Football: Football shows regret for its darker side

The bank of flowers was continually being added to, and fans crowded round to read the messages...; Stephen Brenkley sees Fulham make a winning tribute to a fan who was killed last week
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ALONG the riverside walk to Craven Cottage yesterday and the gritty match which ultimately sustained Fulham's promotion aspirations, fans dawdled pleasantly. There were abundant spring smiles about and from the generations and genders on view it was safe to assume that football truly was a family game.

Outside Putney Bridge underground station two mounted policemen sat astride their horses and chatted jauntily to a woman from the hairdressing salon opposite. They gave barely a glance to the passing spectators. There was obviously no need. It was all extremely convivial.

Outside the ground the mood changed. There was a bank of flowers in front of the main gate. The pile was continually being added to - by Fulham and Preston supporters alike - and they crowded round to read the messages. Here it was then, the touching, awful reminder that football, whatever image it likes to project and whatever it would like to think of itself, is not yet fun for all the family.

Those bouquets and scarves and shirts were a tribute to the Fulham fan Matthew Fox, who had been killed in an incident after the club's match at Gillingham a week earlier. His death and the subsequent revelation that he was known to police investigating hooligan activities had provoked a week of speculation and doom-mongery that football yobbism is back.

The atmosphere was sombre where the flowers lay but along the road a bit some Preston fans were looking distraught for different reasons. They had been told there were no seats for away fans and they would have to stand on the open terrace.

A policeman explained that the force had advised the club on segregation and the club had heeded the advice. Since these fans were a group of small schoolboys being stewarded by a young female teacher this might have been a case of overheeding, but you could see the point.

The Hammersmith End, where Matthew Fox stood for many of his 24 years as a fan, was packed. There was not a murmur from there or anywhere else during the minute's silence in his memory before the match. The players and officials stood round the centre circle - a wreath placed by the Fox family was on the centre spot - as they do to mark the deaths of footballing heroes. If Matthew Fox was not that, this was a reminder of where football could yet go.

From the Fulham programme it was clear the match was to be played in his honour. Without saying as much, most articles therein said the boys should do it for Foxie. It did not quite work out like that at the outset, although Fulham did win 2-1. Fulham have been expensively assembled by the normal lights of the Second Division and any side containing Paul Bracewell and Peter Beardsley always has a chance. It was not much of a day for them.

The wind had got up by now and even cute little balls along the ground were being affected. Fulham, desperate for the points to stay in the play- off positions, were direct enough.

Paul Peschisolido, another of their big signings at more than pounds 1m, was unafraid to have a go. There was a shot swerving high from 30 yards, a little turn and stab past the post and a header which hit the bar. You could sense Matthew Fox's beloved Hammersmith End getting a touch restless. Preston took the lead in the 32nd minute and if it wasn't quite against the run of play it was not with it either. John Macken forced the ball home at the far post.

Fulham were late out for the second half and had a renewed spring in their step. At last their directness paid off. Matthew Brazier pulled them level and Wayne Collins with another shot which split the ranks of Preston's defence put them ahead.

One of the shirts outside the main gate bore the whimsical Fulham message: "Not everything in black and white makes sense". Underneath it had been scrawled "nor does the death of a fan". But Matthew Fox would have loved the result.