Family and Fulham, two F’s that go hand in hand for many of us supporters, and even if your introduction to the club came via a different route, a mutual love for our club is enough to make us all family anyway. We follow our club through thick and thin. We get mocked by other fans together, we celebrate our triumphs together, we experience those gut wrenching lows together, and we have witnessed the sensational Fulham career of Aleksandar Mitrović together. Following on from the events on Sunday, our family sticking together and getting behind our Serbian talisman has never been more imperative.
Most dedicated fans who love the beautiful game are rational people who appreciate and recognise the importance of showing respect to officials, and the need to clamp down on the abuse they receive. I don’t think any sensible person would dispute the fact that Mitro was in the wrong on Sunday and deserved to be sent off. His actions were unacceptable, not just towards the ref but because he cost his team mates the cup shock they deserved.
However, what is equally unacceptable is the over the top character assassination he has received since. All quarters coming out of their caves and giving statements, claims for him to be banned for 181 days, and even a ludicrous comparison with Eric Cantona’s famous kick out at a fan are outrageously unjustified and will only encourage more people to join the bandwagon and react in an OTT manner. Often we see a big story boom for a few days until people get bored, and turn their attention to the next controversy they can voice their opinion on. The double standards in football is infuriating and we’ve seen a similar incident involving Bruno Fernandes go completely unpunished recently. There’s now pressure to be seen making an example of Mitrović because they’ve missed the boat on the last one. Of the two, Sunday’s was admittedly worse but going from no action to what we are seeing towards Mitro shows no consistency.
Mitro has always held an unfair reputation as a hothead, misunderstood on the pitch because he’s both a warrior and a winner. He is a good hearted, family man who feels at home with Fulham because we share the same core values. This was his first red card in 5 years in SW6, 7 in club football if you include his final 2 years at Newcastle. Like all of us, he is capable of crossing the line but his determination to win every battle on the pitch is something Fulham and the Serbian national team have channelled into a positive for many years and that’s what makes him so easy to love.
Often you hear people describe footballers as role models who influence the behaviour of those at grassroots level. That is true, but Mitrović is certainly not responsible for the failings of football’s lack of respect towards officials. The incompetence of officiating and years of allowing all clubs, but especially the big ones to influence and bully referees has resulted in this unnecessary explosion.
What people don’t want to see is that Mitrović is actually an exceptionally good role model and someone I’m proud my children adore. My son does the Mitro celebration every time he scores for his team and my kids request “the Mitro song” whenever we are in the car, matchday or not.
The setbacks Mitro has had in his career and the way he has responded positively are to be admired. From missing the penalty that cost Serbia a place in the Euros, to scoring the decisive goal in Portugal a year later to take his nation to the World Cup. From having the worst season of his career under Scott Parker to remaining loyal to the club through relegation and scoring a record 43 goals last season, completing a hat-trick of promotions and helping us back to the Premier League. Nobody will go through life without making ill judged decisions but Mitro is a great example of how you can overcome those setbacks and be stronger for them. I’m proud to have a player like that leading the line for our club.
If grassroots clubs can’t cooperate in the protection of referees, fine them heavily, ban players for 3 matches, then a season followed by a lifetime ban. Invest more of that pot of gold football has at the top of the game in paying refs more money at grassroots so that they feel more supported and have an incentive to keep doing a valuable job for our national game. Kick teams out of leagues and have a no nonsense policy. I’m all for it. It’ll soon improve if clubs are under pressure to clamp down on it and inevitably bad eggs will be moved on.
Instead, what we are seeing with Mitro is not a plan to eradicate anything, it’s just a big headline being exploited. If this was to be the start of a new no tolerance approach then fair enough, but Fulham should keep a very close eye on every little incident towards the officials in future to ensure that this isn’t a case of one rule for us and another for other clubs.
Looking at this from a Fulham perspective, here we have a club legend who has stayed loyal to us through two relegations and been at the heart of everything good we have achieved over the past five years. It was gutting to lose in that manner, especially after playing so well but this has gone beyond the agony of missing out on an FA Cup semi-final. If this turns out to be his last appearance in a Fulham shirt, it will be the most heart breaking story in my life supporting Fulham. Some players are just infectious and impossible to imagine playing for another club. We are very lucky to have him and I really hope he sees a huge level of support during his ban. Let the Mitro party be in full swing every week until he is back and beyond. “Your defence is terrified cos Mitro’s on fire!” Sing it loud and proud!
Football’s priority is rightly the welfare of referees and we equally support that. Our priority at present is being there for our legend in his hour of need.
Operation siege mentality is a go!