It’s half time at the London Stadium and Fulham have just surrendered a 3rd minute lead to go in trailing West Ham 2-1 at the break. Things are looking bleak as we trudge off to find a pint to take the edge off another disappointing 45 minutes of football.
But what I love about going to football is the ability to find humour in the most dire of circumstances. Had you been unaware of Fulham’s current situation, the raucous din made on the concourse by the travelling black and white army may have led you to believe we were actually having a decent season. ‘The Maxime Le Marchand song’ was belted out in full voice for the duration of the break; the joke being, of course, that whilst its a brilliant chant, the subject of said chant firstly wasn’t even playing and secondly has been part of one of the worst Premier League defences of all time this season!
I went to watch the last night of the 2012 Paralympics at the same venue and the place was almost unrecognisable for this, my second visit. I missed my train home by 1 minute and so got talking to a West Ham fan in the pub at Paddington Station who told me that he refuses to go back to the Upton Park site these days for fear of tarnishing his memories. After all our Club went through in the ’80s, ’90s and even the ’00s when Mohammed Al Fayed toyed with the idea of moving us to a site in Osterley, I feel very lucky that we are still at Craven Cottage. And with work on the Riverside Stand set to begin in May, our long-term future at the most beautiful ground in the world is secure.
I found my seat in the lower tier a few minutes before kick off and whilst it’s an impressive venue in a lot of ways, I found it very bizarre how far away the upper tier was set back from the lower tier. It made creating an atmosphere as one particularly difficult. One of many reasons for me to dislike the place as a football stadium.
Ranieri rang the changes as Havard Nordtveit made his Fulham debut in the middle alongside Tim Ream with Odoi and Bryan making up the rest of the back 4 in front of Rico. Sess and Cairney were both back in the side playing wide of Seri and Chambers in midfield with Mitrovic and Babel up front.
I’m not sure how we weren’t a goal up in the first minute when an under hit back-pass put Babel through on goal. But the Dutch forward tried to lift the ball over Fabianski having sat him down by feigning to shoot and the West Ham ‘keeper kept it out. But 2 minutes later we did take the lead with Babel this time clinically finishing a low cross from Sessegnon. This is my fifth away game this season and the first time I have seen us score so I celebrated appropriately and lost my voice!
I thought we looked reasonably comfortable after taking the lead despite the fact that we have no confidence when defending. But West Ham equalised just before the half-hour mark; Snodgrass’ corner was punched straight up in the air by Rico and ended up in the back of our net via the arm of Javier Hernandez. The goal was replayed on the big screen and Ryan Babel was incensed as he tried to protest to the referee Lee Mason who of course cannot overturn a decision based on a replay. But it’s another mistake from a cross by our popular Spanish ‘keeper. Just catch the bloody ball when it’s right there!!!
10 minutes later, another corner and another goal; Issa Diop nodding directly into the net and sadly, normal service was resumed. Time for a half-time reshuffle. Off came Ryan Sessegnon which in my eyes was incredibly harsh. He was replaced by another debutant Lazar Markovic. Anguissa also came on at the break for Seri, who for me was one of our better players in the first half. When the Manager continues to make unpopular decisions, the only way to convince people is by results. Suffice to say that as the games go by, more and more people are becoming unconvinced. And by unconvinced, I of course mean severely fucking pissed off!
There wasn’t much to write home about in the second half and the final nail was hammered home (if you’ll excuse the pun) in injury time when Michail Antonio found the bottom corner with a header from inside the box. Three crosses, three goals, 0 points and another shit evening out watching Fulham.
I find this extremely difficult, actually uncomfortable to write because I prefer to look for the positives in the face of adversity. But I’m really struggling after this performance. Week after week, opportunities have presented themselves to us. We show glimpses of quality but can never sustain it for long enough to impose ourselves on our opponents. Slavisa was criticised for not knowing his best 11 but I think the same can probably be said about Claudio at this point. Hauling off Sessegnon and Seri at half time were both poor decisions and whilst the circumstances are incredibly difficult, I don’t see any progress from one game to the next. The more the team is chopped and changed both in terms of formation and personnel, the less likely it is that players will understand what is expected of them. This team is so far removed from the well drilled and consistent team Roy Hodgson created. It’s also devoid of any confidence whatsoever and frankly, we have run out of time.
I have spoken on the podcast recently about the fact that I really like Ranieri and I think he would be good to hang on to for next season regardless of which division we are in. But I can’t see many players at the Club right now who are willing to run through a wall for him. I go to matches with blind optimism hoping that something will have changed since the previous week but the rot is well and truly set in. We aren’t getting points in the matches we need to be getting points in to get ourselves out of this mess and that is what has all but sealed our fate this season.
I refuse to feel sorry for myself or this Club. We as supporters can see where the big mistakes have been made and we have to make sure they are not repeated. Tony Khan will continue to take stick for this as long as he remains in his current role. But imagine we lost to Aston Villa at Wembley last May and stayed in the Championship. We would probably be in or around the playoffs again this season and he wouldn’t be talking half the amount of flak he currently is because we would be winning more matches. So let’s not forget that in spite of the flaws you can find in the man, he hasn’t been all bad in that we were given one of the best days out any football fan could ask for. But once again, my preference is that he is given a different role within the Club.
Let’s wait and see what the summer brings. This Club is not defined by whether or not it’s in the Premier League, its defined by you and me as supporters. This season’s side has been crap, but players come and go as does form. Next season, three more teams will go down and with a bit of luck, we will be back. But if we aren’t then all I ask for is for pride to be restored to this brilliant football Club. So my message is to stay strong, carry on turning up and getting behind the side and we will have our day again soon!