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What Could Thomas Heatherwick Mean For Craven Cottage?

Whilst it may have nothing to do with what’s happened on the pitch, the announcement last week that influential designer Thomas Heatherwick has been commissioned to work on the Riverside Stand, is a significant one for Fulham.

The existing planned Riverside Stand

The current planned Riverside Stand

Why is this significant?

Fulham’s Riverside Stand plans were hatched in the period before Shahid Khan bought the club. By appointing a design and architectural practice of the stature of Heatherwick Studios to enhance the plans is a statement of intent. If Khan is to spend money developing the Riverside Stand, it appears he’s going to make it stand out.

Who is Thomas Heatherwick?

Heatherwick himself is arguably been one of the most influential figures in London’s recent design history. His rise to household name came when he was commissioned to design the London 2012 Olympic cauldron, but he is also responsible for the new Routemaster bus as well as the somewhat controversial “Garden Bridge” which is to be built over the Thames. Heatherwick Studio is his London based architectural and design company that do everything from design household objects to large scale architectural projects.

Why Heatherwick?

Khan has an existing relationship with global stadium architectural mega-firm Populous . That he has chosen Heatherwick for the Riverside Stand project at Craven Cottage suggests this isn’t simply a matter of stadium principal architecture. Heatherwick is a designer and his and Heatherwick Studio’s role will probably be a hybrid one, taking the existing plans and enhancing the design into something of higher creative value.

Do Heatherwick Studio have experience of Stadia?

No, but everyone has to start somewhere. As I’ve already said, this is unlikely to be a full scale architectural project. Planning permission is already in place and the club has applied to commence preliminary works this summer.

Olympic cauldron

What can we expect?

My guess is that this project will likely focus on the exterior of the stand in some capacity. Looking at Heatherwick Studio’s previous work and considering Craven Cottage’s unique Thames side location and I would imagine this project will see the exterior design and cladding of the new Riverside Stand evolve into something designed with a link to the natural environment in mind. For inspiration, a link to Heatherwick Studios current large scale projects can be found here.

Why does architecture and design matter here?

Architecture and design are subjective; one person’s gem is another’s carbuncle. However, buildings that are architecturally significant [be they gem or carbuncle] have immeasurably higher profiles than those buildings that sit in architectural anonymity. With a higher profile comes more opportunity. Part of any plan to develop the Riverside Stand is making it a 7 day a week, 365 days a year income generator. The gravitas attached to Thomas Heatherwick’s name and the potential for a statement piece of architecture or design means that the new stand may become anything from a high end events venue to tourist attraction. A few pounds spent now on improving and signifying the design of the stand may make the project more financially viable in the long term. With Archibald Leach on one side and Thomas Heatherwick on the other, Craven Cottage will be arguably the most architecturally significant stadium in the country.

Does Shahid Khan have a track record of doing things like this?

Yes. EverBankField, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is partway through a series of large scale alterations and developments across a range of functions all designed to increase revenue streams. These include those to improve the fan experience, such as building one of the largest video screens in the world at an estimated cost of $50m and developing the first swimming pool from which you can watch a live NFL game, major improvements to corporate facilities and a masterplan to develop an amphitheatre concert venue adjacent to the stadium. What the Jaguars and Fulham have in common is a lack of an overwhelming fan base, and Khan appears to believe in using the stadium itself as a way of getting people through the turnstiles.

What does this do for the development timetable of the Riverside Stand?

This is the ‘Million Pound Question’ and it’s hard to say as we really have no idea the extent of Heatherwick Studios involvement. Amending the design in any capacity is hardly going to speed up the process, so the question becomes one of how long will the project be delayed?

The first thing Fulham must do is commence the implementation works for the existing planning application. “Implementing” is the act of materially commencing the development stated in the actual planning permission. As soon as enough work has been done for the local authority to consider a development to have begun, and thus implemented, the planning permission can no longer expire.

If Fulham do not commence implementation works before the date 3 years after planning permission was granted, the permission would expire and the application process would have to start from scratch.

Will Fulham need to get a new planning permission?

Once a scheme is implemented, it is possible to amend the design of a development to a degree. There are two forms of amendment that Fulham could choose: a Non-Material amendment or a Minor Material amendment.

A Non-Material amendment is one that is “wholly acceptable, uncontroversial and of very little impact” and can include changes to the design of a building. These are essentially formalities to get approved via a simple form being submitted to the local authority. The timetable for a decision by the council is 28 days.

A Minor Material amendment is more significant than a Non-Material amendment but not significant enough that the description of the development changes as a result. A Minor Material amendment is treated as a new planning permission though and as such has a lengthier due diligence process.

If there are no ulterior motives from Shahid Khan (such as deliberately delaying the development) Fulham will likely hope to take the route of a Non-Material Amendment. However, given ambiguous nature of Fulham’s announcement of Heatherwick Studios involvement, anything is possible and a complete redesign and planning application can’t be ruled out.

Under either planning amendment route, the design of the Riverside Stand can be amended but the specific details such as the height, capacity and footprint must stay the same or close to the same or the matter will become far more complicated. In particular, the club will not want to alter anything which would fall under the Port of London Authority’s jurisdiction for river works given it has taken nearly 3 years to get the licences in place for the current planning permission.

