Friday brought two pieces of football related news that could not have had more contrasting emotions attached to them.
Sir Tom Finney, Preston North End’s footballing legend passed away at the age of 91 and Fulham sacked their manager Rene Meulensteen after just 75 days in charge.
I have written in the past about the nature of Fulham Football Club following a heartwarming response to a simple request made on behalf of my son. Coupled with the homely and quirky Craven Cottage – a ground that evokes memories of times-gone-by in a world of identikit stadia, there wasn’t much not to like about the club, I wrote.
However, like the problem of having footballing heroes as a child—thanks, Mark Hughes—football always finds a way to break your heart. Or at least disappoint.
Fulham’s statement regarding the hiring of Felix Magath came without warning. Fulham chairman Shahid Khan said: “With 12 matches remaining, we certainly can no longer post empty results. Action was required.” In an Orwellian gesture, though, it carried no mention of Rene Meulensteen. This left the man himself virtually announcing the decision in a live radio interview.
Meulensteen’s response was that he “couldn’t care less what they put in the statement, to be honest.”
A brief mention of the Dutchman surely wouldn’t have hurt. The position that the club find themselves in under his reign is desperate—and those that thought his appointment was a mistake have been proven correct—but it must also not be forgotten that it was their mistake. A mistake which they had paved the way for following their odd easing out of the door of previous manager Martin Jol.
This was a week where Everton FC gave a masterclass in PR with their treatment of Ric Wee. We have all by now heard the story of Ric, who had travelled from Malaysia to see the club live for the first time, only for the game to be postponed.
Shahid Khan owns Fulham FC. He can hire and fire as he pleases—as he has shown, but the handling of Meulensteen’s sacking could have shown a little more decency—even if only for the sake of good PR.
Sir Tom Finney
Since news of his passing, the word “gentleman” has appeared in almost every reference to Sir Tom Finney. I saw a short clip of him on the local news discussing his lifelong attachment to Preston North End and Palermo’s attempts to lure him to Italy with a tenfold wage increase and handsome signing on fee.
Finney told of Preston chairman Nat Buck’s response.
“You can forget about all that,” he said. “If tha’ doesn’t play for us, tha’ doesn’t play for anybody.”
“That was just how it was.” Finney said.
It was always a pleasure to hear the likes of him speak about football—not to mention the views of other players like Bill Shankly and Bobby Charlton, who obviously revered him. Shankly often commented on his greatness and Bobby Charlton has even spoken of the pride he felt just receiving a pass from Finney on his England debut.
His was a bygone era and the sport has gone through many changes since then. At 91 years of age, for those of us not related, it is perhaps less a time of mourning for the man, but a chance to celebrate what he gave the game.
The iconic image of “the splash” at Stamford Bridge must go down as one of the greatest sporting photographs of all time. The statue at Deepdale is a superb reproduction of the image. They are wonderful ways to remember one of the game’s greats, who by all accounts was a true gentleman.
Too often we are left discussing such topics as the Fulham statement yesterday. Football is big business. Business is cutthroat. We all get that.
Does it really mean that all common decency has to die by the same sword?