Football: Delight runs deep for their Kev

Some fans now have two reasons to cheer their manager's successes.
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The Independent Online
FULHAM HAS never been your average football club and Fulham pubs are not your average football hostelries. The Cottage down by the riverside in south-west London has an aviary in the beer garden; not that Kevin Keegan was ever in danger of getting the bird there yesterday.

"Love him to bits," trilled one fan as Mohamed's messiah flashed his smile onto the big screen, leading England out for the first of his four- parter.

"Blimey," said another, "Kev's dyed his hair. He's had the Grecian 2000 job." It soon became apparent that not a strand of that coiffure was about to be torn out when Paul Scholes, that red-headed Keegan player-a-like, set the Fulham faithful leaping with his first-half double take. "Typical Keegan," was the typical comment.

But in a moment of sobriety which followed the Polish goal someone else remarked: "Typical Keegan. England will probably win 4-3." So perhaps, for once, it wasn't typically Keegan.

And, like club and pub, Fulham fans are not typical football fans. They are an eclectic bunch and some even privately admit to being a bit miffed that their Corinthian cosiness has been disturbed by the arrival of Mohamed's millions and Keegan mania. There are those who have never really yearned for their dear old Fulham to be anything but part of a happy family of followers, despite being very much in the shadow of its big brother Chelsea just up the Fulham Road.

Since the arrival of the game's ultimate passion player Saturday afternoons have never been quite the same in Fulham. Nor was yesterday in The Cottage, with the premature spring weather being more conducive to an afternoon in the park than the pub.

That's why, in spite of the presence of around 200 Sky watchers, there was still enough room to swing a pint and reflect on what Keegan's elevation to England actually means to Fulham. Inevitably, there has been a bitter- sweet reaction. David Lloyd, the editor of the Fanzine There's only one F in Fulham (now also popularly known as There's only one F in Fayed) explained: "Kevin has been up front with us ever since he got here, so we must believe it when he says he doesn't want the England job full-time, whatever the outcome of these four matches. But who really knows what might happen? It would be pretty awful if, after being given this lift, we were let down with a bump, but we must be philosophical.

"What's good for England is good for football. It gives the game a buzz from club level upwards. Anyway, Kevin doing two jobs has not made much difference so far, we've only dropped two points since his England appointment was announced."

Only one F in Fulham - and not an eff or blind to be heard in The Cottage on such an upbeat afternoon. Fulham fans are also a pretty decorous bunch, by nature, it seems.

Mark Leyland, once, he says, for his sins a Lincoln City supporter before throwing in his lot with Fulham, reckons that most fans are taking a realistic attitude about the future. "Most look on it as a nice little adventure and are relishing it while it lasts. It is hard to be convinced that if things work out well for England, Kevin will stay here or that Mr Fayed's money will keep rolling in.

"But knowing Keegan's character, we can be pretty sure that he won't leave without seeing that the club's finances are in good order and that there's a decent manager in his place.

"In fact, while you think about it there's no reason why he shouldn't keep his present title as chief operations officer and put a good manager in under him while continuing to look after England part-time. Most full-time managers of England have had crap endings anyway."

Fulham, one of the few clubs to be located in an uppish-market, residential area, have always had their fair share of luvvy-cum-lately followers, as well as local toffs and their totty. Naturally, with the Keegan bandwagon rolling so spiritedly, more have jumped aboard.

But the real Fulham faithful in The Cottage seemed as happy for England yesterday as they were for their own beloved little club. When Mohamed decided to create his own football mountain it must have felt as if they had won the Lottery. Should Keegan go, all they might be left with is an empty Harrod's hamper.

One down, three to play for England - and all to play for Fulham. The coming months will be intriguing for these not-so Craven Cottagers. As they know only too well, Keegan is the master tactician when it comes to playing both ends against the middle.