So what are the key dates?

Fulham have been working towards performing implementation works this summer. That is unlikely to change as these need to be done to prevent the existing planning permission falling away.

The club’s previously stated timetable – to commence the full redevelopment in May 2017 – could still happen, although this may now be delayed depending on the scale of any design changes.

For now, fans will have to take the club at their word, both on intentions and timing. The lack of any clear detail in the club’s Heatherwick announcement does means that all we can do is speculate.

The Fulham Supporters Trust will be meeting with the club’s CEO Alistair Mackintosh on Tuesday 10th May, and subject to any further announcements in the interim, this should give fans the first opportunity to understand more. You can join the Fulham Supporters Trust here to receive minutes of the upcoming meeting with the club.

Evaluating Shahid Khan’s visit to Motspur Park this week

Fulham Chairman and Owner Shahid Khan paid a visit to the club’s Motspur Park training ground earlier in the week. The visit coincided with new Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic’s first full week in charge and gave our owner the opportunity for some face time to the new boss.

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Khan’s welcome visit to London comes after a near two month period of unrest at Fulham which ended with the appointment of Jokanovic shortly after Christmas. The prolonged period of uncertainty of the change of management and the news of a transfer embargo led to many fans openly questioning Khan’s personal commitment and level of involvement in Fulham, so this visit was likely considered a necessary photo opportunity to mend a few fences.

Khan was accompanied at Motspur Park by his PR advisor, Jim Woodcock of Public Relations company FleishmanHilliard, who tweeted a picture of the visit before a video was later posted online by the club. The video it must be said did appear quite contrived given it was obvious it wasn’t exactly off the cuff but it certainly did the job from a public relations perspective.

Mr Woodcock has proven something of a good sport over the past year or so. Ever since his email got leaked on various forums, he’s been inundated with a barrage of emails from Fulham fans with no other method of sending sentiment to our owner. Anecdotally it seems he’s responded to nearly all the emails he’s received.

Public relations and image is something that Shahid (“Shad” has yet to catch on here) Khan has had a good reputation for in Jacksonville by all accounts, but less so over here amongst the Fulham community. That might not be because he’s done a lot wrong bar not being Mohamed Al-Fayed, but being an overseas based owner for whom football clearly isn’t second nature, he was fighting a tough PR battle from Day 1. Factor in the cavalcade of misery that we’ve had on the pitch since he took over and, well, you can see why he has a retained PR company.

Whether the reason for this visit was simply to get some overdue good PR or if there was some other business to attend to, having Khan at the club this week has to be viewed as a positive. Photo-op or not, for the players and managers to see the Chairman in person must be a good thing. Players are far more likely to play for an owner who cares.

It would be nice if at some point Khan would engage with the fans on more than a superficial basis. With a PR conglomerate working for him, our Shahid Khan sightings almost always come across as staged, or just a bit too perfect. He always says the right thing, and you often wonder how. Programme columns are a perfect example or where you might hear from the Chairman, but there is no guarantee that the words haven’t been vetted to ensure they don’t upset the apple cart.

With ongoing questions regarding the timeline of the Riverside Stand development, board oversight in light of the breach of Financial Fair Play regulations and the seemingly mishandled and certainly miscommunicated search for a manager, a healthy and open dialogue between the Fulham owner and the fans would only strengthen our club.

As a Director of the Fulham Supporters Trust, I would encourage Mr Khan to engage with the Supporters Trust, who already have productive monthly meetings with the CEO and other senior management of the club. However, as a fan I would just encourage more engagement with the fanbase in general. A photocall and increased visibility is certainly the first step in the right direction but the ongoing problems at Charlton show what can happen when the relationship between an absentee owner and fanbase deteriorates. We’re not at that stage, but a perilous league position always has fans wondering at the back of their mind when, not if, our owner will get bored and decide to cut his losses.

The Jokanovic appointment has given everybody associated with the club a bit of positive momentum. Despite the iffy performance last Saturday, there is an air of good feeling around the fans at Craven Cottage for the first time in months. Something that was palpable at Craven Cottage last weekend.

For our charismatic Chairman, the appointment of a new Manager has deflected attention back to the football field rather than the Boardroom. If our Chairman and his advisors are as media savvy as they should be, now is the time to press on. Khan’s visit will mean for nothing if he’s not heard or seen again until August.

On field results will of course be the first dictator of whether any positive vibes remain; but a united, healthy and engaged relationship between fanbase and ownership will go a long way.

COYW

P.s. Did anyone else notice how much longer Khan spent talking to Moussa Dembele than other players? I’m not sure how long it takes to say “How much do you want?” but it’s not that long.

P.p.s. Hopefully a trip to Jermyn Street was on his agenda. For a billionaire, his clothes could do with an upgrade.

Should Kit Symons Remain As Fulham Manager?

If last week’s general election has taught us one thing, it’s that social media can often be a bit of an echo chamber. One opinion becomes the vocal majority. But is the vocal majority actually a majority?

In the case of Kit Symons’ future as Fulham manager I’m not sure. We know for sure that the vocal majority want the Fulham manager to be someone else, but is it actually a majority of Fulham fans that want Kit gone?

