In 2009, I responded to an article on my favourite Fulham website asking for people who would be interested in writing for them. Little did I know that Dan Crawford’s desire to encourage more people to write for Hammyend.com would be the start of a career in sports journalism for me. When he asked me to consider penning something for International Women’s Day I thought that I should go back to where it all began for me – right here. That’s the first thing that I want to get across here right from the off. As women we want equality, but we absolutely need men as allies and thankfully I have had that in Dan.
When I was growing up, sport was my everything. I would much rather have kicked the football around with the guys than play with my dolls, much to my mother’s dismay. I loved the competitive nature of sport and the stories behind the athletes and when I discovered Fulham, I was pretty much obsessed from the off. I dreamed of a career in sport in some capacity, but to be honest I rarely shared those with people as I didn’t think it was even slightly realistic. You rarely saw women’s sport on TV, never mind a women reporting on it. So naturally I just thought of it as a hobby and continued to pursue a career in teaching. When I look back now I wish I had of spoken to my English teacher about my love of writing about sport. I wish I had of been more open about my dreams as maybe my career path would have been very different. That said, I don’t regret for a second going off and becoming a teacher. It gave me a load of skills that have been easily transferable across to me now working at BBC Sport. It also gave me 2 years of working in a completely different industry and allowed me to build up some valuable life experience before taking the plunge into journalism.
But let’s rewind slightly. I was about 16 when I wrote my first article for Hammyend.com and one of the first comments was “I don’t know why they let women talk about football…” from an anonymous poster. While this attitude isn’t quite as prevalent as it once was, it is still around. Some guys just don’t like it when women know a lot about football and they will look for any flaw possible and pounce on it. The next comment down was from another female fan who just simply said that it was great to hear a female perspective on things. It’s so important to come away from the old school, boys club attitude. Women have loved football, and sport in general, since the beginning but the traditional stereotypes meant that sport was seen as something for the boys. I had been writing for years when I finally applied to be the match day reporter at Lisburn Distillery Football Club in Northern Ireland. It was a voluntary position and meant that I wouldn’t be able to play hockey anymore because my Saturdays would be spent following a football team around Ulster. It was a big sacrifice for me but by then I knew that I really wanted to make a go of it. I learned so much that year about the industry and about the emotions in the dressing room. Distillery were once a power house in Northern Irish football but that year they nearly got relegated out of the main football ladder. Following that and writing about it was actually very emotional. Thankfully they survived and speaking to the players, coaching staff and club staff throughout that year was an incredible learning curve.
When you are a women in sports reporting you get very used to being the only female in the press box, or having people mistaken you for the tea lady. You also have to work harder to prove yourself. I have found that time and time again in my career. But I have also found that when you are doing something that you love that it’s worth it. While we still have a long way to go in regards to equality in sport – both on and off the field – I can see change happening. I am fortunate enough to work alongside some incredible women at BBC Sport and I have found that there are networks of support everywhere. The key message for me is that if you have a passion for something, you should absolutely pursue it. I find that if you love what you do, it’s much easier to put 100% into it. The journey is rarely smooth, let’s be honest, but it only takes one ‘yes’ to allow you to begin. Writing about Fulham has always and will always be one of my greatest pleasures and I hope that shows in my writing. I’m thankful for the opportunity to write about something that I love so much.
If you are reading this and think that you too would like to start and put your thoughts into writing articles then I say give it a go. The first ‘yes’ has to be from you.
OK, Fulham comrades. Tomorrow’s match is quite a biggie. You could argue that this is the most important of the season so far. We sit five points from safety, but with an inferior goal difference to Brighton who sit one place ahead of us. We are officially into he second half of the season and with only two wins to our name so far, the pressure is well and truly on. One of those wins came against West Brom back in November but the season hasn’t picked up points-wise for either team since then really. While our defence has come on considerably since the start of the season, the Baggies have been a disaster. Sacking Bilic for Allardyce has so far not worked so here’s hoping their diabolical defending lasts for at least one more day.
