Tucked away towards the bottom of an entertaining interview in Saturday’s Scotsman with Don Mackay is the 72 year-old’s take on how his ill-fated time as Fulham manager ended.
Mackay spent three years at Craven Cottage and things deteriorated pretty quickly after a fairly promising start. Many fans held him responsible for the club’s lamentable descent down to the old Fourth Division, although the man himself still feels badly let down by chairman Jimmy Hill, who stormed into the dressing room to lambast his manager at half time during a London derby at Leyton Orient, having already appeared by the visiting dugout during the first half.
Hill couldn’t help himself. At half-time, and with Fulham trailing 1-0, he barged into the dressing-room.
“I have been here for so long, I deserve my say,” he informed Mackay. “He told the players, you are not doing this right, you are not doing that right. Then he went out of the door, and pointed at me and said: ‘you sort it out’.”
He did to an extent, with Fulham managing to score twice before conceding an equaliser at the end. Still, it was a point. According to Mackay, just nine more were needed from ten games to avoid relegation. He was not given the chance to earn them; he was let go the following day, and Fulham ended up a point shy of safety.
“I always used to go up to the boardroom to thank the opposition directors, manager and none of the Fulham directors were there, which was unusual,” he recalls. “On the Sunday morning the vice-chairman came to see me. He said: ‘you are no longer manager, we are taking it from you’.
“The thing that annoyed me is that Jimmy Hill never even told me, he went off to the League Cup final, I saw him on television. We haven’t spoken since.”
Just reliving that unfortunate episode makes it easy to reflect on just how far Fulham have come in the last twenty years. Mackay comes across as a thoughtful man with plenty of amusing anecdotes in the interview, but he had inherited a pretty promising side and oversaw a sorry slump. One of the gentleman who sits near me in the Hammersmith End still hasn’t forgiven Mackay for signing Mark Cooper, who scored one of the goals that relegated Fulham when playing for Exeter, after two years at the Cottage that were both frustrating and forgettable.
I’ve just spotted a piece praising Mohamed Al Fayed’s stewardship of Fulham in today’s Daily Express, extolling the virtues of his careful financial management in comparison to Queen’s Park Rangers.
Mick Dennis, one of the paper’s more cerebral correspondents, contrasts the impatience of owners at Rangers, Chelsea and at various places in the Midlands with the patience shown by Al Fayed since Fulham arrived in the top flight:
He arrived in 1997. A year earlier, Fulham had sunk to their lowest-ever ebb – seven places off the foot of the bottom division in the Football League. A succession of landlords had threatened to kick them out and merge them with other clubs but chairman Mo bought Fulham, bought the freehold of the Cottage and began funding a climb up the table.
They are now in their 12th consecutive season in the Premier League and on Saturday I watched them take a point at Norwich. It was a turgid game but John Arne Riise was immaculate at left-back, Damien Duff dominated his flank, Hugo Rodallega pulled his markers this way and that and Dimitar Berbatov ambled about embellishing events with languid skills.
Last month we learnt how much it has cost Al Fayed to finance his club’s climb through the divisions, entrench them in the top tier and fill the squad with quality players. Fulham’s annual accounts showed that Al Fayed had converted all the money owed to him by the club into shares. The loans that he thus effectively wrote off totalled £212million.
Fulham’s accounts received little attention. Instead we were engrossed by Tony Fernandes’s transfer-window spree at QPR and Roman Abramovich’s search for a manager at Chelsea.
Dennis goes on to salute Al Fayed and Fulham for questioning the merits behind the introduction of Financial Fair Play into the Premier League, arguing that Fulham’s rise up the English footballing pyramid wouldn’t have been permitted had the rules been in place fifteen years ago. That’s not a position I subscribe to – and you could argue that Fulham’s sound business management will make the club one of the long-term winners under FFP – but it’s still nice to see some praise for long-term planning instead of another sensationalist article on some aspect of the Premier League soap opera.
The piece is timely in another way too. Just this morning on one of the popular Fulham messageboards, one contributor a thread asks when we’ll stop contrasting our current status in the Premier League with where the club used to be, languishing in the lower reaches of the English game. Whilst the two positions might now be polar opposites, nobody should need reminding that it takes time to establish a club in the top flight. Success is relative – and, with the current levels of investment, seventh place is akin to winning the league. The regular turnover of managers has restricted Fulham’s progress in recent seasons – and the current incumbent is still dealing with the aftermath of losing two key players in the closing hours of the summer transfer window.
The bottom line is that patience, now such a rare commodity in modern football, will be rewarded. Fulham are suddenly standing on their own two feet in the top flight. That the club remains modest about these achievements and others is to their credit. It fits both Fulham’s traditions and a quiet confidence that has served us well over the past decade and a half. Let’s continue to build for the future and leave the attention-seeking to others.