It certainly looks and sounds for now as though Symons is to remain Fulham manager; but what follows is an in-depth look at his performance as Fulham manager to date and the reasons people may or may not want him replaced.

Back to social media; what is so unique to the Symons situation is that there is much less vitriol in this debate than over the fates of previous managers such as Jol and Magath. Their departures were very much wanted sackings. In the current scenario, it is not so much that fans seem to want Symons sacked more that they just want somebody else to have his job. Symons is like a politician with a good personality and bad policies.

The Symons question is as much an existential one as it is one simply of results. After two lacklustre seasons in the Premier League that culminated in our relegation in 2014, the majority of the fans expected something better last year, both in terms of performance and results. Regardless of the start under Magath, it has been the lack of quality football under Symons that has led to his alienation as much as the results.

Symons’ tendency to revert to risk aversion in every situation led to some dour football at times, often manifesting itself in substitutions and tactics that seemed only to make sense to him. However, given our precarious position when he took over, was that justified? As paying customers we are several years removed from Fulham being classified as value for money entertainment, but Symons’ job last season was predicated on results and not entertainment – so did fulfil his job in keeping us up?

So here’s the crux of my question? Has Symons simply proven the victim of a poisoned chalice, where the situation meant he could never truly succeed or is he now in a hole of his own doing and at the limit of his managerial potential?

To answer that question we have to be both subjective and objective. As well as asking what do we as fans and paying customers want from our football team next season, and who is likely to be best placed to deliver those wishes?

There were three periods of management last season; Felix Magath, Kit Symons – Caretaker & Kit Symons – Manager. We know the first eight games under Magath were a disaster, so let’s write them off. So dividing Symons’ tenure into two, we have the eight games he was caretaker and the 37 he was permanent manager.

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In order to assess whether or not he is the right man for Fulham going forward I will look at the following areas; Results, Performances, Style and Intangibles.

1. Results

Kit As Caretaker
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
5 3 1 1.78
Kit As Manager
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
11 15 11 1.19

As you can see, results under Kit got considerably worse after he was appointment the permanent manager on 29th October. Interestingly enough, an average points total of 1.19 per game extrapolated over the course of the entire season would have had us finish in 17th, the same position as we actually did. The totals in the table above include the four cup fixtures we played under Symons after he became permanent manager. If you remove the cup fixtures, the PPG total becomes slightly higher at 1.21, which would still have had us finish 17th.

What can you conclude from that? Symons’ good start merely served to balance out Magath’s bad one. 17th was a justified league position based on the entire season. Yes, it was Magath’s squad so that must be taken into account, but with two loan windows and the January transfer window, Symons’ cannot be given a free pass. Symons’ had a total of 39 league games and we finished a thoroughly justified 17th.

2. Performances

One of the big accusations against Symons’ Fulham was our lackadaisical defending. To the naked eye, Symons, as a former defender, has shown a staggering lack of ability to get any improvement out of our defenders. Is that the case statistically and how much of this is down to them being the wrong players to begin with?

What is interesting is if you compare our goal difference over the two Symons periods:

Kit as Caretaker
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
17 13 4 2.13 1.63
Kit as Manager
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
46 60 -14 1.24 1.62

In truth, the defence maintained a nearly identical level of performance throughout Symons’ entire tenure. However, the attack got considerably worse. If we delve even deeper into the numbers, it is possible to see that Fulham under Symons actually had a break even goal difference all the way until we played Blackburn at the end of January.

I find this worsening of performance particularly concerning as you would expect a team to perform better once a manager has had a time to coach and influence a team, especially considering the loan and transfer windows. However, under Symons, we got considerably worse once the initial gloss of his appointment wore off.

It was this performance over the latter half of the season that has turned many fans against him as there was simply no sign of any improvement, and certainly no sign of any coaching impact on his behalf.

If you believe the theory that luck and confidence played their part in his caretaker spell, these numbers might give your theory some credence.

3. Style

One of the big criticisms levied at Symons is his lack of adventure. He is tactically the equivalent of a man who goes to an ice cream parlour and orders vanilla with no toppings. Worse than that though, at times the football under his leadership appeared to lack a coherent purpose or style other than trying to eke out as many points as possible. Symons’ philosophy was certainly one of the glass being half empty. Why enhance a lead when you can protect it?

However, the end of Fulham’s season was characterised by panic tactics. We were in trouble and needed points to keep us up. This led to Matt Smith’s recall from Bristol City and a change in style. If we compare Symons’ tenure as permanent manager when Smith started and when he didn’t, the results look particularly ominous:

Games When Matt Smith starts
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
2 1 4 1.43
Games When Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
Wins Losses Draws Average Points Per Game
9 14 7 1.13

When Matt Smith didn’t start, Fulham’s PPG total was 1.13, a 0.3 PPG fall from games when he did start. Considering it was Symons who loaned Smith out in the first place and then showed reluctance to use him, we can assume his eventual inclusion was out of desperation rather than desire.

When Symons played his tactics, i.e. not the emergency long ball to Smith, our PPG fell below his overall average PPG, meaning we were worse off results-wise when Symons was left to his own devices tactically.

