The scenes at Craven Cottage last night will live long in the memory. Fulham had rather stumbled towards the finishing line after earning promotion against Preston North End last season, but they finally secured the Championship title in the sort of sensational style that they started the season. Luton Town, who would have clinched a play-off place of their own with a win in SW6, were completely swept aside for the third swashbuckling 7-0 win of a superb season – which brought up both a century of league goals and, most magically of all, Aleksandar Mitrovic’s 43rd goal to surpass Guy Whittingham’s second division post-war record.
The tone was set from the outset by the decision of the Fulham hierarchy to place commemorative scarves, rather than the much-maligned clappers, on each seat. The home support’s swirling of these scarves before kick-off, with the stunning visuals that created, as well as what Marco Silva described as the best atmosphere he’s heard inside the Cottage, gave the evening even more of a party feel. After Fulham’s last two false starts, there was an edginess around the ground as a feisty Luton side sought to disrupt Fulham’s rhythm but everything felt right once Tom Cairney banged in the opener.
It was fitting that our classy captain, who many had written off as withered by injury before a ball had been kicked, got the festivities underway. That Cairney cracked in the crucial opener off his wand of a left foot – was wonderful and there was plenty of emotion in his own celebration at the Putney End. There was never any questioning of his prodigious talent but the Scottish playmaker has grown into a towering figure with this club, writing his name into Fulham folklore by leading us out three times at Wembley. Legendary status was long since assured: Cairney is now just enhancing his legacy with more memorable moments.
When Kenny Tete leathered in a left-footed long-ranger – some strike on his weaker side – you knew it was going to be a good night. Any angst about a Luton comeback disappeared when Fabio Carvalho, outstanding on what might have been his final Fulham appearance at the Cottage, found the far corner with a fabulous finish and there was a deserved goal for Bobby Decordova-Reid, whose work ethic has always been first class. Sandwiched between Mitrovic’s magnificent brace was a low strike from distance by Jean Michael Seri, whose emergence as a midfielder that Silva can depend upon has probably surprised even the Ivorian himself.
The party was in full swing long before Mitrovic made history by making a tough finish appear straightforward in stoppage time. The Serbian had shown serious desire to fish the loose ball out of the net and sprint back to the centre circle in search of another opportunity at 6-0 and he gobbled up the chance fashioned for him by another wonderful Harry Wilson assist with absolute relish. You just run out of superlatives for Mitrovic at this point: he’s a phenomenal competitor and it is a joy to see an adventurous side build around him, rather than one that excludes him entirely. We are very lucky to be watching a master at work.
The carnival only continued after the final whistle and following the inevitable pitch invasion. There was a lovely moment when the Championship trophy was brought onto the pitch by the Fulham women’s captain Mary Southgate, who recently made her 100th appearance for the club, and as a lifelong fan demonstrated her impeccable H5 credentials by heading straight for H5 with the cup when she got her hands on it. It was brilliant to see Marco SIlva’s backroom staff celebrating joyously on the pitch and for a superb squad to celebrate with a packed Craven Cottage.
The questions about whether Fulham can break the promotion/relegation cycle can’t wait. Silva was at pains to point out that London’s oldest professional football club doesn’t win trophies very often: a tradition he wants to break. This side will go down as one of the best in the club’s history – and certainly one of the most stylish. It is some achievement for a new manager to imbue both his personality and philosophy right across a club within nine months. Silva has not only managed that but he has forged a special bond with his players and the fans; it is hard to disagree with him when he says ‘we have built something special’.
We should savour these days and this team, because they don’t come around too often.