We have spoken a lot in the last year or so about how Fulham are putting a lot of efforts into the development of youth players in order to build the future. It has been a very exciting time for us as fans, getting to watch a group of very young players begin to make their mark on the Fulham first team. They bring some fresh air to our squad and they certainly trouble even the most experienced defenders in the league with their fearless attitude and quick feet. And these are only the players who we actually get to watch. The development structure in the club now oversees and Under 18 and Under 21 sides which is something that we should reap the rewards of over the next five years or so.
However, writing another very excitable piece on the clubs development scheme is not my purpose for this article. A video on the BBC Sport website caught my eye yesterday about the Fulham Foundation. As well as working with kids in the community the club has a programme called ‘My Future Goal’. This works with unemployed young people and hope to give them the skills required to get jobs and the generally build up their confidence to give them a sense of self-importance. Through education and sport, the Fulham Foundation are bettering the lives of West London’s youngsters. As a student teacher, this sort of thing only increases my love of the club as it reminds us that Fulham Football Club isn’t only about getting points on the board on Saturday afternoons but it is about being an important part of the community.
Education is one of the most important things that we can ever provide for our young people as it unlocks the doors for them to take control and play a part in our society. If you haven’t watched the video you can watch it here. Please, if you haven’t already, have a look at the different projects that the Fulham Foundation run.
Fulham competed from first minute to the last at Stamford Bridge last night – and executed Martin Jol’s gameplan effortlessly. The Dutchman described the game as his ‘perfect scenario’ in his post-match Sky Sports interview and you could see what he meant. The Whites were quickly into their stride, taking advantage of the local discontent at the presence of Rafa Benitez in the home dugout, kept things tight at the back and looked dangerous on the break. So successful were Fulham that there’s more than a tinge of regret that the visitors couldn’t end their 33-year wait for a win at the Bridge.
Schwarzer: It was a measure of how surprisingly comfortable Fulham’s evening was that the Australian had very little to do. He fielded a speculative shot from Torres with consummate ease in the first half and was able to comfortably gather Ramires’ speculative stab from ten yards in the second half. The only time Schwarzer, who organised his defence expertly throughout, looked to be beaten the outstanding Aaron Hughes arrived to hook Torres’ shot clear from underneath his own bar. 7
Riether: The German’s fast becoming Fulham’s most reliable right back since Steve Finnan, even though he hasn’t yet matched compatriot Moritz Volz’s feat of scoring at Stamford Bridge. Riether was resolute in defence, seeing Eden Hazard substituted as Chelsea searched for a breakthrough, and was eager to surge forward. Had Mladen Petric not only just left the bench himself, the on-loan Cologne full-back might have made the winner. 8
Riise: Like Paul Konchesky before him, Riise will have to get over spurning a splendid chance to turn a creditable point into all three. Having galloped fully ninety yards to reach the Chelsea six-yard box, the away fans waited for Riise to finish a flowing break that began in Fulham’s own penalty area, but he failed to make a telling connection. Cech did well to save a deflected strike, but the left back’s wait for his first goal will go into a 57th game. Diligent defensively, but will wonder what could have been. 7
Hughes: Outstanding. Dependable. Flawless. Pick a glowing adjective and it will describe the Northern Irish centre back’s fautless display last night. In the absence of Brede Hangeland, Fulham’s centre halves needed to assert themselves against Fernando Torres and Hughes, for so long the unsung hero of this team, rose to the occasion. Rarely beaten in the air against a taller forward, Hughes was composed in cutting out the danger – twice blocking shots in his own box – before lunging to divert Torres’ effort to safety when it flashed worryingly across goal. 9
Senderos: The Swiss defender has a vocal band of detractors but his sins in a Fulham shirt have been difficult to identify. Having struggled on this ground in the past against Didier Drogba (who didn’t?), Senderos was exactly the physical presence Jol would have sought in the centre of his defence without Hangeland and didn’t put a foot wrong until added time, when a dreadful back header almost let in Ramires. The doubters should give Senderos, who has played two and a half games since April, credit for his part in a precious clean sheet. 7
Diarra: The Malian is such a key component of Jol’s team, with his ability to read the game, carry the ball forward and do the physical stuff, that even when he’s lacking match sharpness – as was clearly the case last night – he’s worth starting on the big nights. Diarra’s presence screening the back four denied the space Oscar and Hazard they craved, but he also forged a successful partnership with Steve Sidwell to keep the ball and dictate the tempo. Brought off as he started to tire after the hour. 7
Sidwell: It was fitting that Sidwell, who passed along the Fulham Road at the speed of a 211 on a non-matchday after a frustrating spell at Chelsea earlier in his career, produced his finest performance in a Fulham shirt at the home of his former employers. The ‘Ginger Iniesta’ scurried across midfield, timed his tackles impeccably, and was clearly up for the contest from the first whistle. He comfortably outfought Oriel Romeu and were it for not the excellence of Hughes, would have been my man of the match. 8
