A cursory glance at the calendar this morning reminded me what I was preparing for a year ago today. In case you need reminding (or just want to get really emotional again), click here.
Until the thrilling end to that Manchester City game, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we’d be playing in the Championship this season. When you consider that Fulham fans are now talking up the prospect of playing in Europe next term, it’s a remarkable turnaround. Hodgson’s done a better job than anybody could have thought possible. Perhaps he’s even surpassed himself.
There’s an interesting parallel in Fulham’s history here too. Around the time that I began to never miss a Fulham home game, Micky Adams – then a passionate full-back with a useful ability to strike a dead ball – took over from Ian Branfoot with the team in serious danger of dropping out of the league altogether. Adams was worried about making the transition from being ‘one of the lads’ to becoming the gaffer, but he instilled some much-needed belief in the side. We finished fairly comfortably above the drop, but Adams told the Hammersmith & Fulham Chronicle that he should be judged on what he achieved the following season.
It’s too much to paint him now as some sort of footballing oracle, but remarkably – without the spending power that Fulham now enjoy – Adams fashioned a side of hardworkers and talented footballers and took them all the way to promotion. It was the kind of turnaround that Hodgson’s masterminded over the last 15 months or so. Sadly, Micky has enjoyed mixed fortunes since, in my mind anyway, being harshly sacked by Fulham – winning promotions, but also looking a little out of his depth when he returned to Brighton, the scene of one of his former triumphs.
In these crazy days of modern football, it’s often said that the fans don’t have the same connection to the fans that they used to. As a young boy, everything seemed a hell of a lot more exciting in the mid-90s. One of the drawbacks of the game now is that you don’t get too many players like Simon Morgan. Hell, the turnover of players is such nowadays that blink and you’ve missed them – certainly, that’s the case at Fulham in the past couple of years.
Hodgson’s transfer record hasn’t been flawless, but he’s bought what we’ve needed. Who knows where we’d be now without Brede Hangeland at the heart of the defence? Mark Schwarzer is the kind of commanding goalkeeper a good side needs. Erik Nevland’s popped up with some crucial goals and I’d imagine there’s still more to come from Andy Johnson – and perhaps Bobby Zamora, but we won’t open that can of worms once again right now. The best part of Hodgson’s reign for me, though, has been how he’s got the best out of ‘average’ players.
Understand that I use the term ‘average’ when talking about the Premier League. John Pantsil was a crowd favourite at West Ham, but more for his infectious attitude that his great performances. Pantsil himself acknowledges that Hodgson’s really helped him come on as a footballer. Aaron Hughes looks a lot more assured now at centre back – that can’t be a coincidence.
You look at how we utilise the ability of Danny Murphy, who’s been an inspired choice as captain, as opposed to the hoofball under Sanchez and you see how far we’ve come. The pretty, passing football that we play nowadays mirrors the type of game we watched under Jean Tigana. But, thanks to the likes of Dickson Etuhu, we’ve got a bit of bite in midfield and won’t be intimidated by the more physical sides.
There are, of course, always ways you can improve – and I’m sure Hodgson will be looking to do that over the close season. But, right now, as we did on Saturday, we should just salute the fine job he’s done.