“We’re winning away, we’re winning away, how s*** must you be, we’re winning away”.
Ah yes, this old chestnut. Home advantage, away day blues or simply a disliking of the unfamiliar, whatever you call it, it’s written in sporting lore.
Whichever way you look at it, Fulham are not very good away from Craven Cottage. The statistics this season don’t lie:
At Craven Cottage:
Played 15 with 7 wins, 25 points and 29 goals.
On the Road:
Played 15 with only 2 wins, 11 points and 8 goals.
I probably attend between 3 and 6 away games a season on average, normally London derbies plus one other, so there are more qualified fans out there to look at our away form, but I’ll give it a shot.
There are several issues at play here; a lack of goals, a lack of confidence and a lack of belief. When we play at home, there is not a team in the land that we can’t beat on our day. Craven Cottage is ours. It really is a fortress, and has been for many a year.
When we go away from home, there becomes a fear factor for us, and the exact opposite for teams who are playing us at their home ground. Our away form is becoming the stuff of legend for teams playing us. “Who we playing? Fulham? Well that should be three points”. Is that what the modus operandi should be when playing a team who has finished 7th, 12th and 8th the last three seasons?
So why on earth is our away form just so bad? I mean 8 goals? At home this season we have shown some real attacking quality and at times scored goals for fun. Yet away from home, we are practically anemic.
The clichéd answer with more than a grain of truth, is a lack of confidence. As winning promotes more winning, losing leads to more losing. A losing mentality away from home is the hardest streak to break. You don’t have that many fans cheering you on; you have opposition players snapping at your heels and a home crowd baying for blood like a gladiatorial coliseum.
In the build up to Monday Night’s game at Old Trafford, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said something very astute regarding our away form. When we first came into the league back in 2001, we were a team who played with no fear, snapping at other people’s heels in their own backyard, like Swansea and Norwich have done this year.
What Martin Jol is trying, and beginning to succeed in doing, is to instill in the team an attacking confidence, both home and away that says we are good enough to score at any ground, against any team and in front of any fans.
There is another important factor though. Craven Cottage is the second smallest pitch in the Premier League at 100m x 65m (equivalent to about 110 x 71 yards). The league minimum is 100m x 64m, which only Stoke City plays on, presumably to accommodate the long throws of Rory Delap.
When we played at Manchester United on Monday, I can’t have been the only one thinking that the pitch looked enormous. At 105m x 68m (115 x 75 yards) it may not sound much bigger but that’s around 650 square metres (700 square yards) more pitch. It almost swallowed up our players. Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom and Wigan are the only other teams to play on pitches this big.
Martin Jol is a believer in wing play, and this will surely help on bigger pitcher, watching Antonio Valencia hug the touchline against us on Monday showed how the full breadth of the pitch can be used as an effective weapon. For the moment though, we are a narrow team, our wide men all like to cut inside as their first instinct, and on a big pitch, this just means they get lost.
Our victory at QPR on the other hand was played out on a pitch only about a yard wider than our own. Bolton, a ground where we traditionally do ok, is small at 101m x 66m. There are exceptions to this of course, we beat Wigan this season on their big rugby pitch, but heck, it was only Wigan.
Former Wolves boss Mick McCarthy famously instructed his groundsman to shave over 18ft (4m) and 12ft (3m) off the length and width of the Molineux pitch following their promotion to the Premier League in a belief it would suit their (lack of) style of play.
It doesn’t relate to Fulham, but one interesting tidbit I found when researching this article was that only two teams have a pitch with the dimensions 101m x 68m. Liverpool and Everton. Apparently even pitch dimensions are stolen on Merseyside!
One question I’ve wanted to ask the club for a long time is, “do we have different size training pitches at Motspur Park? If not, why not?” Surely, we must adjust our training locale in readiness for the location of the matches on bigger pitches?
Just as bigger pitches are a nightmare away from home, our small pitch is golden when we are on it. Think of the teams that we do have trouble beating at home, Tottenham and Chelsea spring to mind. Well the fact that they have two of the smaller pitches in the league might account for it. A team like Arsenal, who use the whole width of a 68m pitch, on the other hand probably runs out of room when they come to us.
Thinking back to our Europa League run, that pitch in Hamburg was colossal (105m x 68m), why couldn’t the final have been played on a nice small pitch somewhere? Well, unfortunately it is a fact of architecture and engineering that the bigger the pitch, the bigger area for a stadium to be built around it.
So perhaps, our away form is just the punishment we get for the pleasure of returning to, and now redeveloping, our magical Thameside home.