Confused of Fulham

Tuesday 19 February 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch...

Jean Tigana must think this football lark is money for old rope. He gets into the Premiership at his first attempt, reaches the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup - what a breeze.

It's a bit different for the Fulham fans - anybody younger than thirty-four would not have been alive when the Whites last played top-flight football, and it's been twenty-seven years since they last got this far in the Cup. That means that for many of the supporters out there, this is a season of firsts.

Tigana has experienced life at the very top of the footballing tree, and for him, anything less than winning trophies will be deemed as failure. He will want to win the Premiership and he will want Champions League football, and with his single-minded determination, focus and talent, who would bet against him achieving it?

But where does it leave the supporters? Until very recently, the last trophy paraded round the Cottage had been in 1949. For five years though, it's been nothing but unmitigated triumph after triumph. It's no wonder everyone's ended up confused as to how to judge success.

If you support a club that's down in the doldrums with little hope of a rescue, then you have to adopt a certain mind-set to cope with it all. Winning doesn't become the be-all and end-all of why you go; you get your pleasure in different ways. Perhaps it's the camaraderie or the comradeship of being part of a small but intensely loyal band of followers, who knows?

But when success does come along, any sort of success, then it is enjoyed and savoured like no other. That's why Micky Adams' promotion season was such a joyously exuberant affair. It may only have been the Third Division and Fulham didn't win the Championship, but it had been a long time coming and I'd lay money that the faithful gained more pleasure from that than the Man Utd fans did from winning their umpteenth league title.

So what happens now? How do we view our current position? Do we thank our lucky stars and make sacrifices to whatever gods we think are responsible for our good fortune, or do we express our dissatisfaction at the fact that we're not top of the league and thrashing everyone five-nil? Is winning all that matters, or are there other considerations? I tell you, it's not an easy job supporting a big team - perhaps they should give out manuals telling you how to behave when you first reach the Premiership.

For example, I thought Saturday's game up at Walsall was brilliant - it was a close affair with lots of goalmouth action, both sides played some good football, but ultimately Fulham came out on top, were clearly the better side and deserved the win. It's not all that long ago that the Saddlers were close rivals of ours, and it's difficult to put that memory aside completely. But there were some, speaking afterwards, who were critical of the performance. It was felt that the gulf in class and resources should have meant that we imposed our superiority much more absolutely than we did. I suspect that was Jean Tigana's view, and that's why he is so unquestionably the man to lead us into the Promised Land.

There was a conversation last night about how crucial the Middlesbrough game was. A win by two goals and we'd be up over Spurs and Villa and into seventh place with Europe beckoning. A defeat, our game in hand gone, and probably the obscurity of mid-table would be about all we could hope for.

I have to say that I'm still struggling to get my brain round it all. Is this really Fulham they're talking about? Pushing for Europe and the top of the Premiership, and into the last eight of the Cup with a draw, that although not easy, is about as good as you can get - my natural inclination is to say thank you very much and take the money and run. I guess that I just haven't got that killer instinct, that win at all costs mentality - but I have been supporting Fulham all my life don't forget! Perhaps I'll have to take some lessons from some of my Surrey based Manchester United friends about how to start booing when your team doesn't win every single game.

Sometimes they show non-league football on Sky's Monday night programme. Yesterday, Hereford, who are now in the conference, were featured away to Boston. Fulham played Hereford as recently as 1997, and the season before that, when we lost 1-0 to them in April, we were struggling to get away from the bottom of the Third Division and they were pushing for a play-off place.

Puts things into context a bit, doesn't it?