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On this day last year …

Fulham began their season with a 3-0 win over NSI Runavik at Craven Cottage in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

Of the three scorers in that first leg, only Damien Duff remains at the club. There was an early sign of Martin Jol’s intentions as the new manager when former Liverpool youngster Lauri Dalla Valle stepped off the bench to make his debut for the club.

I wonder whether the extra six weeks rest will help Fulham to come strongly out of the starting blocks against Norwich City at the Cottage on August 11.

Murphy: I left Fulham to ‘perform regularly’

It 'felt like Danny Murphy had signed for Real Madrid today, according to one journalist

Danny Murphy explained this afternoon that his decision to join Blackburn Rovers was motivated by a desire to keep ‘performing and playing regularly’ after Fulham had intimated that they could not offer their captain a guarantee of first-team football at Craven Cottage.

The 35 year-old decided to join relegated Rovers after turning down Fulham’s offer of a one-year contract, preferring to be a big part of Blackburn’s push to return to the top flight at the first attempt under Steve Kean. Murphy managed 49 appearances for the Whites last season, but had been left out of the side by Martin Jol – and the Dutch coach made it clear that he would not be an automatic pick come August.

The conversation I’d had with Fulham was they wanted me to stay but they were maybe looking at bringing someone in to play instead of me rather than competing with me. I didn’t want to go down the road of finishing my career sitting, playing the odd game here and there. I’d rather be part of a new challenge and a project and that’s what this gave me.

I had a chat with Ray Lewington a couple of days before I signed and he made a very valid point to me – you’re a long time finished so don’t worry too much about the coaching aspect yet. He’s seen me play for a long time and I believe I’ve got the quality to keep playing. I think my level of performance and the amount of games that I’ve played has been a match for anyone.

Murphy admitted that he did have reservations about dropping out of the top flight initially having shined at Liverpool and being a key part of Fulham’s remarkable resurgence.

Initially I was a little bit reluctant in that respect, but the more I thought about it, the more influence I thought I could have at this level. I don’t think I have anything to prove in my career. I think my ego was initially what I worried about, but playing in the Championship is another challenge for me and one I’m really looking forward to

Murphy will always have a special place in Fulham folklore for his performances that helped fire the Great Escape, with that unexpected header at Portsmouth securing survival. Then, there was his four-year spell as captain that saw him lead the club to their highest ever league finish and a European final. His leadership, passion and those magic moments will live long in the memory.

Danny Murphy: Goodbye and good luck

Unexpected goodbyes are the hardest ones. When you have to say farewell fairly swiftly, it can be difficult to find the words that truly express how much you’ll miss the departing individual. The news this morning that Danny Murphy was heading north to complete a medical at Blackburn Rovers ahead of an prospective free transfer didn’t surprise me – as there had been some doubt as to whether Fulham’s captain would remain at the club beyond his current contract for much of last season – but the finality of it left this correspondent feeling a little numb.

For all that you try and take the emotion of football, we have an emotional attachment to the teams to we follow. We all have our favourite players, who unfortunately in this era of big money contracts might not be as committed to their clubs as their predecessors were when there was a maximum wage. More than anybody over the past five years, Murphy epitomised Fulham’s rapid revitalisation. When he was signed at almost the midnight hour of the August transfer window during Laurie Sanchez’s desperate attempt to overhaul a stale squad, people questioned what Fulham might want with a 30 year-old whose best times seemed behind him.

Those nagging doubts persisted for much of a season that seemed destined to spell the end of Fulham’s brief return to the top flight, especially during the first four months of Murphy’s time at Craven Cottage when Sanchez’s direct football bypassed the talents of both his new signing and those of another summer acquisition, Steven Davis, in central midfield. Plenty of Fulham fans suggested that those eye-catching displays for Liverpool and England were a thing of the past – Murphy’s ‘legs were gone’ and that was a luxury a side waging a war against the drop couldn’t afford. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Celebrating the equaliser at Eastlands

It might have taken a change of manager – and philosophy – for Murphy’s quality to shine but you can’t begin to discuss the extraordinary turn of events that carried Fulham from checking out the Championship ground guide to stunning salvation without highlighting his contribution. For a start, Murphy’s experience and calmness must have counted just as much behind the scenes as it did on the pitch. Then there were the displays that typified a man who’s always refused to concede defeat. He ran the midfield during Fulham’s first away win in thirty three games at Reading – an almost improbable result that had us daring to dream – and that pulled the strings during that staggering second half turnaround at Manchester City. Murphy might have missed possibly the most high-pressure penalty of his career, but had the presence of mind to follow-up and place the rebound beyond Joe Hart with the minimum of a fuss. A point was a terrific result, but a simply magnificent pass freed Diomansy Kamara in injury-time, and the Great Escape was on.

