Fulham represent the schizophrenic wing of English football: traditional club, nicer by a mile of the two in the same corner of west London, but tainted by the stigma of bought success. But whatever the result when we meet them on Saturday, has their luck finally run out? Despite all that Fayed money, are they bound for the Championship? Perhaps they could do with some of the defensive skills Steve Battams, a staunch Cottager if that doesn’t suggest improper activities, brought to Staines Town, Ashford Town and Carshalton Athletic during a useful (550 games) semi-pro career
Although I am a Fulham fan through and through, you could say that Sunderland played a big part in my addiction to the beautiful game.
One of the first matches I recall was watching the League Cup final of 1985 when Sunderland met Norwich at Wembley. I recall the magnificent twin towers and the thousands packed on to the terraces and was instantly hooked.
Sadly, I also recall Clive Walker dragging his penalty on to the post and a deflected goal winning the cup for the Canaries. That is where my first Sunderland-Fulham link comes in, as Clive Walker was one of the few shining lights for Fulham when he signed for us in 1987. In total he made 109 appearances for the Cottagers, scoring 29 goals – many of which came from his deadly left foot which I am sure Sunderland fans will remember well.
My next recollection of a Sunderland/Fulham match was a League Cup tie at Craven Cottage in 1989. The Gabbiadini-Gates partnership was in full flow at the time and you comfortably ran out 3-0 winners.
Possibly one of the worst goal celebrations came from Eric Gates as he attempted some form of somersault and ended up flat on his back laughing at himself.
Sadly, I do not have many other recollections of matches against the two teams. However, my brother Alan ventured north for the Premiership clash in April 2006. Our quest to set further records in failing to win away matches looked in serious danger as Brian McBride put us ahead in the ninth minute. The weather took a turn for the worse and the match was abandoned, leaving you guys subsequently to record your only home win when the match was replayed in May.
That’s typical of Fulham; we are very generous when it comes to players recording their first goals for their clubs or teams getting their only/first wins for lengthy periods of time. Hence our appalling away record which will eventually lead to relegation this season!
My last match at Craven Cottage was a home victory against Reading where I managed to get into the action by heading a high clearance back on to the pitch from my seat in the 10th row. I was quite proud of the header, but my poor girlfriend was not so impressed as I barged her out of the way to make sure I was in place for the header!
Since then, I have moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates where we are fortunate enough to get every Premier League match live on a Saturday afternoon. I will definitely be watching the game this coming Saturday, probably in the local sports bar with a cold beer and prayer or two for our survival in the best league in the world.
And now for your questions (pausing only for a quick view of the aerial strength that served me well in my Ryman Premier League career) …….
I felt that Sunderland would be well drilled and disciplined under Roy Keane. He is a role model for the younger players and you could clearly see that they responded to his management style last season.
I expected Sunderland to be a force at home and tough to beat away. The anticipation of a new season in the Premiership always lifts a team and I thought that they would comfortably avoid the drop.
When did you last see a SAFC v Fulham game home or away, and what happened? In particular , were you there for the blizzard, when the game was abandoned with you winning, or indeed the rearranged game that was our only home win of that season?
My last SAFC v Fulham game was a league cup match where you ran out 3-0 winners.
Have you been to the Stadium of Light (obviously the last question may answer that). If so what did you make of it? Of Sunderland itself?
I have not been to the Stadium of Light but my brother Alan has and he rates it as a top ground. I hadn’t been to Roker Park but watched many games in your famous cup run of ’92 and it looked like a proper old football ground. I understand the need for new stadia but I do miss old grounds such as Roker Park. I am pleased that Fulham have been able to remain at Craven Cottage and keep some of the traditional aspects of the ground whilst modernising it for the Premiership. I am all for bringing back standing terraces and hopefully in the coming years we will see this emerge – you never know, the Roker roar could return some day, that would be great. I used to work in Newcastle but I didn’t make it across to Sunderland.
However, I found the people there to be very friendly and passionate about their football so it’s a place that I would like to visit again.
What about the signings each club made in the transfer window?
