United here we come!

Fulham fansThere’s a distraction from our poor streak in the league for Fulham fans this weekend, the small matter of a match-up with Manchester United in the 4th round of the FA Cup. When we went there in week two of the season I really enjoyed the game. We were coming off the back of a 5-0 win over Norwich on day one, shook 70,000 Mancunians into silence by grabbing a goal after two minutes, and came close to claiming a draw.

United were hanging on by the end.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that game was Dembele’s last in the white shirt of Fulham. Since September both he and Clint Dempsey have been strutting their stuff in the white uniform of Tottenham. The story of our season since has been all downhill.

Well, maybe things are about to change for the better. There are many ways to follow a sport’s team. You can be a casual follower of any number of franchises, college outfits, or major league goliaths – with all their history to match – but be careful. Once the allegiance gets under your skin, once passion and blind devotion takes over, you’d better watch out. It’s like being in love, logic flies out the window and you quit thinking straight. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic if you get to share in the magic, but it’s gonna kill you if you can’t live with failure along with the good times.

I was thinking through what it takes to be a fan of Fulham last week in the office. We’ve been enduring a cold snap of sub-zero nights with sprinkles of snow over London, but last week I ran into a guy from the firm who I just had to take my hat off to. He’s another Fulham fan, one I’d never encountered before at the office. That’s not so surprising in a large corporate operation like ours in a Canary Wharf skyscraper. Jason is about 12 floors down from our section, but he is an occasional player in our betting syndicate (loosely based around our Tuesday night soccer matches).

Last week we were thawing out in the pub after a session that really made the blood tingle when yours truly let out a yell – it was news of Brede Hangeland’s extra-time winner in our Cup replay at Blackpool on my smart phone. Of course, the guys were giving me a hard time that Fulham all but got eliminated by our modest opponents from a division below us. Yeh, I know, I know – we are just playing real bad right now. So all through training I was half expecting to hear of yet another loss.

But we rode our luck, late substitute Kieran Richardson was in the right place to strike home a leveller with the very last move of normal time, then we go on and steal the right to face the mighty Reds in round 4. “Call yourself a supporter,” the guys were ribbing me. “Free coach travel up there and you can’t make the effort. Jason did. Now there’s respect!”

Huh, who is Jason? Wednesday I sought him out. He had indeed made the 420 mile round trip from London on the free coaches run for supporters by the club. That meant taking last Tuesday afternoon off to catch the midday departure going north, and then getting back to London (after the extra time period) at 3.45 am on Wednesday. And he got into work that same morning!

“Well it was terrific fun obviously at Blackpool in extra time to nick it when we should really have gone out, we had a bit of a party in the stand,” Jason told me when I located his work station. Some understatement that was. From his mobile he showed me the Fulham support, half with their shirts off on a FREEZING night, having an impromptu disco. If you’ve ever caught crazy Green Bay fans doing something similar at Packers home games, you’ll get the picture.

“It was fun at the time. The killer was getting back into the centre of London to find my mate’s car would not start, the cold was too much for the battery. From the coach drop off at Craven Cottage we had another 90 minute walk home.” This was supporting your side above and beyond the call of duty. By the time he got home he had a hot bath to warm up, his Ma cooked him a huge breakfast, before he was back out again and into the office at 8.00 am!

“Just got to keep my head down for today, try not to drop off, then I can get home tonight and sleep it off.”  Would you do it again? Of course he would, and he will be heading up Saturday for the Man Utd game. And why don’t I come along for the crack the next time myself?

Thanks Jason. It’s great to meet another Fulham fan in the workplace, but I don’t think so. I have an extra ten years on my new buddy, and maybe I’ve got a little less adventurous with age. Also, Jane indoors might have something to say about it. However, I take my hat off to the 350 or so guys who made the long haul, just so glad they had a rare win to enjoy. It was back to the mundane of course last Saturday, another whipping from Man City in the league, and the club remain sitting perilously close to the bottom six. Another very average performance from Jol’s team to draw a veil over.

But will the magic of the Cup revive our fortunes this weekend at Old Trafford? No better place to step up the performance levels and pull off a surprise. It’s live on TV so I shall of course be rooting for the Whites from the couch. But I know Jason and his crew will be there in person, and by comparison I’m just a ‘Fulham lite’ supporter. If we get past the league leaders into Round 5 and there’s another long awayday in prospect…well, ask me again. Fulham’s year to get to Wembley?

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