Goal statistics don’t make for better reading:

Matt Smith Starts
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
8 8 0 1.14 1.14
Matt Smith Doesn’t Start
Goals For Goals Against Goal Difference Goals for per game Goals Against Per Game
38 52 -14 1.27 1.73

Stylistically this doesn’t bode well for Kit. With Smith, we play a tighter, simpler and more controlled game (long ball doesn’t exactly take much instruction). We score less but we concede less. Simply put, we are boring, but reasonably effective.

Without Smith, we are a bit more interesting, but considerably worse. Symons systematically failed to strike any kind of balance between style and substance. This is something most of us could have said without statistical evidence. Our football was rarely aesthetically pleasing and Symons never really showed any grasp of consistent tactics. The obsession with a narrow diamond formation was a particular failing. Tactically it fast became one game to the next, survive and protect. Considering our start that’s hardly surprising, but it was very bad to watch at times.

4. Intangibles

This is where the debate becomes personal and very subjective. There are some fans who just don’t like sacking managers, while there are undoubtedly some who do. There are some fans that’ll defend Symons because he is a “Fulham man”, there are others, myself included, who feel that shouldn’t come into it.

However, there are several other unquantifiable intangibles to Symons’ management style that will contribute to his judgement:

A) Stalled development – I’m not going to claim that with Roberts and Dembele playing 40 games we’d have won the league, far from it. However, Pat Roberts played 450 minutes over the course of the entire season, and Dembele 575. That’s less time than it would take to sit through the entire Hobbit trilogy. How on earth are they going to develop into a position where he can help us next season by playing so little this year? The same can be said of George Williams, Moussa Dembele and several others, such as Jack Grimmer who was dropped in favour of a loanee who was not discernibly better. All the while 21 year old Sean Kavanagh played over 20 games despite largely floundering.

B) Favouritism – Symons’ inconsistent and at times “teacher’s pet” style of team selection certainly wound up a large proportion of the Craven Cottage crowd. Players like Jazz Richards, Kavanagh and Tunnicliffe were all at times shown favouritism that was hard to comprehend. On the reverse, the likes of Chris David, Roberts, Dembele and Matt Smith were often cast aside without warning.

C) Square Pegs in Round Holes – McCormack as a left midfielder, Tunnicliffe as a winger, Kavanagh as midfielder, Bodurov as a right back. Symons’ team selections were often hampered by a lack of players to choose from and littered with players playing out of position. How many more points would we have gotten should Ross have played the entire season up front? Why did Kit both refuse to play with width and then not sign a single winger?

D) Hands in the Pockets – This is a minor point, but I’d really like a manager who is less passive during the matches. Contemplative can begin to look like cluelessness if it’s your only move.

E) The Smile – this isn’t a list of reasons he’s not the man. If we play well, Kit and his enthusiastic smile are very easy to like. We just didn’t play well often enough.

F) The Squad – our squad balance was poor last season, but Symons had opportunities to re-shape it and didn’t set the world alight with his choices. However, the summer is the best time to buy and sell players. Does Kit deserve a summer window? Or indeed will he get to control the squad framework even if he does stay on? With Mike Rigg controlling talent identification now, there is an argument to say having a good coach as the manager is more important than ever. Is Symons that man?

G) Experience – Kit Symons’ managerial career is 37 games old so let’s not put the cart before the horse and call his career over. However, he’s had several seasons managing at youth level so we’re not talking about an ex-player taking the immediate leap. If Kit stays in his post and shows signs of learning from last season then I’m all for giving him a chance. However, there is a school of thought that suggests 37 games is more than enough to show your capabilities.

H) Substitutions – I’ve alluded to this above, but Symons’ biggest flaw in the eyes of many fans is his mis-use of substitutions.  Either he wouldn’t use them or he’d be defensive. The very few times we did manage to see the likes of Woodrow, Williams, McCormack and Roberts on the field together were electric, but all too few and far between.  The conundrum facing fans and ownership alike, was this risk aversion a product of circumstance? For all our sake I hope so.

Conclusion

I look at the current situation as an opportunity. We must decide whether or not Symons is the man to help develop and implement a strategy to return Fulham to the Premier League. As a club, we must stop being reactionary and start to get ahead of the curve. If Symons stays on just because people felt “he deserved a chance”, only to lead us on to the path to 17th next season and get sacked, then we as a club will have failed. No ifs and no buts.

Do I think he deserves that chance?

Symons was the right man at the right time after Magath. The players and fans needed a smile, a hug and their hands held. Symons did that, and we stayed up, but next season is an opportunity for a clean break from recent failings and, for me, that includes a fresh start at manager as well.

I think for Kit to actually be sacked would be mighty harsh considering his modus operandi last season. I’d like to think the club might make room for him to stay either as an assistant or back in the youth ranks where he succeeded before. Or I’d love for Kit to admit his own limitations and step back into a reduced role, but I think we all know he’d be too proud to do so.

This summer is a time to grab our future as a club by its undercarriage and take control. That might mean being ruthless. Just look at Norwich, they were in a very similar situation to us 12 months ago and let one of their own, Neil Adams, stay on as manager last summer only to dismiss him during the season as results didn’t improve. They now sit 180 minutes from a return to the Premier League.

