Sunday 10 April 2011

Reasons To Be Cheerful

Sir Chris may have his objectives for the remainder of the season. For the rest of us I suspect it’s a case of grabbing what fun can be had, plus a series of minor issues/goals which we might as well focus on in the absence of anything else. A while back the run-in, after away at Southampton, looked like a series of winnable games during which we should cement at least a play-off spot, with dreams of nicking second. We all know what happened from mid-February to the end of March (when we managed to cram in 11 games) and when your game comes up last on the division’s highlights round-up you know the fat lady isn’t just singing but has exited stage left with a sore throat. Bournemouth losing at home to Tranmere does mean that five wins and collective implosion from six teams above us ..... OK, in reality all it means is a nasty reminder that any sort of return from those 11 games and we’d have been delaying those May travel plans. That we are not is down to us not having been good enough.

I still want us to finish above 14th – or perhaps in that spot, to mirror our previous low for my lifetime. The inevitable subsequent fresh churning of the squad means that we will have to wait some time for meaningful assessments of our promotion chances. We could dwell on the fact that our most valuable asset at the end of this season is a kid who came in to make seven appearances before deciding to decamp to the Gooners. But more positively, it is reasonable to expect us to begin the next campaign with a stronger squad than at the start of this one. Parkinson was obliged to go bargain-hunting to fill in the gaps, given our financial position, whereas this time around, although nobody can expect big-money signings, the emphasis should be on improvement. The new owners have stated as much and, after all, next season is if not promotion or bust promotion or a good deal of uncertainty and misery.

Dailly’s sending off (having seen the highlights you can have sympathy with him for his reaction but can hardly question the decision) and the prospect of him missing the rest of the season may at least clarify the outcome of the player of the season. Christian, the deserved winner last time, would have had a reasonable shout again, but his absence and the tears shed over his goal against Orient surely means that Semedo is a shoo-in. Nobody will have played more games for us this season and nobody will have tried harder. Wright-Phillips for his strike rate (albeit bettered by that of Sodje), Jackson for his goals (we have ended up missing him more than I thought we would), Elliot and even (for me) Francis deserve mention in dispatches but no more. There are downsides to having a predominantly destructive central midfield player in a 4-4-2 (and it’s not as if as a result we’ve been tight at the back), but that’s not his fault.

Last weekend also lifted my spirits. The win against Orient obviously helped, but the key was the wonderful unveiling of that statue at Fulham. Leaving aside the dubious merits of having a statue for Wacko anywhere on the planet, there is no doubt that there is only one living being who feels that it belongs at a football club. He owns the club and can do with it what he likes, irrespective of the wishes of Fulham supporters. But to have that message driven home, especially with his tasteless response to criticism of the monument, must make those fans pause before signing up for another season when their love of their team means so little to its owner. ‘Here’s my money, love me’ seems to be the mantra. Well, ‘can we just have your money and pretend to love you, just like you pretend to value our opinion’ might be the appropriate response. So it was with absolute delight to see when the covers were pulled off an utterly ghastly, plastic caricature. It is an appropriate tribute, reflecting the dire ‘artwork’ that Wacko himself apparently used to collect (and reminiscent of the treasures unearthed in Saddam Hussein’s lair). The fact that Al-Fayed can’t see it adds to the pleasure. When Fulham eventually have a new owner, and those supporters are still there, it would be a nice gesture to allow them to haul it down.

Richard Murray used to draw comparisons with Fulham and the amounts that Al-Fayed was prepared to pour into their club. Those millions have kept them in the Premiership, but you don’t get owt for nowt. When he tires of it Fulham will be in trouble, knowing that one bad season could be curtains. Yes, it still rankles that we went down instead of them – and instead of West Ham. I’ve nothing against either club or their supporters, but you still hope for belated justice. And I doubt that Sheffield Utd fans staring at another relegation will have any sympathy if the Hammers go down. Justice for the Tevez scandal and fair return for their unlovable new owners; I just hope (forlornly) that Orient get the Olympics stadium decision reversed.

So, at the risk once more of putting too positive a gloss on things, we can take heart from the prospect that unlike last summer we can feel more secure about the club’s financial position (not the size of the losses, just the ability to fund them) and broadly reassured by the actions and intentions of our own new owners. We’ve read the reports about their questionable past, don’t know how much money is really available, and can’t be sure about whose money it is (and whether we are just an acceptable laundering operation). But we still have Murray’s pledges and to date they’ve done everything to deserve the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t agree at the time with the decision to sack Parkinson, but we avoided the unpalatable Wise, have a decent man as manager who we all hope proves himself, Slater impresses with his appearances and comments, and the signing of Wright-Phillips (plus bringing in the criminally underused Eccleston) was a move that might have been the key to promotion.

Hopefully these factors will be the launching pad for getting us back up. Personally, I’m going to stop talking about hating this crap division; as Powell has said, we have to put together a team capable of thriving in it, whatever that entails. And by the way, the (unsafe) assumption that the deadline for season ticket renewals would be extended and the priority of a work-related Amsterdam trip meant that I didn’t get around to renewing mine in time. The cheque consequently isn’t in the post, but it will be.

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