Monday, 21 February 2011

90 Minutes Of Mourning

Just got back from a funeral. It was a sad day. The departed was the once beautiful game of football. The pall-bearers were Bolton Wanderers FC. The service was conducted by the Reverend Stuart Atwell.
Many of us witnessed the murder, watched the agonising death drawn-out over several seasons. The police may be getting involved. The F.A. are not helping them with their enquiries.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Fulham's New Income Stream?

What mystery is this? Has Mr. Al Fayed, eager to find a new source of revenue, begun drilling for oil in the sedimentary rock deep beneath the London clay? Are barrels of 'Egyptian Crude' about to become a hot commodity on the international financial markets? Whatever the explanation, this curious rig has recently appeared a few metres west of Putney Bridge.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A Howl Of Indifference: Fulham 0 Wolves 0

Following a heartening aggregate victory over Wolfsburg in the Europa League, the lupine theme continued with the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers, two cities that are, unfortunately, not twinned with each other. A missed opportunity by the respective city’s elders, I fear.

The heat of the sun, and a common triumphing over relegation, engendered a suffocating ambience, with both teams slow to anger throughout. In fact, the players demonstrated as much desire to wrestle with fate as the inflatable lamb being tossed around amongst the boisterous Wolves supporters.

With the visitors mimicking Fulham’s typically obdurate away displays, together the two teams conspired to choke any panache out of the game. Despite the impending stalemate, Zoltan Gera’s renaissance continued with an edgy, probing display. Indeed, it was only his effort and creativity that threatened to rupture the indifference gripping the Fulham players.

In the second-half, Damien Duff was granted a golden opportunity to purloin a few more points and make the overhauling of Birmingham City in the league table considerably more achievable. However, when released on goal by Gera he showed a disappointing lack of faith in his right foot, his - now almost trademark - switch to his left allowing Elokobi to intervene. Similarly, Bobby Zamora, on the rare occasion that he escaped from Craddock’s claustrophobic embraces, crafted a fine shot on the turn from 18 yards that glanced from the post.

But this was a training game in all but name. A nonchalant scuffle, and no more. As the second-half proceeded in slow motion, calls for substitutions to inject a little vim increased but, oddly, Hodgson resisted to the end. Although not one to wilfully exploit his bench, it was a curious decision. Despite the lack of urgency, this was an attritional, energy-sapping outing, with an incredibly significant Europa League semi-final against Hamburg approaching. Even if additional Premier League points were deemed dispensable, the logic of withdrawing a few players in preparation for that game would have appeared inarguable. One can only assume that maximising the together-time of the players set to play was considered a greater priority.

Volcanic ash notwithstanding, one hopes that the atmosphere this Thursday is a touch more volatile, and the expansion of lungs considerably more enthused.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Defensive Zen: Liverpool 0 Fulham 0

It is evident that Liverpool’s squad is superior to Fulham’s, in both ability and market value. No debate is required on this. However, at Anfield they were resolutely equal on goals scored, and points taken.

Statistically speaking, Liverpool dominated this game. They had 65% of the possession, compared to Fulham’s 35%, and a similar territorial dominance of 66% to 34%. They had 17 shots and 10 corners while the visitors achieved only 1 of each. And so on.

It appears, then, that Fulham “parked the bus”. At least one match report has reiterated Mourinho's famous gripe, and it still carries all the disapproval it did when the then-Chelsea manager coined it.

Liverpool can at least console themselves with this numerical superiority, then, and talk, as they have done, of “deserving” to win. But did they? Should they be able to claim a moral victory here?

Consider this: whose game plan prevailed, Roy’s or Rafa’s? Which manager optimised their resources, deploying their squad most effectively in view of the aforementioned imbalance between the teams?

Open, aesthetically-attractive football remains the holy grail for all teams and their supporters, but there should be no shame here, and there will be no apologies.

