Sidwell had a stormer of the highest order (also clattered Taraabt early doors (you must always clatter in the early doors) to announce himself).

Oof!

Come dine with me

Interesting stuff in the Mail. Well not interesting in any real sense, diverting perhaps. Anyway, football managers polled as to who they’d like to have dinner with:

Harry Redknapp – Muhammad Ali, Vincent O’Brien, Bobby Moore
Paul Ince – Wife, John F Kennedy, Tiger Woods
Paul Lambert – Elvis Presley, George Bush, George Best
Roberto Di Matteo – Julius Caesar, Claudia Schiffer, Robert De Niro
Sam Allardyce – Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Sir Alex Ferguson
Sven Goran Eriksson – Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul, Barack Obama
Chris Coleman – John F Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix
Tony Adams – Jesus, Sir Alf Ramsey, Scarlett Johansson
Simon Grayson – Geoffrey Boycott, Bono, Don Revie
Roberto Mancini – Paolo Mantovani, The Pope, Sheikh Mansour
Rafa Benitez – Julius Caesar, Al Pacino, Napoleon
David Moyes – Mother, Tommy Burns, Kylie Minogue
Gustavo Poyet – Fernando Morena, Michael Jordan, Wife
Neil Warnock – Queen, Barbara Streisand, Brian Clough
Steve McClaren – Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Sir Alex Ferguson
Alex McLeish -  Robert Di Niro, John Lennon, Muhammad Ali
Alan Pardew – Muhammad Ali, Barrack Obama, Spike Milligan
Peter Reid – Elvis Presley, Jesus Christ, Angelina Jolie
Chris Hughton – Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Bill Shankly
Gianfranco Zola – Father, wife, Diego Maradona

Shame no Roy, Jol or SAF.

Let’s all play.

First, whose table would you sit on?

Top table: Pardew (the Ali/Milligan combo would be hilarious if you could persuade Spoke to play ball)
Nip over to say hello: Tony Adams (what a mix he has!)
Avoid at all costs: Ince I think.

My own table would have to be Hade, Stanley and one other in real life (I’m really not good with strangers) but if we’re to suspend reality for a moment I’d go for Jerry Garcia, Roberto Bolano and Dixie Dean.  I think Bolano and Garcia would get on well and Dixie Dean would be good to have around as a historical curiosity (I say this knowing little about the man).

PS I only opened this story because I thought it said Mohamed Al Fayed, not Mohammad Ali.

Fulham Programmes 1980-81

Memories are funny old things. Events become fine tuned to specific key moments and time merges into a mass of indistinguishable snapshots. Dad took me to a lot more games this season yet looking through Phil Cowan’s archive none really spring back into focus. I know I went to a lot of games because I had a large stack of these bawdy, yellow bannered, programmes. Tony Gale was again selected as the season’s “cover” boy, in typical buccaneering pose closing down the opposition ‘keeper (oddly Leicester City for the second season in a row – Ken Coton must have had a good stack of decent pictures from that game).

The drop in Division did little to improve our form and Bobby Campbell was relieved of his duties in October 1980 after a run of six consecutive defeats. Malcolm MacDonald had previously been employed as the club’s Commercial Director and on the surface appeared to be a cheap fix to our troubles. However, as my Dad explained to me at the time, MacDonald had an exceptional footballing pedigree. Born in Fulham, down Finlay Street if Dad is correct, he’d made his league debut for the Whites in 1968. Fulham, undergoing a previous period of turmoil, let him move to Luton Town the following year and it was with the Hatters that he made his name. He was soon snapped up by Newcastle United, scored a hat-trick on his debut against Liverpool, earned a call up to the England side and became known as Super Mac. After 95 goals in 187 appearances he moved on to Arsenal where he managed a further 42 goals in 84 appearances before a knee injury cut his top flight career short. When he took over his first managerial role at the Cottage he was only 30 years old.

Super Mac not only turned around our season, saving us from any threat of relegation and managing a creditable 13th place finish thanks to nine wins and two draws in the last seventeen games, but he did so by giving our youth a chance. Whether this was a result of MacDonald’s eye for talent or just down to Ernie Clay’s refusal to give him any money is unclear, but this policy would form the foundation of a much more successful campaign the following season.

