The Tony Gale Column

Wednesday 21 November 2018 08:00

There’s plenty to get through in this column, but I want to start by thanking Slaviša Jokanović for what he did for our football club. What he achieved at Fulham deserves a lot of credit. The way we earned promotion and the friends we won on the way, playing the type of football that we did, it was a joy to behold. Let’s give Slav the credit he deserves because he got us out of the Championship, which is no mean feat.

The 2017/18 team, in terms of the quality football they played, ranks right up there I think in terms of the attacking sides in our history. You’d have to look at maybe the team I played in where we narrowly missed out on promotion to the old First Division with the likes of Ray Houghton, Paul Parker, Kevin Lock, Ray Lewington, Rob Wilson – a really good footballing side. That team deserved to play in the top flight, and it’s one of my regrets that I didn’t manage that with Fulham. One team that didn’t miss out was Jean Tigana’s. There was some great football played in that year, so those footballing teams, and Slav’s footballing team, have to be put together in the same bracket, I feel. Those three teams, as footballing sides, played with real style.

The 23 game unbeaten run, which is comfortably a club record, and that day out at Wembley mean that last season is going to go down in Fulham folklore. People will look at that and put it right up there in the same category as what Roy Hodgson achieved here. Okay, getting to the Europa League Final is a bigger feat, but certainly as days out go, there’s nothing better than winning the Play-Offs at Wembley to secure promotion to the Premier League.

Now we welcome Claudio Ranieri to Fulham. I think it’s a good appointment for us as he’ll lift the Club. The Chairman would have looked at the fact that he’s got a lot of experience. He’s got a happy demeanour, something that could be useful if there are any slumped shoulders around the training ground after recent results. As soon as he’s settled on what’s his best team, he’ll stick with it, and that’s something we need right now. I also think we’ll win a lot of friends in the press because you won’t find a more media friendly manager than Claudio.

The first thing Claudio needs to address is solidifying things at the back, and that will mean the style may have to suffer a little bit. It’s going to be interesting how he goes about things because we do need to tighten up. We’ve been too open, too easy to play against, and too easy to beat. First and foremost we’ve got to make ourselves harder to beat. Get that right, and then we’ve got the players who can open up defences. Nobody denies that we’re a decent team going forward, but we have to learn to defend as a team. That’s what he’ll have to get first, get that mentality that a team will only score against us over our dead bodies.

Southampton at the Cottage is first up for the new regime, and not only is it a hugely important fixture for us, it’s a big one for them as well because they’re not in the best of form. It’s a big game for both, and hopefully we get the run of the ball and then can get the result. I don’t think Southampton are as bad as their results have suggested. I’ve commentated on their matches twice this season, and they’ve been very unfortunate. They play some good football, most people know how Mark Hughes plays, he doesn’t put shackles on his sides. I think it’s going to be a really close, tight game, and hopefully we can nick it.

I found out recently that I’m going to be presented with the Forever Fulham award at the Leicester game, which is a nice honour. It was lovely to hear from our Club Director Dave Daly that he’d like me to receive it in recognition of what I achieved with the Club, and it will be an honour to receive. I understand there’s been a few of the boys who have got the award, it's for players who played a significant number games for the Club. I played more than 300 times for Fulham, and it was an honour to do so.

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