No longer can Fulham amble on the path to mediocrity. Starting from the top, Fulham must come out of this summer with confidence and a clear, united message. If that means Kit Symons is manager then I hope and expect him to show a willingness to learn and the club to show him support whilst displaying progress on and off the field. If they do that, then they have my full support and I suspect they’ll have yours too. However, if this is simply another risk not taken, another stride towards the middle ground, then the club is on a hiding to nothing and it won’t take them long to find that out.

COYW

A Tale of Two Teams: The Jacksonville Jaguars Week in London

This past weekend saw the Jacksonville Jaguars roll into London for their annual road show and a game against the Dallas Cowboys at a packed Wembley Stadium. As a Fulham fan and one of the NFL in general, the events of the past week have provided insight into the on-going relationship between Shahid Khan’s two sports clubs, as well as the still considerable differences between them.

Nowhere is the difference in cultures more obvious than in something so simple as the pronunciation of the word Jaguars. At Wembley on Sunday the stadium announcer called for us to welcome “Your 2014 Jacksonville Jagwars” onto the field, a far cry from the recent Jaguar car advert featuring the full vowel English annunciation of Mark Strong, Tom Hiddleston and Sir Ben Kingsley.

Pronunciation of Jaguar aside, the showpiece game at Wembley was the embodiment the NFL as a spectacle. There was Joss Stone and Jeff Beck, fireworks aplenty and Boris Johnson performing to coin toss. Big screen replays were “Texas Replays” and even the hour long pregame time when the players warmed up was the “DiscoverAmerica.com” Player Warm Up. It is cliché to say everything about the NFL is bigger and brasher than it’s English equivalent, but as with most clichés there is some underlying truth. Indeed the entire event was unlike anything we’ve got in this country, and in its own different way is absolutely marvellous.

Before kick off, the Jaguars mascot, Jaxson De Ville, abseiled / bungee jumped from the Wembley roof down to the pitch and proceeded to get the entire crowd chanting “Let’s Go Jaguars”. There is no elevation at Craven Cottage from which Billy the Badger could make such an entrance, and even Billy’s weekly half time welcome from new mic-man Ivan seems a bit contrived in comparison. Whereas Jaxson’s daredevil antics earned him a standing ovation, Billy the Badger has only ever made the headlines for a brief obsession with break dancing a few years back. The British predisposition is just a tad more reserved I suppose.

Whilst there are no material ramifications of one mascot’s antics versus another, the way they are appreciated is indicative of the environment they are in.  US sports can almost at times be as much social activities as they are pure sporting theatre; sporting events are also more than just the sport, at Wembley, with fans of all teams in attendance creating a heightened environment of neutrality, the off-field entertainment became even more noticeable. The constant off field entertainment was there to keep the crowd energised in between the short sharp bursts of action in which the majority in attendance did not have true emotional investment.

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American Football in particular is an event for which the game is only part of the day. That a vast proportion of the near 90,000 crowd spent the afternoon in the Wembley car park at the official tailgate event proves this. All the extras do not at all mean fans view the result of the games themselves as insignificant, however losing does not carry the same death spectre with which it does in football.

This is a polar difference between the situations Khan has inherited in Fulham and Jacksonville. Should the Jaguars continue to underperform, the team will be rewarded with a higher draft pick from which to select one of this year’s premier college players coming into the sport. The draft system is balanced so that the worst teams get the first picks in order to promote fair competition, so you have the not unlikely scenario that fans will not mind their team losing in order to bring a potential superstar to the team via a draft. Indeed, what is one win now, when a superstar draftee could mean plenty of wins down the line. The ramification of failure simply carries a different price.

Fulham have already paid that high price for failure, with relegation to the Championship last May. Relegation has itself presented a different series of challenges for the Fulham – Jaguars relationship. We played a friendly at EverBank Field, home of the Jaguars, in July, but our fall in status meant the match fell behind a concert in the promotional billing. Whilst half of the Jaguars cheerleading squad, the Roar of the Jaguars, performed at a cold Craven Cottage on Saturday, there has otherwise been a distinct lack of cross promotion between the teams this week.

Fulham players and staff got tickets to the match on Sunday and Wednesday night’s Fulham game with Blackpool was sponsored by the “delegation from Jacksonville”. However, there has been a distinct and noticeable lack of cross-selling on this visit. The Jaguars stayed at the Grove Hotel outside Watford, the customary base for the designated home team for the NFL’s Wembley games, and made no use of Motspur Park. Player appearances were limited to official NFL events. This was a business trip for the Jaguars, and in the short and intense NFL season, there is little time for frippery and certainly little time for your sibling team who are outside the glamour of the Premier League.

The sides do however have their similarities. On the Wembley screens on Sunday we were treated to two video excerpts of “Legendary Moments” from Jaguars history; one a blowout victory on route to a loss in the final game before the Superbowl a decade ago, with the other a last second win in a meaningless regular season game. The relative insignificance of these moments was not lost on the Wembley crowd but shows the similarity to Fulham. Neither of us are teams steeped in a long tradition of success. Although Fulham and Jacksonville are teams of different ages, our position have nearly always been as underdog.

