Who remembers when “Who are You?” was but a bairn and interviewees not only answered questions but wrote articles of their own to go with the responses? Our Fulham candidate – another of Monsieur Salut’s stablemates in the ESPN stud of club-by-club horses’ mouths – is Philip Mison, writer and broadcaster (see the details below*) and he volunteered some thoughts which will can be seen here. Fulham fans have reason to be a bit cocky this season; Philip’s preview of Sunday’s match suggests he sees a drubbing coming Sunderland’s way …
Salut! Sunderland: What is the secret of Fulham’s impressive start to the season? All to do with Martin Jol?
Martin has done a splendid job to fashion a side that looks even better than last season. His landing of Berbatov is rightly seen as a masterstroke. The 5 goals from 7 starts means Clint has not been missed. A permanent fix however for midfield is yet to be achieved. Martin was wrong-footed by Dembele’s move and a last ditch attempt to land Palacios did not happen.
Diarra was a piece of smart business last winter but has a history of knee trouble – he missed the Arsenal game and had surgery last month to clean out the knee – Fulham do need a defensive holding midfield player in the window.
Continuity over the summer has given Jol the chance to create a new side in his image. His contacts and past club history are strengths to draw on. Last season we were poor up to Christmas and hampered by Europa League fixtures (yes our run to Hamburg in 2010 perhaps kick-started a ‘new era’ for Fulham and raised our profile enormously, but you only have to look at Spurs and Newcastle form to see how the Europa schedule can put a strain on resources).
Jol said the run up to Christmas last season was ‘his toughest time’ in management. He was trying to adopt a 4-3-1-2 style to a side under Murphy that made it plain they preferred Roy’s time honoured 4-4-2. It was overdue, but Martin has now largely dismantled that team. The transition has been seamless, well plotted, and done ‘on the cheap,’ so another bonus for the board. Mladen Petric and Sasha Riether (a big success at RB) are on loan deals, Hugo Rodallega came on a Bosman free. Even Berbatov was lured for just £4 million while the club are sitting on £20 million from Spurs.
There will be more additions in January for certain. How are we different from last season? Jol has also benefited from a crop of youngsters pushing up through the ranks – Kacaniklic, Frei, Trotta, Briggs meaning the squad has quality and depth.
There is real competition for places to keep the players on their toes. The Academy is full of talent. Dajegah is a signing from Wolfsburg to watch out for. Arsenal was his first start, and he was picked ahead of Damien Duff, himself still dangerous even at 33. And the Swede Kacaniklic looks like the real deal too, now a full Swedish international at 22. This means Fulham play with pacy exciting wingers – something Jol was trying to achieve from day one. Last year we passed our way up the middle of the pitch and too often ran into traffic, over-elaborated, or laid the ball off to Murphy to play the killer pass.
This season we have many more strings to our bow, reflected in the number of players getting goals. It is certainly a tough task for any manager wondering how to contain this new look FFC. We are only now starting to see Bryan Ruiz show his ability too after a stop-start first season where he failed to find the right role in the side.
Having said all that, defensive drills and safety-first tactics are not Jol’s strong suit. He wants to be
gung ho, but we have lost something at the back. We are conceding cheap goals, not defending set pieces, prone to lose concentration, vulnerable to aerial balls (nice for Mr Fletcher!). If you want to get at us you play on the weakness at LB (why Richardson was bought as insurance). Attractive though Fulham always are, we can still be bullied. Everton did just that to us and Fellaini we just simply could not handle at all.
Considering how low morale has slumped after a run of poor results at Sunderland, you must be
confident of a routine win.
We meet you sitting ninth and most fans feel, and the course of our matches to date indicate, we should be up around fifth or sixth. We would expect to take three points off the Black Cats comfortably. Prior to the game last May I think there had been just five goals in seven games between us, we could easily see five on Sunday.
Have you noticed as I have how well Steed Malbranque is playing for Lyon this season despite a year out of the game. Are your memories of him good ones?
Only good ones. He was shuffled out of the club by poor man management on Coleman’s part (one of his failings as a manager). He did OK at Spurs and never quite hit the heights with you. But in our early years under Tigana he was excellent. Great dribbling talent and eye for goal.
And what of other people linked to both our club? Kieran Richardson, Lee Clark, Andy Melville, Paul Bracewell spring to mind but there are others I have overlooked
Kevin Ball??? ‘Nuff said. Awful.
I was no fan of Melville, too languid for me nor a great header of the ball. Read the game well and he had a tough task to replace the CB duo of Symonds-Coleman. Alain Goma used to bail him out of trouble quite a bit. I especially felt Andy was too cowardly to attack the ball when we had corners & free kicks – both Coleman and Symonds were fearless and excellent in this respect at set plays for us.
Paul Bracewell came as a mate of KK’s but again he was not too popular, had many detractors when made captain, main criticism was too much safety-first play on the ball. First instinct was to turn and go backwards with it! Of course he was being managed by Wilkins in the period we first started climbing the leagues. Wilkins proved a dud, as did Bracewell when he took the reins for a stint after KK left for the England job.. Once we missed out on promotion in his one season in charge (which al Fayed demanded) Bracewell had to fall on his sword and make way for Tigana. And we all say thank heavens for that!
Lee Clark: Same era. KK told Bracewell to sign him up to the FFC bandwagon. Tough gritty player, no natural pace but always gave 100% and played vital role in establishing us in the EPL – a player of real
quality who bought out the best in those around him. I wish him well in management and very popular figure with fans.
Kieran Richardson: Jury out and injured now. Personally, I was dismayed at his signing on deadline day. May well have been a panic acquisition in light of Dembele loss. I read plenty of carping criticism from Mackem fans in his last season up there! Doubt he will see much game time here and likely to be moved on next year. Not sure what he brings to the team now.
