It says something about modern football that the concept of the former player takes up so many column inches these days. How will fans react to one of their old heroes returning and should a player celebrate a goal against his previous employers. There was none of the studied indifference to scoring from Chris Martin the other night when he equalised against Norwich – and I think the whole idea of respect in this regard is a little precious from fans who can be abusive and quite derogatory when the mood takes them. It says something about how people have moved on from Ross McCormack, however, that when an Aston Villa-supporting colleague asked me what sort of reception he’ll get from the Fulham fans tomorrow, I had to confess I hadn’t given it out a lot of thought.
The boos are almost customary these days. You can see why they might resound around the area section with McCormack’s every touch. He was clearly a class apart in the Fulham side that he played for – our most creative influence and the team’s only consistent source of goals until Moussa Dembele began to hit his stride. He cashed in on a big-money move when he might have stayed and been a part of the new outfit that Slavisa Jokanovic was trying to build and there’s no doubt that even this team badly misses his presence in the final third of the field. The emotional reaction would be to air some dissatisfaction that one of the division’s finest footballers isn’t still wearing the white shirt, but I hope that doesn’t happen.
Here’s why. McCormack never let Fulham down. He was clearly sold the prospect of a swift Premier League return when he swapped Leeds for London in the aftermath of Fulham’s relegation and got the maddening dysfunction of the Felix Magath era. Even in two sides that struggled badly to adjust to the harsh reality of the Championship and grappled with the drop for far too long, McCormack carved out chances and scored goals of ridiculous quality. Think about those free kicks that curled majestically into the net, the majestic strikes from distance – such as against Sheffield Wednesday – the moments of individual brilliance (like that impudent finish against Bristol City) and his coolness from twelve yards. The simple statistics don’t do him justice – but 43 goals in 96 appearances is some record.
When the vultures circled last winter, offering him the chance of a step up to the top flight – which, let us not forget was the reason McCormack relocated from Yorkshire in the first place – the Scottish talisman was clearly tempted. But rather than take the first deal on the table, he renegotiated his contract with Fulham and played his heart out during another relegation battle – his blossoming partnership with young Dembele being the primary reason why Fulham aren’t playing League One football this term. Signing that new deal meant Fulham were in the best possible position to demand a fee around what they paid Leeds for his services back in 2014 when suitors started surrounding McCormack this summer – and it’s not something every footballer would have done.
It is a reflection of how comfortable McCormack felt about the atmosphere at Craven Cottage that not only did he release a personal note to the Fulham fans after his departure (something that was entirely his decision, by the way) but he also brought his son back to the club to watch a Cup tie earlier this season and buy him a club kit. Fulham have always been a club with a bit of class, recognising quality both from ourselves and the opposition, and a friendly place to watch football – sometimes to our own detriment. It would be shame for a petulant reaction to McCormack’s departure to sour his whole-hearted contributions when he pulled on our shirt.
Fans are, of course, free to make up their own mind – this is merely a personal view. Loyalty has largely gone out of the window in today’s game – the concept of the testimonial seems now to belong to a bygone era – and McCormack’s motives might have had plenty to do with the realisation that this summer could have been his last opportunity to secure a bumper contract before his career comes to a close. Whatever the reasons, I’d prefer to remember his contributions in the memories he made at Craven Cottage and not the fact he chose to leave, because unlike the fans, players unfortunately always do.