In England you know it’s summer when a few things happen. Firstly, the nation’s attention turns to Tim Henman and strawberries and cream for a week and a half maximum (before he chokes in the semi-finals), then our cricket team wins a couple of matches and everyone believes they are world beaters (a similar scenario to the football boys, actually) and then a worried manager, such as Peter Reid, tells the press boys that in pre-seaosn he’s not actually looking for results. In the last month, all these things happen.

It is certainly true you can’t read too much into pre-season preparations. Most of them involve trialists, reserves or youth team players of varying degrees of abilities and not the first-teamers who will wear the shirts when the big games come around. So, what is the point, then? Well, firstly it gives the manager a chance to assess the abilities of his squad in a (reasonably) competitive fixture and secondly, the club’s are too greedy not to refuse the chance of making a bit of extra money over the summer. Pre-season friendlies are the preserve of the anorak . you’ll see them eating their cold roast dinner at Brentford on a balmy July evening. Actually, that was me, but normally you can’t tell the difference.

So, what are we supposed to make Fulham’s pre-season exploits? For what is worth, it seems Chris Coleman has found the motivation and insight to get the squsad all pulling in the same direction and is not afraid to give the promising Academy graduates a chance to play with their more established peers. If he hadn’t we wouldn’t have discovered that Malik Buari has the talent and application to become a first-choice winger or that Zesh Rehman has been converted from an ordinary central defender into an imposing enforcer in midfield. A key to the composed debuts of these young players is the flexibility with which the manager acts – to Coleman it is simple to bring players off and throw others on (witness his clever time-wasting introduction of John Collins with moments to go in his first game in charge against Newcastle back in April) or change a rigid 4-5-1 in a adaptable 4-3-3, but Tigana might have walked out in protest first.

The games themselves have either been one-sided or close. We have never enjoyed regular success at Plainmoor, but ended our hodoo in our opening friendly, emerging from a first-half scare to run out easy winners. Buari was probably one of the most impressive newcomers, scoring a goal reminiscent of Ronaldinho last summer, and may force his way into the first team before long. Facundo Sava has clearly been taking some close-season lessons from our very own Barry Hayles in the art of ‘no nonense’ finishing. The result was a goal a game until Coleman decided that Steve Marlet should get a chance to prove he is more than the biggest flop in the history of British football.

Louis Saha’s finishing also seems to have return to its Division One championship winning levels. He bagged a pair of goals at Plainmoor (admittedly against lower class opposition than he will face in a fortnight) but with the kind of confidence that he displayed immediately after his £2.1m switch from Metz. His opportunism, which is always the sign of a striker from a different galaxy (remember Thierry Henry’s audacious lob over Fabien Barthez at Highbury a few years), returned in abundance in Kapfenburg with his magnificent long-range effort against Roma. That’s got to be a good sign.

Coleman has also taken to playing Marlet on the right. Despite my initial sceptism, a few posters on the forum and the lack of quality replacements for Steed Malbranque, I am now warming to the idea. Marlet certainly has the pace and the control to make it as an out-and-out winger, the same qualities that led many to suggest that the out-of-form Saha might be tried in that position towards the end of our first season in the top flight. A few sessions on coaching might transform him into a lethal weapon, but don’t hold your breath .

Our friendly against Celtic showed me something that has been lacking in Fulham’s performances over the last six months, pre-Tigana’s departure, a fighting spirit that bound the players together. There was a stirring passion at Loftus Road that night – it belonged at Craven Cottage, but more of that in a moment. However, there was one thing that didn’t change – the nagging ifs and buts. If we’d have had Steve Finnan at right back he might not have been so easily beaten by Bobby Petta and if Maik Taylor had taken the first-half goalkeeping stint he might have got closer to Stilian Petrov’s early thunderbolt. And, most depressing, if Hayles’ header had dipped under the crossbar rather then crashed into it. It’s amazing this pre-season stuff, it makes you feel like the football’s back.

Now, perhaps the biggest issue involving the club at the moment has yet to mentioned in this column yet. It concerns the club’s traditional home, Craven Cottage. I have been involved and fully supportive of the Back to the Cottage movement founded to return Fulham to their own ground. BTTC representatives arranged a meeting with club officials, including Bruce Langham, Lee Hoos and Andy Ambler, to discuss the ground plans, at which the club accepted BTTC’s redevelopment proposals for Craven Cottage. BTTC pressured the club to make a decision about where the club play in 2004/05 at their next board meeting, in mid-June. The club promised to keep BTTC in contact and make their decision as soon as people, but they have made just one phone call to BTTC and a decision has not been forthcoming. It’s time for answers, Bruce.