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Well what a sporting week! For those of you who need a recap, here we go:

  • Rangers claimed the Scottish Premier League from a limp Celtic.
  • Newcastle and Middlesbrough were relegated to the Championship.
  • Burnley won promotion to the Premier League.
  • Paul Casey won the BMW championship at Wentworth to rise to world number 3.
  • Floyd Mayweather Jnr. wows London with his class in the build-up to his latest fight(and victory).
  • Leinster win the Heineken Cup against Leicester in Edinburgh.
  • Brawn GP and the resurgent Jenson Button win in Monaco to increase their strangle hold on Formula 1.

We were certainly spoiled for action this week, but I want to discuss the end of another great season in football, and specifically a real achievement in these boom and bust days.

Fulham are undoubtedly one of the smaller teams in London, they have a small, historic stadium on the banks of the Thames.  Money has been tight since the boom days of Jean Tigana and Chris Coleman, so where has this club come from to finish 7th in with the billionaires of the Premier League and just how was it done?

Fulham are actually the oldest professional football team in London, originating in the 1890s. The club quickly switched to Craimagesven Cottage, where it has remained, despite the attempts of many an owner. The club has never had the highs of many of its neighbours, and indeed has had more than its fair share of dark days. The club has been close to folding more times than deserved, with the value of its location being deemed higher than its role in the community.
But in recent years the club has been rejuvenated under the stewardship of the often deservedly maligned Mohamed Al Fayed. He took over the club in the late 90’s when the club was again on the brink of obscurity, and they haven’t looked back.
Enough with the history lesson, on with current affairs. Fulham are in Europe, finished in their highest ever position in the Premier League, and have the 2008/2009 Manager of the Year.

Roy Hodgson took over the club in late December 2007, they had won 2 games in 20 attempts; he dragged the sinking club gasping and gulping for air to the safety of the shore, and survival in the Premier League.  Fueled with some remarkable results – not least the 3-2 victory away at Manchester City, Hodgson gained the adoration of the fans and plaudits from the footballing world.  Since then Roy has taken Fulham up to the heady heights of the inaugural Europa League and well into the top half of the league.

HodgsonThis is not the first success story of this “old-school” football man.  Roy is probably best know for his time at F.C Internazionale Milano and the Swiss national team.  He started his managerial helm in Sweden at Halmstads in the mid seventies, and has gone on to manage 14 clubs and countries, mainly in continental Europe.  But the turn-around he has performed in West London has to be the Jewel in the Crown.  A club spent-out on previous managers, has quietly risen through far “bigger teams” into a much coveted European place.  Shrewd in the transfer market with signings like the fragile Messrs Johnson and Bullard and the revelations Murphy, Pantsil and the exceptional Hangeland(From his previous club Viking), Hodgson has taken the club by the scruff of the neck and installed a belief in football, not long-ball.  Training techniques, sport science, priceless tactical and man-management knowledge have come in and an air of confidence and belief surrounds the Cottage. 

Whether the glamour of European football is enough to keep the star performers, and entice real quality to the banks of the Thames, will, I’m sure have a real bearing on next season.  But there is no doubt in the class of this multi-lingual, master pundit, tactician and motivator, and his ability of managing at the top level at the youthful age of 61.  On this evidence he beats the old master(Sir Alex Ferguson) and the young pretender(David Moyes) to the Manager of the Year 2008/2009.

 

CAS

This Saturday, I was unfortunate enough to be working. It was a glorious day – the sun was high, hot and bright; the beautiful game was being played all over the country, and I had no way of being part of any of it. My playing career was over long before I had hair on my chest, and certainly long before I went under the surgeons knife. My home football team is over 100 miles away and my adoptive team is over 250 miles away – this makes a trip to see live football too few and far between.

The closest I got to the beautiful game this Saturday was hearing at half time “Ha Ha, fu*&ing Man U are gettin beat 2 nil!” Upon hearing this, I had a rueful smile and wished I had a telephone betting account. I made the bold decision to get the radio out and put the always amusing BBC Five Live on, and proclaiming Man U will win 4 – 2. Now I understand I was wrong by one, but it was as Hugo Weaving(Agent Smith) said.

Manchester United, for all the tales of favouritism and conspiracy theories have a great habit of winning games in the second half, rising like Lazarus.

1993, Maine Road, 3.45pm, Manchester City 2 – Manchester United 0. Galatasary had dumped United out of Europe in midweek and they were trailing against their fierce local rivals. Fergie put the hairdryer on and sent them out for the second half. Eric Cantona inspired Man U to an amazing second half performance capped off with a Roy Keane winner to leave the blue half of Manchester 2-3 winners.

1999, Stadio delle Alpi, 7.57pm, Juventus 2 Manchester United 0. Fellipo Inzaghi has just scored his second to make it 3 keane1– 1 on aggregate, and “The Old Lady” has an away goal in the bank. Roy Keane as so often in his career steps up to the plate and scores, dragging his team kicking and screaming into the match. A Dwight Yorke header before half-time levels the match and edges United ahead on the away goals rule. Half-time and Fergie leaves the hair dryer in the box, puts his arm around Jaap Stam, barks a few orders in gruff Glaswegian, and sends his team on their way. With a little over five minutes to go, United withstand Juve’s pressure and break away with Dwight Yorke, the bulky frame of Angello Peruzzi brings him down, but good advantage play allows Andy, sorry Andrew Cole to tap into an empty net, and send the team from England through to the final in Barcelona.

1999, Camp Nou, 9.31pm, Bayern Munich 1 Manchester United 0. After trailing the German champions for 91 minutes of football, United missing the suspended duo of Keane and Scholes, get a corner. The fourth official holds his board up to show 3 minutes of added time. After some “pinball football” in the Munich box, the ball comes to Sheringham, who bundles the ball into the net. Seconds remaining in injury time, another corner to Man U, Beckham swings it onto Sheringhams head, a glancing header down, Solskjaer sticks out his right leg and the ball flies into the top corner.

2001, White Hart Lane, 3.45pm Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester United 0. Any betting man would put their house on Spurs to win the game – fortunatley not this betting man. But one unfortunate fan did put over two hundred thousand pounds on. The goals came thick and fast for Maunited2n U that half. Fergie brought on Silvestre for pace on the left and Solskjaer for a three-man attack. One minute is all he had to wait as Cole pulled the first back. Blanc added another on 58 minutes as United smelled the North Londeners blood in the water. Ruud van Nistelrooy got the equaliser on 72 minutes, United now rampant went for the jugular, and Juan Sebastian Veron put them in front just four minutes after. And then just to show their utter superiority United through David Beckham added another three minutes from the end, to make it a real five-star half.

These are only my most memorable occasions of Manchester United in the second half, there are many more equally important and amazing come-backs in the history books. I think the main conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that Manchester United are never beat in a game until the final whistle has been blown, whether it be 90 or 99 minutes on the clock. The undeniable genius of Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson through from his early days at East Stirling and his first managerial honour at St. Mirren up to what will be with this years Premier League(sorry Liverpool and Chelsea) his 44th in total. Regardless of the money he has had over the years, the “poaching” of young stars and the ever-green tales of favouritism and “fergie-time”, he is the best football manager of all time.

CAS