To our supporters from throughout SW6 and beyond, I welcome you to Craven Cottage for today’s match against Brentford. I also would like to send my personal best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and holiday season, wherever you may be celebrating. I hope the season is filled with family, friends and good football, and I’ll touch on some of our team events around the holidays later in my notes.
Before I discuss where we are, and what’s ahead, I want to take this opportunity to thank Kit Symons for everything he gave to Fulham over the years, especially recently as your First Team Manager. Kit led us to a number of signature and memorable victories over the past two seasons, but above all we should never forget his excellent work in the backroom and on the pitch after we’d started so poorly last fall. I’ll always appreciate Kit’s contributions to Fulham and hope you’ll join me in wishing him and his family all the best in the years to come.
And, I’d be remiss to overlook Peter Grant, who did an admirable job for us in a caretaker role over the past three matches. Peter is returning to his role as coach of Fulham’s Under-21s, and that’s a vital responsibility at a club like Fulham, where player development is of the highest priority.
At this moment, the only thing of greater importance than nurturing our homegrown talent is finding the right man to take the reins of our First Team. And because that’s taking some time - and deservedly so - we didn’t want to divide Peter’s time between caretaker duties and his important responsibility with our Under-21s. With that, we’ve welcomed Stuart Gray as our Senior Coach who will lead the team as our search for the full-time appointment proceeds. And as long as that search may take, we should have great confidence in knowing Stuart is in charge of the First Team, assisted by Steve Wigley.
As Mike Rigg, our Chief Football Officer, said earlier this week, Stuart brings many favourable qualities to address the challenges in front of us today. Stuart had success as a caretaker at Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers, and he knows the Championship from his excellent work as head coach at Sheffield Wednesday. Our players fully understand that Stuart has complete authority as our search for a full-time Head Coach continues. I, therefore, expect our players to perform exceedingly well for him and, of course, on behalf of the FFC badge and our supporters everywhere.
I recognise that our search is taking longer than some supporters wanted or expected. I can appreciate that and would love to have had this process completed by now as well. Had we considered only managers who are currently out of work, indeed we would have wrapped this up weeks ago. We also could have easily chosen one of a number of men desperate to escape a bad situation at their current club. And we could have signed one of numerous applicants who were ready to start the next day, if we were willing to possibly overlook a flaw or two in their portfolio.
None of those choices are acceptable, of course. We’re looking for the best possible fit for Fulham - someone who is accomplished yet offers excellent promise, and above all is committed to the dual objective of promotion and sustainable success. In other words, the complete package.
Many of the best options in that regard, for the most part, are currently and understandably employed. Nevertheless, if there’s a manager or head coach we’re interested in, and he’s working at this time, we will consider him a candidate. Also, we’re not limiting our search to England or the United Kingdom. There are many attractive candidates who are doing great things throughout Europe and beyond. Our eyes are wide open to all the possibilities.
Given this, our search for the next Fulham Head Coach was always going to be, logically, a bit more complex than if we were to simplify matters by considering only candidates who are between jobs. Despite that complexity, we’ve had a number of meaningful exchanges with excellent candidates. I have personally been in London, and elsewhere, for meetings and will continue to make as many trips as needed, and do whatever it takes, to make the right choice.
We understand it’s in everyone’s best interests at Fulham to achieve certainty as soon as possible. While we won’t rush matters under any circumstances - we will be thorough - please do know that we’re committed every hour of the day to bringing this process to a timely and highly successful closure. There’s more than half the season ahead and the players we have on our side today are capable of great things. You’ve seen it at times over the past several months. I believe we’ll see it again, but on a more consistent basis.
Finally, as we continue to consider our options, I want to note that I feel very strongly that there’s no place in football to comment publicly on confidential negotiations. To do anything differently is personally unfair to those who may be affected. So, we’ll never be in the business of confirming or denying accounts in the news media until there’s something official to report. I wish we could be more engaged with you during this process, as I take very seriously the obligation of being as forthright and accessible with our loyal supporters as possible. Fulham is your club, and your hunger for information is understood and appreciated. I ask for your understanding in the meantime and look forward to the day when we can communicate with you a bit more freely.
There’s one item on the football side that I definitely would like to brag about publicly, and that’s the prestigious honour earned earlier this week by Kevin Betsy, our Under-15s and 16s Head Coach. Kevin was named Youth Development Phase Coach of the Year by the Football Association during an awards celebration on Sunday night at St. George’s Park, and I ask all Whites fans to join me in saluting him for his dedication to one of our core principles, and that’s developing the next generation of talent at Fulham. Congratulations, Kevin!
Finally, I do hope you’ll be able to return to the Cottage on Monday 21st December for the annual Junior Christmas Party. There’s always great fun for our junior fans who can expect to meet some of the players after their training that day. For our more seasoned supporters, there’s the trip to Derby County on Boxing Day. And before I forget, I want to thank supporters for their excellent response in purchasing Half-Season Tickets. It’s good to know I’m far from alone in my optimism!
To everyone reading, I’m unable to adequately thank you for standing by Fulham Football Club no matter the circumstances, but please accept my most sincere appreciation all the same. A new calendar year and the many possibilities it holds is just around the corner. I appreciate you making the journey with us, but not before collecting points at home today versus our friends from Brentford and on Tuesday against Ipswich Town. Let’s start the New Year right with a late run in 2015.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year… and Come On You Whites!
Shahid Khan, Chairman