West Brom remind me of us from two seasons ago. They have conceded 21 more goals (but in one game more) than us so far this year but worryingly for Fulham we have scored the same amount with just 15 goals apiece. This has been the concern for Scott Parker for some time really. Our defending isn’t the issue any more, but the insistence to rely on pace has been our downfall. I understand what we have been trying to do, but quick breaks and pace have helped us win once this season and that was that remarkable night in Leicester. It was an amazing win, but the style of play hasn’t helped us throughout the season. Cavaleiro, despite all of his industrious running, just isn’t effective in that position. We need someone who can link the play and we have that in Mitrovic. I get that for a time Mitro didn’t look fit and his confidence was low, but his impact on Wednesday night against Brighton was very positive. He set up both goals against West Brom last time we played them and I’m confident that he can help us to three points tomorrow.
One thing that Parker and the boys need to be aware of is the possible reaction to West Brom’s heavy defeat at home to Manchester City on Tuesday. Allardyce kept his side in the dressing room for over an hour after the game and there seems to have been a lively discussion about how they move forward. When teams have a moment like that it normally only results in one of two things. An immediate upturn in fortune as everyone pulls together, or else an already struggling squad falls apart even more. They have been dreadful at home this season, but will be targeting this game as their moment to kick-start their campaign properly. Fulham have to be prepared for the backlash tomorrow. We have to be super tight from the off and not give them an inch. We beat a Bilic side in November, this is an Allardyce side so will have to approach the game wary of this.
Wednesday night was very poor from a Fulham perspective. We looked nervous and didn’t really threaten until the end of the game. When we are playing the teams around us we just can’t afford to do this. Three points tomorrow is essential.
To say that Fulham are in a precarious situation would be a massive understatement. Ignoring yesterday’s terrible performance in the cup against Burnley, we have been much improved in the league, but with little to show for it. We now sit five points off Brighton in the position above us and have West Brom breathing down our necks. The next two games against the teams either side of us in the league are season defining. There is no escaping that. To be honest we are beyond being able to play well but not win. Those matches against Southampton, Brighton and Newcastle for example were real positive signs of Fulham moving forward, but we can’t afford slip-ups any more. Draws aren’t good enough anymore against certain teams. Win our next two games and the confidence will be back. Win one and draw/lose the other and the fear will still be lingering. Draw or lose them both and we are in full-crisis mode. That might sound like a bit of an overreaction, but given where we are in the table, we can’t afford to let the gap between ourselves and Brighton grow bigger. I fully believe that Newcastle will be in this fight as well, unless they make a managerial change soon, so it’s certainly not just the bottom four in the relegation mix right now.
Let’s start with Brighton. There is something very unbalanced about the Seagulls. They have some incredibly talented players in Trossard, Maupay and Lamptey but they don’t seem to have the right cohesion throughout the squad to sail away from their relegation fears. If he could sort his hot-headedness out, I’d quite like Maupay at Fulham. He could fill the large hole we currently have up front and is without a doubt will be a real danger man for them come Wednesday night. Last time we played them we were very fortunate to come away with a draw with two Brighton goals ruled out rightly for offside. In a pre-VAR world we would have lost that night. Brighton also have the benefit of a win at the weekend, albeit against lower league opposition in Blackpool. As they say, winning breeds winning, so their confidence will certainly be higher than Fulham’s will be based on yesterday’s display. They also won last time out in the league against Leeds, so this is a team in much better form than us. It’s therefore a great chance for us to bring them back down to earth with a bang by taking all three points off them on Wednesday night. After this game they face Tottenham Hotspur and then Liverpool so this is an opportunity for us to really put the pressure on.