Duff: Restored to the starting line-up against his old club and Duff delivered exactly what you’ve come to expert: a whole-hearted effort, full of running and plenty of defensive work – none more important than when he stabbed a loose ball behind as he dropped beyond the far post. The Irish winger was offensive enough to keep Ashley Cole back in his own half for long periods, a crucial ingredient for Fulham’s success as the visitors looked to assert themselves. 7
Rodallega: An ineffectual and infuriating display from the former Latic, who failed to seize his opportunity to shine on the left flank. Used his height well against Cesar Azpilicueta but failed to attack the Spanish full-back or offer any real threat out wide. Rodallega looked slightly more dangerous when played through the middle, but even Dimitar Berbatov was perturbed by the Colombian’s enigmatic display judging by the Fulham skipper’s sixty seconds of berating him after an attack broke down in the second half. 6
Karagounis: Playing the Greek veteran at the point of Fulham’s attacking midfield triangle was a masterstroke from Jol. Karagounis ran his heart out and was far more effective than when he looked isolated as a left winger at Stoke; crucially, dropping back to form a third orthodox central midfielder when the Whites were under pressure. His pass to release Riise midway through the second half was the ball of the night and went off to a full-throated rendition of his jolly little song. 7
Berbatov: Brilliant without being devastating once again, Berbatov led the team rather than just the forward line last night. Rather like Alistair Cook, Berbatov seems to thrive on the captaincy and was a livewire throughout – completing fifteen more passes and enjoying double the number of touches as Torres, despite costing only a tenth of the Spaniard’s transfer fee. Had the assistant referee not wrongly raised his flag when the Bulgarian burst through on goal, he might have put Fulham in front. His only black mark came in injury time when his baffling decision to receive a short corner gifted Chelsea a last chance to come forward. 8
Baird: The Ballymena boy’s absence from the starting line-up was harsh as Baird’s arguably been Fulham’s most consistent performer since stepping into central midfield in September. Afforded a rousing reception as he replaced Diarra, ‘Bairdinho’ battered a free-kick shot at Cech but stepped seamlessly into the Malian’s role anchoring Fulham’s midfield and picked out a couple of impressive forward passes. 7
Frei: The Turkish teenager likes playing Chelsea and his fearlessness seemed to enliven Fulham as he exploded back into the first team. He dribbled away from Azpilicueta twice in two minutes, beating him on both sides, and on another evening might have won a spot-kick for the second season in succession after being caught by Ramires. Just as importantly, he showed great awareness to tee up Riise’s deflected effort, and it’s great to see such a terrific talent back in a Fulham shirt. Why didn’t Cardiff use him more during his month in the Championship? The Bluebirds’ loss is certainly Fulham’s game. 7
Petric: A late replacement for Rodallega but the Croatian striker – perhaps the most natural finisher at Motspur Park at the moment – couldn’t react quickly enough to convert the only chance that came his way when he miscontrolled Riether’s excellent cross. 6
Flicking through the morning papers after Fulham fought their way to another fully merited point against Chelsea last night was a very enjoyable experience indeed. The hacks had a few chuckles at the travelling support’s impressive range of ditties and there were more than a few compliments on how Martin Jol’s boys acquitted themselves on the pitch too.
Henry Winter, The Telegraph: ‘The main f-word was Fulham, Fulham. The visiting fans were terrific, in fine form throughout, beginning by mocking the Bridge announcer’s request for them to sit down by all standing up. They then serenaded the hosts’ interim first-team manager with “Rafa Benítez, he works where he wants”. The Fulham glee club then disagreed with a (fair) decision by Anthony Taylor with a chant of “We want Mark Clattenburg’.
Matt Dickinson, The Times: ‘Fulham might have snatched it. Giorgos Karagounis dropped a pass over the Chelsea defence for Riise to run on to, and it seemed the perfect counter-attack with Azpilicueta up the field. Riise has a left foot that can generate net-bulging power but, as the ball bounced invitingly, the best he could manage was a horrible duff. The ball trickled wide and, for the time being at least, Benítez had no need for ear plugs.’
Sam Wallace, The Independent: ‘In Dimitar Berbatov, they had the one man who occasionally raised the tone above the mundane … The moment when Oriol Romeu tried to bring him down with a rugby tackle around the Bulgarian’s waist was the acknowledgement that Chelsea struggled with the Fulham captain all night.’
Dominic Fifield, The Guardian: The Bulgarian oozed quality throughout. He played his part in all of Fulham’s forays upfield, even if it was the scuttling running of Kerim Frei in the latter stages that left Chelsea panicked. The Turkey international should become key to Jol’s side over the second half of the campaign and, if he does, this team can thrive’.
Victoria Lee, Daily Mirror: ‘The most ingenuity on display – apart from the sublime skill of Dimitar Berbatov – came from the visiting fans, with chants of “Rafa Benitez, he works where he wants” before, as the ground emptied early: “Is there a fire drill?”‘
Neil Ashton, Daily Mail:’In the past, a home game against Fulham was a routine win, another three points as Chelsea packed off their annoying little neighbours back to Putney. Not any longer.’
Tony Banks, Daily Express: ‘Torres turned in the box, and Aaron Hughes booted his shot off the line. Had it gone in, it would have been an injustice. Fulham had defended magnificently’.