Ironically, given Dimitar Berbatov’s choice of t-shirt on Boxing Day, calmness is in short supply among the Fulham faithful at the moment. Given the hysterical reaction to what was another ultimately disappointing display three days, you could have been forgiven for thinking Martin Jol’s side had been trounced by Southampton rather than actually picking up a point. I’ve long since given up posting on the various Fulham forums and messageboards and, due to a difficult pre-Christmas period of my own, haven’t been able to string sentences together here, either but, hours before what has again been billed as ‘must-win’ game by some sections of support, a sense of perspective is necessary.
There’s no denying that Fulham are on a dismal run. The Whites have won just one of their last eleven fixtures and haven’t kept a clean sheet since the short journey down the Fulham Road a month ago. The fluid, eye-catching football that set pulses racing in the early weeks of the football has been glimpsed briefly, but is fleeting rather than frequent. Jol’s adoption of a more attacking mind-set has left previously reliable defenders, like Brede Hangeland, alarmingly exposed – and injuries have ruptured the spine of what was a strong side. Without high quality understudies, any team will look weaker without Mahmadou Diarra, Damien Duff, Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov.
But the problems aren’t insurmountable and Fulham’s plight is far from terminal. The Whites might have picked up one fewer point than at this stage last season, but there is a six-point gap between their current position and the relegation zone. This isn’t a situation reminiscent of when Lawrie Sanchez was sacked just before Christmas five years ago – or, in my view, comparable to when Mark Hughes’ team lingered above the drop zone, a little more recently. Jol’s side have played some scintillating football this season – think back to that afternoon at Arsenal six weeks ago – and can rediscover their joie de vivre.
Furthermore, managerial changes aren’t the way to achieve success. The three changes in management in over the last two seasons have seen a dizzying turnover in players, coaches and philosophies as well as scuppering any realistic chance of using that remarkable run to Hamburg as a springboard. Patience might have left the footballing lexicon of late, but those who exercise it are often rewarded. English football would look a lot different today had Manchester United’s board parted ways with Sir Alex Ferguson early in his reign – and, if Martin Jol should be looking anxiously over his shoulder after eighteen months at the Cottage, then it would imply that Roman’s Russian roulette wheel brand of stewardship is contagious.
The title of the piece comes from the phrase with which Micky Adams, who started Fulham’s climb from the abyss, used to finish his programme notes. It is as apt now as it was in the weeks after a feisty full-back stepped into Ian Branfoot’s shoes with the oldest club in London position perilously close to the Football League’s trap door. A more recent parallel would be when a lone voice at the back of the Hammersmith End implored his fellow Fulham fans to ‘stand up if you believe’ as Hamburg look likely to end that magical European run. I don’t need to remind anybody of what followed.
Watching Fulham can be frustrating but we’re lucky enough to be watching two real artisans, in Ruiz and Berbatov, in one of the most idyllic settings in the country. Not too long ago, Premier League football didn’t look like it was returning to Craven Cottage. When the new league broke away in 1992, the men in white coats would have ferried you away if you suggested it ever would. Jol has brought a classy Costa Rican and a brilliant Bulgarian to Fulham as well accelerating the development of Kerim Frei and Alex Kacaniklic through first-team football. His work’s obviously unfinished – so let’s keep calm and keep the faith.