As I’ve already alluded to, and pretty much on everyone’s mind at the minute, is Fulham’s lack of a goal scorer on form right now. I say that as I do believe that Mitrovic could still have something to offer us, but we absolutely have to get the service into him. Yesterday he barely had scraps to work off, so really what more could he do? He was unfortunate to have a goal ruled out in the first half as well. I’d like to see what he could do with Lookman and BDR on the flanks and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who has been improving, just behind. We know Tete can deliver a good ball, and Bryan combined with Mitro plenty of times last season, so with those two in the wing back positions we could make Mitro a threat again. Defensively we have to be miles better than yesterday. Thankfully we won’t have to rely on Hector (what on earth has happened to him?) and Ream as Aina and Andersen should be back in after their weekend rest. The triple A team of Aina, Andersen and Adarabioyo has been exceptional since being put together so we need another big display from them tomorrow against a speedy attack.
I have no doubt that results will come from this side. We just need them to come sooner rather than later or it will be too late. Come on, boys. It’s time.
Yesterday we got the welcome boost that Joachim Andersen’s dubious straight red card against Newcastle has been rescinded meaning that we won’t lose him for any games at all over the busy Christmas period. First of all I was relieved, then came the anger. Anger at what is basically an admission that the wrong decision was made by the on-field referee and the VAR, meaning that in a game were Fulham were comfortable ended up being a scrambled draw with 10 men. We were good value for our lead, and I really believe that we would have walked away with all 3 points against a team who look like they will be dragged down into a relegation battle. Points for any team are crucial, but when you are fighting for your Premier League lives, it can be the difference between survival and going down. These decisions from referees matter.
During the first season of having the VAR in the Premier League, we had a whole load of weird and wonderful decisions. From the armpit offsides to the confusion over handballs and penalties, it was a frustrating time for footballers and fans alike. I do passionately believe that the game will at some stage be better for it but the quality of referees using the technology has to improve. It absolutely has it’s use, but I admit that the forensic way that it’s being implicated is sometimes ridiculous. It’s use for offsides is generally fine (bar the armpit and toenail offsides). Look at last night’s Carabao Cup Quarter-final between Arsenal and Manchester City for example. The third City goal was clearly offside but with no VAR in action in that cup competition, it was given as a goal. It’s use for obvious offsides is an important part of the game and it’s very noticeable when it’s not in use. I’m not one of these people who thinks that we should get rid of VAR altogether, but improvements need to be made on how it is implemented.
Let’s turn to Saturday’s events though as it’s a clear example of how it isn’t being used right. I was furious on Saturday when watching the match when Graham Scott only used the VAR to decide whether or not to give a straight red, and not to check the penalty decision or the clear dive from Callum Wilson. We don’t know who made that decision, whether it was Scott himself or the VAR Andy Madley and his assistant Stephen Child at Stockley Park. A lot of people have made comments about why the VAR didn’t show any other angles of the incident, but I think that’s because the penalty itself, for some bizarre reason, wasn’t what was up for debate. They were only deciding whether it was a straight red or not. I believe that there was a foul outside the box. Andersen did appear to tug him back, but when he let him go well outside the box, Wilson continued to run into the box before chucking himself to the floor. This is clear simulation and achieved exactly what he wanted in gaining a penalty. It also meant that the referee decided that the tug wasn’t what he was giving the penalty for, it was for a clip inside the box – a clip that we can see didn’t happen. Now the decision to rescind the red card shows that there was no clip inside the box which in turn means that a penalty should not have been awarded. Whether the Premier League can now look at the dive is another question entirely. I’m not aware of any other occasion were a red card given through the use of VAR has been rescinded. We do have cases were the Premier League have admitted that penalties shouldn’t have been awarded (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/53357841) , but to actually rescind a red card only given because of VAR doesn’t look good at all from the referees’ perspective.
My issue is about how they came to that particular decision on Saturday. On the same day I watched the Ulster Rugby match with Gloucester and there was an example of the TMO (television match official), rugby’s version of VAR, being used perfectly. One thing that many other sports that use some sort of video ref does that football doesn’t do, is mic up the referees. It means that we can hear the conversation and understand why decisions are made. Hockey, Rugby League and Rugby Union all mic up the TMO/VAR and on-field referee and it is so effective. Below is an example of the TMO and on-field referees working together to come to a decision in a rugby union match in 2019. It’s 7minutes long but if you jump to 5minutes in, you’ll get the idea.
