BRING ME SUNSHINE
Mickey Blue Eyes
Fulham......Away......Sunday......Kick off 1.30pm. The thought hardly made your football heart sing, especially if you had been at the other end of the country the previous Tuesday evening. We needed sunshine and laughter to compensate. Above all we needed another win. If the day went well it promised to be an exhilarating afternoon to match the performance at Newcastle. Furthermore, we would depart for the match and arrive home in daylight after the clocks moved forward to British Summer Time.
Our opponent conjured images of an absent-minded octogenarian aunt surrounded by balls of wool and an air of, "Now where did I put those needles?" or of tea and crumpets on a lace tablecloth. Appropriately, they play at Craven Cottage, a name-gift to satirists. Owned since 2013 by yet another Lahndan expat naturalised Yank, Shahid Khan of Illinois, their previous owner was expat Egyptian Mohammed El Fayed of Alexandria; thus the football world continues to shrink. El Fayed (according to him) lent the club an interest-free £187 million and also erected a statue to pop singer Michael Jackson at their ground, thus proving something or other. The sale price to Khan was never revealed but has been estimated at between £150-250 millions. But believe any of those figures and you will also believe in Father Christmas. The Yank also owns American "Football" club Jacksonville Jaguars, who weirdly played some games at Wembley. According to more published figures he is supposedly worth just less than four billion dollars. Curiouser and curiouser.
I know nothing of Jacksonville Jaguars since I am unable to take seriously an incomprehensible sport played in mobile crash helmets supported on body pads and tight shiny knickerbockers, in which one of the rules is literally "Never mind the ball get on with the game," where TV dictates virtually everything, and where, incredibly, some of the players have a disgusting, wobbly stomach. Why such an activity is called foot ball is beyond me. It more resembles a netball street fight in gang colours and body armour. But each to his own.
All of which seems to make Khan perfectly suited for rock bottom Fulham. Maybe he was unaware of what he was getting into, as opposed to what he hopes to get out of it. I can think of a few business empires that would give him a better short term return than Fulham Football Club. Anyone who thinks he will put his own non-returnable money into hiring players is an idiot: All he will do is guarantee loans for as long as his personal wealth can stand it, or he becomes bored, after which it is sink or swim. As usual the loans will be repaid from club revenues. Amongst others, ask hapless Malay-Briton Tony Fernandes at yet another London club, Queens Park Rangers. Even Abramovich and the Al Nahyan family will want their shares purchase money back at some stage, as did the Moores family at Everton and Liverpool, usually but not always in increased shares value. And just as El Fayed did. There is no free lunch in professional sports.
In the end it is always the fans who cough up. It has always been thus since the dawn of professionalism at the start of the last century. Capitalism in action......What else did you expect? Whatever sentimental clowns tell you, there has never been a Golden Age in football club ownership. And at the present rate there never will be. Previous relative equanimity was bought on the backs of the maximum wage, or "players slavery" as it was rightly called at the time, though I cannot recall then or now any fans mass organised support for the PFA, the players union. One way or another professional sports have always suffered from moral imbecility; immutable memory does the rest.
The reality is that long term Fulham fans are the bedrock of professional footy, as are the supporters of every other club, including ours. Without their kind of loyalty the game is totally lost to individual greed. This is not to say football fans are blameless for the state of the sport: We heard no complaints of "rich man's plaything" when the Moores family owned Everton and Liverpool and operated the maximum wage (before exiting with millions in profits after they sold both clubs), just as now we hear few complaints from Stamford Bridge and the Etihad. And I have no doubt the same self-styled werkn klass Evertonians who jeer at Chelsea and Manchester City and moan about Bill Kenwright's ownership would be the first to Sieg Heil! new ownership by Phoef von Silverstein III of Texas, green card courtesy of Operation Paperclip, owner of slave fruit plantations in South America......none of which would matter one jot if we won several trophies.
That was the backdrop to a match we expected to win easily at a tiny stadium with a corrugated tin roof next to the sludge-brown Thames, where, if you believe all the media nonsense, it is "atmospheric." Of course it is nothing of the sort. It is a throw-back to yesterday's stadia horrors of disgusting toilets, indigestible snack food, standing terraces and dead brained organised hooliganism, the kind of thing missed only by retired thugs and selective-memory morons. In fact Craven Cottage makes you shudder for what the game once was. Which makes their fans loyalty all the more striking - last three seasons average gate over 25,000, a long way from ten years of 4,000 averages between 1986-1996.
