If Mohamed Al Fayed keeps his word, Fulham players will celebrate escaping relegation on Sunday with a Harrods hamper filled with caviar, champagne and Viagra. The coach journey back from Fratton Park to southwest London will be a raucous affair – even without the chairman’s generous gesture – should Fulham complete a remarkable turnaround by winning their third match in a row to secure Barclays Premier League status. There will be songs, beers and high-fives, but one person will be keeping to himself.
Roy Hodgson is one of the most intelligent men in football and if Fulham stay up, the 60-year-old manager is planning on celebrating by going to bed with a glass of water and a good book. His players may be looking forward to hitting Chinawhites with a pocketful of blue pills, but the only form of stimulation Hodgson will be seeking can be found within the pages of Schultz, by J.P. Donleavy.
“I wouldn’t need to celebrate,” Hodgson said. “If we were to win and stay in the league, there would be such satisfaction for me that I would quite happily go home and have a glass of water and read my book. I found Schultz in an antique shop in Brighton. I’ve read it about five times.”
No one was laughing at Craven Cottage when Hodgson arrived at the club in December. Fulham had just slipped into the bottom three and Fayed responded by sacking Lawrie Sanchez. Nothing that Hodgson tried seemed to make his players believe that they could avoid relegation until two weeks ago, when they came back from two goals down to beat Manchester City 3-2 and breathe life into their survival campaign.
A 2-0 victory over Birmingham City last weekend dragged Fulham out of the relegation zone for the first time this year and a victory over a Portsmouth team who will have one eye on the FA Cup Final would complete a stunning reversal of fortune. “The team we have at the moment is good enough to get a win,” Hodgson said. “But I think it will be very tough.”
Fortunately for Hodgson and the thousands of Fulham fans who will be biting their nails on Sunday afternoon, it is a good time to be playing Portsmouth. Harry Redknapp’s team are playing in the Cup Final for the first time in more than 60 years a week tomorrow and Hodgson is hoping that Portsmouth will have one eye on their big day at Wembley.
“Harry’s had a bit more time to put this Portsmouth team together and I think he’s done it wisely,” Hodgson said. “It’s paid dividends, they’ve had a marvellous season in the league and they’re in a cup final. We would like to think that, given time, we might also be able to put a team together that fits our way of thinking and playing. Unfortunately, you can’t do it in a couple of months. It’s easy to do from a position of strength if you are higher up the league.”
Whatever happens on Sunday, Hodgson will not be getting carried away. Win and he can look forward to a summer at the European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland working for Uefa as a member of the governing body’s technical study group. Lose and drop into the Coca-Cola Championship and he will still go to Euro 2008 and spend his spare time looking for players who could take Fulham back to where he believes they belong.
“I don’t know what I did after we beat Birmingham last Saturday,” Hodgson said. “It can’t have been very exciting, though, otherwise I would have remembered.”