There's no denying it was hard going watching the squad's lap of honour after Sunday's win. Nothing to complain about from the afternoon's entertainment with a tenth home win achieved in fine style. All three goals dazzled but, as Jol said afterwards, with a dash more luck in front of goal Fulham could and should have won by a comfortable margin. Finishing top ten is now guaranteed, and we can approach the final weekend's trip to WHL with real confidence of picking up more points. To end the season 7th and with a new points high from our EPL season would reflect on an excellent run since Christmas. The bittersweet side of Sunday came when studying faces on the lap of honour to try and second guess who might not be wearing Fulham white next August. Every fan at the ground will have harboured such thoughts.
For the past 11 months, yes, it's been a long season. All credit to the manager for getting his style across finally, and to the players too for raising their game. We sensed there was real quality in the team, but how frustrating was it to wait six games for that first win, fold at places like Wolves and Blackburn, and even as late as March turn in a woeful performance at a floundering Villa. Not to mention our excruciating exits from all three cup competitions.
It is no exaggeration to suggest we could be very close to a Champions League spot next season. Extrapolating our results from the 37 games to date you can make a convincing case for saying we should be 11 points better off and sitting above Chelsea. Think back. Three points tossed away after Bobby misses an open goal in the final minute v Everton. Two more dropped to a 94th-minute header at Norwich that could so easily have been prevented. Two given up late on to WBA on February 1, a point squandered at Villa with the last kick after Mark's fumble, denied a point at United by inept refereeing in not giving the penalty, likewise Chelsea denying us a win with the 'penalty that never was'.
This is no hard luck story. Add in the number of times we've hit wood and even a neutral would admit we ain’t had too much luck along the way. And how do Fulham play the game? No player red-carded all league season, and Gera the only man to see red in 100-odd games. Never mind our final league position, we should be invited into the Europa League as a badge of honour, just as past champions are invited back to the Masters. Consider this. When was the last time you spotted an unsavoury story concerning a Fulham player or employee? No nightclub rucks, no drink driving, philandering with bimbos, racial slurs, daft comments to the tabloids. Crikey, nobody likes a saint, but we sound pretty much like the model professional football club. No wonder we are consistently overlooked by the media and MOTD. We are almost boring...
Forgive me for blowing my own trumpet, but you all saw my take on Hodgson's appointment. I'd even gone out on a limb a week before the announcement urging the FA to make a brave decision. And I'll be damned, they did. Plenty of writers and bloggers have since played catch up and come round to appreciating the plus points of life without 'Arry at international level. So here's another test for the nation's scribes. When they all stop slavering over Mancini's Citeh and having served up a ton of hyperbole on the Champions League final before we get into the Euros, perhaps they might find space to file a considered piece on Al Fayed's journey with Fulham and the progress of our 'little' club? Don't hold your breath...With any well-run organisation, the tone is set from the man at the top. I bet there's not a journo from the West End to Wapping who would ever have forecast how much MaF has kept in the background since 1997, considering his previous taste for gathering headlines and publicity.
And as Blackburn, and probably Bolton, head back to the second tier, Fulham are looking only to go higher. So back to my theme. Quite frankly, our number 23 walked the turf with head down as if he'd dropped his wedding ring during the course of the match. I know Deuce can be a pretty laconic character and he's no heart-on-the sleeve sissy - even Jol described him thus - but to me that was a man closing the chapter on five fantastic years of great memories down by the Thames. THANK YOU for every minute you bust a gut for the cause. Now tell your agent to give me that call and let's write the book. Goal number 50 was another beauty and fittingly no man has now made more appearances for the Whites in the Premier League I believe.
As for our other goalscorer. Well, Moussa himself admitted he should have had a hat-trick. His talent is immense - were he to add some clinical finishing to his game he would indeed be the complete footballer. A Cottage version of Lionel Messi. But then of course, he wouldn't be hanging around at Fulham. Will he stay or will he go? Younger than Clint, he might be persuaded to give us another season. The bottom line with every single member of the set-up is that money talks, and in the modern era all power sits with the players. And in light of the terms of employment pre-Bosman, who can argue with that?
The sour note for supporters of course in all this is that our heroes literally just slip away in the night. Rarely is there the closure you get from a veteran signing off at the end of a fabulous career a la Shearer. I remember sitting with John Colllins at Motspur after he hung up his boots. We were at a table in the canteen there as the players’ final wage packets of the season came round. Once pocketed, John quietly took his leave, shook a few hands and drifted away into the car park for the last time. Eerily strange, no big send off, and when I asked John what he planned to do next, he just shrugged and shuffled off the stage.
Personally, if Clint goes chasing his Champions League dream, I hope it is outside the UK. It will be very hard to see him back at Craven Cottage in an opposition shirt. No point in dwelling on it till it happens. Let the travelling support Sunday lead our appreciation and here's hoping Dempsey hasn't quite finished with his goalscoring exploits for FFC just yet. A win over Spuds... now that really would put the icing on the cake of a run in to remember.
As Jol dodged the question Sunday when asked about the future of the double Ds - "I prefer not to dwell on the negatives right now after this win" - I am of a mind to think the die may be cast. But as all things must pass, an incontrovertible truth of human existence, I am excited by what the summer holds and who Fulham have on the radar for next season. Remember Jol's task to reduce the age of the squad and bring 'sexy football' to SW6 still has a way to go... and as we know from the new away kit, the future is BLACK, WHITE and now ORANGE!
More news before the Spurs game, and then we can all go and have a lie down. Thanks for following this blog over the past two years. It has been a lot of fun. COYW!!!