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t a 90-minute circus of defensive confusion, with players flailing around like human flak trying to deflect enemy missiles. This was a disciplined, syncopated display. Fulham’s midfield and back fours were lined up like ranks of soldiers, each player engaging when required, before resuming their position, exactly as drilled.

This was a team committed to their manager’s philosophy, and dedicated to faithfully executing his astute tactics.

In fact, I saw a nobility in the defending, an admirable stoicism. There were periods when watching them repel an attack, only to stand their ground and invite another one forward, became almost hypnotic. Dare I say it, there was poetry in their industry. It was defensive zen.

Thorough my biased prism I even felt they were almost, at times, taking a perverse pleasure in it all, encouraging the opposition to do their worst. Go on, punch me there…I felt nowt!

Strangely, it even brought to mind the 1974 Heavyweight Championship fight in Zaire, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s notorious “Rumble in the Jungle”, with Fulham mirroring Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactics. Early on, the challenger had deliberately backed himself onto the ropes, inviting pressure from hard-hitting World Champion Foreman. Ali had identified his opponent’s strengths and set out to negate them - why try to compete on his terms? In fact, if Fulham’s single goal-bound shot - Damien Duff’s 91st minute finger-stinger - had gone in, it would have replicated what made that fight so spectacular. In the 8th round Ali switched his strategy from defence to attack, and took victory by knockout.

It was not to be for Fulham but, for me, this was a most honourable draw.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Saint Wayne: An X-Rated Feature

What a queer compote of the sacred and the profane ITV’s coverage of the Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich game served up last night.

It began with a hushed, awe-struck, announcement that not only had Mr. Wayne Rooney been delivered from physio purgatory into the squad, but - saints preserve us! - he would be starting the game. What trickery was this? What elusive, mystical manoeuvrings had outwitted the logic to which the sporting world had been so naively clinging?

Steve Rider was not backed by choirs of angels, but they were not required. The anchor’s wide-eyed wonder was evangelical enough. So, should all the hardcore atheists, as one, run for cover? Could this single, miraculous occurrence, dispel the papal paedophilia outrage, and dig poor, beleaguered Joe Ratzinger out of a hole?

Somehow, the lame had been made whole again, and we were left wondering whether Old Trafford might become the new Lourdes. Could lengths of yellow and green acrylic emerge as holy relics for the modern age?

But all this worshipping was merely foreplay. What followed was the creation of a new erotic genre: ankle porn. Already aroused with wonder, the viewers were treated to endless, lingering shots of the the sacred soft-tissue, of those unburstable blood vessels. There it was, actually functioning, treading the expectant turf, intercut with shots of its resurrected owner suspended somewhere between beatitude and orgasm.

Even when, during the game, he appeared to suffer the same trauma as the previous week - the money shot, surely - we were shown almost balletic footage of limbs entwining in soft-focus slow-mo. Despite being reduced to a limp spectator, the disciples still rhapodised his impact at half-time - it appears that his assist for the opening goal could not have been performed by any of the other Man Utd players, and hence his inclusion had been a wise one.

Only Sir Alex threatened to undermine the magic when revealing that, actually, the injury had been a mild one, and the medical team had, whilst operating purely within the realms of science, assisted its recovery. What a party pooper, eh! What a Judas!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Resurrection: Fulham 2 Wigan 1

This was a curiously airless encounter. One that began to peter out from the first whistle, and to leech from the memory soon after the final one.

Gulls hung above the Riverside stand, off-white against the grey clouds drifting through the sunshine. There was only sporadic chanting from the sub-capacity crowd, many of whom were more captivated by their smart phones. In the pockets of silence, players could be heard shouting to each other.

It was strange to consider that this was a Premier League match, with all the largesse and hyperbole that typically entails. It was closer in temper and ambience to a village green cricket match.

