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

Parker named new Fulham boss on two-year contract

Fulham have this afternoon confirmed the permanent appointment of Scott Parker as the club’s manager on a two-year contract.

The former England captain has impressed the club’s hierarchy since stepping up to replace Claudio Ranieri on a caretaker basis in February. Although the 38 year-old was unable to prevent the Whites from being relegated from the Premier League, Parker did lead Fulham to three consecutive wins against Everton, Bournemouth and Cardiff City, keeping clean sheets in all three games.

He told the club’s official website that he was delighted to be offered the opportunity to do the job on a permanent basis:

“I’m delighted to be appointed Head Coach of Fulham Football Club and I thank the Chairman for entrusting me with this responsibility, as well as the support and encouragement that both he and Tony Khan have provided me.

The players, staff and fans have all been fantastic with me since I took temporary charge. We are now all focused on ending this campaign with a positive result on Sunday against Newcastle and look forward to preparations for the new season, which have already begun.”

Parker, who was previously first team coach at Fulham under Slavisa Jokanovic and the Tottenham Hotspur under-18 head coach for a season, finished his illustrious playing career at Craven Cottage, making 128 appearances for the Whites and scoring six goals.

Fulham chairman Shahid Khan added:

“Scott was brave to accept a very difficult challenge in February when appointed as our Caretaker Manager. Since that time, day by day, whether in training or on matchday, we’ve undeniably become a better football club.

Scott will now have another challenge to face, and that is to return Fulham to the Premier League. I fully believe Scott is more than up to the task. I appreciate that he’s been clear for many years that his ultimate goal is to excel as a manager, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed at Fulham. I also have no doubt that he knows and loves this Club every bit as much as our supporters, and that’s an intangible that everyone can welcome.”

Tom Cairney – Fulham’s perfect building block

One of my favourite kind of pieces to write are those with a story, where you have a clear start, middle and end. In football, these are particularly satisfying especially when telling the tale of new signings or a player on excellent form playing at his peak ability. In April of 2017, I did one of these on Fulham captain Tom Cairney and it’s crazy to think of how the story has progressed in just a little over two years later. While the playoff attempt for Slavisa’s side that season was unsuccessful, Tom Cairney was made full-time captain for the ultimate success, becoming the first Fulham player to score at Wembley and lead the club back to the Premier League.

The return to the big time wasn’t quite what any of us had hoped. Tom Cairney, in particular, saw Slavisa Jokanovic, a coach he described as “giving me my best years” was sacked after a horrific start and was replaced by Claudio Ranieri, a coach who had no interests in utilising the strengths of the Fulham captain as Cairney spent a spell in and out of the side. Now under Scott Parker, a former team mate, Cairney has returned to the line up as more of a traditional no.10 in a 4231 and contributed his first goal of the season at home to Everton.

The improved mood around Craven Cottage was boosted further after the influential captain was announced to have signed an extension to his stay at Fulham. Whilst the realist will understand this new deal likely negates any relegation pay cuts and probably will make him one of the highest paid players in the Championship next season, the statement from both the club and player was much needed heading into a summer of uncertainty over the future of so many.

Fulham has become a home for the Scotland international, a club where he has played his best football, a club where he made his international debut, a club that gave him his first real taste at Premier League and a club where he became a father. And for Fulham, Tom Cairney became the identity of a footballing style, he may not be athletically blessed but Cairney is technically wonderful with the ability to thread through a perfect pass, dictate an entire game or bend in a beauty from outside the box. The feeling is very much mutual.

For Scott Parker, or whoever is in charge come July for pre-season, they will know that they will have one of the Championships best in midfield. Sure he’s likely being paid handsomely for Championship standards, but the cost to replace the impact of a Cairney would not be cheap and we should welcome the fact that he wants to stay through thick and thin.

This coming season, Cairney will likely become the first Fulham player to play on over 200 appearances since 2014 and could overtake the likes of Chris Coleman, Simon Davies, Damien Duff and Sean Davis en route what will hopefully be a quick return to the Premier League. Cairney stated he hopes to finish his career with Fulham at Craven Cottage and his current contract would take him up to the traditional 10-year testimonial game of which he’ll be 34 years old. While football is a business and things change from week-to-week let alone yearly, it’s a huge statement for Fulham FC and keeping players and people of this mould at the football club is something we should yearn for.