Here is the second article I wrote for The Dugout Magazine, published in the November edition. It was written towards the end of October but after Saturday’s debacle it seems more relevant than ever! Read the December issue here.
Fulham have been through a fairly turbulent time recently. Over the past five and a half seasons we’ve had five different managers, two new statues, a few total upheavals of our playing squad which means the exiled Simon Davies is now our only player left from Coleman’s era and a European Final. At least there has been one reassuring constant throughout our time in the Premier League: our terrible away form.
While Craven Cottage has developed a reputation for a tough game, our visits to opposing clubs have probably the opposite effect – although on a personal note I’ve rarely seen us lose away, thanks to a knack it seems of choosing the right places to go! – and teams quite fairly expect three points when they play host to us.
Fulham fans get some redicule – not entirely fair – for our poor away attendances but it’s hard to describe just how terrible we really were. The easiest way is probably through cold hard statistics. In the 05/06, 06/07 and 09/10 seasons we had just one away win all season, 02/03 we had two and in the 07/08 and 08/09 we had to wait until the season was almost complete to see us get three points on the road. Meanwhile, we were consistently mid table or above with regards to our home form.
The most damning statistic is our apologetic run of form starting at the beginning of the 05/06 season, which began a run of fourty-three games where we only won twice, or an extended seventy-two game stretch where we took just five victories. When we weren’t losing, we were involved in insipid draws and while teams will have poor away seasons our consistency was what elevated it above the rest. It really was tragic.
Perhaps we were just unfortunate, some might say, but we really weren’t. It was a vast series of insipid performances and has held back our league position fairly dramatically. Back when we were pushing for a top four place back in the 03/04 season we produced our best away form in the league. A glance at the away league tables of our time in the Premier League shows our away form, relative to others, is considerably poorer than at home.
However, if you are going to be bad at something it’s always best to do it in style. So, while we are conclusively pretty awful on the road, we do have our moments. Several, in fact. Last season we completed a glorious double over our bitter rivals QPR with a 1-0 win at Loftus Road as well as inspiring performances at Chelsea, Arsenal and United. A late flurry of away wins propelled us to 7th back in 2009, our highest ever league position and the chance to compete in Europe, a chance we took with both hands but would have been over before it begun if it weren’t a 3-2 away win in Basel to get us out of the group when a draw or loss would have knocked us out. A 3-1 win at Old Trafford remains one of our Premier League highlights, and even under Mark Hughes our Boxing Day 2-0 result at Stoke kickstarted another top ten campaign which threatened to leave us in another relegation battle.
Questions need to be asked though. Why have we been so poor over such a long period of time? Under Jol things appear to be changing. Last season we won four times away from home, our joint highest in the Premier League, but a twelve goals in nineteen games meant that we lost alot too. This season we seem to be setting that right with six goals in four and a desire to seize the initiative. Perhaps being so devoid of width and attacking verve for so long meant that we struggled to counter the more aggressive tactics typically used at home.
More fundamentally though a caustic, inherent belief that ‘we are Fulham and we are useless away’. To help cope with it we’ve developed chants such as ‘How [bad] must you be, we’re winning away’. A funny chant but I wonder how much it helps. However, as I say, there have been a few recent differences in both the way we play and the optimism in fans which is reflected in our away following expanding quite a bit. Hopefully we can finally start doing ourselves justice on the road, and finally use that as a means to progress as a club rather than an excuse for self-deprication.