Fixtures Preview

I always consider the day that the fixtures are released is the first day of the new season. Getting to see who we face first, where we will be on boxing day, when we face our local rivals and getting to start planning those all important away days is all part of being a football fan. Looking at the fixtures for the first time is when the excitement starts to build for me.

The season kicks off with a single game on Friday, 2nd August, with the rest of the fixtures spread over the Saturday, Sunday and Monday of that weekend. The last time we played in the opening fixture of a league was when we stunned Newcastle United at Craven Cottage thanks to Matt Smith’s header and THAT piece of skill from Denis Odoi. Scenes.

After the way we limped our way to relegation last season, Fulham need a strong start to the new campaign so I’m hoping to avoid any of the new promoted sides, as they’ll be massively pumped up, or any of the sides who failed to make it through the play-offs last season. I don’t have a preference over being at home or away on day one, but hopefully we will be at home for the final game.

So what do we have to look forward to next season? What grounds that we haven’t been to in a while will we be returning to?

Kenilworth Road is the home of Luton Town

Luton – This is the one that a lot of Championship fans have on their list of away days. Fulham haven’t faced Luton in the league since 1999 when we beat them 4-0 in the old Division Two. Luton’s 10,356 Kenilworth Road will host Championship football for the first time in 12 years and Fulham fans will have to travel just the 46miles or so outside London to reach it.

Stoke City – Many of Fulham fans have bad memories of Stoke, given that it was a defeat there that sealed our relegation in back in 2014. With them getting relegated in our recent promotion year, it has been five seasons since we have faced them in the league. We haven’t beaten Stoke away from home since Chris Baird’s spectacular double back in 2010, so hopefully we can right that wrong next season when we visit the Bet365 Stadium.

 Charlton Athletic – We will be facing Charlton for the first time since the 2015/16 season. It will see the return of the Fulham-Charlton boat trip when we visit them at The Valley, a stadium where we haven’t lost since 2004 when we faced them in the Premier League. The Addicts have already had a been of a turbulent summer with Lee Bowyer’s dramatic U-turn on his contract extension seeing him stay as boss just one day after the club announced that he would be leaving.

King Johansen scores to against QPR at Lotus Road

London Derbies – We will be visiting four other London teams next season, including the already mentioned Charlton Athletic. We will be back at QPR and Brentford for some big West London derbies, while we face a return to the Den to face Millwall. In our last Championship campaign we didn’t lose a game to any of those three, although we could only draw to both QPR and Brentford at home in a couple of very feisty games. It will be good to have those games back for a season at least.

Furthest Away day – Is it really a football season if you don’t face a trip the whole way to the North East. This time it’s a visit to the Riverside to face Middlesbrough. We normally don’t do very well up their but last time was that crazy game when Olly Norwood scored a last minute penalty to win after we had been battered all game! Good memories.

There is a lot more to look forward to, but hopefully this short preview will be enough to wet the appetite for now. The fixtures will be released on Thursday morning at 9am on the Fulham website.

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A Checklist for Scott

SScott Parker is about to start what could be his biggest footballing challenge to date; making Fulham look like a football team again. There is a huge difference between being a caretaker manager, when the pressure is arguably off you, and being appointed the boss for the long haul. When he took over after Claudio Ranieri’s sacking, Fulham were so far away from safety that most of us had already accepted relegation. Parker was never going to go through the same scrutiny that Jokanovic or Ranieri got because he was taking over an already sinking ship. His job was essentially to make us sink slightly slower!

But things are completely different now. Being giving the job on a full-time basis will bring with it all the criticisms and condemnations that come with full time management and very decision made will go under the microscope by fans and journalists alike. I’m sure Parker is relishing the challenge and, being a very studious person, I reckon he naturally ticks many of the boxes needed to be a good manager. But like most jobs, you often need more than what you have on paper to be fully successful.

So what does Parker need to be successful in the Championship, one of the world toughest leagues? Here is a small list. Scott, feel free to take notes.

Know your team- I don’t think any of us want to be reminded of the ill-fated Felix Magath era of Fulham Football Club, but when we want to know how to be successful, you often have to look at what was unsuccessful and learn from it. There’s no point beating around the bush, Magath was a disaster at Fulham. One of his biggest downfalls was the fact that he clearly didn’t know his players and what their abilities were. Playing Dan Burn at right-back is a prime example, but then even after he had a full preseason with his team ahead of our first Championship season after being relegated, he played the most bizarre line-ups game after game. It was like he was drawing his teams out of a hat in the dressing room before kick-off. The players clearly had no idea what he expected from them and it resulted in us not tasting victory that season in the league until eight games in.

