Hamburg - three years on

Posted by Phil Mison

The culmination of that giddy run to the Europa League final with the euphoria and pride attached to being a Fulham supporter now seems something from another world. Three seasons down the line and the faithful this May-time are fretting over do Fulham have what it takes to defeat already-relegated Reading on their own patch -- not are we good enough to go toe-to-toe with Atletico Madrid.

Carl Court/AFP/Getty ImagesTwo key penalty saves by Mark Schwarzer, right, were key in keeping Fulham out of a relegation scrap.

Much can happen to a club in three seasons. Just ask Wolves. Closer to home, how have Newcastle gone from a top-six EPL side to hovering outside the bottom three in 12 months? Having lost their last two home games 0-3 and 0-6, nerves on Tyneside must be in tatters. How lucky they were to see unambitious Fulham gift them a sloppy 93rd-minute winner up there a month ago.

We can’t blame Martin Jol for losing so narrowly in Hamburg in 2010. Nor had he anything to do with the season that followed, when Mark Hughes ultimately came round to trusting Danny Murphy to let the team tick over without radical surgery.

A very respectable finish in 2011 saw Fulham back in the Europa hat again with Martin now at the helm. This time they failed to go on from the group stage, as a slack and unprofessional performance in the final game at the Cottage proved costly. But Fulham held it together in the league to maintain top-ten status, principally on the back of a stand out season from Clint Dempsey (23 goals in all competitions).

This current campaign began with that illusory hammering of Norwich City, followed immediately by the twin hammer blows of having Clint and Mousa Dembele ripped from the bosom of the club. Fulham have never recovered, and as such now face the final three games of the season with relegation still a mathematical possibility.

That won't happen, even with big names absent and team form on the slide. By the same token, I can’t see Fulham making the top ten again either. By mid-May, the curtain falls on what has been a mediocre season from a rather mediocre squad. A forgettable season all round. But on balance, with what Fulham have had to work with, and the financial strictures under which they operate, Fulham are precisely where they deserve to be.

Plenty will say, for a small club like Fulham, that’s a job well done. Hat’s off to Martin and the board!

Now, when you pick through the bones from the past nine months, and if you recall the progress report blog I posted just prior to Stoke's visit, where I saw three points as essential to our efforts to avoid a relegation scrap, you will realise we've sailed very close to the wind. Penalty saves from Mark Schwarzer against Stoke and QPR that meant six points instead of two, along with the miraculous win at Spurs, have in the final analysis saved Fulham's skins.

Hamburg 2010 is consigned to history. So too, the majority of those players. But you cannot be passive in the Premier League and pray. The stakes are too high, the competition too cutthroat. All that Fulham have built on for the past 12 years will wash away on the next high tide unless the club approach the new season with positivity and a resolve to radically improve the side.

Fulham have hardly been throwing money around for a while now. They have a large dollop of extra cash heading our way from the new TV rights deal, and according to filed accounts, Fulham are debt-free after the chairman converted his £193 million of loans into equity. I hear from reliable sources Mr. Al Fayed remains as committed to the club as ever and is not going anywhere soon.

We supporters do our bit by shelling out all we can afford on matchday tickets and travel to give the club sellout gates every fortnight. More than that we cannot offer.

Nobody has ever shown me that investing fortunes in a football club makes for sound business sense. Millionaires live by their own rules anyway. But for this upcoming offseason, CEO Alistair Mackintosh and director Mark Collins (who reports directly to Mr. Al Fayed) have two key decisions to make. Are the club willing to make a telling financial contribution to team rebuilding (as they did for Tigana), and do they ultimately have faith in the current manager to deliver the dream? We have reached a crossroads, we will cheer and flag wave from the side-lines, but only the above can dictate our destiny.


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