If football brought this in it would be a huge step forward in my eyes. The decisions being made do not need to be some sort of secret, the referees should have nothing to hide so why not? I also think with full transparency, it would improve the standard of refereeing in general. I don’t think the mic needs turned on for the full match like in rugby, but for when the VAR is being used, it would help us all understand how the referees come up with their decisions.
As for Fulham, we need to remember that all teams in the Premier League will have had some dodgy refereeing decisions. That doesn’t make it OK, but we aren’t the only team to feel aggravated by a decision that looks to have cost us some points. We can only control our own performances and we have to focus on that above anything else. Thankfully Andersen is available for Southampton. It will be a hugely difficult game, but we have to start picking up more points. Every game is an opportunity, eh?
It seems remarkable that after yesterday’s performance against Liverpool that we still find ourselves in the bottom three of the Premier League. It’s also remarkable that given our dreadful start to the campaign that we were disappointed with just a point against the reigning Champions! Scott Parker has so far done an exceptional job of turning things around at Fulham and he deserves a heck of a lot of credit for it. Four points from Leicester away, Manchester City away and Liverpool at home is more than we could have hoped for, and the performances before that (terrible first half against Everton aside) have been much improved. Parker has done it all while making some very bold decisions on the team that many of us disagreed with. Yet we now seem to have a squad very capable of staying in this league, but we need to keep up the momentum going into two very winnable games against Brighton and Newcastle.
The performance against Liverpool was brilliant from the first whistle. Our achilles’ heel so often this season has been conceding early but yesterday we started very much on the front foot, closing Liverpool down and forcing them into mistakes. Perhaps it was the 2000 fans back at the Cottage that ensured that we began with such intensity but whatever it was, long may it continue! It looks as though London will be back in tier 3 shortly but hopefully we are allowed fans at least on Wednesday night in our must win game at home to Brighton. However, we have to be able to start like that with or without fans.
No matter what Jurgen Klopp says, there was nothing lucky about our performance yesterday. We played at a high tempo with lots of passing and every player 100% committed. Mario Lemina was sensational in that disruptive midfield role while Ademola Lookman was in the centre of everything good going forward from Fulham. And shout out to BDR who has been a standout performer this season from the old guard. Who’d have thought that it would be him shining bright ahead of the likes of Mitrovic and Cairney? Defensively we look secure and I can’t imagine anything bar an injury would stop our CB pairing of Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo from being our first choice duo. There is a lot to like about Fulham right now.
However, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room. Mitrovic. What is going on? It’s clear that Scott has a particular game plan for the games against better opposition in this league that Mitro seems to slow down, but I’m not sure that anyone buys the ‘minor knock’ excuse put forward by the club for his disappearance from the squad yesterday. If it’s just a playing style thing for against the better clubs then maybe we will see him on Wednesday against Brighton with a change of system. Remember that he was pivotal in our game v West Brom earlier in the season, bagging two assists. Maybe it’s just that Scott has different game plans for different games. However, if the rumours of a very unhappy Mitro after being left out of the starting line up yesterday are true, then maybe he has to look at the performances and ask himself why. I love Mitrovic, let me make that very clear, but there is no doubt that against certain teams we are more effective without him. I’d like to see him play against Brighton as I think it’s a game that would suit him but we maybe have to accept that he won’t play as much as we would have thought this season.
Tom Cairney is another question mark for me. I don’t think that Ruben Loftus Cheek has done enough at all to warrant playing ahead of him. Although I think that the position that Scott wants from them both is maybe not a strength of either player. Their favoured position is surely a traditional number 10, but we haven’t really played with that position in the last 3 matches against top opposition. It might be a similar story with Mitrovic in that we resort back to the formation we played v West Brom for the next couple of matches meaning that Cairney will be in that number 10 role, but we’ll have to see.
All in all I think Parker has made some brave decisions that have so far paid off. I’m feeling really good about Fulham despite our current position in the table. If only we had of gotten our team together before the start of the season, eh? Roll on Wednesday night for one last game in front of fans for now.