There was understandable anxiety that Fulham might be in the midst of another post-european hangover and would concede the game meekly, as they had done against Manchester City a fortnight earlier. On that occasion they were still intoxicated with, and exhausted by, their transcendent victory over Juventus. This time, one hoped that despite their fine win over Wolfsburg, they might still be feeling winded by their late concession in that game, and perhaps be eager to exorcise their frustration with a clinical, unblinking, victory.

Sadly not. A woozy first-half, played out in treacle, had few pulses quickening. It gave one ample time to wonder how a team able to dispatch Shakthar Donetsk and Juventus, could conjur such labour out of overcoming an anaemic outfit like Wigan. Little was happening, and often.

Elm was making a decent fist of being target-man but will only ever be Zamora-lite. However, the post-match revelations that he was still harbouring a virus, clearly negates most criticism. Gera was busy being busy, buzzing around the opposition defence, dropping off for the ball, and displaying a stirring tenacity despite his repeated manhandling.

Danny Murphy’s passing continues to be something of a lucky dip, whilst Dickson Etuhu frequently appears startled by the appearance of a football rolling towards his feet. Damien Duff was the usual brew of drive and dynamism, and Simon Davies again occupied the right-back berth like he was born to it.

Dismissed penalty appeals combining with the paucity of chances had my mind fast-forwarding to the final minutes. I envisioned Wigan rupturing a drab 0-0 with a late goal. With that scenario in mind, it was better for them to score early, and Jason Scotland’s 34th minute drive at least acted to dispel the soporific atmosphere and inject a little urgency.

At half-time, Stefano Okaka replaced the ailing Elm. I immediately began to fear a collision between the Italian loanee and Titus Bramble, concerned that the resultant fission might initiate a tidal wave in the adjacent river Thames. Apparently, ways of harnessing the friction between his huge lycra-clad thighs are being investigated in order to reduce the Craven Cottage electricity tariff. There’s got to be at least a few floodlight’s worth there.

90 seconds into the second-half, the game stirred. Gera stole the ball off the promenading Sharner by the corner flag, and squared it across the box for Okaka to snub the ball over the prostrate Kirkland. 11 minutes later, Brede Hangeland, aware that no-one was marking him, made a determined run at Duff’s corner and angled it, perfectly, towards the far corner of the Wigan goal. It pinged the post and settled in the net.

The rest of the game was a blur of attrition: Fulham continued fairly comfortably, although their concentration did threaten to fracture at times. Often their well-practiced passing and possession can seem to almost hypnotise them, and the need to attack slip their minds.

And so the game expired. Its demeanour, however, should not diminish the importance of the victory. These 3 points almost certainly preserve Fulham’s Premiership tenure whilst providing a fine fillip prior to their match with Wolfsburg this Thursday.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sky Blue Thinking: Fulham 1 Man City 2

Sometimes, no matter how strong the desire, the body will not respond.

In an understandable slump between the climactic night of passion against Juventus last Thursday, and burgeoning mental preparations for Wednesday’s FA Cup Quarter-Final replay against Spurs, Fulham, trapped within a kind of footballing refractory period, could not perform here.

Only two changes were made (Murphy for Kelly; Smalling for Hangeland) from the preceding Europa League game. Many were surprised that with so many fresh and rested understudies, all eager to impress, that there wasn’t a more substantial re-organisation of the team.

The defeat was no surprise. A draw was almost conjured, but the lacklustre opening half permitted too great a deficit to reverse. The final whistle, then, was met with something of a collective shoulder shrug. Nevertheless, being able to almost nonchalantly write off a home defeat is a remarkable testament to how far the club has come.

That said, the low point for me was that one of their goals happened to be scored by a certain Mr. Tevez. He may possess a mercurial talent, but for one with a sensitive disposition, being exposed to his repulsive sphincter-thrusting routine provided an unnecessarily gruesome distraction.

I’m afraid, that when combined with the cauldron-stirring schtick, and the crazed, leering eyes, it suggests nothing less than a witch from Macbeth on Viagra.