“The centre does not hold.”
An everlasting river flows between opposites. Sir Roy Hodgson’s Fulham was all central with inverted wingers pressing play inward. Maarten Jol’s Fulham is all wing play and no centre. This may be a mistake, but insofar as he is a thinking man, perhaps it is no accident. Our fulcrum removed not once but twice since my last Fulham match attended in May, our once vaunted and ineluctable shape was not even a shadow of its former form. Instead, our play sought to start from the backs, and the burden to switch from defence to attack proved overwhelming. If for no other reason, the possession our central mids used to hold, shifted to the backs, and showed their mental vulnerabilities. This was a match that cried out for Danny Murphy.
“Things fall apart.”
I have a lot of time for West Ham United as a community based small business. I often arrive early at grounds and first experience them in this way as they awaken for trade. When one arrives at Upton Park particularly, there is a bustle and not a frisson. Down the grimy steps of the Hammersmith and City line, crossing the road past the Halal butcher and there lies Queens Road Market, a smaller but more diminutive Albert Square market stall. “There’s only 12 Billy Mitchells!” we Fulham sang to the East stand and they mostly laughed along with us at our stereotyping of their confederacy of geezers. One such, who did slightly resemble a character from Minder sold rolls loo rolls just outside the Boleyn Ground post match labeled “Arsenal toilet paper” and his enterprise “Ministryoftoiletroll.co.uk” (at £5/roll or 5for £20, he actually had some trade as I bypassed). Along Queens Road, the scent of diesel from the East London Bus terminal mixes with Chicken Balti pies and a very faint scent of something like mosquito repellent drapes the many market stalls and all shapes and sizes of people and things coloured light blue and dark red. From the many initiatives of West Ham United FC and the Bobby Moore Foundation in and around Newham and Barking, it seems a fair trade exchange to me. From the Sir Trevor Brooking stand, one sees the low slope of the Lea Valley’s hills in the horizon from the east corner of the Bobby Moore stand, beyond which, industrial Greater London fades into Essex and then, the sea. When this business does leave this place, a small bit of the Modern England I love will die.
“Let us now praise famous men..”
For supporters like me who did not watch the Fulham sides with Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson, George Cohen and the other luminaries of the Trinder years, this has been an unbeatable era, the peaks of which would have seemed unattainable if not delusional when I began following the Fulham in earnest about ten years ago. The final home match of the season is appealing insofar as it is often played under balmy conditions preceded by riparian ales. I like it moreso because we acknowledge our players as young men with families who sacrifice that family life to provide us our entertainment and as a true "family club" it is right and just to thank them all for their contributions.
This season's last home match in particular represents a final time to pay of respects to this golden generation of Fulham players. Yes, I arrived this morning to thank Clint Dempsey, but also, to Simon Davies, the scorer of that sublime and impossible 75th minute goal on the 29th of April, 2010, shifting and shooting across his body, and then again in Hamburg in front of the Athletico end. I came to thank Dickson Etuhu, whose short series of square balls back to Murphy were exactly what we needed to stabilize midfield in the post "Wellard" era. I came to thank Chris Baird, the hero of centre midfield in two legs against Juventus, who saved our season 2010-11 season with his veteran leadership off the pitch after the Boxing day disaster and backed it up with two goals against dreaded Stoke, and for good measure, punched Wellard in the nose: Howzat! I came to thank Andy Johnson for his determination to battle back from recurring injuries and for that one glorious October afternoon when it all seemed worth it. The memories they have given us, like the dead, "will not grow old, as we grow old." They will forever be etched like the photo of the XI who faced Juventus. As Lord Lindsay said of his fellow British heroes of 1924 "we can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings in our heels."