If Sunderland AFC were a West End play, which one do you think Philip Mison says it would be? See the answer … click here for the answer
Is there anyone in our present squad you’d willingly take at Craven Cottage and what is your impression of Martin O’Neill?
I don’t want to come across the wrong way here, but there’s nobody in the ranks I feel would enhance the current Fulham side. Maybe last year when we found goals harder to come by I might have said
Sessegnon (I do rate him), I like Bardsley (is he injured?) and Larsson is OK. I just checked your 11 from day one game v Arsenal and it does look a bunch of journeymen to me. No surprise you are suffering poor results.
I’ve always had a lot of time for Martin O’Neill and had the pleasure of working with him as a pundit on broadcasts. He is a top bloke – albeit a tad humourless and intense. He turned down the Fulham job of course before Hughes took it. But I wonder if he was too long away from the game after Villa? He seems to have lost his mojo, or is he handicapped by lack of money from Short? Seems to have lacked ambition with summer signings – when you consider how Gyan, Bent, Niklas and Campbell have all tried and failed to spark a Sunderland revival…now the onus is on Fletcher. Martin said pre-season his aim is to get Sunderland ‘established’ as a PL side. Wow, we used to say that, now it’s ‘can we make the top six?’ Can’t imagine that quote fired up the home fans.
Have any games between us, home or away, over the years stood out for you (were you, for example, at the one abandoned because of snow)?
Only one. Our first game in the top flight after 30 years at Craven Cottage came against your boys back in 2001. We gave United a massive scare on our debut, losing 2-3 at Old Trafford after Saha put us ahead with a sublime goal on 4 minutes and the ref – of course – handed Beckham a free-kick for a non-foul by Finnan from which they curled in the leveller. In midweek however we played a Sunderland side who finished 7th the season before – Kevin Phillips at his best – yet wore you down to win 2-0 (Hayles, Saha). I was there! The following year Bazza scored again in a 3-0 win up there – our first win in 50 years on Wearside (which explains why I’ve never travelled to the NE for an away game between us.)
What have been your highs and lows of watching Fulham?
I first saw a game in 1958 at the Cottage. I missed the 10-1 over Ipswich in 1963 and our Cup Final of 1975. I was in Hamburg in 2010. There have been many lows in watching Fulham nearly go to the wall and slide down the divisions. The club was very poorly administered under Jimmy Hill’s ‘leadership’ at a time I was there every week for LBC Radio and in the 90s we were crippled by debt and facing eviction.
The arrival of al Fayed changed everything at a stroke, but he was only attracted to the ‘sleeping giant’ because Mickey Adams got us out of the 4th division with buttons in 1997. I was very close to the team for the promotion season of 1996-7 and in the dressing room when promotion was clinched. We were
BACK FROM THE BRINK, and that whole campaign remains my personal Fulham high. It entirely changed our history.
Then you agree with previous Fulham interviewees that Mohamed al Fayed deserves massive credit for
establishing Fulham as a Premier League club, whatever we may think of his statues?
See above. Every supporter fervently hopes the new Riverside stand that he is funding will bear his
name. He has been fantastic for the club. Keeps an eye on the business but let’s those he has
employed get on with the job
Who is the best player you have seen – or wish you’d seen – in Fulham colours and who should have
been allowed nowhere near them?
In his first season under Tigana Louis Saha scored 32 goals. He was unstoppable and had all the
attributes. From the old days I first really admired Graham Leggatt (more so than the maestro) and also
our all-time top goalscorer Gordon Davies was a supreme marksman and really top bloke! Rubbish
players at Fulham? I could fill an encyclopaedia…
Who will be the top four this season, in order, and who will go down?
Top three are easy: Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea but 4th is up for grabs. It won’t be Arsenal, Much depends on who buys best in January. Everton if they don’t get hit by injuries and Fellaini stays. Or it might just be little old Fulham..?
Where will our two clubs finish?
Fulham 7th Sunderland 14th
Which form of cheating most annoys you and what would you do to stamp it out?
People will say ‘simulation’ because it is blatant cheating, but personally I would love to see referees
take much firmer action against all the manhandling, obstruction, barging and shirt-tugging that goes on
in the box. If it’s a foul, which you see on every set play, start whistling them up. Two candy-striped
refs with yellow dusters behind the goals NFL style would soon put a stop to it – far too radical for Mr
Club versus country. Which comes first for you and why?
Oh s***, we should be saying country every time if we ever want to win another World Cup, but I barely
bother to watch England games now. I have no desire to fork out stupid money for Wembley games either although I can be there in 20 minutes on the Met line. It’s a problem for all parties. There are too many fixtures, the appetite is jaded, the clubs see it as a distraction and the players rarely have their
hearts in it. So what do we get? Perennial disappointment all round.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
Game is sold out. Got a spare? The Europa League run brought in a new wave of followers. All home games now sell out (cap 27,500). As a consequence work starts on ground expansion summer 2013, up
to 30,000 +.
3-0 Fulham win. But you gave Everton a scare and Fulham are notorious for dashing fans hopes. We
are steeped in history of coming 2nd and all long-term supporters carry a hip flask of pessimism with
them into the ground. I still remember being beaten at home by Hayes Town in the FA Cup in my radio
reporting days of the early 1990s.
* Philip Mison on Philip Mison: F/L writer, producer, broadcaster. Travel writer, playwright and Fulham FC blogger (see his Fulham pages at ESPN – ed). Collaborators welcome for raft of film, documentary and music projects. My Dad hailed from Parsons Green and took me to stand on the proverbial orange box when I was six. He passed away on the eve of the Juventus game in 2010 we won 4-1 … I had a ticket but couldn’t use it.
Interview: Colin Randall