Felix Bingo v Forest- Six defenders and two defensive midfielders and 5 goals conceded
We lost the game previously 3-0 to Reading with a very different line up

More recently we have seen Slavisa Jokanovic making the mistake of not knowing his team and his constant chopping and changing our defence last season resulted in chaos at the back. It’s so important that Parker doesn’t make the same mistakes as some of his predecessors. Constantly making changes to his line-up and formation is a recipe for disaster. This isn’t to say that changes can’t be made but it’s crucial that Parker knows his team inside out. Knowledge is key.

Make decisions with conviction- No matter what you do in life, it’s really important that any decision made is done with conviction. Even if you’re not completely sure it’s the right move, do whatever it is with confidence. With Jokanovic you could nearly tell at the start of last season that he wasn’t really sure about the decisions he was making at the back. This approach will have been easily picked up by the players, so I can understand why there was so much confusion in the side. Players need their manager to be a leader, and to be a leader you need to have the self-belief to make any team decisions with confidence.

Yes, Slavisa, we aren’t sure what’s going on either…

Mistakes will be made. Learn from them – No campaign is flawless. While no one likes losing, it’s important that when things go wrong Parker doesn’t let the head drop and start making rash decisions out of desperation. We have to learn from our mistakes in order to be successful. Whether it’s taking a player off who you realise you shouldn’t have started a match with, or making a more radical change over time, it’s crucial that Parker can identify mistakes and can correct them. I’ll be honest and say that some of Parker’s tactical decisions, or in some cases the lack of them, has worried me. The game we lost up at Watford that saw our relegation confirmed was a prime example. We started well that night and where still in the game at the break, but Javi Garcia out-managed and out-thought him in the second half. Parker didn’t seem to have answers for the changes that Garcia made and in the end we limped across the relegation line. Parker will need to have more than just Plan A for every game so that he isn’t caught out like that.

Relegation was confirmed against Watford

I wrote in a previous article that I believe that Parker has the  heart for the job, but that we will have to wait and see if he has the head for it. I believe that he has already done a heck of a lot of the ground work already by getting the players onside and giving them confidence again. He is putting together a solid foundation and hopefully can build a strong team upon it. It’s now less than two months to go before the season kicks off again, so eight weeks of preparation.

Bring it on.

New Era for Fulham FC

The time between the end of the season and the start of preseason has always been the worst for football fans. The players are off on holiday, the transfer window hasn’t opened and the clubs we support have limited information coming out of them.

And don’t get me started about Saturdays. Despite this season being a complete disaster, I never know what to do on a Saturday without regular football. Thankfully this weekend we have the play-offs and some cup finals to keep us entertained, but I’ll be happier when the boys are back at Motspur Park preparing for next season.

Finally the club announced the start of the Riverside Stand development project this week. This summer the lead contractor, Buckingham Group Contracting Ltd, will start the development, increasing our capacity and bringing a load of exciting features for both fans and local resident to enjoy. It will be strange playing without use of the Riverside Stand for two seasons, but I have no doubt that this development is going to massively improve the Fulham experience for us all. The walk to the Cottage is undoubtedly the most beautiful walk in football and it’s going to get even better with that side of the river walk being opened up to us and public. While it will be a strange sight for two years, we can be excited for this new era in our club.

When Shahid Khan took over the club in 2013, there was a little fear in the back on many of our minds that either it would a short stint, or that there would be a move away from the Cottage in the future. We can be satisfied that Khan is here for the improvement of the club both on and off the pitch.

Of the new stand, Khan said, “Craven Cottage is a unique and inspiring venue to not only play football, but to visit. As I noted upon becoming Chairman in 2013, it has always been my intention to follow through with the development of the Riverside Stand, and today’s news brings that intention to reality.

“Make no mistake, the Riverside development will be a location like no other, a real game-changer for Fulham Football Club, our neighbourhood, and all of London. Our aim is to create a world-class destination for fans and guests to experience and enjoy, whilst retaining the charm that Craven Cottage exudes within our very own section of the River Thames. In doing so, we will also safeguard the Club’s future at Craven Cottage, forever the rightful home for Fulham.”

While mistakes have been made, particularly this season, we have an owner who are committed to this club. I Have no doubt that he will put everything into getting the club back into the Premier League in the coming years and will work hard to keep us there and with a shiny new as well.

COYW

Scotty’s at the Wheel

Finally confirmation of the news we have pretty much all been expecting over the past couple of weeks, Scott Parker is our new Head Coach. I didn’t for a second think that Tom Cairney would sign a new contract without knowing who the new manager was going to be so I guess this has been in the works for a bit of time. Given that Cairney, the leader of our squad, is clearly happy with the news, I think that we can be confident that it’s a welcome appointment from the players point of you.