The game I’ve picked out from this season is at home to Newport County in March 1981. Newport wore orange shirts and I’ve always enjoyed Fulham playing teams in bright and unusual colours. My memory suggests that Fulham play best on sunny days, against teams in colourful strips and, whilst this may not be supportable by statistical proof, I’d suggest Q.P.R. think carefully about their next away strip should they be in any danger of a return trip to the Cottage next season.

We played Newport twice in consecutive seasons and won both games. 2-1 in 1980-81, then 3-1 in 1981-82. In one of those games my, clearly fallible, cognitive process provides a clear image of Sean O’Driscoll scoring directly from a corner. Noisy was one of my favourite players, he rarely wasted the ball and always worked his socks off. He was one of the less celebrated members of that squad and rarely scored. However, having checked both Turner & White’s Fulham Facts & Figures and Phil Cowan’s scans of subsequent programmes, it seems this is not the case. Either someone nicked their head on it before it crossed the line or that goal was in another game.

Whatever the truth, and if anyone really can remember that goal I’d love to know which game it was in, the moment has lived with me ever since.

Diego Maradona – a very dry inspection

Alright, so this is a bit odd.

Based on what we did for Pele yesterday, I’ve run the numbers for Diego Maradona.

And they’re surprising.

High level:

With Maradona in the side Argentina were P90, W41, D 29, L20.  Without him they were P97, W43, D34, L20.

Points per 38 games: 64 and 64!

In home games:

P28, W16, D9, L3 with Maradona, P 37, W19, D13, L5 without him.  Points per 38: 77 v 72.  So a bit better with him there.

Away games:

P62, W25, D20, L17 with him, P60, W24, D21, L15 without him. Points 58 v 59.

Hmmm.

What does it all mean?

Here’s something. In 1991 Maradona receive d a ban after testing positive for Cocaine.  If we look at the numbers before and after that we see something:

Before the ban:

With Maradona 63 points per 38 games (P79, W36, D24, L19), without him 57 pp38 (P62, W23, D22, L17)

After the ban:

With Maradona 55 pp38 (P11, W5, D1, L5), without 78 pp38 (P35, W20, D12, L3).

Small samples there, but equally, it’s instructive perhaps. Diego Maradona’s lifestyle was famously awful, perhaps his fame and ability meant that he was picked for longer than he should have been?

The other thing that stands out is that while Brazil were clearly a fine side with or without Pele, Argentina are clearly a notch below. We always fear them because of the great players they produce, but are they all that, really?

Another conclusion might be that Pele was an extraordinarily gifted team player, whereas Maradona very much played for himself.  His genius allowed his teams to sometimes reach spectacular heights, but we might surmise that football’s very best sides are those where the team is universally strong and becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and any team over-reliant on one player may be similarly less than itself.

I don’t know. Having started all this being firmly in the Maradona camp I’m now a little uncertain.  The results suggest that Argentina didn’t really suffer when Maradona was absent.  This is piffle to an extent – they’d never have won in 86 had he not been there – but equally the results are the results.

So…. more research needed.

Data sourced from:

http://www.rsssf.com/tablesa/arg-intres.html
http://www.vivadiego.com/arggoals.html

Pele – a very dry inspection

I have always suspected Pele of being slightly overhyped. The Maradona v Pele debates always seemed interesting enough, but I don’t know how many of the people involved had actually watched the latter playing, and if they had, how they were able to make those performances stand up against Maradona’s extraoardinary genius.

Maradona was a phenomenon. He devastated defences wherever he went, won games (literally) single handedly, and until Lionel Messi came along was very clearly (to me at least) the best player that ever there was. Pele? Sure, good player – he must have been a really good player – but part of it always seemed to be a brand issue (what a neat name Pele is? So obviously fit for purpose, and he’s gone around being a wholesome nice man and Maradona’s had some issues) and part of it a timing issue (that 1970 team is everyone’s favourite, which I couldn’t necessarily disagree with, although West Germany’s team of that era was pretty tasty, too, and Hungary’s team of the 1950s has the highest ever ELO rating recorded, which is instructive – but Maradona’s teams weren’t beloved at all; quite the opposite).

Anyway, we may return to Maradona, but in the meantime, let’s focus on Pele. Absent any real experience of watching the man I must content myself with cold, hard facts. Some of the coldest and hardest facts are these:

Brazil played in 161 matches in between Pele’s debut in 1957 and his retirement in 1971 (that longevity is, of course, a feather in his cap).

