Ahead of tonight’s clash with Fulham, Keith Ingham spoke with two Fulham fans from different eras about the club they love.
How long have you been a Fulham fan?
Neil Sturton: I’ve been a Fulham all my life (born in 1970). My dad is one of 5 boys and is the eldest so needless to say I have a lot of cousins and the split of teams is Fulham, Brentford or Chelsea. My dad is an identical twin and he and his twin brother who were born in 1943 always watched Fulham at Craven Cottage one week and the Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the other Saturday as Fulham and Chelsea never play at home on the same Saturday for obvious reasons. My dad and his twin brother were split between whether they were Fulham or Chelsea until 1957 when Chelsea sold Jimmy Greaves to Italy (either Inter or AC Milan) and that was their turning point!! They were so disappointed that they both decided that their allegiance was with Fulham and I can only thank Chelsea for making that decision otherwise I might have become a Chelsea fan and that thought makes me very nauseous!!!
Harris Shaikh: I’ve been following Fulham since I was 5, when I first started properly getting into football. As a 16, nearly 17 year old I make this my 12th year as a fan. As there was no family team, this became the viable option due to the closeness of both the training ground (which is closer) and Craven Cottage to my house. I am at the end of my fourth year as a season ticket holder.
What has been your favourite and worst era supporting the club?
Neil Sturton: As a Fulham fan it’s very difficult to name my favourite season but it’s a toss up between our 1982 season when Malcolm McDonald took Fulham from the old 3rd division to the 2nd division. I was 12 years old and our penultimate game that season was at home to Lincoln City. We were 3rd and Lincoln City were 4th. We needed one point to secure promotion and we drew the game 1-1 in front of 24,000 at Craven Cottage.
This might seem ridiculous to a Leeds United fan whose fan base was around 50,000+ but just bear in mind that I was used to crowds of 4 to 5 thousand!!! After this I was well and truly hooked. The other season that obviously stands out was Fulham’s return to the top league (Premier League as it’s now called) in 2001 under Jean Tigana and Mohammad Al Fayed’s £93M investment.
Harris Shaikh: My favourite era was the Roy hodgson. Years. From keeping us in the premier league one season, when we were mathematically relegated at Manchester City, being 2-0 down at half time, then securing our highest ever finish (7th) in the premier league the year after, and qualifying for the Europa league the season after. Obviously most fans know about our Europa league run the season after. Despite losing in the final, to most Fulham fans it felt like we’d won just being there. I will always be thankful to Roy for what he did for us.
Most older fans may go back to the days of being 91st in the football league, but obviously being only 16 I wasn’t around for those.
Neil Sturton: The worst season for me as a Fulham fan might well surprise you all. It wasn’t the season Fulham got relegated to The Championship (2014) but it was Fulham’s first season in the Championship after 13 years as a Premier League club. The 2014-2015 season in the Championship very nearly saw Fulham do a “Portsmouth” and go down in consecutive seasons. Thankfully that never happened!!!
Harris Shaikh: My worst era has to be the first 3 seasons of our relatively new owner, Shahid Khan’s ownership. Being relegated from the premier league was bad enough, but having 2 seasons when we were nearly relegated again was agony. Luckily, from the start of last season we seem to have changed and recruited a lot better since then.
Who has been your all time favourite player?
Neil Sturton: My all time favourite Fulham players are Johnny Haynes (albeit before my time my dad has always said he was Fulham’s greatest player), Gordon Davies in the 80’s, Louis Saha when we went to the Prem and more recently it’s Tom Cairney. Fulham’s youngest ever captain and the best midfielder in this league.
Harris Shaikh: For me, my favourite all time player has to be Brede Hangeland. Having joined in the season previously mentioned when we stayed up under Roy, Brede was a key part of that whole era, plus continuing to play after that. He was given club captain after the departure of Danny Murphy to Blackburn, and still played for the fans. Since retiring he’s come back to the Cottage a few times and got great receptions each time.
Your stand out player this season and your opinion of Slavisa Jokanovic’s current coaching team?
Neil Sturton: I honestly think that Fulham’s manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, is the best manager Fulham have ever had. He’s such a great tactician and has got Fulham playing the best football I’ve seen for many years. When we bought Kevin McDonald from Wolves, Stefan Johanssen from Celtic and Tom Cairney most Fulham fans didn’t really know what he’d spent his money on. Not one Fulham fan thinks that now!! Jokanovic is an incredibly astute manager and has put together a team that has become in my opinion the best footballing team in this league.
