Sunday 6 January 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

The empty void that the average football fan feels after their game has been called off is nothing compared to the frustration of the professional, who having focussed his whole being on those crucial ninety minutes, has to now put his psychological and physical build up on temporary hold.

It's even worse when the game is in the Third Round of the FA Cup, the most famous day in the English football calendar. Devalued and derided by the big Premiership Clubs in recent years, it is surely the one occasion that can make even the most gnarled old pro's blood run faster in anticipation.

He's certainly not gnarled, so it comes as something of a surprise to discover that a youthful looking Rufus Brevett is fast approaching his 400th career league appearance. As one of the senior players at Fulham, Rufus has seen the Whites transform themselves from underdogs into a team everyone would like to have a pop at. He spoke about how frustrating the late cancellation of the Wycombe game had been.

"It was a bit of a let-down," he said, "We were told on Friday that the game had a good chance of going ahead if the weather improved, and when I woke up in the morning and looked out I thought it was definitely going to be on, so I was very surprised that it was called off. All the lads are disappointed, we were really looking forward to the game.

"There was a pitch inspection at ten-thirty I believe. The players were due to assemble at Motspur Park at eleven-fifteen, so when we got there we discovered we were in for a training session instead. But it is a bit of a downer, you get yourself prepared for the actual game, and then it goes a bit flat when it's just more training instead."

Rufus was quite sanguine about the disruption to the schedule really. He's seen it all before of course, and you get the impression that it would take a lot to knock him out of his stride. It's all part of being professional, he says.

"It's not really that difficult getting yourself psyched up for the game again, personally I don't find getting psyched up for any game difficult. You want to go out and win all the time and you want to play well. It doesn't matter whether you're playing Wycombe or Manchester United, your preparation has got to be the same.

"I've not really seen much of Wycombe. I know that the manager will have got them all gee'd up after their terrific Cup run last year, and it would have been a very difficult game for us, but if we had approached the game in the right way then I'm sure we would have had too much for them."

There was criticism in some quarters over the Club's approach to the Worthington Cup this season, and while understanding the reasons behind those decisions, you sense that Rufus's professional pride wants him to win every game and every competition. Besides, this is the FA Cup isn't it?

"I don't know what sort of team was going to be put out to be honest," he went on to say, "But I would have loved to have played, as I'm sure all the lads would. We all want to be part of it, it's got such a great tradition the FA Cup and we all want to do well in it."

It's not just the ice that causes the slip-ups in the cup, it's all those banana skins at places like Wycombe where smaller teams relish their day in the spotlight and dream of putting to the sword the big Premiership Clubs like, say it slowly and savour it, Fulham. With players like Rufus around to keep everybody's feet firmly on the ground, the Whites can hopefully avoid the unenviable fate of Sunderland, Derby and Leeds United who have both gone out to lower league opposition in this season's competition.

"It doesn't really feel that peculiar not being the underdog anymore," said the full back being touted in some quarters as having an outside chance for England's World Cup squad, "That's where you want to be, at the top. You want to be one of the best, and there is no doubt that this Fulham team can get better and better and be one of those.

"A couple of days more thaw on the pitch might help our game a bit more. It might have been a bit hard and would probably have suited them better, so with any luck it will have softened up by Tuesday and we can play our football and get safely through to the next round."

Tuesday's game promises to be a thrilling encounter with all the magic that the FA Cup has to offer. It's certainly got all the ingredients for a Cup upset as well, but when you realise that these two Clubs were playing each other in the League only three years then you realise how far Fulham have come in such a short space of time. Hopefully the professionalism and pride of players like Rufus will ensure that the Whites do not become another scalp to be hung on the Chairboy's belt.