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Good Luck Roy

So for the second time this season the subject of my penmanship is a Mr. Roy Hodgson. First time round, I was encouraging a warm reception as he brought West Brom to The Cottage back on the 1st February. Now, it’s to proclaim support for his nomination to the post of England manager.

I was an englandfan, in fact, technically I still am. No, not just a supporter of my country, I will always be that, but an actual paid up member of englandfans, the official supporters group for the national team which provides access to tickets and so on.

Over the years, I have greatly enjoyed supporting England. My second ever game of football was England v Saudi Arabia at the old Wembley Stadium. I was at Steven Gerrard’s England debut against the Ukraine, saw Danny Murphy score in a friendly against Paraguay at Anfield and was there when David Beckham scored ‘that’ free kick against Greece. I even did work experience at the FA’s Soho Square headquarters during the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. This was a time when supporting England meant the world to me.

Even as my support for the national team was becoming less fervent, I still wanted to go to games. I skipped the Wally with a Brolly game against Croatia, but was there when we exacted revenge to the tune of five goals two years later. I have sat in all three tiers at the new Wembley Stadium and have seen England win, lose and draw.

More and more though, over the last few years, I have become less and less captivated by the goings on of the national team. Perhaps it was the poor performance at the last World Cup or non-presence at the previous European Championship, perhaps it was a feeling of alienation from a fan-base who salute Wayne Rooney incessantly, despite his occasional moments of callous thuggery, perhaps it is ITV’s foolhardy television coverage or perhaps it is simply that my feelings for Fulham have simply led me to conclude there is a definite winner in the club versus country debate.

To be honest, if it were not the prospect of seeing Bobby Zamora in an England shirt, my interest in the national team would have been restricted to watching the squad announcements with disappointment and waiting for the inevitable penalty shootout loss come summer.

I get the feeling that my outlook on England might not be unique, especially from fans of clubs who don’t contribute the bulk of the playing squad. Now, however, after Sven, Steve McLaren, and Fabio Capello, there is a manager who I want to root for.

The position of England manager is one of the most talked about in the land. It is the position that carries the greatest weight of expectation. London has a mayoral election on Thursday, but one suspects that the new England boss will face a greater pressure to succeed. [Chancellor of the Exchequer] George Osborne is probably delighted there’s been an appointment; the vast majority of us understand the repercussions of a 2-0 defeat to Belgium more than a 0.2% contraction of the economy.

The England manager is the ambassador of English football to the world. For this, there is no man on the planet better suited that Roy Hodgson. Football management was his chosen career path, but one suspects that international diplomacy ran a close second.

Had England had a better relationship with world football, we might not have been pick-pocketed of the right to host the 2018 World Cup. Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham stood up on the stage in Zurich for the decision, all three hold nothing like the reputation and esteem that Roy, as a 16 year veteran of UEFA and FIFA Technical Study Groups, is regarded with in the echelons of footballing power in Switzerland.

As a coach, there are few better. Harry Redknapp is not one of them. Jobs such as transforming Finland, a country where football falls somewhere between ski jumping and biathlon in popularity, into a nation within one match of tournament qualification, often go overlooked when checking his curriculum vitae.

People seem to have labeled Roy as someone who can’t cope with egos or star players. Quite frankly this tag is nothing short of ridiculous. You try working with [Inter Milan owner] Massimo Moratti.

There are a list of reasons as to why Roy is right for the England job, most of which will be paraded at length in the popular press over the next day or two. His knowledge and qualifications are certainly among them. Gaining experience outside of English football is not a crime; whatever certain commentators would have you believe. It will also be nice to actually have an England manager who knows the difference between international and club management.

It is fitting perhaps that his first game in charge will be a friendly against his former skipper, Brede Hangeland’s, Norway at the end of the month in Oslo.

The job will bring scrutiny and pressure, whilst a four-year contract represents hopefully, the FA putting their faith in Roy for the long term. If England are to fail at Euro 2012, lets not all call for his head and bemoan Harry’s non-appointment. For now, my interest in England has been rekindled.

So my message is this; good luck Roy. I’m behind you and I’m sure a lot of others are too.

