For Whom the Eight Bells Toll
Date: Friday 16th December 2011
For Whom The Eight Bells Toll
Only those who are being abused can understand why they've stayed. They have a million reasons why they can't stay and million reasons why they can't leave!
And only one reason to keep visiting Craven Cottage – to be there on that all elusive occasion on which, for a solitary league game, the Wanderers don’t get hammered! That’s all. Though this season the chances of Owen Coyle’s feather light army coming away with even a modicum of self-respect from a ground that has, since 1992, seen the visiting side put in displays that have only ever jockeyed between the seducingly embarrassing and downright laughable aren’t merely slim – they’re palpably anorexic.
Yet still, as ever, sat huddled on a temporary stand akin to the old school sports hall bleachers, braving the freezing Thames-side conditions will be an increasingly familiar-looking collection of battered souls, there like drunks that stagger towards the door at closing time but just can’t resist going back in for one last drink. Still, what else is there to do? Christmas shopping? Pah! In fact, the morbid fascination has this year gathered such a pace that apparently we’ve sold out our entire ticket allocation. Maybe people are working on the theory that after Fulham away, Christmas can only get better – and who could knock anyone for thinking like that?
For those making the journey for the first time, footballing matters aside, you’re in for a treat. Fulham remains an away day unlike any other. The local hostelries, and in particular The Eight Bells near Putney Bridge, are welcoming to a fault, the locals are without doubt the friendliest you’ll ever encounter (God only knows what they must make of Fat Frank), the walk through Bishop’s Park to the ground is more a pleasant Sunday morning stroll than it is a traipse to the match. Craven Cottage, situated as it is in one of the country’s most affluent areas between some of the capital’s finest town houses and the river even features architecture by Archibald Leitch – the outer brickwork of the main stand sees many just standing gawping at it. That the Egyptian former shopkeeper would have this bulldozed to make way for an apartment block is surely reason enough in itself to deny him a Passport forever. Once inside the ground refreshments abound from a variety of both fixed and portable stalls, they even have people dispensing beer from backpacks – marvellous. One bitter disappointment though is that the hilarious statue of Michael Jackson stands within the home enclosure at the far end, so you won’t be afforded the opportunity to see/deface it.
However, enjoy all these peripheral goings-on whilst you can, for inevitably it’ll all go horribly wrong from thereon in.
Fulham will be deservedly smarting after going out of the Europa League on Thursday having conceded in the last 30 seconds of their game against the Danish side Odense, a game that saw the Cottagers have no less than 19 shots at goal. With the hapless, self-appointed club spokesman, Zat Knight, returning to play against the club that bought him for a set of tracksuits from Rushall Olympic, one imagines Mr Jaaskelainen is due for yet another busy afternoon.
Good news for us is that Ivan ‘goal machine’ Klasnic has been declared fit. There are also rumours that Reo Coker is also fit, so he’ll probably end up sat on the bench alongside Fabrice Muamba, each wondering how they’re playing second fiddle to the increasingly out-of-his-depth Darren Pratley.
Coyle has asked for a ‘positive start’ from his players (before doubtlessly going on to fellate Martin Jol with praise then mention The Barclay’s Premier League, Fulham’s terrific quality and the narrowness of the margins), whether he gets one though remains to be seen, and if the trips to SW6 of the past 19 years are anything to go by, or indeed most of this season's games to date, he’ll be bloody lucky.
Latest news has Owen Coyle uttering no-contract threats unless proof of earning is show, and there are hints of a return of Steinsson and Alonso to nail the back door shut. Will those winds of change actually blow? Doubtful indeed!