Fulham compete with Chelsea, Brentford, AFC Wimbledon and QPR for West London’s football fans. The Jaguars might be the only team in their city but not only have a pair of other NFL teams in Florida, the Miami Dolphins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but also suffer from having several traditionally dominant colleges located in-state. Between them, the University of Miami Hurricanes, University of Florida Gators and the Florida State Seminoles likely command a far wider and more passionate legion of fans than the state’s three NFL teams. Indeed the relatively minor, in American distances, 75 miles between The Florida Gators’ Griffin Stadium in Gainsville and EverBank Field in Jacksonville means there is a direct competitor for fans nearby. Throw in other teams like the University of Central Florida Knights, for whom Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles used to play, and the Jaguars’ fight for domestic attention becomes quite obvious.

The differences between College Football and the NFL are vast, not least in the cost to attend, so any comparison is somewhat rudimentary, but in simple terms, growing the Jaguars fanbase domestically is likely to prove impossible unless the team suddenly becomes a lot more talented and successful than it is at the moment. What Shahid Khan has done in Jacksonville since taking charge three years ago appears to be an attempt to solidify the fanbase he has there whilst then using the games in London as a way of expanding their fanbase internationally.

Much has been written and said about the purchase of Fulham as a way to establish a network here, but the lack of in your face promotion between the two teams of late suggests it is not as one dimensional as simply hoping for a few fans to jump on the bandwagon. Undoubtedly being outside the Premier League does not help matters, but it strips the relationship back to a more cerebral one, where knowledge sharing plays a premium role.

There has to be a concern though for Khan and his team, that the underperformance of both teams will hamper any efforts to grow fanbases on either opposite side of the Atlantic. For all the Bortles, Cyprien or Shorts III jerseys that were on display at Wembley on Sunday, a few more years of coming here to lose, and the number of fans willing to spend £75 on a replica shirt will soon dry up. The same can probably be said of Fulham in Jacksonville. If we are to play an annual friendly in Florida, without Premier League exposure, there is hardly likely to be a queue of new fans waiting for their Christensen or Williams shirts.

On Sunday, I went to Wembley as a NFL fan cheering for the Jaguars rather than as a Jaguars fan. As a Washington Redskins fan I sported a Robert Griffin III jersey in deference to the fact I hoped the Cowboys would lose, but was offered little to persuade me to pay the £75 to switch to the black and teal of the Jaguars. Indeed the NFL is famous for the amount of costs it levies on fans. As an example, parking passes for the Dallas Cowboys’ next home game in a fortnight are currently changing hands for a minimum of $40 on ticket re-selling websites. That’s not a match ticket, that’s a parking ticket! Considering most NFL stadiums are located in the middle of nowhere surrounded by gargantuan parking lots, the cost of a day out can become a lot more prohibitive. One suspects a US version of the Cost of Football survey would make for eye gouging reading.

Sunday’s game itself was a largely one sided affair as feared. Jacksonville made a good start, scoring the game’s opening touchdown with a Denard Robinsion run, but proceeded to hand Dallas the initiative on a silver platter. The ironically named Ace Sanders dropped a simple punt return, gifting the Cowboys their route back into the game, before a fumble from the aforementioned Robinson helped them move into the distance. What followed was a veritable annihilation that was only stopped as the game wore on by the Cowboys willingness to play clock consuming running football as soon as the game was effectively over as a contest.

Watch highlights here

Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley and his defence would have been wise to spend Saturday afternoon at Twickenham picking up some tips on technique watching England take on the All Blacks. Jacksonville’s open field tackling technique left a lot to be desired and enabled Cowboys running back Demarco Murray and wide receiver Dez Bryant to have the freedom of the field. The NFL’s obsession with speed and power, at the expense of true technique becomes apparent when a good team takes on a bad one. Whilst Jacksonville’s players might have been as fast as those in white and blue, they were significantly inferior on the day.

As Sunday’s game wore on, it descended into the mundane reality of a routine Dallas win. Those of us in the crowd filtered home, left contemplating whether or not next year’s somewhat underwhelming fixtures at Wembley are worth the £80 or so pounds it costs per ticket. Undoubtedly having Dallas as the visiting team was a coup for the International Series. The self-proclaimed “America’s Team” bring star power that Jacksonville will probably never be able to match. The image of Shahid Khan mingling with Boris Johnson and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the game shows the value of this fixture to the Jaguars. Jones is a prominent figure in the NFL and as powerful an owner as there is, he even appeared as himself in a recurring arc on hit tv show Entourage; if the London games have his blessing, you can bet they’re here to stay.

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For now, as a one off, the spectacle is worth the ticket price, but I’m not sure I’d go more than once a year. The novelty seems yet to wear off though. All three games this year were sell outs, which is a statistic the Football Association could only dream of when talking about England’s home games.

Sooner or later though, the Jaguars will need to start winning. Even the British can only support the underdog for so long.

Looking Forward: The FFC Christmas List

The departure of Martin Jol has seen Chairman Shahid Khan thankfully taking some overdue action to arrest Fulham’s alarming season. Fulham fans have finally got their wish on the first day of Advent. With November turning to December it is less than a month till Christmas and the opening of the January transfer window. How the next two months now unfold could set the tone for years to come.

