With the seemingly ever-growing discontent surrounding modern football, it can be hard to find those little nuggets of nice-ness to restore faith. Fulham FC have always struck me as a nice club. (The regular handing over of three points on so many of their away days to the home team is nice, for instance.)
This weekend, they face West Bromwich Albion. It is early days, but neither side have had the greatest of starts. West Brom prop up the infant Premier League table with a point from three games and Fulham just have an opening day win against Sunderland to show. Two of those pesky away fixtures that the club seem to dislike so much followed that match — the results were true to form. A look at Paddy Power’s Premier League odds for this weekend’s game, though, clearly respects the fact that Fulham are back in the homely surroundings of Craven Cottage.
My own link with the club is recent — and small. It does, however, mean that I feel an obligation to at least check their result each weekend…
We all had our own obsessions when younger (see HEROES OF YOUTH SECTION), not realising the transient nature of footballers and that our hearts can be broken when a player moves on to wear another shirt. My son’s favourite player is Dimitar Berbatov — cue tears when his divorce from Manchester United occurred.
Not to be deterred, his undimmed passion for Dimi and lack of awareness of our unwritten rules of football fandom caused Fulham FC to become a “second club”.(Reinforced upon him learning that Edwin van der Sar plied his trade with the club before moving to Manchester United.)
Fights with friends over who would be Manchester United on PES no longer continued, as Leo was more than happy to pick the West London side as his new default team. (To watch him attempt to play the whole game through Berbatov was frustrating, to say the least!)
In the FA Cup Third Round last season, Manchester United were drawn at home to face Fulham and Leo had secured a ticket for his first ever match at Old Trafford — courtesy of a friend’s birthday party. (This actually led me to break my own embargo on paying for tickets to MUFC, as I wanted to be there at his first game). He could barely contain his excitement of being able to see Berbatov in the flesh — albeit for the opposition.
An idea came to mind. A quick email to Fulham and see what time they would be arriving at Old Trafford. Would there be a chance to meet the mercurial Bulgarian as he stepped off the coach?
The reply was disappointing, but expected.
“I’ve checked this with our Player Care Manager, but unfortunately Man United are quite strict with arrangements at the players entrance (quite reasonably given the size of the crowds) so there wouldn’t be an option to see Dimitar ahead of game tomorrow.”
However, along with the reply was the very nice touch of an offer of a signed photograph of Berbatov. The offer was gratefully received.
A few days later, Leo was the proud owner of a signed postcard of Dimitar Berbatov. Naturally, the card was tucked in his school bag to show off to his classmates. With a sad predictability, the photo never made the journey back.
Despite a plea to the whole school, no-one owned up. Leo was distraught.
With some reservations at the thought of becoming an internet pest (I know, with this blog, I am one!), I typed up another email, apologising and explaining the situation to Tommy, the Supporter Relations Manager.
I forgot all about it and nothing further was heard until receiving an unidentified letter some time later. Lo and behold, there was another signed photograph of Dimitar Berbatov, with the words “To Leo,” thoughtfully added to limit its attraction to others.
Now, I understand that this may happen regularly at other clubs, but with the large market for signed paraphenalia that exists, clubs are probably becoming more cautious about replying to every request. However, the incident reinforced the image of good old, likeable Fulham FC.
Most clubs have something that niggles us, something that causes a dislike, aside from the usual rivalries – be it a certain player’s over-the-top tackle, a club constantly recruiting your best players, the colour of their away kit.
There must be some. I’m sure that somewhere somebody is holding a grudge against the Cottagers for some obscure reason, but I’m not aware of any particular bug-bears. Let’s look at some evidence of their inherent niceness.
They have an old-fashioned looking football ground, named after a cottage that once stood there; one corner of the ground houses what appears to be a cricket pavillion (not the original cottage); their membership scheme is delightfully monickered “The Faithful”; in a footballing world where every club is scrambling over the other to tour the “lucrative” far eastern markets, Fulham toured Costa Rica this summer; “kids for £1” this weekend; mates of season ticket holders have the opportunity to sample the Craven Cottage atmosphere for a tenner; Martin Jol seems like a nice bloke. And there is the small matter of those three points when they travel away.
You can even stare in wonder at a statue of Michael Jackson.
The Fulham faithful are have recently entered a period of possible uncertainty. Mohammed Al Fayed oversaw many changes at the club as the owner and there is no doubt that his stewardship helped to establish Fulham in the top flight. Recently, he sold the club to Shahid Khan – a businessman who made his fortune in the automotive industry and also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
The belief is that only a supporter can truly have the best interests of a football club at heart, but supporter ownership is a dream beyond many of our football clubs, due to their current structure, debt or size. However, many still dream of a “sugar-daddy” dropping by that will sweep the club off its feet and offer unheard of possibilities.
With football clubs being ripe for the picking by rich businessmen, whose aim is generally to make money, our main hope should be that they are a “fit and proper person” (take note, the FA), they do not take unnecessary risks (*Leeds*) and that they bear in mind the “faithful” that will still be there when the next owner arrives.
Mohammed Al Fayed is sure that Khan is the right man for Fulham, stating following the sale that “(he is) a very good man…to accept the responsibility and privilege that I have enjoyed at Fulham since 1997. Fulham will be in very good hands.”
For his part, Khan said, “I view myself…as a custodian of the club, on behalf of its fans. We will manage the club’s financial and operational affairs with prudence and care.”
PRIDE AND JOY
There are moments in life where, as a parent, you are privileged to witness pure joy on your child’s face — and these must be savoured. The small act of receiving a signed postcard was one of those moments.
Mr Berbatov may know nothing of the exchanges mentioned above – hell, he may not even have actually put his own pen on the photo, for all we know – but for me, it was a nice touch that showed a friendly face in football.
It is hoped that Fulham’s new owner does treat the club with the prudence and care, mirroring that shown by the staff members at the club who organised that little treat for me.
After all, it is nice to be nice — and Fulham are nice. Aren’t they?