Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fulham 2 Bolton Wanderers 1

It was all optimism in the River Cafe before the game. The talk was of whether Andy Johnson could emulate ex Fulham heroes Geoff Horsfield and Brian McBride and score on his debut. The father and son I met before the Arsenal game were in there: the father told us that it makes a big difference if a striker scores on their debut, they've won the crowd over from the start, and are forgiven anything after that. Jimmy Bullard scored on his home debut I said. Doesn't count he said, Jimmy's not a striker.

In contrast the Bolton fans walking behind us through Bishop's Park were pessimistic. They told me that knowing Gary Megson he would probably play with Kevin Davies up front and everyone else back in their own penalty area. At the time I thought they were joking.

I can't remember a game like it at Fulham for years. I renewed my season ticket three years ago (having let it lie fallow for 20 years) and they have been three years of toil and struggle. But today the sun shone and Fulham played like Brazil. We could have had five in the first half and four in the second. Zamora span a defender on the edge of the area and cracked it in to put us two up. 'Goal of the month' said the bloke next to me. Gera was intelligent on the left flank. Johnson chased everything and looked a right handful. We were totally in control.

Bolton did what their fans said they would. One up front: Kevin Davies. Five in midfield. Gardner sometimes drifted wide on their left, but opposite him O'Brien always stayed narrow so they had no width on the right. They looked devoid of inspiration and only threatened from set pieces.

The crowd were cheering Fulham touches with Oles from early in the second half. We were strolling. The man behind me said that Bolton looked as bad as Fulham had been under Sanchez. His neighbour asked him to refrain from mentioning that man's name. I was reminded me of a moment before one of those crucial relegation battles late last season. We were sitting in the River Cafe. A man turned to his wife and said to her 'you're worse than Lawrie Sanchez you are'. The whole cafe suddenly fell silent, wondering what this poor lady had done to deserve the slur (put sugar on his chips?).

I couldn't help thinking of Sanchez while Fulham were stroking it around today, and about the transformation Hodgson has wrought. We've gone from the ridiculous to the sublime, from the sluggishness of Chris Baird to the athleticism of John Pantsil, from Kamara and Healy to Zamora and Johnson, from hoofing to passing, losing to winning, scowling to smiling, dreading to dreaming. But like Yin and Yang, black and white, good and evil, there would have been no Hodgson without Sanchez.

Kevin Nolan clattered into Bullard three quarters of the way through the game, Bullard was down long enough to recall the horrible injury that took him away from us for 18 months, prompting the crowd to run through the whole of the repertoire of Jimmy Bullard songs for most of the rest of the game. Johnson and Zamora got thunderous standing ovations when they were substituted. Bolton got a goal back near the end, but the feared travesty of justice didn't materialise.

In the crush of people waiting to be let into Putney Bridge station I heard a man talking hungarian. I guessed they had come to see Zoltan Gera. Turns out they are Ferencvaros fans. Ferencvaros, Gera's old club, are by far the largest team in Hungary. Their ground is on Ulloi Ut, the main road into Budapest from the east, and a road famous in Hungarian history for the pitch battles fought there when Soviet tanks entered the city from the east in 1956. I didn't realise what bad times they had fallen on, the guy told me that they had been relegated out of the Hungarian top flight, and stuck down there for a few years now. And to cap it all they have been bought as a feeder club for Sheff United. No disrespect for Sheff Utd but.... He told me that Sheff United have sent their second team coach, Bobby Davison to manage them. Again no disrespect, I remember him as a decent enough striker for Derby in the 80s, and I guess the mighty magyars of 53 are too old or too dead, but....

I asked a Bolton fan what he thought of the game. He speculated on how long Megson might have left as Bolton boss. 'Some of our fans were shouting Megson out at the end but others where defending him by singing that stupid ginger mourinho song - he is no way a Mourinho.' He spoke about the money they wasted on Heider Helgueson, how all their three strikers were clones of each other, big strong and slow, and how the most of expensive of them, Elmander, is out for six weeks. No pace and no creativity. He said he would take Allardyce back tomorrow, and reminisced about the days of Okocha, Jourkieff and Anelka.

Finally, waiting outside the turnstiles to the toilets at Wimbledon station I met the guy who used to sit behind me at Fulham, and whose 'this is toilet' comments somehow helped make the Sanchez months bearable.

Me (gushing) Weren't we brilliant
Him (not cracking a smile): 'Shouldn't have let them have that goal. Should have had the game out of reach well before that
Me: We had loads of chances though, we hit the bar, had a goal disallowed, penalty appeal turn down
Him: No use having chances if you don't take them'.
Me: It takes a lot to please you
Him: Yeah he said. Don't forget I've been watching Fulham season after season he said.

A hard bitten fans can spot a fair weather one when he sees one. Which reminds me, I forgot to tell the Ferencvaros fan I was a teenage armchair Honved fan.