“The Club will be holding an open training day on the 3rd March”.  My eyes lit up. Were Fulham going to let me in to watch the first team train? Me? Common Sod of Ealing? Yes, they were. And so it was I found myself walking towards the Putney End at 9:41 am, wondering quite what the man singing to himself during the morning rush hour was doing. At this moment I decided that the world of banking would never get to me. Ever.

Anyway, onto the day ahead. As I strode confidently past the Cottage I stopped and watched Damien Duff get off his vintage bicycle, dressed in classic casual London attire. Looking around the crowd with his shades on, calm and composed, he looked like a man who was revelling in the morning sun. And so were the 1000 or so Fulham fans that came.

As I was ushered through the gates of the Hammersmith End, and waved past the stewards (without checking my bag, something that surprised me somewhat) I stopped and noticed the emptiness of the stadium without a crowd. Like David Cameron without an excuse, or Clint Dempsey without a trademark “#thatswhatsup” hashtag on twitter, it didn’t seem right. As I pondered the meaning of Craven Cottage, Diddy Hamilton introduced the great manager himself who told us that they would be having a quick training session and then a question and answer session. So simple it seemed. I bet even Martin didn’t see himself giving the time he did to autographs and photos that he did, but, like the rest of the squad, they took their duties admirably. None of them, not even the ill Danny Murphy, shirked off signing autographs or taking photos.  Fantastic professionals, every last one. Even Alex Kacaniklic, looking dazed and confused when two older women expressed their dear love for him, still managed to smile sweetly and enquire if they wanted a photo.

Anyway onto training. Warm ups were rigidly observed and led by Cap’n Smurph, who seems to be a very good captain. Made sure those slackers at the back got their move on. Billy McKinlay soon arrived and, under the watchful gaze of Jol, organised some passing drills. I immediately started to look at some of the youngsters on show- which included Corey Gamerio, Muamer Tankovic, Josh Pritchard and of course Kaca. Tankovic looks a tidy player- has a great first touch and first time pass on him, as does Kaca. Then they started practising heading. Ah, headers! I thought. Bryan Ruiz! I thought. I then proceeded to watch him extremely closely. I learnt 2 things: Contrary to popular belief, Bryan Ruiz can actually head the ball. Secondly, also contrary to popular belief, he can jump.

But then we got the bit where skills mean nothing without mental ability. The small sided game. The group (of about 20 players) were divided into two teams, with England’s Number One on One team and the big Aussie on the other. From the following 30 minutes I compiled a list of things that I noticed.

1)      Stockdale’s all round passing ability is much much better than Schwarzers. He always looked calm on the ball, and whilst Schwarz was kicking it all over the place, Stockdale’s every kick went exactly where he wanted it to.

2)      Corey Gamerio has a very very good right foot on him. On more than one occasion did he rifle a terrific shot past Stockdale. He also looked good with his movement, and made a few passes too.

3)      Kaca has a fantastic, two footed cross on him. Swung them in regularly, and they all looked dangerous.

4)      Tankovic will be a very good player. Has superb mental ability but at the moment, mostly due to his age, lacks the physical capability. Was getting in all the right areas, but was being muscled off the ball. That will come with time, and his shooting looked tidy (all 2 shots of it).

Apart from that it was much the Fulham we’ve been seeing, with good first touches and fluid football. Clint Dempsey looked a step above everyone it must be noted, and the man wearing a black tracksuit, making notes,must have been very impressed.

After this training session came the moment when Fulham confirmed to me something that I’d known all along, but had never quite seen in action. Fulham made the fans come first. Over came the squad; out came the cameras, the pens, the shoes: you name it, it was signed.  Stephen Kelly obligingly took off his shirt, and got a large wolf-whistle from the women in front of me, who not long ago and declared their love for Kaca. My personal experience went along the lines of this:

Stop 1: Alex Kacaniklic. Photo. Quick chat about the season. Wish well.  Nice lad.

Stop 2: The Texan Ranger himself. “Hey, Clint”, I said, “Mind a photo”.  The deep south accent replied: “Sure man”. Shaking a bit, I managed to steady myself for the photo. Shaking, I thank him.

Stop 3: Martin Jol. Asked for a picture- got a bear hug. Seeming mistaking my arm round his back, he launched into a full on bear hug. It was a priceless moment in my life- the moment that I had been waiting for. I had been born for this. I was being bear hugged by a giant friendly Dutchman. Then I got a picture, and a beam radiated across my face like no other.

Stop 4: The man I had wanted to meet most. Brede Hangeland. Giant, towering, seeming unreachable, I watched as he bent down with ease to take a photo with the kids just along from me, before patting them on the head. I was calm. I was composed. I got my photo, and I had my day. A quick wish for a good season, and a good result against Chelski (to which he laughed, and responded “I’ll do my best!”) I went home, happy and contended, knowing in my heart that Fulham was the club to be at, and that Fulham was being well looked over.

Thank You Fulham Football Club.


Moments after the Bear Hug

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