Furthermore he has identified an absolute gem in Ryan Sessegnon and the way in which he has protected and nurtured him is a stroke of pure genius. Jokanovic gave Sessegnon his debut as an unknown 16 year old last season and clearly knew what this kid could achieve.
Harris Shaikh: It’s easy to look at players such as Sessegnon being key for us this season, and while his goals have been vital, for me Tim Ream at centre-back has been immense. His ability to defend is matched by his ability to pass out of the back, which perfectly suits Jokanovic’s style. Without him, there’s so many games we wouldn’t have won and some of the things he’s done have been crucial in gaining vital points. My player of the season so far.
I quite like Slav. His style of football is great on the eye, and now it’s started to get results. There was a part this season when we would pass it around the back without much direction, and he wasn’t changing the system or anything. We were 17th having lost to teams such as Burton (still their last home win) and not playing any differently. At that stage I was questioning whether he was the right man for the job, but now I know he is, and this recent run we’ve been on has been great!
Can you name us a rising star of the future?
Neil Sturton: Ryan Sessegnon is not only had an incredible impact on Fulham’s resurgence but I think we seem to forget how young he is. This kid is not like Theo Walcott, Raheem Sterling, or Dele Ali all of which got their breaks very early in their careers. Ryan Sessegnon plays with the attitude and confidence of a player that’s been at the top of his game way beyond his years. Watch this space and he should definitely be on the plane to Russia!!
Harris Shaikh: Hmmmmmmmmmmm. Rising star? Do I go obvious or try and pick one no one knows? Obvious EVERYONE knows about Ryan Sessegnon, who will undoubtedly have a great future, however our academy has so many young talent waiting to break through. I’d also draw fan’s attention to midfielder Matt O’riley, who’s played a handful of cups games in centre-mid this year and not looked out of place. One year younger than Sessegnon, I expect him to get more minutes next year and along with Sess, has the potential to become an England international in the future.
Last season you’ve stood tall against ‘the pack’ and come out looking like promotion challengers. Is it a case you start bad or has there been a significant turnaround?
Neil Sturton: Last season Fulham came out of nowhere to gate crash the play offs but this year we’ve done it earlier. Fulham had another slow start this season and it’s difficult to pinpoint why but Tom Cairney’s early season injury played a major part. Cairney is at the heart of everything we do and his absence early on is why Fulham are not sitting in pole position in the Championship today.
Harris Shaikh: To tell you the truth, I think Slav’s teams always seem to be slow starters. When he took Watford up, I seem to remember they started quite slowly and had a late charge up the table, much like we’re doing now. I think Slav’s style takes time for new players to master, however when they get it, I works well which I think is a big reason. Certain players, for example Stefan Johansen didn’t start well this year at all, but now everyone seems to be playing well, and in my opinion, there’s no reason we can’t go unbeaten for the rest of the season.
Name two to take the promotion places and one to win the playoffs?
Neil Sturton: My prediction this season for the top two is Wolves as champions, Fulham in 2nd and Boro to win the play offs. Hats off to Cardiff City as right now they keep on winning but they’re run in is where Fulham will capitalise. Fulham have just played and beat the entire top 6 and that is undoubtedly promotion form whereas Cardiff have some tricky fixtures (Wolves and Villa spring to mind).
Harris Shaikh: The two to go up will be Wolves as first and Cardiff is second (sigh). Then I think Villa will win the playoffs (double sigh). For some reason I can’t see us winning a playoff match. Fulham never have.
Name three who are destined for League One football?
Neil Sturton: My prediction for the three relegated teams are Burton Albion, Sunderland and Birmingham.
Harris Shaikh: Three going down will be Burton, Birmingham and Barnsley. Not sure on the order.
Can you name a player on the Leeds squad you’d like to have in yours?
Neil Sturton: Please don’t take this personally but right now there really isn’t any player in the Leeds squad that I’d replace with any of Fulham’s starting XI. A season or two ago Ross McCormack was making big waves but jumping ship to Villa was his biggest mistake yet
Harris Shaikh: Either Pablo Hernandez or Saiz are players I’ve admired and would fit our system well. Both quite skilful and dangerous players.
Prediction and Scorers for the match?
Neil Sturton: Fulham 3-0 Leeds - Mitrovic with two and Sessegnon
Harris Shaikh: 2-0 Fulham . We look sharp, and the international break will only make us more fresh. By the looks of things your form seems to be poor recently so I can only see us winning.
We’d like to thank Neil and Harris for both of their views which may contrast on age factors but show the feeling is good for Fulham right now.
We wish them luck for the remainder of the season as there Fulham continue their well deserved promotion push.
By Keith Ingham