Pele played in 92 of these games.

When he played Brazil’s record was P92, W67, D14, L11.  They scored 236 times, conceded 87, at averages of 2.6 per game and 0.9 per game respectively. They therefore won 73% of their matches.

When Pele was missing the team’s record was P67, W42, D12, L15, F152, A91, with averages for the latter two of 2.3 and 1.4.  They won 63% of their games.

Based on that you’d have to say that Pele was pretty important. Another way of looking at it is that Brazil were a Premier League club, the Pele version would finish the season with 89 points, the non-Pele version 78 points (based on win-draw-lose ratios).

That’s quite conclusive.

But is it the full story? Let’s keep digging and find some more cold, hard facts.

Pele played in 49 of Brazil’s 79 friendlies in that time period, 6 of 16 South American Championships and 14 of 21 World Cup matches. I don’t think this really tells us anything.

Did he miss games against certain opponents? Not really, or at least not to the point where it might be skewing data. He played in 6 of the 7 games against Portugal and 3 of the 4 against West Germany, but only 3 of the 10 against Uruguay, 7 of the 17 against Chile and 10 of the 18 against Argentina. He didn’t play in either of Brazil’s games against Hungary.

But here is something: 48 of the 92 games he played in were in Brazil, but only 17 of the 69 were at home!   Pele was dodging the away trips!*

(*not necessarily dodging, but not always present, either)

Did this matter?

In home games with Pele playing Brazil won 34 of 48 matches, drew 9 and lost 5.
In home games without Pele Brazil won 15 of 17 matches, drew 2 and didn’t lose.
In away games with Pele, Brazil won 33 of 44, drew 5 and lost 6.
In away games without Pele, Brazil won 27 of 52, drew 10 and lost 15. Ow.

The above if converted to a Premiership season:

87, 105, 90, 67.

By that token, Brazil were amazing with him in the side, could win at home without him, but dropped off considerably when they had to go away and he couldn’t/didn’t play.

So there you have it. Pele was really good! (NB – rigourous analysis would see if other key players were missing from some of these away trips. If they were shadow sides – and this can be checked – then the above doesn’t hold up).

I might try to do the same thing for Maradona one day.

Much of this data was mined from http://www.rsssfbrasil.com/sel/brazila.htm

It’s oh so quiet

The International break means there’s little Fulham news to talk about. England did what they needed to do and qualified for Euro 2012 but the press had a field day over Rooney’s sending off. How perfect for the British media that the man most in the spotlight should rise to the bait and give them something to write about. With hindsight I should have put a bit of money on it.

The interruption to league football must make it difficult for all league clubs to maintain momentum but it’s probably still the best solution to fitting the fixtures in. It’s frustrating though that we get hit by two pauses so early in the season. Meanwhile, the Rugby World Cup is in full swing down in New Zealand. Wayne Rooney might feel at home there, at least he’d have someone to share the burden of press admonishment. English clubs in the Aviva Premier League have, however, continued to play. Did it used to be like this in Football too? I know we didn’t always have the long break in league football, but back then Fulham internationals were few and far between.

We’ve actually only got eight first teamers away so the club might not be completely devoid of life. Zamora & Stockdale didn’t feature in the England game and with no mid-week match will be on their way home already. Damien Duff played 75 minutes in the 2-0 win over Andorra, whilst Stephen Kelly remained on the bench. They have their final qualifier in Dublin on Tuesday night. Chris Baird played 90 minutes in Northern Ireland’s disappointing loss versus Estonia. Philippe Senderos picked up an injury in training so failed to play for the Swiss, Moussa Dembele saw 90 minutes in a 4-1 win for Belgium and only John Arne Riise will line-up for Norway against Cyprus as Brede Hangeland is suspended.

Despite this, I read that Martin Jol had returned to Holland for a brief break. I have visions of Motspur Park being like school when the headmaster isn’t in and no-one has worked out exactly who’s in charge. Lots of running in the corridors, kids playing practical jokes and the occasional fight.

If you’re struggling to fill the gap left by a lack of Fulham then perhaps you might enjoy this
interview with Joey Barton on the BBC (apologies to overseas readers). You might not like him very much but I think he’s a decent footballer and has a more interesting view of the game than many of his English peers.

