As we are within 48 hours from match time at Wembley Stadium and as I sit here at Motspur Park and reflect on our campaign so far, I was asked to share my thoughts on fulhamfc.com on the achievement and memories of the past few weeks and the anticipation for what awaits all of us on Saturday. In lieu of my traditional programme notes that are published monthly prior to home matches, I thank you for taking a few moments to read my thoughts as we look ahead to what is undoubtedly a milestone occasion for your club.
First, a bit about my personal post-season journey and experience.
Despite the result at Derby County in the first leg of the semi-finals, I was extremely confident that we were in excellent position to qualify for Wembley. Why? The conversation I had with Slaviša Jokanović following the match at Pride Park was bold and assured. It was all I needed to know and hear. I was also told that our players returned to London in an excellent frame of mind, extremely determined yet measured. As everyone knows, our historic run of 23 matches undefeated was followed by two defeats in less than a week, so naturally there were doubters – but none within our club. That made for a better weekend!
I was aware that Fulham had never won a play-off game but admittedly didn’t fully comprehend the gravity of our absence from playing at Wembley since 1975 until the day of the second leg at the Cottage. The closer I got to kick-off, both in terms of time and location, it became more clear to me how important it was for generations of Fulham supporters to return to Wembley – in this case, a new Wembley but the national stadium nonetheless. Again, I was super confident in our squad. But, better understanding how important a result was for our supporters, not only for the right to play for promotion but for the experience of playing at Wembley … all I could think about on the ride to the match was it may test the nerves, but this is why we love our club and the game itself. In short, no reason to fret.
I also learned on the commute to the Cottage that Aboubakar Kamara was getting the start on the right side. I was happy for Aboubakar as I know he’s been hungry to show what he’s capable of, but this gives me the opportunity to say thanks to everyone who suited up for your club during this special season. This would include players who may not be on the pitch or in the dugout on Saturday, or perhaps have moved on. Thanks to all.
When I arrived, the Cottage was rolling. It was very different, very evident this was unlike any match I’ve attended. I met with our coaches and though I was feeling good, I felt better than ever. Then I walked across the pitch to my seats, about 45 minutes prior to kickoff, and while the stands were not fully occupied, they were sure a lot more full than usual that far ahead of the match. That also told me this would be a different evening.
As for the match, there is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said. We were dangerous in the first half and responded, immediately and gloriously, in the second half. Ryan Sessegnon continues to underline for me why our Academy will always be a priority. His goal made the ultimate outcome possible.
I will then leave it to our veteran Fulham supporters and historians as to where Denis Odoi’s goal ranks in club history, but for me it has to be an all-timer. The timeliness (though time stood still) and the touch will forever be remembered, as will the celebration that ensued about 30 minutes later. It was the most Fulham of pitch invasions – orderly, civil, happy. I watched with absolute joy before going to the lounge for two glasses of champagne, one for each goal, per my routine.
Yes, more goals would have been welcomed, as the champagne was outstanding. But, I finished my night in the lounge with tea and a meeting with a number of lifelong FFC supporters who didn’t want the evening to end. I am so happy the fans I met, our players and our coaches – and I trust you as well – celebrated the moment. No one is uninformed that there is still everything to play for on Saturday. We’ve been back to work for some time. But when your club hasn’t been to Wembley in 43 years, had never won a play-off game and bounced back at home from a 1-0 aggregate deficit to advance, it’s OK to be human and have fun.
I wanted to recount my recollection of the past few days in a manner that hopefully will inspire all of us to keep and cherish these memories for a long time. And because we don’t know what fate will bring on Saturday against an impressive side from a storied club like Aston Villa, I just wanted to say that no matter what mood we leave Wembley Stadium, I am proud of everyone but especially just very happy for everyone. I am thrilled for longtime FFC legends like the great George Cohen and so many players who fiercely represented and defended our badge, to loyal executives like Alistair Mackintosh, David Daly, Mark Maunders, Huw Jennings and all of our fantastic staff. I know for a fact Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey are all in this weekend in the U.S. as are alums from on and off the pitch here in the UK and throughout the world.
I’m happy for our football and business staff. My son Tony Khan, our vice chair and director of football, and his team have worked diligently to produce a squad that expects to win with respect and class. We work equally hard away from the pitch to ensure the best match day experience possible for supporters and sponsors alike. What a great reward this is for everyone at Motspur Park and Craven Cottage.
But above all, I am delighted for those who were among the few but faithful who didn’t miss a match – home or away – some 30 years or so ago when our status and future as a club was grim. Ups and downs come with loving any club, but FFC supporters in the late 80s and early 90s paid a price for their devotion. To those fans, you have my utmost respect and thanks. This is your weekend and I hope you’ll have the time of your life.
The Sky Bet Championship is a fine league. It’s one of the best leagues in the world. But when I was introduced as Fulham’s chairman in 2013, it was as chairman of a Premier League club. My goal has been to return, but to return in a responsible and sustainable manner. I know that’s been your goal as well, and I thank you for your patience, backing and support as we work together to make it happen.
Come On You Whites!
Shahid Khan, Chairman