Of course, Murphy’s central role in the drama was still to come. We all remember that glancing header that secured safety on a glorious afternoon at Portsmouth. But what made that afternoon all the more poignant was that the man who wasn’t supposed to be in the opposition penalty area at an attacking set piece – and was just about to substituted – very nearly didn’t make it to Fratton Park at all. Murphy’s young daughter had been rushed to hospital with dehydration the day before the game and, being the devoted family man that he is, Murphy waited with his wife and little girl rather than making the journey to the south coast with his team-mates. Fortunately, his daughter was well enough to recover the following day but, not being a father myself, I can only imagine the emotions that must have preceded what was an already tense weekend.

The Fratton Park header that sealed the Great Escape

Once Brian McBride had decided to return with his family to America, Roy Hodgson installed Murphy as the likeable forward’s replacement as captain. It proved a masterstroke. During his time at Fulham, Murphy has been a shining ambassador for the football club in the community and with the supporters – and when he hasn’t been available, his wife has been more than willing to converse with the fans on Twitter. More than that, the captain has been a mentor to younger players and a quiet, but unmistakable, leader on the field. His partnership with Dickson Etuhu, much criticised when Hodgson grew tired of Jimmy Bullard’s antics, blossomed into one of stability and reassurance, providing the platform for Fulham’s highest-ever finish in the top flight.

That meant Europe – and we all know what happened next. Murphy made 41 appearances during a marathon season, that began in Lithuania in July when he tucked away a penalty with his customary efficiency and ended with such cruel heartbreak in Hamburg. Murphy missed a fair chunk of the campaign through injury – as well as the momentous win over Juventus through suspension – but made up for it with that majestic pass to free Simon Davies for the vital equaliser in the second leg of the semi-final against Hamburg.

Danny loves scoring against United

I simply can’t list all of the magic moments during his five years at the Cottage – he’s become such an indelible part of the football club that he seems far longer – because this article would ramble on for too longer. But we’ll remember with great affection the way he artfully gave Thomas Kusczak the eyes and sparked a splendid win over Manchester United with an effortless strike from long range a matter of days after the Whites reached the Europa League knockout round in Basle. His two spot-kicks in the FA Cup demolition of Spurs were Murphy’s only goals of the following campaign but there were oh, so satisfying. His deflected strike that pegged back a seemingly unassailable Manchester City last September will live long in the memory too.

There’s a sadness in that you felt Murphy had more to offer. He’s an intelligent thinker about the game, destined to become a coach and probably a manager in time, too. But without the captain there in central midfield, Fulham look a far poorer side. Martin Jol’s got a clear brief to reduce the average age of the side and Murphy wants to be a regular starter at this stage in his career. You can’t quibble with either position but does seem strange that a player of Murphy’s quality should need to drop down a level to secure the status he wants.

Celebrating the equaliser against Man City

Football can’t be reduced to mere statistics but Murphy’s Fulham record deserves a mention. Since August 2007, he has made 220 appearances for the club and scored 29 goals. It doesn’t sound like much, but they’ll be very few players who are as consistent as Murphy at the highest level and amass such a record over a relatively short space of time. The speculation has already started about who might fill his shoes. It should cease. Danny Murphy’s irreplaceable: both on and off the field. All that remains is thank him for a multitude of memories and move on – as sad it as it will be.

The Hammy’s

As the 2011/2012 season has drawn to a close for our beloved Fulham Football Club, here are the inaugural Hammyend End of Season Awards, known simply as The “Hammy’s”.

Signing of the season

There are several nominees for signing of the season; both Pavel Pogrebnyak and Mahammadou Diarra have excelled at times since their January (and February) arrivals. Pogrebnyak seamlessly replacing former England striker Bobby Zamora, and Diarra, who’s vast experience and quality has begun to really shine in central midfield alongside Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembele. For me though, the signing of the season is John Arne Riise, who joined from AS Roma last summer. Despite not scoring, the Norwegian has cemented the left back role as his own, whilst his marauding touchline runs have freed Clint Dempsey to have the run of the park without excessive concern for his flank.

Goal of the season

The first nominee is Pavel Pogrebnyak’s delightful rounding of Paddy Kenny against QPR from Moussa Dembele’s showboat backheeled through ball. Bryan Ruiz only scored two goals in his first season for Fulham, but they were both absolute peaches. The chip against Everton was good enough to have come out of Rory McIlroy’s golf bag, while the “scoop” goal against Bolton was technically sublime. Not being able to pick between the two Ruiz goals, my goal of the season is Clint Dempsey’s team goal, which crowned the 5-0 thrashing of Wolves. Capping a mesmeric twenty something pass move that any team would have been proud of, Clint smashed in a neat 16 yard finish following a one two with Mahammadou Diarra.