English players as future managers…

Just remembered an article rjbiii sent me:

About Dutch  players vs their English equivalents:

McClaren proved, however, with Twente in the Netherlands that success can be achieved without an open cheque book. In 2010 he became the first Englishman since Sir Bobby Robson, with Porto in 1996, to win a major European league title. “One story highlights my whole experience in Holland,” he says, recalling the two seasons spent with Twente. “We found out a team were going to play a different system against us to counter what we do, so we got a 21-year‑old midfielder in and said: ‘How do you think we should counter our opponent’s system?’

“He proceeded to talk for 20 minutes on the tactical aspects of our game plan, in terms of how we defended and attacked. After 20 minutes, I said: ‘Very good, that’s exactly what we said we were going to do!’ I said: ‘By the way, when did you learn that?’ He said: ‘We’ve been doing this since we were eight or nine.’ What they’re teaching their players is about formations and your job within that formation, and how to solve problems on the field themselves. Could I have that conversation with a 21-year-old in England?”

The Guardian’s Secret Footballer says something not dissimilar:

It may come as a surprise to some but it is rare to hear players talk about football away from their place of work. Although most love to play, I haven’t found too many who are overly enthusiastic about dissecting the finer points and, out of all the football being played, international matches outside of the major tournaments are far and away those that nobody wants to discuss.

The most that foreign players who go away on international duty generally get from a team-mate on their return is, “Who did you play again?” followed by “Oh, right, how did you get on?”. The internationals, on the other hand, are much more interested to find out what happened in Marbella and why one player in particular disappeared for 48 hours and emerged only at the airport, soaking wet and minus his shoes. At least he had his passport.

Running for Roger Brown

I hope Richard doesn’t mind but I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to a charity run on 23rd October 2011. A few weeks back I wrote about Roger Brown following his sad passing at the age of 58. Subsequently I discovered that his son-in-law to be, Peter Drakeley, was running for charity. There’s only a few weeks to go and I think Peter could do with a sponsorship boost. I know times are hard but even the smallest donation can make a difference. Here’s what Peter had to say;

As I am sure most of you are aware Fulham Legend Roger Brown sadly passed away last month aged only 58 years:

http://www.fulhamfc.com/Club/News/NewsArticles/2011/August/RogerBrownTribute.aspx

Roger was a good friend of mine, and my father in law to be and in his honor I have (perhaps a tad foolhardy) decided to attempt the Great Birmingham run to raise money for St Giles Hospice; a place where Roger felt safe and was well looked after in the last months of his life.

It’d be great if some of you would make a donation to this attempt in Rogers name.

If you would like to donate you can do so online at JustGiving:

http://www.justgiving.com/Peter-Drakeley

(You can also read more about my reasons for trying and my inadequacies as an athlete).

Please also spread the word to anyone you think might like to donate that probably won’t see this thread!

Thanks,

Pete

Fulham Programmes 1979-80

Recently I have been enjoying the discovery of the wonderful www.fulhamfootballprogrammes.co.uk an Illustrated History of Fulham Football Programmes and matches from the club’s formation to the present day. Created by Fulham fan Phil Cowan, it really is a labour of love and features full scanned copies of Programmes from every era of Club’s history.

Initially I thought I might do a top 5 programme covers. This is, after all, how my brain naturally works. However, having realised that every season has some lasting memory for me I decided I might work my way through the years highlighting a particular game that has particular resonance for me.

My first season following the Fulham was 1979-80 and my first ever live match was the home game against Burnley. It was the middle of September and we won 3-1 but the season went downhill thereafter. I love the fairground style font used for the second season in a row to depict the club name. I love the colour and of course the montage of Ken Coton photos. The shot of the top showing the “ghosts” at the back of the Stevenage Road stand. Les Strong battling against an unknown Leicester City player, Tony Gale and (I think) John Lacy in mid-aerial lunge, Peter Kitchen our most expensive purchase at that point with the spikey hair and seventies ‘tache.

I don’t remember a great deal about the game itself other than it being a gorgeous sunny afternoon. Peter Marinello got sent off with the score still 0-0 and the crowd sang “There’s Only One Marinello” for the rest of the game. The referee, Ron Challis (Tonbridge, Kent), took a lot of stick for that decision and I learned a few new words. Despite this we went on to win 3-1 thanks to two goals from Gordon “Ivor” Davies and one from Kevin Lock. Goals, sun, singing, excitement. It’s what football is really all about and why I still have a primal connection with watching it live.

