It stays in the dressing-room

Posted by Phil Mison

Jan Kruger/Getty ImagesMartin Jol's Fulham still have some work to do before being safe from relegation.

When it comes to internal matters of discipline, rancour, ill-feeling and, well a good old fashioned exchange of views, all football clubs are quick to put up the shutters. Hence the standard rebuff should reporters come sniffing round on rumours of a bust up is "Things have been said and that will remain inside the dressing-room."

Close your eyes and you can picture Sir Alex, florid of face, working the gum furiously round his mouth as the mike shakes in our intrepid reporter's hands beneath a gaze of pure hatred. From my early days I remember a chill blast descending across the pressroom as Kenny Dalglish focused on my questioning of his Liverpool side. There was a long pause as those icy blue eyes looked me up and down: "What are you, some kind of master tactician?" I was friendless in that room as the skin on my scalp shrivelled, along with my manhood, and my question went unanswered.

Talking of the Govan bruiser, he must be getting soft with age, but he's been a cuddly old bear for much of the season. Must have a lot to do with United's stroll to the title as any real opposition melts away. Still, there are enough games left, and with the Reds starting to speak again of another treble, it will only take one dubious decision against his side for the sparks to fly. Which reminds me that it was only two seasons ago Fergie was fulminating against the shabby, second-rate changing room facilities at dear old Fulham. This after the Whites had had the temerity to battle back for a well-earned 2-2 draw at the death.

"Big man loses stature in small room," was how I titled the story at the time. We had some fun with it on the blog and dear old David Lloyd reproduced it - unedited - later in the season in his excellent fanzine TOOFIF (even if he didn't ask my permission). Apart from Joey Barton, you are unlikely to find many instances where the pros have broken the wall of silence. And what a shame that is. The stories may come out many years down the line in autobiographies, but what's the point of that? With passions cooled and the protagonists gone from the stage, the stories are staler than the X Factor format. But the boys know better, loose talk and indiscretions are the quickest route to purdah, and a hefty internal fine.

One has sympathy for Sir Alex in some respects. The dressing rooms at Fulham are very tight, and with the away one hard up alongside the main exit gates at the Putney End, you can imagine Fergie giving it hells bells as paint peels from the walls, and the crowd streams out under the window.

I have it on good authority that at Fulham, in the home dressing room, also compact to say the least, and sitting snugly underneath the Cottage, things are a lot more civilised. My sources tell me that our manager is not given to raising his voice at half-time. Aware of how thin the walls are, Jol contents himself by and large with handing round orange segments during the interval and making sure there is an ash-tray to hand for Dimitar. He may have a few quiet words with the lads as they file out for the second period, but it tends to be more of a pat on the back and word of encouragement, than any barnstorming urgency to buck up and get into the game. This goes some way to explaining the lethargy in much of Fulham's play this season during the second half.

Fulham have also been caught out, and the team has suffered accordingly, with the facilities for recent away trips to both Manchester clubs. The dressing rooms are so large at both the Etihad and Old Trafford Jol didn't realise his words were not carrying to the back wall. With a steamy atmosphere adding to the problems Martin failed to notice that three players were out in the corridor arguing who had first claim on van Persie's shirt, Mark spent 15 minutes on the toilet while Hangeland and Duff took a short nap and Bryan was reading a comic with his headphones on.

Fans have repeatedly asked why the side comes out and plays as poorly in the second half as it has in the first. There's your answer. Time to get the message across Martin.


ESPN Conversations