It’s a little while ago now but the Charlton game still hurts. Throwing away the lead as we did, it’s like two points lost rather than one gained. If you’d been offered 2-2 before the game, you may have taken that, but I thought we’d get all three points.
With all the new players we’ve got, they need time to get together, time to get team spirit, and time to get used to the patterns of play and the shape of the side. Although we hit the heights against QPR, you can still see that we’re a new side that’s forming; centre-back partnership, midfield players, right-back and right-sided midfielder, strikers. Everything’s progressing so I think we should benefit from the current international break rather than being hindered by it.
Our first game back sees us travel to Middlesbrough, which is one of the harder fixtures we’ll encounter at this level. I’ve covered them twice live this season and they’re a good team, and the chairman’s backed them to the hilt. They narrowly missed out last season and this term he’s backed them in the transfer market so that they can have a real go. He’s a chairman who managers dream of, Steve Gibson, not only because he cares for the club, but he looks after his managers as well.
I think Boro will win the league. It’s a big statement I suppose but I still think it’ll happen. Looking at their side, they’re solid at the back and in midfield, and they’ll score goals up front and from the players behind as well. That’s not saying they’re unbeatable or anything, and it would be great signal of intent if we come away from the Riverside with the win. They’re a good side and their new players have settled in well, but everyone is beatable because of the nature of the league. Hopefully we catch them on a day when we hit top form.
Last night we saw England maintain their 100 per cent record in qualifying in their final match. Obviously they’ve got plenty of Fulham links with Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington in charge, and I’m well pleased for the pair of them. For some reason, people were having a go at Roy, but hold fire, 10 out of 10 is the best record of all the European teams. I know we’re not in a difficult group and none of the teams are outstanding, but you see Germany slipping up to the Republic of Ireland, you have Spain losing to Slovakia, Italy dropping points. We haven’t slipped up once.
We’ve probably got to accept that we haven’t got the greatest individuals, but Roy’s got a good side. And that’s what he did at Fulham – we didn’t have a great group of individuals, but we had a pattern of play that suited everyone. If you have a look at the year we went all the way to the Europa League Final, the players were used week in and week out and they knew exactly what was expected of them both individually and within the team framework.
There was some further good news for the Home Nations as Wales also booked their place in France, and once again we’ve got some links there. Jazz Richards and George Williams both played their part at various points, and Kit Symons was obviously heavily involved until he stood down. And there’s another ex-Fulham man, of course, in Chris Coleman. So we’ve got two former managers going to the European Championships!
I’m really chuffed for Cookie. He had his trials and tribulations at our club didn’t he, but no one can say he wasn’t a great captain at Fulham and a great player. Then when he took over as manager he did really well, because he had a tough act to follow, so I’m happy for him and happy we’ve got a great Fulham representation going into those Finals.
This Sunday marks the 10-year anniversary of Johnny Haynes’ death, and what a top man he was. Undoubtedly Fulham’s third best ever player after myself and Les Strong (joking, obviously!). I never saw Johnny live in the flesh when he played, but everyone I spoke to of that generation says he was the best of his era. It’s great that he played for us, only us, and for so long. You could even call it the Johnny Haynes Ground as far as I’m concerned, because he’s held in that high esteem. I met him at a dinner when Jean Tigana was in charge and he sat on a table with Bobby Robson, George Cohen and Alan Mullery, and I was on my table with Gordon Davies, Ray Houghton and Rodney Marsh. He came up and tapped me on the shoulder and told me what a good player he thought I was, and I felt like I was going to cry. He then said he’d seen me on the telly as well and thought I was good at that too. When someone like that says something that nice about you, it’s really special, and for once in my life I was speechless. The great man had complimented me. He was unbelievable, Fulham’s greatest-ever player, and one of the game’s greatest-ever midfielders.