We have been given exclusive sight of a radical offer appearing in the next edition of 'Premier League News,' the official monthly publication sent out to all league clubs. The Fulham board have received initial support for a groundbreaking scheme that, while controversial, appears to have the backing of both Premier League administrators and other league clubs.
For two decades those who run football in the UK have been quietly seeking ways to throttle the amount of away support attracted to each round of fixtures. The European model that holds sway across all the major leagues, Germany, Spain, France and Italy, is one viewed enviously by our own Premier League. An official spokesman explains the strategy thus. "Ideally in the modern era we want to discourage away support in our football grounds as far as possible. This is a programme that has tacit government support, incurs expense and inconvenience out of all proportion to any benefits, and is frankly causing such strain on the internal transport structure within the UK as to be unsustainable."
This stance should come as no surprise to every football fan. Major road works, motorway congestion, train delays and line closures, regular disruption to tube and bus schedules and the remorseless rise in fuel costs all conspire to deter travelling supporters. Add to that the infuriating changes in dates and timings to matches at the behest of TV.
Let's address the following too. The deliberate - but never publicly acknowledged - policy to put away fans in the worst part of the ground, ensure stewards and police give them as hostile a reception as possible, deny them sales of alcoholic beverages, and in general treat the 'visitors' as cattle rather than customers. All of the above was clearly evident to any Fulham fan who made Saturday's trip to Villa Park.
Ever fearful of a return to the bad old days of mass hooliganism that blighted UK city centres, terrorised Saturday shoppers, and demanded mass policing around grounds and stations, the mandarins who run the game have for years been promised an end to away support by the marketing men. Their vision for the game is for an antiseptic and distinctly middle-class audience where car park picnics pre-game are the norm, the Bollinger flows and obscene chanting and barbaric behaviour is anathema to the match day experience. The admen insist it's only a matter of time before we've all settled for following the away fortunes of our teams via the internet. Yet still the dogged traveller - unlike his European counterparts - keeps coming.
Now for the good news, at least from the perspective of Fulham fans. It seems our board has taken a pragmatic view to away games from next season and come up with a radical proposition. Based on all results collated since our arrival in the Premiership, it is clear that having Fulham travel to away games beyond the M25 is a complete waste of time and resources. Ever cautious, the board has waited all season for an upturn in performance on the road. None has been forthcoming. An internal report in fact reveals trauma inside the squad runs deeper than thought, with evidence of bed-wetting, nightmares, sleep-walking and anxiety attacks. Much of this indeed happening before the team bus has even reached the M1.
From next season therefore, Fulham FC, confident home form alone will see the club to the 40 point safety margin, will offer to forfeit up to 12 away matches. At the discretion of the Premier League, Fulham will send their reserve side to any away match whereby the home side are in need of a confidence boosting win. This is likely to mean the three promoted sides, those where managers are under imminent threat of the sack, or those clubs having suffered a lengthy run without a home win. Fans of Fulham would not be expected to fork out their hard-earned money or waste time travelling to the twelve matches designated.
Fulham's plan is set for Premier League approval at their next meeting. The board are to be congratulated on their foresight for an idea that sees everyone a winner. The players will be better rested, fans can channel all their enthusiasm into fortnightly trips to the Cottage, and the smaller clubs all undoubtedly get the benefit of three guaranteed points. Hats off to Fulham says this correspondent!