Football: Fulham's future looks bright

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The Independent Online
FULHAM have made almost as many enemies as new admirers since Mohammed Al Fayed turned his considerable financial attention towards a famous old club languishing near the bottom of the Nationwide League. But despite failure to reach the Second Division promotion play-off final this week, a disappointment that followed shortly after the abrupt dismissal of Ray Wilkins as team manager, it would still be hard to find a genuine Fulham supporter wishing to turn the clock back.

Their pounds 8m team is the envy of every other club in their division, and a good many others besides, but Al Fayed is not the first of English football's new generation of mega-rich proprietors to discover that money does not buy you instant success. Ironically, it was the sending-off of one of their more expensive acquisitions, Paul Peschisolido, that did much to undermine Fulham's hopes in the play-off semi-final second leg at Grimsby on Wednesday.

They came close but, as Kevin Keegan, their erstwhile chief operations manager and now team manager, said after the 1-0 defeat that consigned Fulham to at least another year in the Second Division: "My job is to make sure we get into the Premiership within four years now. We're a bit short of time but it'll make it more exciting."

Judging by the comments flowing into The Fulham Independent website yesterday that is exactly how it is seen by the majority of their fans, both old and new. Little more than two years after struggling near the foot of the Third Division, recent attendance records are being broken at Craven Cottage and with players like Peschisolido and Chris Coleman alongside the more experienced Paul Bracewell and Peter Beardsley the future looks bright.

Whether Keegan will be a part of that future, and in what role, remains to be seen. It is believed he will appoint a new manager in the summer and revert to his previous job, but if he found it difficult keeping his nose out of Wilkins' business then he will have to choose his man carefully or take it on himself.

Al Fayed's money has already produced miracles in SW6, and more critical to Fulham's future than Keegan of course is Al Fayed himself. Unlike the Jack Walkers and Jack Haywards, Al Fayed has no deep-rooted attachment to his club and could pull the plug at any time. In the meantime, though, as Keegan said after the game on Wednesday, "Maybe Fulham FC started here tonight."