Good afternoon and welcome to Craven Cottage for what I hope is the second-to-last home fixture of the 2016/17 campaign. As you’re all aware, a victory today means that, barring an implausible mathematical outcome elsewhere in the table, Fulham Football Club will qualify for the Sky Bet Championship Play-Offs and we’ll return to the Cottage beyond the regular season. What a deserving occasion that would be for Head Coach Slaviša Jokanović, our players and staff, and particularly our supporters!
While I expect our side to rise to the challenge this afternoon, I also know this will be a difficult test. Our visitors from Brentford are about to conclude a very impressive season, with a finish in the top half of the table possible - especially if they leave Craven Cottage today with a favourable outcome. Beyond the points at stake, this is a London derby that features probably one of the more spirited rivalries in the game today. We all know the delight Brentford would enjoy if they were to disrupt our excellent run of results and complicate our intention to land one of the four Play-Off berths.
So, in summary, today’s match may be a difficult one on the nerves. But, considering where we were a year ago, it feels great to put our nerves to the test - both on the pitch and in the stands - because it means we’re playing meaningful football with something of value in the balance. Where once we needed positive results in April to avoid dire circumstances, now we aim to stockpile points late in the season so we may realise our goal of promotion. The transition over the past year has been dramatic and welcome and, given our current form, we certainly have reason to be optimistic this afternoon as well as next Sunday at Sheffield Wednesday.
Whatever the next two matches may produce, I will say now that we have a lot to be proud of this season. Yes, the opportunity to seize promotion has been our goal from the day we welcomed Slaviša to our club, but that would be stating the obvious. What has been most gratifying in our mission to return to the Premier League is the manner in which we’ve re-established Fulham Football Club as an entity in English football. We not only matter again, but we’re earning widespread respect and praise for playing an assertive style that manages to entertain and inspire without compromising the ultimate objective of climbing the ladder in the table. This isn’t an easy balance to strike, but all credit to Slaviša and our players as that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Now that every team in the Championship has two regular season matches remaining, it’s rewarding to see Fulham as the highest-scoring club in the league with 82 goals. Our goal difference of plus-27 is second only to Newcastle United and league leaders Brighton & Hove Albion, both recently promoted to the Premier League. Perhaps the best part of this storyline is we’ve had 16 players score at least once. Our top league scorers, Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen, share the team lead with 11 goals apiece. Chris Martin, with 10, is the only other player to reach double digits. Our turnaround season has been a family affair, with nearly everyone able to claim a significant contribution to our success as well as provide promise for the future. And that extends to goalkeeping, where David Button and Marcus Bettinelli have each done their part to ensure that our advantage in goal difference will never be in question should we find ourselves in a tie-breaker position.
I could go on breaking down the statistical data or reminiscing over memorable moments this season, and there have been many. I also fully recognise that if we come up empty in our next two matches, the summer may be one of severe disappointment. But for the first time in my four seasons as your chairman, we enter every match with the expectation of winning. For that, I thank Slaviša, our players and everyone associated with our football operations who’ve played a role in assembling our squad. Our rise is directly attributable to teamwork, every day and at every level.
I’d also like to recognise and thank Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon for each earning a spot on the PFA Championship Team of the Year, and give special recognition to Tom for being named EFL Player of the Year at the London Football Awards. Both of these young men have consistently delivered for FFC, often in thrilling fashion. Well done Tom and Ryan!
Actually, I will allow myself to recall my most memorable moment of the year, and that was Tom’s strike in injury time against Leeds United. Does anyone have a better moment from 2016/17? How important was that goal to salvage a point? And how important is that point right now? Sincere thanks Tom!
I also am happy to salute Scott Malone, who was named in the Championship Team of the Season as part of the English Football League Awards several weeks ago. Four clubs placed multiple players in the final XI, but Scott cracked through as the lone media-voted representative, not only from FFC, but the rest of the entire league. In a Fulham team that has been heralded for its prolific attack, it’s nice to see Scott duly noted for his steady and reliable play in defence. Congratulations Scott!
Finally, good luck to the Whites’ PL2 squad, which will travel to Newcastle on 8th May for the Semi-Finals of the Play-Offs. I’ll always stress the importance of homegrown talent, and we have a chance early next month to further solidify Fulham Football Club as one of England’s finest names in developing elite footballers who will serve us or their national teams for many years to come.
It’s been a fascinating and enthralling season, one of many more highs than lows and hopefully a campaign that we’ll celebrate for a long time to come. No matter how this ends next month, two things are for certain - we’re on the right path and we’re travelling it with the best supporters in football. May you be rewarded this afternoon, and may we see each other here in a couple more weeks for one more home match. Thank you everyone.
Come On You Whites!
Shahid Khan, Chairman