With change now affected, it is a time to look forward. There is a month for Rene Meulensteen, Alistair Mackintosh and co to plan, and on the somewhat wishful assumption that cash will go into Fulham’s January transfer kitty, who, or what, would you like to see on your Fulham Christmas Wish List? All the cries for a managerial change were only as fans wanted the best for their club. So what now? Will we get a late Christmas present from Santa Khan come January the 1st or will it be bargain hunting at the January sales come the end of the window?

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Before I list what I’d like to see happen in January, here are a few assumptions and hopes:

• The list is written on the basis, likely or not, that Shahid Khan sanctions actually spending some money. By finally pulling the trigger on Martin Jol’s tenure there is the sign that Khan understands the severity of Fulham’s current predicament. That the situation is also largely the result of penny pinching underspending last summer will hopefully also not have gone unnoticed.

• Though January is well recognised as the worst time to go spendhappy – prices are inflated, good deals are rare and unscrupulous agents look to secure transfers for their players off a whim or a prayer or less – another cheapskate transfer window is not an option. January shopping sprees can go both ways; Roy Hodgson kept Fulham up with some smart January spending in 2008 but QPR wasted millions in a vain effort to stay up last season.

• No more past-their-prime formerly decent players can be allowed to arrive on Ryanairesque budget. Players to be signed will hopefully have been long identified and mercilessly scouted, fitting the club’s style and philosophy, rather than simply the manager’s {well we’ll give Rene a chance with an old boy or two seeing as his former club is rather more successful than any of Jol’s} or on the basis of reputation or former talent.

1. Sign at least one young central midfielder

Stamina and a lack of fitness have been one of several alarming traits that have characterised Fulham’s season so far. Whilst training, or the lack thereof, may have contributed significantly to our lack of physical athleticism, the age of the side is also an undoubted factor. In Boateng, Sidwell, Parker and Karagounis, our engine room options top a combined 120 years old. One of our more technical weaknesses also appears to be the inability to get the ball from midfield to the attack. Finding someone who can play a full 90 minutes as a defence to attack pivot could prove crucial to survival hopes.

Good athletic central midfield playmakers don’t exactly grow on trees, and when they do come round they tend to be on the expensive side of the equation. Unfortunately for Mr Khan’s wallet, this is one position that Fulham’s academy doesn’t appear ready to fill. Of the two leading candidates, Lasse Vigen Christensen has shown considerable promise at U-18 and U-21 level but is not yet first team saviour material, whilst the leading creative central midfielder in the youth ranks, Emerson Hydnman, is a year or so off senior football.

All this means the owners’ chequebook needs to be opened. Here are two targets I’d like to see Fulham linked with:

Will Hughes

18-year-old prodigy Hughes is the English crown jewel in the football league. With over 50 first team appearances already under his belt for Derby County, his is the signature that nearly every Premierleague club would give their proverbial right arm for. The teenage midfield maestro with the peroxide blonde hair is said to have an asking price in the mid teen millions, however how Derby would react to a concrete offer in the multiple millions remains to be seen. Though costly, Fulham could offer Hughes near automatic first team football, something that bigger suitors, such as Liverpool who were linked last week, could not. Signing young talent like Hughes would also make coming back from relegation a lot easier should the worst happen.

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Stefan Johansen

22-year-old Norwegian Johansen would be the perfect signing for Fulham. The majestic playmaker was recently voted Norway’s co-Player of the Year, sharing the award with our very own Brede Hangeland. It was a moral victory for the Stromsgodset player as Hangeland himself admitted to forgetting to cast his vote, which he retrospectively said would have gone to Johansen. A ringing endorsement from our skipper which should help Johansen’s cause in getting a move out of Norway, though truth be told he doesn’t need much help. A glorious left foot and the ability to glide across the pitch saw Johansen star for a strong Norwegian Under-21s last summer at the European championships in Israel and has seen him go on to progress into the Norwegian senior side, where a debut goal v Sweden and a league title as the star of lowly Stromsgodset capped a stellar year.

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2. Sign a strong centre forward

While the common opinion would have Fulham set up front, there are a plethora of problems with Fulham’s striking core. Aside from devastatingly talented 17-year-old Moussa Dembele, Fulham’s entire attack is on the decline. Berbatov has looked uninterested and sub-par all season, Darren Bent is proving unreliable and well past his prime and will hopefully be sent back to Villa for good as a 32 year old come the summer and the Hugo Rodallega experiment is a year and a half in. While Hugo would be a great striker at Championship level should we get relegated, a fit, hungry, agile and strong top level hitman or partnership is lacking and very much needed. Academy talent Marcello Trotta and Cauley Woodrow are both gaining experience on loan and Muamer Tankovic will likely do so at some point this season. This leaves reinforcements being needed. Though a midfielder should be the first cash deposit of January, some firepower is needed, even if on a short-term basis. Here are two below the radar options:

Pavel Pogrebnyak

One thing Fulham have lacked up front this season is an ability to hold onto the ball. The little round thing is never up front long enough to take any pressure off the midfield and defence. Former Fulham man Pogrebnyak was a fan favourite in his 6 months here. A long term Fulham target, Pogrebnyak was brought to Fulham on the instructions of chief scout Barry Simmonds, not the manager. He knows the club and the league, and is stronger than all our current strikers put together. At 30 he’s not exactly the long-term answer, but a loan from Reading would take the striker’s wages of the Championship club’s books and provide us some strength up front in a move that would potentially suit all parties.