I have been impressed by Brede Hangeland, our new centre half. He has slotted in as if he has been a Premiership player all his life. Leon Andreasen has added some steel to what was a lightweight midfield and has allowed Danny Murphy a little more freedom on the ball. Paul Stalteri is steady full back, and has certainly shored up the glaring weaknesses of Chris Baird. Will we ever see Jari Litmanen in a Fulham shirt? I hope so as he is still performing for Finland at international level. Eddie Johnson’s pace and runs in behind defenders has impressed me, but he has a lot to learn with his back to goal – maybe in a couple of years he will fill out and become a stronger player in the Louis Saha mould although has a long, long way to go.
I had the pleasure of Colin’s company for the Sunderland v Birmingham match when Rade Prica made his debut and got on the scoresheet. He made some good runs from midfield and looks like a useful acquisition. Jonny Evans and Phil Bardsley are steady defenders but I think they will need replacing if Sunderland want to move to the next level. Andy Reid, however, is a class act anf if he can keep the weight off and stay free of injury I think Roy Keane will eventually bring the best out of him.
Your predictions for both clubs for rest of season
Fulham – we will stay up by winning 5 of our last 7 matches. I hope that we leapfrog Birmingham in the process. In my dreams anyway! Sunderland – you will be safe, finishing anywhere between 14th and 16th.
Do you regard Chelsea much as we regard Newcastle? What about QPR and Brentford? Or are you more grown-up about such things?
I don’t really have that much hatred towards Chelsea given that we only recently (over the last 7 years) started playing them regularly. I like the fact that Jose Mourinho kept a hard core of English lads and John Terry is one of my favourite players. Avram Grant is quite disturbing and ranks up there with Ken Bates in my list of most annoying Chelsea icons! One of my best mates used to play for QPR and we obviously ground shared with them a few years ago and they seem like a decent club who will probably do something similar to Fulham now they have a few billion pounds behind them!! I also had a few friends who played for Brentford and over the years I have seen more of these derbies than the Chelsea and QPR games. So out of the the three I would say I have more of a dislike towards the Bees but it will be some time (I hope!) before we play them in a league match again
Memories of players and/or management linked to both clubs? Lee Clark is an obvious example, but I am sure I am overlooking others
Paul Bracewell was a top player for us during the Wilkins/Keegan era. He covered every blade of grass and his willingness to double up with full backs was outstanding. A good leader and passer of the ball too.
Andy Melville was a steady defender for Kevin Keegan but I thought he would be one of the fall guys under the Tigana regime. However, he adapted quickly and embraced the total football style. He was a key member of one our best back fours in recent years along with Steve Finnan, Chris Coleman and Rufus Brevett.
Lee Clark was great for us and did well on the coaching side too – the mark of the man was shown as he refused to celebrate a winning goal against Newcastle (although I’m sure Sunderland fans enjoyed it
Club vs country. Who wins for you?
Well, this is a tough one as I have always dreamed of playing for Fulham. However, I had a pretty decent career as a semi-professional so I would say that to represent your country at any level has to be the ultimate accolade. So, it’s country for me, just about.
Who will win? Score? How will you keep tabs on the game?
I am going to have to go for a Fulham win and if we are to stay up, this has to be one of our must win matches. We aren’t known for keeping teams out however, so I will say 2-1 to Fulham. I will probably watch the match live on TV in Abu Dhabi as we get all of the games shown over here on a Saturday afternoon.
* Steve Battams on Steve Battams:
My first Fulham match was a 5-0 win against Southend United and from then on I was hooked. My granddad has been a Fulham supporter all his life and my brother and I have followed suit. We have been there through the bad old days, being one game away from relegation out of the league to the dizzy heights of the Premiership and Al Fayed’s millions. We have visited some glamorous and not so glamorous venues along the way from the Emirates Stadium to Millmoor, Rotherham. Due to my own times as a player I have had to cut down my visits to Craven Cottage over the past 10 years but I still get the same buzz walking over Putney Bridge and down the Fulham Palace Road to what I consider the home of football. I miss the old terraces, now replaced with seats of course, but you can still feel some of the atmosphere of the old days when we used to turn up expecting defeat week in week out!! Being in the Premiership is great and you appreciate it more as a Fulham supporter, given the tough times we have had to encounter in the 80s and 90s. Being an ex-pat in the UAE, it is hard to predict when my next match at the Cottage will be. It may be Christmas this year when hopefully I will be able to take my seat in the Hammersmith End, with Fulham still taking pride of place in the Premiership.