You can well imagine how Fulham's rise from the basement has been viewed with a jaundiced eye by our local rivals from Shepherds Bush. Thanks to the ambition and financial largesse of our benevolent chairman since 1997, the Whites went all the way to the top tier while Rangers travelled in the opposite direction.
Not that long-suffering - and long-standing fans - had any sympathy for the Hoops (the 'super' tag being mere ad-speak fantasy). We well remember the boot being on the other foot back in the 60's when we finally lost our grip on the top division after years of hanging on by our fingertips. Rangers were in the old third when success starting coming their way thanks to their own dynamic chairman at the time Jim Gregory. Even more galling, this local car dealer made good had initially offered to invest in Fulham. A less than forward thinking board of old traditionalists, still unaware that football in the 60's was an altogether different beast, rebuffed Gregory's overtures as 'not quite the calibre of businessman for us.' The poor saps.
Not only did third division Rangers win the League Cup at Wembley in 1967, they were playing with ex-Fulham favourites Jimmy Langley and Rodney Marsh, foolishly released by our myopic board. As FFC fortunes inexorably dipped to the point of near extinction, the Loft continued to bounce along with a string of great teams. The likes of Terry Venables, Gerry Francis, Stan Bowles, Don Given, Phil Parkes, Dave Thomas and Les Ferdinand wore the famous hoops and in 75-6 they missed out on the 1st division title by a single point. There was another Wembley final in 1982, but by the mid 90's decline set in and finances suffered.
When we last met Rangers in 2000-1 both clubs were headed in opposite directions and by the modern era we were once again two divisions apart. With Tigana's team marching to promotion in March 2001 we won 2-0 in our last meeting, goals from Saha and Clark, while QPR were heading into administration (under Ian Holloway). "You'll never play us again," sang the home fans with gusto. I know, I was among them!
Our rivalry with the Rangers exemplifies the old saying of 'what goes around comes around.' Sunday our newly-promoted adversaries arrive comfortably above us in mid-table. What's more, Warnock has them playing some neat football, they played Wolves off the park the other week at their place to win 3-0. They will certainly be no pushovers for a Fulham side yet to win in the league. Derbies can be a great leveller of talent when the chips are down.
Anticipation, and nerves, are no doubt high on both sides of the divide. This is far more than just another fixture, and bragging rights through to 2012 will be defined by the result. A pity then that we are unlikely to see a full house to set the Cottage rocking. I picked up my ticket in the Hammy End yesterday and 3,000 seats remained unsold. Prices in these difficult times tell their own story, even for such a vibrant match-up.
Let's hope the game passes off without incident. In the bad old days of hooliganism any game between the two clubs called for a large police presence. The running gangs of that era were mostly fuelled by excitable teenagers, hair plastered over their pasty, weasel-like features, scarves tied at the wrist. Nowadays, sad to say, it's usually beefy and beered up middle-aged shaven headed knuckle-draggers who remain locked in a neanderthal state of believing Britain still has some vestiges of 'Empire' and grandeur about it, instead of being an insignificant player on the world stage living off credit and nostalgia.
Here's to a game without incident in the stands and streets, and to a Fulham win at last to reflect our superior strength in depth. While Jol's team remains a work in progress, the 2-0 win in Odense was a confidence booster, while giving our talisman Bobby further time to put his feet up and play with the twins. I'm hoping Zamo and the rest of the 11 Jol picks are feasting on red meat in preparation for Sunday and the game is a classic.
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