Welcome Home Woy

Tonight sees the return of Roy Hodgson to Craven Cottage for the first time as an opposition manager since leaving Fulham in 2010. It is my sincere belief that we should stand up and applaud Woy rather than castigate him as a villain despite the manner of his exit to Liverpool a year and a half ago.

Hodgson’s conduct as he departed our friendly confines was indeed somewhat unsavoury. Roy spent that summer appearing on the BBC’s World Cup coverage denying any interest in a purported move to Merseyside, notwithstanding widespread media speculation.

Following the conclusion of his tour to South Africa, the dice began to roll, and pieces began to fall into place. Chairman Mo rejected Liverpool’s overtures for our manager, leading Roy to eventually quit his job to force through a move. Something that, at the time, angered, frustrated and saddened the group of fans who had just witnessed the most successful season in the club’s long history. He’d bitten the hand that fed him.

In hindsight though, and with perhaps a pinch of perspective, can you really blame him for wanting to try his hand at Liverpool. In revenue terms, Liverpool remains to this day the 4th biggest club on the planet behind Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

There’s not many clubs that could attract over half a million people to midweek victory celebrations, as Liverpool did for the Champions League parade in 2004. Our Russian funded neighbours from up the road certainly could not. Let’s face it, its not like he left us because we lacked ambition only to wind up taking a lesser job in Shepherds Bush.

Roy gave us a parting gift. He bought Paul Konchesky from us for the princely sum of £3m plus two highly touted prospects in Lauri Dalle Valle and Alex Kakaniklic, the latter of whom has just joined Watford for the remainder of the season on loan. We seem to have the best of that deal with two prospects at the beginning of their careers with Konch now plying his trade a division down.

A further dodged bullet perhaps, as Roy brought Christian Poulsen to Anfield – a player who had rejected a move to Fulham from Juventus the previous summer, and was hounded out of Merseyside nearly as fast as his manager.

However, let us not look back at Roy’s time elsewhere but at what he did for our wonderful club. We were languishing near to foot of the Premiership when Roy was plucked from the relative obscurity of the Finland national team, and parachuted in to replace the ineffective spendthrift, Lawrie Sanchez. Roy led a top to bottom transformation of Fulham from losers to winners (as long as we weren’t playing away). Heck, for that special period of the Great Escape, we could even win away.

Amongst his astute signings over his two and a half seasons were Brede Hangeland, Erik Nevland, Bobby Zamora, John Pantsil, Mark Schwarzer, David Stockdale, Dickson Etuhu and Damian Duff. For now we’ll try and forget about the Giles Barnes, Jari Litmanen and Olivier Dacourt eras!

What’s more, Roy gave us a manager of whom we could rightly be proud. He was one of us. Quite frankly he still is. Roy is more likely to read a Nobel Laureate than his name in the tabloids or to walk his dog along a country lane than name a Monaco bank account after it. Roy epitomised the good about our club. He was articulate, knowledgeable and nice enough to be your own grandfather. It is not often you get a manager who is on UEFA’s technical committee, after all.

On the pitch, Roy led us to unparalleled success. We were disciplined, organised and creative. When he installed Hughes and Hangeland together we had the most improved defence in the league. His impromptu strike force of Gera, another tremendous signing, and Zamora took Europe by storm, between them sinking Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg in the most astonishing six months I’ve ever witnessed in football.

LMA Manager of the Year, a 7th place finish in the Premier League and a European final. God bless that man. We all loved Cookie as he was Fulham through and through, Sanchez was a braggart and a fool who found himself in the right place at the right time when he kept us up, Hughes despite getting our Whites playing some good football always seemed too arrogant to feel like one of us; but Roy, he was part of our Fulham Family.

After the appalling treatment he got at Liverpool, Roy has found a home at West Brom, a club not too dissimilar from us in size and stature. He’s done well and I for one still count him as my personal choice to succeed Fabio Capello as England boss in the summer.

Hindsight can be a blessing and a curse. Whether or not Roy wishes he left, or not, I for one will be standing and clapping when Woy leads his West Brom team out onto the Cottage pitch tomorrow night and I hope you’ll join me in welcoming home a gentleman and a member of the Fulham Family. Hopefully he’ll even give us the three points to say sorry.