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Jordan Rhodes

Blackburn striker Rhodes is someone I’ve wanted Fulham to sign for several years now. Stuck outside the top flight in a Blackburn side not going anywhere fast, Rhodes would likely jump at the chance to move up a division. Rovers might also be tempted to sell should the right offer come in. A natural poacher with 36 goals in 59 league games for Blackburn, at only 23, Rhodes would provide the long-term striker Fulham need rather than any of the current crop at Fulham, all of whom should be gone after the season closes.

3. Sign a left back

Oh Kieran, honestly it’s not your fault; you’re just not a left back. Yes, one of Martin Jol’s more foolhardy moves has been to rely upon converted midfielder Kieran Richardson at left back. While this has been predicated mostly by the alarming decline of John Arne Riise and injury and lack of faith in Matthew Briggs, Richardson simply isn’t good enough to line up in a defence that needs to be better than the sum of its parts. A fine squad player, the left footed Chris Baird, I’d like to see Richardson stay at Fulham as a utility player, able to cover various positions. The defence has issues across the line. There is no doubt a centre back is needed but there is a good player in Amorebieta and Dan Burn will start next season, but full back is consistently a source of encouragement for opposition, just look at Jarvis and Downing for West Ham during the abysmal showing on Saturday.

Alexander Buttner

The somewhat obvious suggestion, Buttner was a supposed Fulham target before his surprise move to Manchester United in 2012 where he worked under fellow Dutchman and new Fulham Head Coach Rene Meulensteen. A pacy natural full back, a loan or permanent move for Buttner would suit Fulham’s needs at left back.

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Jamaal Lascelles

20-year-old England U-20 centre half Lascelles might seem a surprise answer to our defensive issues but a move for the Nottingham Forest man would suit Fulham in several ways. By signing a centre half, Amorebieta could play at left back for the remainder of the season, where he has done well when tried, and though not a natural left back, he is far more solid than Richardson. Signing a young centre half to potentially pair with Burn going forward is some forward thinking we’re not used to. While academy players Jack Grimmer and Liam Donnelly could well play first team football in the future, loan periods will be required before they are ready. Lascelles’ ability to play right back would also allow for more cover for Sascha Reither who has looked sub-par and unfit himself at times this season and Montenegran utility man Elsad Zverotic. Albeit this might be a pie in the sky suggestion too far. Lascelles is perhaps just too inexperienced to drop into the fire pit that is a relegation dogfight, but Fulham are the opposite to most struggling sides who usually have an abundance of exuberance but a lack of experience, we have the opposite, all the experience but non of the youthful exuberance.

4. Bring Clint Dempsey back on loan

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Not a complicated decision this one. Yes he left acrimoniously, but that was a result of ambition fuelled by incessant chirping in his ear from the US media that Fulham weren’t good enough for him. Fact is, we were. I’d bet a good dollar or two Clint now knows that, and with a loan to Europe supposedly being written into his MLS contract with Seattle, it is a deal that would hardly need mountains to be moved to get it done. We need goals and don’t have a bona fide starter on the left wing; Demspey is our record Premierleague goalscorer and scored nearly all of them from a starting position on the left of midfield. Put the ball in the back of the onion bag once again and all will be forgiven for the way he left.

5. Expand the Board

The departure of Martin Jol this afternoon was a decision that came not a second too soon. The entire management debacle has shown Fulham’s new ownership and management structure to be somewhat understaffed. Top down decisions come from the owner who along with Mark Lamping, make up half the board whilst being based several thousand miles from Craven Cottage. Day to day responsibilities in running the entire enterprise that is Fulham Football Club fall onto the other half of the board in the form of CEO Alistair Mackintosh and Finance Director Sean O’Laughlin. No wonder then that decisions seem to take a while under disjointed circumstances. Khan and Lamping need more help on the ground in England. A Non-Executive Director or two would give the existing directors some operational help and perspective. A few extra Fulham or Football brains in positions of influence would also help Fulham look beyond the week-to-week and towards the long term.

Postscript: Requiem for a Dutchman 

Seeing a man lose his job is never great. Wishing downfall on a man is not great, but there has been something not right at Fulham for some time. Whilst his first season in charge was successful, it was largely an inherited team and club scouted additions that led the success. Fulham have never recovered from losing those key men, Murphy, Dempsey and Dembele in 2012, and Jol’s tenure has only been going one way since. Comments about expectations and the fans led to alienation from the fanbase for Jol while on-pitch performances have been declining for over a calendar year (Sunderland last November was the beginning). Whilst always wanting to wish someone the best for the future, it was time for Fulham and Martin Jol to part ways and move on.

Bring on the first game of the Rene Meulensteen era, however long that is. We await news of his tenure and backroom staff. January will be crucial. Time for making excuses is over. Results must now improve. Fulham are a Premierleague club, starting on Wednesday lets all show it again. The energy has been put back into Fulham Football Club. Perhaps now we can believe again.

COYWs