After the game Dad walked me round the ground, under the Eric Miller (Riverside) stand and along the Putney Terrace, to take a look at the famous Craven Cottage. As we were about to head home Peter Marinello came out from the changing rooms, heading for the player’s bar. Someone stopped him to ask about the Old Firm (I didn’t know what that meant then but it sounded quite exciting). Marinello stopped for a chat before heading on his way, every inch the dashing hero. It was Ivor though who had really caught my imagination. It was Ivor who scored the goals that mattered and would continue to do so quite regularly from then on. It was Ivor who always had a cheeky wink or word with the crowd.

I went home very happy, expecting every game to be like that. I soon learned that wasn’t the case. Fulham struggled to maintain consistency and were relegated at the end of the season. I’d been bitten by the bug though and our Saturday afternoons were never quite the same again.

Scarf competition winner!

Jakub Jankowski of Chiswick!

Jakub was selected at random from the entrants we received.  Like many, his favourite FFC goal was Clint’s chip against Juve.

Thanks to all who took part.

Don’t forget to visit Savile Rogue for all your nice scarf needs!

I’ll pass on your details, Jakub.

____________________________________

Do you want to know all the latest football scores? Head to www.footballscores.com where they have live score updates from games being played all over the globe, so go check it out!

Andy Johnson finally has his big Fulham moment

Andy Johnson’s hat-trick and ongoing contract talks got me thinking. Should we renew?  Tough call, but my instinct is that if we do it should be very much on our terms.  He’s been a good player to have around, but the time he’s spent off the pitch should be a red herring  flag (herring indeed!) given his age (this may be very unfair, but may not be).

Johnson’s a strange player in that he seems to like us and we seem to like him (at the ground he’s exceedingly popular; on the internet you get more negativity but that’s to be expected), but he’s never really got any momentum going at the club.  Most obviously, he missed the fun bit of the European run, and when the story of Fulham’s great seasons in the 2000s is written his contribution may be surprisingly light. Contrast Johnson with Diomansy Kamara, an inferior player who nevertheless made some telling interventions when we needed them most, or with Zoltan Gera, who flickered in and out of the team but who made himself memorable with some of the most enthralling moments some of us will ever see.  Danny Murphy, who probably arrived at Fulham with more to prove than Johnson, has achieved his place in our affections through both big moments and consistent performances.

AJ’s goals have come against Wigan, Newcastle, Spurs, Sheffield Wednesday, Kettering, Portsmouth, West Brom, Bolton, FK Vetra, Amkar Perm, Wigan, Villa, Wolves, NSI Runavik, Crusaders, Split, Twente, Odense and QPR.

Now those goals all needed scoring and we’re very pleased he scored them, but until two days ago you couldn’t come up with a more humdrum catalogue of triumph if you tried (obviously you could: Eddie Johnson would have been delighted with that hit list, but Eddie Johnson wasn’t a highly paid frontline striker). Everyone else had their big moments, their event that would ensure a place in our memories long after they’re gone.  Johnson was missing that. He’s been a good player for Fulham, but until Sunday there was no defining moment there. It’s tempting to think that we’ve never really seen him at his best, but is that right?  Perhaps this has been him: good, but not quite what we’d hoped for. He must have felt this, and it must have nagged away at him.

So I’m glad QPR happened. It was a huge result, fun notwithstanding, and to grab a hat-trick like that instantly gives him his folk-lore. He’s worked hard for Fulham, and while his form may occasionally have disappointed, his effort never has.  He deserved that moment, and whatever happens now, his place in the Fulham story is secure.  Nice, one, AJ, chuffed for you.

Andy Johnson, Ramblin’ Man

It’s no secret Andy Johnson has had a windy time at Fulham: most expensive player; star striker; constantly injured; percevied shadow of former self. But things have been turning around, and more so than in the past 4 days.

Here’s Andy Johnson’s last six months: 22 appearances, 9 goals, 1 assist

And six months prior to that: 22 appearances, 2 goals, 3 assists.

Are we witnessing a return to past glory (he’s finally staying healthy, fingers crossed) or a sudden hot streak (five of his recent goals have come in the past 4 days)? Like with most things, it may just be a change in tactics.

