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.

#COYW

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

Stop the Greed

As a fan base we have been badly let down by our club this season. The turmoil on the pitch has been matched off it when it comes to ticket prices and policies. True fans have been exploited with massive price increases, a lack of concession and youth tickets and the strange policy of selling tickets to members (open to everyone) before STHs. We don’t have to look further than the Liverpool game last week as an example of how badly the club are failing when it comes to tickets, with the first few rows directly behind the goal in the Hammersmith End filled with fans not celebrating Ryan Babel’s goal against his former club. Unashamed Liverpool fans were so obviously in every stand that it was embarrassing.

Seemingly the club doesn’t care about who buys the tickets. If people buy them, Fulham fans or not, they will continue to charge the extortionate prices. The decision to not have reduced prices for concessions and young people is leading to true fans not being able to afford to go. Parents are having to spend a ridiculous amount of money if they want to involve their children in supporting the club, so it’s becoming a massive put off. For me Fulham has always been about family values and inclusion, but with the current ticketing policy, these values seem to be a thing of the past. What an absolute shame.

Our good friends at the Fulhamish Podcast have been particularly vocal over the ticket policy at the club. The #StoptheGreed campaign was supposed to be properly launched this Saturday in the early kick-off against the Champions, with fan funded banners displayed in the Hammersmith End with the aim of making a point to the Fulham authorities that as a fanbase we are not happy with the approach the club is taking. Unfortunately the club has decided to not let the banners into the ground because they don’t want anything, …”not supportive of the team.” Then why flood the home sections of the grounds with Liverpool fans? Why charge so much money that real fans are shunted out in favour of tourists and touts?

When we got promoted last season, Fulham were faced with an opportunity to further increase a swelling fanbase. We may have lost a number of fans following our relegation back in 2014, but over our four years away from the top flight, we gained a heck of a lot of new followers. The brand of football that got us promoted was so attractive and our identity as a family club meant that many people without a club found a home on the banks of the Thames. All that good work has possibly been undone this season, and it’s not because of the shambles on the pitch, it’s what is unfolding off it. I’d advise the club to think carefully about what is next. Stop ignoring the voice of your loyal supporters or else I’d imagine that people will start voting with their feet. We are facing another relegation and club’s in our position need their fans more than ever. Don’t push us away.

#StopTheGreed

Emerald Isle Diamonds

As much as I enjoy international football, I have never really been absolutely buzzing for international breaks to come around. They always seem to disrupt the domestic football and there aren’t as many matches. At the minute, however, any distraction form the Premier League is a welcome one. Things haven’t been pretty on the banks of the Thames, to put it mildly. So instead of talking about Fulham’s disaster of a season, I thought I’d talk about another favourite topic of mine, Northern Irish and Irish players who have played throughout the years in our famous white shirt. I’ll limit to just my top 5, as I have a game to get to tonight at Windsor Park at 1945!

  1. Aaron Hughes

The Hangeland-Hughes partnership will go down as one of the greatest centre back pairing in Fulham’s Premier League history. Under the guidance of Roy Hodgson Fulham became defensively sound, something that we badly crave this season, and Hughes was vital in this. He racked up 250 appearances for Fulham across all competitions and scored a handful of goals along the way. He was a crucial part of both the Greatest Escape year in 2008 and then the Europa League run of 2010. He is my all time favourite Northern Irish player and captain .

2. Ollie Norwood

It might have only been a loan deal, but the decision to bring Norwood to Fulham turn out to be a stroke of genius. Norwood has always had a touch of quality about him, we have known that for years in Northern Ireland. He might try a Hollywood pass too often for some, but it’s that vision that has been so important for Northern Ireland. Last season at Fulham we badly needed someone to step in for Cairney when he was injured, and Norwood was the one to do that. He might not quite be the level of Cairney but he is what we needed at the time. And who could forgot THAT tackle in the dying seconds of the play-off final that prevented Aston Villa’s final chance? What a guy.