Bryan celebrates his goal against Everton

Match of the season

Was it winning in Liverpool for the first time ever? How about the 1-0 win away at Mark Hughes’ QPR? The 2-1 last minute win over Arsenal? No, the game of the season was undoubtedly the 6-0 demolition of Queens Park Rangers back in September. Welcome to the Premier League.

The Abdeslam Ouaddou Award for the Most Unpronounceable Name

Despite facing teams from the Faroe Islands, Ukraine, Croatia and Poland in our Europa League run, a few of the new faces at Craven Cottage have proved tricky for Diddy Hamilton and a fair few others to pronounce. From Pajtim (Pie-Tim) Kasami and Marcel Gecov (Getz-of) to Alex Kacaniklic (Catch-a-nik-lich) and Pavel Pogrebnyak (Pog-reb-knee-ak), it appears Martin Jol is intent on making commentators lives difficult. Pogrebnyak wins, purely for his ability to be mispronounced in the national spotlight.

The HammyEnd.com Award for best Fulham Fan Media

The past season has seen an upsurge in the number of intelligent, interesting and dedicated Fulham fan-based media. The increasing popularity of twitter has undoubtedly fueled this growth and enabled those that pre-existed to gain a wider reach. There is no specific winner here, but I’d like personally thank Dan Crawford, devoted editor of HammyEnd for encouraging contributions from an ever burgeoning range of writers. Other sites, like the excellent Craven Cottage Newsround and Fulham’s Finest have continued their stellar work. While finally, (and I may be biased here) Russ Goldman’s wonderful CottageTalk, a weekly online radio show / podcast, brings Fulham discussion to a wider audience, along with interviews with the likes of Aaron Hughes and Journalists such as the Press Association’s Simon Peach. If, like me, you have an insatiable desire for all things Fulham, now is very much a golden age.

The @Hammyend Award for Our Favourite Fulham Tweeter

The last season has seen an explosion in the popularity of Twitter as social media of choice for Fulham Football Club. We’ve had the immensely popular #fridayfulhamchallenge courtesy of the club itself including the naming of the @fulhamchickens. By my latest count, there are twelve first teamers currently active on twitter along with several wives. My nominees for Tweeter of the year are @sarahbrookes1, the ever informative and Rafa Nadal obsessed Fulham press officer, @Clint_Dempsey – #thatswhatsup, the irrepressible @WhiteNoise1879 and @joannataylormum, the popular other half to our beloved captain, Danny Murphy. Her constant willingness to interact positively with us fans, makes Joanna Murphy, my Fulham Tweeter of the Season.

Best Opposing Fans at Craven Cottage

Manchester United and Liverpool always bring loud, original and surprisingly polite away fans to Craven Cottage and this season was no different. Wigan deserve vast amounts of credit for staying loud all game, in particular the 15 minutes they sung “I’m a believer”, but for me, the loudest fans I have heard in some time, were those from Wisla Krakow. It felt as though every Polish person in London had descended on Fulham. I actually arrived at the game twenty minutes late and came through the Putney End turnstiles at the precise moment Andy Johnson opened the scoring, but such was the fervency of the Krakow support, I couldn’t tell who’d scored.

Best Opposing Player

This is a tough one to answer, and you’d think the drubbings at the hands of Manchester United and Swansea would give me the result. Antonio Valencia and Wayne Rooney among others picked us apart when the reigning champions came to town, while the midfield three of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Joe Allen and Leon Brittan played us off the park when we lost the Welsh outfit. However, it was Sergio Aguero, in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City who stood out for me. New to the English game, Aguero played sumblimely, just as he did that fateful evening in Hamburg two years ago.

The Gervasio Nunez Award For Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Refereeing decisions have come under the spotlight this past season, and we’ve suffered our fair share of misdemeanors. Nothing stands out for me, like the outrageous cheating displayed by Argentinean street urchin Gervasio Nunez, when, in Krakow, he got Moussa Dembele sent off for gently pushing his shoulder by diving around as if an anti aircraft gun had zeroed in on his nose. What’s more, in the reverse fixture he continued his antics. One particularly robust Dickson Etuhu challenge later and everyone was better off.

Kerim Frei tormenting Chelsea

Rookie of the Year

What a year for young talent at Craven Cottage. The investment in the Motspur Park academy is beginning to bear its fruits, and in Martin Jol, we finally have a manager who’s willing to give the youngsters a prolonged chance. All under 21, Neil Etheridge, Marcello Trotta, Pajtim Kasami, Matthew Briggs, Tom Donegan, Lauri Dalle Valle and Alex Kacaniklic have all seen first team action this season, with all but Briggs making their debuts. Rookie of the year honours have to go to Kerim Frei. The pintsized Swiss winger is as exciting a prospect as there is in the entire Premier League. From his debut against NSI Runavik, to his three Man of the Match appearances against Chelsea, Kerim has been a beacon of positive football whilst running at defenders along the left wing. He’s won two penalties, at Swansea and Chelsea, scored against Odense and enduced Johan Djourou into getting himself sent off. It may be a busy summer ahead for Kerim, who is tipped to make the 18-man Switzerland Olympic Squad.

