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.

#COYW

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

Fulham get Craven Cottage go-ahead

On Wednesday 22nd May 2019, Fulham Football Club supporters finally got the news they’ve been waiting for since initially obtaining planning permission in 2013; the redevelopment of the Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage will open up over 4000 more seats. While Tony Khan has taken the wheels of the on-pitch business at Fulham FC, his father Shahid and Alistair Mackintosh have been working hard to get this development to go ahead. In his statement, Shahid Khan said of our Mackintosh, “your CEO, Alistair Mackintosh, has my complete respect and appreciation for keeping this challenging yet rewarding project on task, and I ask that you join me in thanking him for being a champion not only for the new Riverside Stand but for all things that represent your club.”

Craven Cottage’s eccentric position on the banks of the Thames makes this a more complicated job than most, and while the Johnny Haynes stand is a Grade II* listed building, you’d like to think that makes that part of the ground absolutely untouchable. The potential of working with the Hammersmith and Putney End’s too come with their own uncertainty with the block of apartments behind the HammyEnd(.com) and the Putney having the grand old Cottage to its side meaning this is a very rare and exciting opportunity for Fulham to redevelop and expand; this did lead to some changes in design as Shahid Khan wanted to ensure that if they’re going to do it, it has to be maximised and done right.

Shahid Khan’s ambition in this £100m redevelopment states his intent at this football club (though I’m sure the tickets will continue to be extortionate – another issue for another post) and that Fulham Football Club’s future is to remain at Craven Cottage for the foreseeable future. Craven Cottage’s increase to over 29,600 seats will take Fulham from the 7th highest capacity to 5th (at least until Crystal Palace’s development starts and finishes) while the Cottage will jump to become the 33rd biggest club football ground in the United Kingdom. We’ve not heard too much officially from the club, but lets not forget either that Shahid Khan’s also financed the purchase of the old BBC Sports grounds to build a state of the art training facility for the first team whilst the current training base at Motspur Park will home the academy and Fulham FC Foundation.

While Fulham’s return to the Premier League wasn’t quite in mind, by the completion of the stand (the club hopes the 2021/22 season) and the development of the training ground, Shahid Khan is ensuring that Fulham’s facilities are of Premier League standard and quality. With £100m spent (or misspent) with promotion, £100m on a new stand and god knows how much on the training ground, you can’t deny Khan’s investment in the football club. As the modern English football league is becoming more and more monopolised, Fulham are making all the right off-the-pitch investments to maintain a place as a high as they can on the footballing food-chain.

One for Calum Chambers:

When Calum Chambers arrived at Craven Cottage in August of 2018, he seemed ideal stylistically for Slavisa Jokanovic’s football. As a leaner centre half, comfortable with the ball at his feet, Chambers seemed primed to be an asset in our possession based football. Chambers also came with a partnership with Alfie Mawson as the Swansea City centre half (who signed in the days prior) and the Arsenal loanee were the preferred centre back duo for Aidy Boothroyd. With Chambers and Mawson in the middle of the defence, England conceded just once in the three group games before being knocked out by the eventual winners Germany (shock incoming) on penalties. I recall this tournament well, and whilst England’s attacking ability was lacking, it was the performances of the two centre halves that had me ‘desperate’ for Swansea to sign Chambers that summer; completely unaware that I would see it at Fulham a year after. Fast forward another 12 months, Fulham only used the two as a centre back duo in two fixtures, Exeter at home in the League Cup before Alfie Mawson was substituted after 75 minutes and Watford at home before Alfie Mawson was substituted at half time.

While Alfie Mawson was out injured, Chambers found time at centre half harder to come by with Fulham’s return to Premier League football being littered with defensive frailty and Slavisa Jokanovic tinkered with Denis Odoi, Tim Ream and Maxime Le Marchand all potential partnerships. With Slavisa Jokanovic’s last game at Anfield came Calum Chambers’ first match in the midfield, In a post-season interview with the club website, Chambers said about the Jokanovic experiment, “He wanted me to get myself about, try and break up play, try and protect and stop the ball going into the strikers. It was a very defensive role I was playing.” Chambers also admitted to the impact Scott Parker had on his transition, even before the former Fulham captain was made head coach, “we do stuff after sessions, quick feet stuff, working on my body position and making sure I’m aware of what’s around me. I’ll ask him where I should be with and without the ball. If there are little things I’m unsure of, I’ll go and speak to him and get his advice.”

Chambers fairly seamless transition into midfield was surprising for what initially appeared to be a short term solution became a fixture of the side under the regimes of both Claudio Ranieri and Scott Parker. After continuing as a ‘water carrier’ for Ranieri, once Scott Parker was placed in charge, an attempt came to add another string to Chambers’ bow, “with Scotty it’s been more of a box-to-box role if you like, getting myself about and trying to help out with the forwards.” While Calum himself appears to still see himself as a central defender, his year at Fulham was beneficial, “now when I play centre-back I’ll appreciate more what the midfielders have to go through and it will help me realise what pass they want or where they want me to give them the ball, so it’s definitely been a great experience and added to my game.”

Whether Calum Chambers, at 24, can break through at Arsenal is another question. Newspaper reports suggest he may be used as bait for the Gunners to clinch a deal for Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha on top of him being the only of Arsenal’s six central defenders to go out on loan, whilst Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos remained in Unai Emery’s set up. Chambers’ performances as a makeshift central midfielder could attract Emery to trial him as a rotational player given Arsenal will look to compete on four fronts again. I do think Calum’s future (like most Englishmen of his age) is better playing consistent football and if the opportunity to work with a Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace comes up, why not?

Whatever happens, Chambers is one of the front runners for Fulham’s Player of the Season voting and I’ll be personally surprised if he isn’t one of the top two. His consistency, work ethic and personal qualities have been a pleasure at Fulham and he seemed to have more ‘want’ than some players signed here permanently. I think I speak for a lot of Fulham supporters that wish Calum Chambers the best of luck in his future.

For Fulham, they’ll have to find a replacement for that anchor role in midfield. Kevin McDonald coming off of a season where he experienced the ruthlessness of football may be charged with returning to his former self in the Championship, or does Tony Khan dip into the transfer and find Scott Parker that style of player?

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