Considering the Guardian’s Chalkboards are down, I had to bust out soccernet’s heat map. The top is yesterday’s romp over QPR, the below chart is that Boxing Day nightmare against West Ham.

He was really all over the place yesterday, huh? That may be a concern for other outfield players, but it’s best to have the little guy marauding around, causing turnovers, and drawing penalties. He’s clearly more effective being everywhere and yet nowhere  than in one or two hotspots. Sure, he’s only been scoring in the past week but most of the heat maps this season show the same result.

The only concern I currently have is wondering what the heck that second goal celebration was all about. I think the QPR fans were right to show their disapproval. Sheesh.

Fulham 6 (six) QPR 0

It meant so much to everyone. Fulham fans before the game seemed nervous. I don’t know what the Rangers fans were thinking but they were loud and excitable. This was them back in the big time. “We hate it when our friends become successful” sang Morrissey. “And if they’re Fulham, that makes it even worse.” The men in blue and white hoops seemed to think they had scores to settle. They got battered.

That was history. Folklore. The last few years have provided us with many memorable moments, but most of them have been exciting and frightening at the same time, never enjoyable until afterwards. This was just fun, the most purely enjoyable game we’ll ever see. The early October heatwave brought something even more unlikely to the banks of the Thames: a derby day massacre. We won six nil… roll those words around a few times.

Goals change games and after a minute we had one. Dembele shot hard, Paddy Kenny palmed it out, AJ put it back in again. Fantastic! We got another just at the right time, an AJ run terminated by a silly challenge by Kenny and/or a defender on the corner of the area.  Murphy outranked Zamora for the kick and steered it high into the net. Then a third, Dempsey on the left, the ball across goal, AJ the man on the spot again to kill the game as a contest.  QPR had seen bits of decent possession amid all this, but at the other end we tore them apart. Near misses from Dempsey and Johnson again proved that the scoreline was not misleading.

In the second half we saw three more, Johnson (I’m losing track!)  put through by a quick free kick (this summed up QPR’s day. Switching off like that in the Premier League…) to hammer in for a hat-trick. Then Dempsey following good work on the left by AJ, steering home after the cross was laid back to him, and another rifled in from Zamora. Further chances slipped by with Ruiz just wide and Sidwell letting a ball run out for a corner when behind him Zamora and Johnson waited alone for a cross.  As Dickson Etuhu warmed up the Hammersmith End cheered: “Dickson, what’s the score?” and Dickson, after thinking about it, turned around and held aloft six fingers, which of course required two hands, and smiled broadly.  Magic.

Fulham 6-0 QPR

Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. Six nil. 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Football for the fun of it: jam hot on Tooting Bec common (or the Wandsworth bicycle kick)

Today, as many of you will know, was a hot one. I don’t know exactly how hot – one of those digital displays on an advert said 26 degrees this afternoon at about 3 – but it was, to borrow a phrase, JAM HOT.

Anxious about being couped up in our small heat-trapping flat on a day like this we headed out. On the way we said hello to our new neighbours, then hit the pavement. We headed North, to Tooting Bec common.

There were about a dozen football matches being played, all kids’ games. We walked past a couple then found a nice corner spot where Stan could get a bit of shade and where I could watch the action.  We chose really well. Turned out we were seeing Wandsworth Town U15A visiting Tooting U15, and it was a cracker.  Within a few minutes Wandsworth’s numer 11 had scored twice, one a pretty impressive strike from what seemed to be the edge of the area, the next a neat finish after being put clean through (he could run, that number 11).  He wasn’t the team’s best player though.

We all like to pretend to be scouts in these situations but as the game went on the realisation grew that I was watching something pretty special.  Tooting looked pretty hopeless but Wandsworth had some serious players.  Their number 10, a skinny black boy with a nice forward lean as he ran and a deft touch in possession, patrolling the midfield but spending a lot of time up front, too, was an absolute joy to watch.  His control of the game was phenomenal: he tried things (returned a clearance with a big dipping volley from miles out that dropped just wide), he just had “it”.  I was starting to think ‘yeah, this kid could be a player’ when something amazing happened.

A corner to Wandsworth. The ball’s in the air.  Not sure how, I wasn’t paying that much attention (bad clearance?), but there it was and for some reason my eyes start to focus.

The ball’s in the air still.

Sloooow motion, like Clint Dempsey’s chip.

A player tries a scissor kick.

Not a falling volley.

A legit whiplash scissor kick.

