In the modern football world it’s rare to see a player stay at a club for a sustained period of time and continue to play week in, week out. With the high turnover of managers naturally comes a high turnover of players and the idea of a ‘one club man’ seems to be a thing of the past. When we consider this, it’s all the more remarkable to see Tom Cairney hit the double century milestone for Fulham. When we signed him back in 2015 for a reported £3million, I’m not sure anyone could have foreseen just how important he would become for the club over the next five years. But here we are, five years later and able to look back at his 200 appearances for Fulham knowing that we have someone really special at the club. He has been the captain ever since the 2017-18 season and while he has had a great deal of criticism at times, we know that when Cairney plays well, the team plays well. He has been a crucial part of any success that we have had over the past 5 years.
However, it hasn’t always been easy, with Cairney criticised at times for shying away and not really taking games by the scruff of the neck. We know that he has the talent to win games, or save us from defeat at least, so it’s frustrating when he isn’t able to show that on the pitch. Often the criticism is unfair though with people sometimes claiming that he doesn’t care, but I don’t think a player can reach the 200 appearance mark when they don’t care. Even if they were good enough, they just wouldn’t get played! He has changed as a player and as a man whilst at Fulham. Injuries have maybe meant that he has had to play deeper than he would have when he was younger and gone are those iconic knee slides (probably banned by the physio in case he wrecks himself again!) He has also became a father whilst at Fulham and that brings with it more responsibilities and therefore maturity. Things are quite difficult at Fulham right now, but Cairney is the sort of player who can get us through it.
I love watching Cairney when he is in full flow. He can look so graceful on the ball, and when he is really on it, he must be an opposition manager’s worst nightmare. He has the ability to completely change the game and can keep the ball like the best of them. When he is given freedom to join the attack you just know that in an instant he can either find the right ball to unlock a defence, or to have a go himself. Who can forget those late goals against Leeds in both 2016 and then in 2017? Or that winner against Blackburn at Ewood Park in 2016? One of my biggest frustrations from this season, and last, is that Cairney has clearly been told to play a much deeper role. It often means that we don’t get to see him really own games the way he used to. I fully believe that if Parker starts playing him further up the pitch that things will change for us in the final push in the season.
When Cairney stroked the ball past Sam Johnstone on that famous day at Wembley, I think my head nearly exploded. For it alone he will go down in Fulham history. But there is so much more to the Tom Cairney story at Fulham than that day, I’m proud to have been able to watch him dance around pitches up and down the country in the famous black and white. Long may it continue.