Tonight sees the return of Roy Hodgson to Craven Cottage for the first time as an opposition manager since leaving Fulham in 2010. It is my sincere belief that we should stand up and applaud Roy rather than castigate him as a villain despite the manner of his exit to Liverpool a year and a half ago.
Hodgson’s conduct as he departed our friendly confines was indeed somewhat unsavoury. Roy spent that summer appearing on the BBC’s World Cup coverage denying any interest in a purported move to Merseyside, notwithstanding widespread media speculation.
Following the conclusion of his tour to South Africa, the dice began to roll, and pieces began to fall into place. Chairman Mo rejected Liverpool’s overtures for our manager, leading Roy to eventually quit his job to force through a move. Something that, at the time, angered, frustrated and saddened the group of fans who had just witnessed the most successful season in the club’s long history. He’d bitten the hand that fed him.
In hindsight though, and with perhaps a pinch of perspective, can you really blame him for wanting to try his hand at Liverpool. In revenue terms, Liverpool remains to this day the 4th biggest club on the planet behind Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.
There’s not many clubs that could attract over half a million people to midweek victory celebrations, as Liverpool did for the Champions League parade in 2004. Our Russian funded neighbours from up the road certainly could not. Let’s face it, its not like he left us because we lacked ambition only to wind up taking a lesser job in Shepherds Bush.
Roy gave us a parting gift. He bought Paul Konchesky from us for the princely sum of £3m plus two highly touted prospects in Lauri Dalle Valle and Alex Kakaniklic, the latter of whom has just joined Watford for the remainder of the season on loan. We seem to have the best of that deal with two prospects at the beginning of their careers with Konch now plying his trade a division down.
A further dodged bullet perhaps, as Roy brought Christian Poulsen to Anfield – a player who had rejected a move to Fulham from Juventus the previous summer, and was hounded out of Merseyside nearly as fast as his manager.
However, let us not look back at Roy’s time elsewhere but at what he did for our wonderful club. We were languishing near to foot of the Premiership when Roy was plucked from the relative obscurity of the Finland national team, and parachuted in to replace the ineffective spendthrift, Lawrie Sanchez. Roy led a top to bottom transformation of Fulham from losers to winners (as long as we weren’t playing away). Heck, for that special period of the Great Escape, we could even win away.
Amongst his astute signings over his two and a half seasons were Brede Hangeland, Erik Nevland, Bobby Zamora, John Pantsil, Mark Schwarzer, David Stockdale, Dickson Etuhu and Damian Duff. For now we’ll try and forget about the Giles Barnes, Jari Litmanen and Olivier Dacourt eras!
What’s more, Roy gave us a manager of whom we could rightly be proud. He was one of us. Quite frankly he still is. Roy is more likely to read a Nobel Laureate than his name in the tabloids or to walk his dog along a country lane than name a Monaco bank account after it. Roy epitomised the good about our club. He was articulate, knowledgeable and nice enough to be your own grandfather. It is not often you get a manager who is on UEFA’s technical committee, after all.
On the pitch, Roy led us to unparalleled success. We were disciplined, organised and creative. When he installed Hughes and Hangeland together we had the most improved defence in the league. His impromptu strike force of Gera, another tremendous signing, and Zamora took Europe by storm, between them sinking Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg in the most astonishing six months I’ve ever witnessed in football.
LMA Manager of the Year, a 7th place finish in the Premier League and a European final. God bless that man. We all loved Cookie as he was Fulham through and through, Sanchez was a braggart and a fool who found himself in the right place at the right time when he kept us up, Hughes despite getting our Whites playing some good football always seemed too arrogant to feel like one of us; but Roy, he was part of our Fulham Family.
After the appalling treatment he got at Liverpool, Roy has found a home at West Brom, a club not too dissimilar from us in size and stature. He’s done well and I for one still count him as my personal choice to succeed Fabio Capello as England boss in the summer.
Hindsight can be a blessing and a curse. Whether or not Roy wishes he left, or not, I for one will be standing and clapping when Roy leads his West Brom team out onto the Cottage pitch tomorrow night and I hope you’ll join me in welcoming home a gentleman and a member of the Fulham Family. Hopefully he’ll even give us the three points to say sorry.