The ball cracks into the net.

“Fucking hell,” I say, out loud.

I know who scored it: that number 10.  The hairs are standing up on the back of my head typing this.

Shit, I don’t think I’ve seen a better goal.  How many U15 players could do that? Vision, execution. Wow.

The game’s getting out of  control.  Number 10 is substituted before half time, perhaps sparing the opposition from further humiliation.

At half time we get up to go, and I notice one of the kids by the goal making sure the net’s properly taped up.  That man again.  I wheel Stanley over and we stop on the edge of the six yard box.  “That you with the bicycle kick?” “Yep.” “Fair play, that was a bit special.” We walk back to Hade and head home. I still can’t believe he did it.  I bet he can’t either.

Other interesting things: number 10 wasn’t the only player subbed before half-time. One of the Tooting lads was brought off early on.  His Dad was sitting near us and was quite reasonably furious.  Your team’s playing against some superstars from a bigger town and you take a player off before half time?  T o compound the lunacy, at half-time I heard a different dad and the team manager talking about their defence playing too high a defensive line.  “I didn’t tell them to play that high” said the manager.   Folks, you’re playing much, much better players.  Don’t moan about a high defensive line.  Don’t humiliate 15 year olds by substituting them, either.  People….

The sublime and the ridiculous.  I don’t know who the Wandsworth number 10 was, but I feel like telling Fulham about him.  The chances of them not being aware of the better U15 players within a couple of miles are surely next to nothing, but you never know.  That goal.  I bet he’s still replaying it in his mind now.  I would be.  I am.

So anyway, tomorrow we get to see Fulham play QPR and it’s going to be great, but man, I saw the best football on Tooting Bec common.

Five (late) observations from Odense

Our recent performances have been more positive I think. We’re still desperate for that elusive Premier League win but I’m feeling much happier than I was a few weeks back. Tomorrow’s going to be a tough game to watch though. We’ll all be on edge the longer we go without scoring and should we go behind, well I think it might get ugly. Watching the Odense game highlighted the difference between European & English football. We had so much more time on the ball and dominated possession. Despite that Odense could rightly claim to have had the best of the chances. I know it’s a little late but here’s some more stuff that I noticed.

1. Matthew Briggs is fast turning into a real player. I thought he had a cracking game and was thrilled to see someone with real pace bombing down the left flank. He is almost unrecognisable from the 16 year old who made his debut at Middlesbrough under Dirty Sanchez. I think he played holding midfield that day and seemed destined to become a centre back, since then he’s thinned out, picked up some fancy footwork and found a barber with a sense of humour. I felt he combined well with Duff who looked much more comfortable on the left than he has on the right. Matty has been called up to the England U21s too, so bright days ahead for him I suspect. He might even be that full back England need to win the World Cup again.

2. ITV commentators (and I suspect every other channels) clearly get all their facts and figures from the pre-game press pack. For the second time this season I played “spot the UEFA stat” and chuckled away as they read facts from the sheet provided. I was counting the time after Sidwell came on before Peter Drury felt obliged to mention Steve’s own goal against Odense when playing for Villa. He lasted about 30 seconds. I’m sure it wasn’t like this in Motty’s day.

3. Philippe Senderos needs better studs. I’ve not been a big fan of the Swiss defender’s efforts so far but I felt he was having one of his better games until the comedy stumble in the second half. In normal speed it was hard to work out what happened. Initially I assumed he’d been injured but then he tried again to close the attacker down and slipped again. He pulled off his fine impression of Bambi on ice and got away without conceding what seemed to be an inevitable goal but that moment seemed to knock his confidence. From then on his performance was littered with errors. A pair of black boots with white trim, I suggest Philippe, and good old fashioned full length studs.

4. OB’s goalkeeper, Stefan Wessels, who Peter Drury gleefully informed us played briefly for Everton in 2007-08, looked remarkably like he’d been transplanted from an archve film of J.P.R. Williams playing Rugby for Wales in the seventies. Like a live version of the recent Match of the Day titles. All hair and legs.

5. Andy Johnson proved that hard work and persistence can sometimes provide just rewards. Though his end product HAS been disappointing at times he has impressed me with his willingness to run all day and work hard to find that crucial opening. Wessels should have done better with the first goal but AJ’s second was a thing of beauty and had me off the sofa and dancing round the room … again.