Fan feature

Tuesday 29 January 2002

Phil Mison for Fulham Today...

Appropriately I was forced to find space in the hospital car park adjacent to Bootham Crescent before Saturday's cup-tie. Here indeed was a patient, recently added to football's critical list, fast slipping into a coma. York City's fate is sealed it seems for April 1st - unless another buyer steps forward.

You had to be pretty thick-skinned not to catch the connotations in the pre-match bustle around the Minstermen's tight little ground. That, or ignorant, of our own club's all too recent flirtations with receivership. Exactly six years ago to the very week it was us - Fulham Football Club - who found ourselves 91st in the Football League staring down the barrel of extinction. Back then it would have been our supporters gazing up to the lofty status of Saturday's opponents. Can there ever have been a more radical turn of the tide in the history of the League?

Little surprise then that the travelling fans needed no second asking to lob pound coins and notes into the collection buckets. We felt their pain. For our own from the 1990's is too recent and ran too deep.

To reinforce the mood I spotted Melvyn Tenner and wife Eve beneath the rusting sheet metal of the Main Stand. When our new stadium is built I hope somebody at the top thinks to honour Melvyn with his own small niche of remembrance. Without his tireless work on the Fulham 2000 campaign I doubt we would ever have made it this far. Neither as mobile as they would like, it was heart-warming to see Eve and Melvyn making the effort on a foul day. And delighted to be ticking off the only lower league ground so far they'd failed to visit. But that's the magic of the Cup!

Ah yes, that's why we were there. The FA Cup has come in for a bit of knocking in recent years. I personally found United's decision not to enter two years ago a chilling precedent. It's the oldest Cup competition in the world of course, but the FA don't do themselves any favours when bowing down to the God of television at every turn. A foreign colleague was aghast when calling me for information two seasons ago to discover the English FA at that time had no official website dedicated to the FA Cup.

Last Saturday was another of those delicious David and Goliath confrontations. Luckily for us there were no banana skins, but David pinged plenty of stones off the giant's armour and honour was satisfied all round. Now it's Walsall's turn to try and pick the millionaire's pocket - and I guess our thoughts will go back again to 1987.

In my opinion, for real-life drama, you couldn't invent this kind of stuff. Due to the early kick-off time at M'boro, by a few hours York City can say their interest in the Cup 2002 outlived that of Manchester United's. And, as Damiano admitted to me afterwards, our own passage was not secured until Marlet's 85th minute rasper.

Well done York City. A side who hadn't won since October in the league did themselves proud. And well done the Chairman for donating our share of the gate! The song of gratitude from the home fans was the loudest chant of the day. If the TV companies were looking for the Magic of the Cup it was right there in the mud of Bootham Crescent last Saturday.

Sadly they missed it. But I saw it - and it warmed my heart. It was written large on the faces of the kids who crowded the exit for autographs as our squad fought their way to the team bus.

On Saturday York and Fulham met as equals to sip from the same Cup. The Cup that offers succour to all who love and play the game. Terry Dolan gave thanks for the quarter of a million their run had generated. He, along with the locals I drank with last Saturday night, will continue to pray for a saviour. I'm sure we'll be adding to the cause with our own upcoming collection at the Cottage. Because all true Fulham fans know only too well, "there but for the grace of God...(and Mohamed)."