Achievement of the Season

Congratulations to the Fulham Under-18s, who last Saturday became the Premier Academy League Champions. The final, played at Craven Cottage, saw the youngsters deservedly beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0. Manager Kit Symons has done a tremendous job, as has academy director Huw Jennings and all the backroom staff. We have now got to the final two years in a row, and can now call ourselves champions. A truly outstanding achievement that everyone involved with the club can be proud of.

Most Improved Player

Stephen Kelly, where have you been all my life? Originally fourth choice right back at the start of the season, injury to Zdenek Grygera, Chris Barid’s absence and Aaron Hughes’ preference for centre half eventually allowed Kelly the opportunity to grow into a very solid performer. Still not an attacking force, Kelly has matured into a remarkably consistent performer defensively, whilst improving offensively. He made himself first choice at right back and has been offered a new contract, albeit with the possibility of a new right back arriving and the return to fitness of Grygera.

Quote of the season

Something might be said for the translation when you hear your new centre forward proclaiming he can be “powerful and agile, like a beast”. However, this is exactly what our Ivan Drago lookalike, Pavel Porgebnyak, said to Russian Sports News Agency SovSport whilst awaiting his UK visa in Paris. A series of swashbuckling performances, including five goals from his first five shots on target, led us to soon forget about the sulky striker sent to Loftus Road on Transfer Deadline Day.

Who needs Zamora? When we've got The Pog.

Chant of the season

There was a defining moment of our season. January 31st saw Bobby Zamora, he of moody temper tantrums throughout the autumn, leave Fulham for pastures new, and Russian International, Pavel Pogrebnyak, join the Whites from VFB Stuttgart. Perfect then that on The Pog’s third appearance, he scored the winner in a 1-0 win over relegation candidates QPR at Loftus Road. Quite right that chant of the season is “Who needs Zamora, When We’ve Got The Pog”.

Ironman Award

Norway Captain, defensive rock, Viking, ironman…all apt and factual descriptions of Brede Hangeland. Not only did our behemoth of a centre back play every minute of every league game, he played in every other game bar one for the entire 54 match season. What’s more, his performances rarely wavered, despite several changes to his centre back partner.

Player of the season

There are really only two genuine candidates for player of the season, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey. Especially since his move to central midfield on Boxing Day, Dembele has been especially superb. Albeit without goals (only two for the season), Moussa has been the creative spark behind our upturn in form over the second half of the season. His wonderful assist for Pavel Pogrebnyak’s goal at QPR is perhaps the standout moment, but his constant dribbling, successful passing and completed tackles have led Dembele to being well on his way to becoming an elite Premier League midfielder.

Clint Dempsey - Player of The Season

Player of the season though, should be awarded for play over the whole season. While Dembele was good throughout the first half, there is one man who has been truly outstanding across the entire term. Clint Dempsey this year passed Brian McBride to become Fulham’s all time leading Premier League goalscorer, and in doing so, passed 50 goals for Fulham and later 50 goals in the Premier League, all for FFC. Ending the year with 23 goals, 17 in the league, Clint finished in a remarkable fourth place in the Football Writers Player of the Year, and to be honest, was unlucky not to finish third ahead of Paul Scholes. It’s not just his goals that have cemented this award, but his play in general. Fearless and spirited, Clint can rarely be accused of lethargy, which for a man who’s barely had a summer off since his move to Craven Cottage five and a half years ago, is somewhat remarkable. He’s our longest serving player, and regardless of his employment tenure next season, Clint Dempsey is the rightful Fulham Player of the Season.

COYWs

Murphy scoffs at England talk

Fulham midfielder Danny Murphy has laughed off speculation linking him with a shock international return as part of the England squad that travels to Poland and the Ukraine for this summer’s European Championships.

Some pundits have suggested that, after Muphy and new England boss Roy Hodgson had worked so closely together during the latter’s time at Craven Cottage, that the Fulham captain might replace one of the previous star names, although Murphy himself wasn’t having any of it.

I have not thought about that for a long time. My only thought when I heard he got the job was pleasure for him. I know what a gentleman he is and what a knowledgeable man he is and the players will certainly go into the Euros knowing what he wants from them. They will be well organised.

Ray (Lewington) is a terrific coach as well and together they – them two and Mike Kelly – turned Fulham into nearly a Europa League-winning team. He will do his country proud. I think he is a terrific coach, an absolute gentleman and I am really pleased for him.