Fan's Eye View: No 204: Fulham

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The Independent Online
Oh dear - another crisis. Isn't it strange how they nearly always occur in the Premiership. Already this season we've had crises at Arsenal (Rioch's sudden departure and then the wait for Wenger), Manchester United (Cantona's drop in form and the loss of their 40-year unbeaten home record in Europe), Newcastle (Keegan jumps ship), and Middlesbrough (will their multi-million pound foreign imports ever stop squealing?). To name but four. Now West Ham are in terminal decline because they've lost a few games. Crises? What a load of tosh!

A crisis - at least in footballing terms - is when a club plummets down the division, teeters precariously over the trapdoor to the Conference while simultaneously fighting for its very existence. Brighton fans will be only too aware of the sentiments. As will Bournemouth's.

Twelve months ago Fulham were on the crest of a slump. Just 22 years on from an FA Cup final appearance and 14 years since very nearly regaining a place in the top flight Fulham looked on the way out. Craven Cottage, once the home of several superstars who have graced the world stage plus a host of domestic heroes, was gloomy.

Matchday atmosphere became increasingly doom-laden. No ground; no money; no wins; no style. No hope. One off the bottom of the League and staring at the signpost marked "Oblivion''. Couldn't anyone break the vicious circle?

Enter Micky Adams. And just look at us now! In the biggest turnaround since Cyril Smith went jiving, Fulham have dominated the Third Division proceedings so far this season. As I write they have the highest points total in the entire League and Adams must take the bulk of the credit.

He swapped the player-coach mantle for that of player-manager when Ian Branfoot moved "upstairs'' last February. Adams set about doing things his way. Like Branfoot he has a no-nonsense approach; but unlike Branfoot he has proved more flexible in his tactical approach.

A more fluid ball-to-feet style took us up to 17th by the season's end. Tellingly, Adams insisted he should be judged not on that improvement but on what he could achieve in 1996-97 - with his team. A mini clear- out followed and a relative flurry of transfer activity saw him fashion a squad with resilience, heart, fitness and no little skill.

Smiles were broader than average after the 1-0 win over Hereford on the opening day. The club had received planning permission - at long, long last - to build flats on the periphery of the site. The go-ahead for the scheme, seen as a viable means of aiding the re-purchase of the freehold, signalled better days ahead.

Since then, however, we've heard very little from official sources. The local press has carried tales of a local titled resident taking an appeal to the European courts, so halting any tendering process for the building work.Yet Fulham's matchday programme hasn't bothered to mention this, or indeed very much else.

Fulham fans should be grateful to the Fulham Board. Above all we're still at Craven Cottage, whether by accident or design. Also, the directors have had the foresight to give Micky Adams a five-year contract.

But fans who have dipped deep to help the Fulham 2000 fund-raising campaign, who have given their time and energy to help the cause in a number ways, and who, crucially, stuck with the club when the going got especially tough, at least deserve to be kept informed. Whenever that word "crisis'' has been mentioned by Jimmy Hill and Co over the years, we've stumped up.

While I'm at it - and here's an alternative view - Ian Branfoot should take a bow, too. Although unable to halt the team's decline as team manager, he's done much to improve the club. Fulham was in a shambolic state on his arrival. Dilapidated facilities, no reserve team, and dreadful morale all round. Branfoot successfully attacked these issues and has continued in that vein as general manager. Don't forget also that among the players he brought in was one Adams, M.

Crisis? Well we're not out of the woods just yet. But whatever the rest of the season holds, it's currently fun time at the Cottage again. C'mon you Whites!