3. Damien Duff

Damien Duff celebrates his equaliser against Birmingham

Damien Duff was one of those players who when they are signed, you get very excited about. He may have been slightly past his prime but we all knew what he was capable of from his time at Chelsea and Newcastle. He was one of those players who had a sweet left foot, but played on the right for the majority of his time at Fulham. The Craven Cottage crowd used to get such a buzz when he would cut in from the right and have a pop at goal. He always had a bit of magic about him and I loved seeing him play at Fulham.

4. Chris Baird

Bairdinho. When he announced his retirement this year I was genuinely gutted. He has been such an important figure for club and country for years and there aren’t many out there quite like him. Baird was one of the most versatile players at Fulham, and he was happy to play wherever was required. He was a typical ‘leave everything on the pitch’ kind of guy, and those goals at Stoke City will stay in Fulham folklore forever.

5. Rodney McAree

Not many players can say that they have a chant that is still sang around a club 20years or so after they have left, but Rodney McAree can. I was too young to remember said goal, but I doubt there are many Fulham fans out there who don’t know about McAree’s goal up at Carlisle. Rodney also happens to be one of the nicest guys in football. He gave me one of my first exclusive interviews a couple of years back, something that I really appreciated. He owns a little part of Fulham history so he is rightfully remembered by the Fulham faithful.

Going down with a wimper

It’s around 7pm on 25th May, 2018. Ten of thousands of Fulham fans are in complete delirium at Wembley, completely overwhelmed at what we have witnessed. Our Fulham sealed promotion to the Premier League playing a wonderful, fun-filled style of football. We have done it with a group of players who clearly love playing with each other, and with an 18 year-old kid who has been a revelation in the side. We have owners willing to spend both on and off the pitch with a new stadium development incoming. The future is very bright for Fulham.

Fast forward to 10pm, 27th February 2019. We have just witnessed an extremely deflated Fulham side limp to a 2-0 defeat to relegation rivals Southampton. Our Italian manager, the man who led Leicester to the most unlikely of Premier League titles a few years ago, set his side up in a negative way, playing players out of position and leaving our best midfielder in Seri out of the side altogether despite saying that we had no injury concerns.

To say I’m angry at the state of affairs at Fulham right now would be an understatement. I’m furious. What a complete and utter shambles this season has been. What a wasted opportunity. While I think that Slav was out of his depth, I would honestly rather have stuck with him than have sacked him when we did for Claudio Ranieri. While there were some slight improvements at the start under him, the negatives since then have just piled up.

Alongside his frustratingly negative tactics and his insistence on playing Cairney out wide whenever everything good comes through him in the middle, it’s his treatment of Ryan Sessegnon that upsets me the most. He has turned Sessegnon into someone afraid of the football. Benching him, publically saying that he is out of form, not strong enough etc and then the few times that he does play, hauling him off at half time because of a couple of mistakes have all contributed to deflating the player of confidence . Sessegnon was our brightest spark last season and that was because he was given the opportunity to flourish. I’m from a teaching background, and I remember my tutor at university saying that our job as teachers was to create an environment in which pupils could, and wanted, to flourish. I believe that coaching football, or any sport for that matter, has the same principles. Ranieri should be laying the foundations for our players to become great, but instead it’s like the life has been sucked out of them, and it’s just heartbreaking.

We are so far away from that showing of unity last year. Our next three games at home are Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City- all games that 7 months ago we were relishing. Getting to see your club compete with some of the biggest clubs in the world is something that every fan should relish, but now I just wish that we could fast forward a month. We have a talented squad, but under our current boss I don’t see those players being able to play with any sort of freedom. At the minute we aren’t just going down, we are plummeting so fast that it’s a blink and you’ll miss it sort of scenario.

 If we are going down, I want us to go down fighting but to do that we need to remove Ranieri now. I don’t want us to rush into another managerial change, so my choice would be Parker until the end of the season to buy time to consider properly who we want in charge of the team. Another rushed decision isn’t going to do us any favours, but keeping Ranieri for me will do more harm than good.

#COYW