The Exile

Monday 16 September 2002

Travelling back into Newcastle on a Metro train crowded with Sunderland supporters, I wondered if I should start a conversation. I need not have worried. Football fans in the north-east are passionate but fair and bear no malice towards supporters of other clubs, even when they lose.

They were quick to agree that we were the better side on Saturday, and as I got off at Central Station, they wished us all the best for the rest of the season and said they would be looking out for our result on Thursday.

This last comment had a slight but understandable touch of envy in it. A club with a support as tremendous as Sunderland's, and a superb new stadium, should be enjoying the level of success which includes European football. Instead they may well be facing another long hard Premiership struggle for survival.

I hope they don't go down. I enjoy my visits to the north-east, not least because the fans are always good crack, and they are easy grounds for me to get to. However, it looks increasingly likely that Peter Reid is the Premiership manager with his coat on the shakiest peg.

Along with all the other Fulham fans, I certainly enjoyed my day on Saturday. Our defence was given a stern test in the first half, but came through it well. It was a surprise to see Steve Finnan missing. Abdes was a capable defensive replacement, though he does not have Finn's attacking potential. Zat and Alain stuck to their task, and the one time Flo got through, he did his usual trick of falling over his feet in front of goal.



Junichi Inamoto is rapidly becoming a talisman, and in the second half, when he took corners close to us, we were bowing in homage. One fizzing low cross, met with a venomous volley, came within a whisker of being Zat's first goal for us, and I can give no finer praise for the two Ina through balls that lead to Barry and Bob scoring than to say they reminded me of Johnny Haynes.

When Bob scored, I wanted to run over and join the celebrations. He worked tremendously hard and fully deserved his reward, a goal he took extremely well. Maybe that outing in the reserves was what was needed after all.

In fact the whole team put in a very high workrate throughout the match, and this was a major factor in our success. We just wore Sunderland down, and in the second half controlled the game so that it became a matter of how many, something we have not seen for a while.

In out last 8 games we have scored 19 goals, which is wonderful. The clean sheet was also very welcome, and was the first since Sochaux on 9 August. This was the first time (in 13 games) that two strikers have scored in open play. I think Barry and Bob make an excellent combination, and Facundo also did well when he came on.

It was good to see Elvis Hammond warming up with the squad, and with Luis out for a month or more, he could get a chance, which I'm sure he'd take eagerly. Other young players such as Sean Doherty, Mark Hudson and Dean Leacock can't be that far behind, which is great for Fulham's future.

It's rather nice, isn't it, to be looking down 4 places at Man Utd - and with a game in hand (and we've scored more than twice as many league goals as them). If we played the West Ham game now and won it, we would be second in the Premiership, on merit. I keep looking at the table in the papers to make sure it's true! A pity Spurs won on Sunday, so that we are 6th not 5th but it still looks good.

It certainly doesn't seem to have made any impression on ITV's The Premiership. As usual, on Saturday night we got our measly 90-second slot, no studio discussion, just a brief comment from Des Lynam that we have started the season well. Perhaps when we hit the top we'll get proper coverage.

My global email correspondence with FFC fans continues. Those in Japan are well up with the whole team, not just Ina. Kazuki emailed me to say that he thought Ina and Steed made a good combination. No surprise that the club are maximising the massive merchandising potential here. And I had an email from Rudy, an American FFC fan. He's going to be in Scotland for the next two weeks and wondered if there was any way he could see the Split game on Thursday from a pub in Stornoway.

I've been to Stornoway. It's the only town in the Outer Hebrides and a fine wee place, but somehow I don't think there would be much chance of catching a Fulham game there even if the match was on TV. Any pubs showing football (not that likely) would be focussed on Celtic, Livingston or Rangers (Aberdeen play on Tuesday). Maybe if we get one of the Scottish clubs in a later round....

To end, a wonderful story from Saturday's Times. It concerns a Birmingham City supporter with whom many of us will immediately identify. He apparently went so ballistic when the news of City's first Prem goal came through that his parrot died of a heart attack. He wasn't even watching the match - just following the Ceefax updates!

There's a clear lesson for me in that - I won't be buying a parrot. Any bird resident chez Smith would have been a goner after the Spurs match last week!

Roger is always pleased to hear from other fans. You can contact him at roger@smithwalk.demon.co.uk