Up to Sunday we had not lost at Fulham in the League in four years. Sadly, earlier this season we went out of the League Cup there in ignominious style, a loss that rightly infuriated Evertonians who attended in expectant thousands. Before the Sunday match Fulham were still at the bottom and we were fifth; again Evertonian expectations were high, helped by a pleasantly warm afternoon, watery sunshine and the tang of freshly mown grass. Fortunately our hopes were fulfilled as they were during the week, but not without the usual short-lived frisson of uncertainty. Again our first half was painful, the second half ours apart from a ten minutes spell. By now the pattern of play is almost predictable.
Our selected team started as it started at Newcastle. Steven Naismith came on for Ross Barkley at half time and Aidan McGeady and Kevin Mirallas substituted for Osman and Deulofeu during the last twenty minutes. Feature of the Fulham team was our former player John Heitinga in a Lone Ranger mask; as with Newcastle, most of the rest of their team looked awfully young.
For this fan, our only first half highlight was the behaviour of a middle aged man two rows in front of me. At what seemed like five minute intervals he had a go at Fulham's third manager this season, Felix Magath, with, "Fuck of Maggot, haha!" Which only demonstrates how dire matters were out on the pitch. In fact if Tim Howard had not been in good form we would have been two or three down. Not that Fulham were that good......we were just empty of attacking ideas, except when Deulofeu did his usual right wing forays and smacked in assorted hard ground crosses that nobody moved for and the Catalan screamed, "Rommmm!" at Lukaku. Either Gerard cannot judge them or Lukaku is not fast enough. I have no idea which it is. When play is like this you get the notion Our Boys are daring fate all the way to the edge of the abyss. It plays havoc with your nervous system and stomach acid.
It also demonstrated for the umpteenth time that Leighton Baines is less than half effective without the little quicksilver genius of ageing Steven Pienaar. Still, Roberto Martinez counters the adversity by clever use of substitutions. In the end Fulham were submerged under waves of attacking play instigated by McGeady, Mirallas and Naismith. The change of team shape completely undid them. So let us forget the first half. Cheerfully, the final result could have been 4 or 5-1 if it had not been for their 'keeper.
The first goal came five minutes after the restart. Ironically it was an own goal by their 'keeper, but Our Boys were already playing like Roberto had at half time wedged some chilli peppers where they smart most. Fulham failed to cross the half way line before we gained a corner on the right. Bainsey took it and swerved it left-footed toward the near post. Their 'keeper came for it but was left stranded when a defender glanced it away instinctively with his head; unfortunately for him it went to exactly the wrong place, centre of the D, where waited Naismith and he half-volleyed a ground shot at an unguarded goal, it ricocheted off an attacker and a defender......and then in off the hapless 'keeper's shin as he backed up. Pure Casey's Court. Game on in earnest.
It roused Fulham without them looking especially dangerous. They kept doing what they had been doing all afternoon but with a little more intensity: attack down the wings, where Seamus and Bainsey were left with little cover all match. A better team than Fulham will do us serious damage if the breach is not filled. Still, their equaliser was easily the best goal and quality move of the match and would have defeated any goalkeeper in the world. It came with twenty minutes left after a move through the centre and two neat passes before it ended with their left winger cutting in along the left edge of the penalty area before smashing in an unstoppable right foot shot that screamed inside Tim's right post while he was still in the air. It might have helped if McCarthy had not slipped over as he did for one of Arsenal's goals in the Cup match, but it takes nothing from the goal. Quite brilliant.
For five minutes thereafter it looked as though we would concede again. The enemy gained a few corners and Tim had to make two magnificent instinctive point blank saves. Concede then and there was a distinct possibility of losing. Instead, Our Boys remained unfazed and regained the initiative and dominated the remainder of the game. Then it was the Fulham 'keeper's turn to make two or three very good saves. Our leading goal could hardly have been simpler with ten minutes left. Tim Howard cleared downfield to the left centre circle, McGeady brought it down, took a few steps forward and delivered a through ball killer slightly left of centre to Mirallas and he raced through and slotted from inside the penalty area with a defender too late to get a full tackle in. Fulham deflated like a balloon. Five minutes later the enemy was run in circles inside the left penalty area and with bodies everywhere the ball bounced to Naismith dead centre goal area and he poked it home.
Five league wins in a row is excellent form by any standards. Next week, Arsenal at home. I hope we cover our full backs better because you can bet sour vinegary Arsene Wenger will have noticed. It is still all there to play for. Win that, and you can see our Scouse cat scatter the Cockney pigeons. It should be an interesting, fraught spectacle.....well, after half time, anyway.