I don’t know about you, but I feel so much more confident about relegation this time around than I did five years ago and one of the reasons for that is because I think we have a Head Coach who understands the club so much more than Magath did. Parker finished his career at Fulham. He was the one of the first signings of the Khan era back in 2013 and has been our captain and club captain. This is a signing that we can all get excited about. While he doesn’t have mountains of experience, if we can keep hold of Stuart Gray then I believe that Scott has all the ingredients to be a successful manager. He was always the sort of player who would run himself into the ground for his club and the fact that he has already instilled that sort of attitude into players who were facing relegation, means that we are in good hands.

One of my fondest memories from his playing days at Fulham was in 2016 in a dull and uninspiring 1-1 draw at Birmingham. It was just after the January transfer window when Moussa Dembele had been rumoured to be joining Spurs, but the move didn’t come off and Dembele’s head dropped. He looked dis-interested for the remainder of the season. Going into the last few minutes with the game still level, Jokanovic brought Dembele off but instead of leaving the pitch quickly he decided to make his feelings known and went slowly, making the home and away crowd go nuts considering that the game could still be won by someone. Parker was our captain that day and he sprinted to Dembele, took him by the arm and ran him off the pitch. He wasn’t waiting for some kid to throw his toys out of his pram, he was focused on the game and trying to give Fulham a chance to gain all three points. There is no messing around with Parker, and that is the sort of thing we need going into a very difficult Championship campaign.

 However, I think we need to have our realistic heads on next season. We don’t know how the squad will look come August and we know that there are a lot of areas where we need strengthening. The Championship is probably the most difficult league in the world to get out of, even for managers and coaches who have a tonne of experience. Without knowing what our squad will look like it’s hard to really say what our target should be next year, but I’d imagine that the Khan’s are focused on promotion. Obviously that’s what we would like, but I think we have to back a long-term project. If it doesn’t happen next season it’s not the end of the world. The Khan’s have acted swiftly, giving Parker a full summer and pre-season which is great news. This is a new chapter in our history, and I can’t wait to see what it brings.

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Shahid Khan’s Dilemma

We are about to enter a crucially important phase in the Shahid Khan era at Fulham. The decision about who you want in charge of your football team is likely the most important decision to be made for any owner, particularly when the club is in a fragile position. It’s like surgery to me. Everything has to be done carefully and concisely, yet each move has to also be made with complete confidence and any mistake can be catastrophic.

For me the fatal move this season was replacing Slavisa Jokanovic with Claudio Ranieri. While I think that Slav’s days were numbered, I would rather have stuck with him than have Ranieri at the helm, purely because of just how different the footballing philosophies were of the two men. There are a heck of a lot of ‘ifs and buts’ when it comes to life in general, never mind football, and sometimes we are better just getting on with it than going down the rabbit-hole and trying to dissect every decision ever made. That’s not to say that those in charge shouldn’t be assessing, evaluating and learning, but as fans we shouldn’t worry too much about what is behind, and instead focus on the road to come.

The question now for Khan is who is his man to take the club forward following our terrible Premier League return. Arguably Khan’s only successful appointment has been Jokanovic, with Rene Meulensteen, Felix Magath, Kit Symons and Claudio Ranieri all failing to live up to expectations, some drastically worse than others. However, with five years now under his belt as the owner of Fulham I believe that lessons have been learned from each of these.

In classically Fulham fashion, we have turned in three very solid displays since our relegation at Watford at the start of the month, and have won three on the bounce with three clean sheets. When Scott Parker took over he had Chelsea, Leicester, Liverpool and Manchester City in his first four games so losing his first four was hardly a surprise. We did get a decent reaction from the players, however, and weren’t far off taking points from the Chelsea and Liverpool games in particular. Parker has clearly had an impact.

Scott Parker understands Fulham. He knows what it is like to play for the club, and this is something that can’t be underestimated. There is no doubt in my mind that he has the heart for this job. The question for me now is does he have the head for it? We have been better since he took over, and three wins in a row is a barely believable but I feel that he got things wrong at both Leicester and Watford. I think he was outmanaged in both of those games which is a worry for me. He is still developing his own way of playing but the early signs are that he prefers a style more Jokanovic than Ranieri, something that I’d welcome at the club. My fear is that the games that we have won, not taking anything way from them individually, have been games played with no pressure. Already relegated, we have been playing for pride and while it’s great to see pride restored to an extent, it’s a different ball game entirely getting results in the Championship.

It could work, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Parker is turning a lot of heads and making a lot more fans believe in him. Clearly the players like playing for him, but we have no idea what the squad will look like come August. All we can do as fans is sit and wait.

#COYW