Wednesday 9 April ~
Defeat to Sunderland on Saturday left Fulham six points from safety with five matches to go. With only two wins in the 13 games played under Roy Hodgson they are now favourites to take the Premier League's second relegation place. Yesterday they were forced to deny publicly rumours that John Collins is about to take over as manager. The former Fulham midfielder resigned at Hibs last December, the day before Lawrie Sanchez was sacked, but Roy Hodgson, who had been coaching the Finnish national team, was instead brought in at Craven Cottage. Fulham's owner Mohamed Fayed is also back in the news, though for very different reasons.
Fayed's personal website claims that he “set the precedent for UK football’s future big investors, like Abramovich and the Glazer family”. This is true, but it is not much to boast about. Fayed made bullish statements about his new purchase, such as how they would become the “Manchester United of the South”, and his use of a football club as a vehicle for personal publicity has since been emulated by various other international entrepreneurs, to use a polite term. But even Fayed himself must realise that the resultant change in the structure of top-level football has made it more difficult for clubs like Fulham to achieve anything concrete.
There have been reports that Fayed would waive the club's contractual right to reduce players' wages in the Championship in an attempt to retain important members of the current squad. But this is too little too late – if Fulham go down they may be away from the top level for a long time to come. A combination of bad appointments, bad management and changing circumstances has denied Fayed the grand ambitions for Fulham which were angering the residents of Hammersmith in 2001. Now there is another local problem – Queens Park Rangers.
QPR and Fulham have tended to have diametrically opposed experiences – while one is doing well the other is doing badly. As recently as the 1994-95 season both west London teams finished eighth but while QPR were in the Premier League, Fulham were in the bottom tier. The season before Fulham had been second bottom of the Football League for long periods. With the big money takeover, £20 million kit deals and talk of a new stadium QPR are surely going to overshadow their neighbours in the Championship next year. Despite their protestations to the contrary, QPR's new owners seem set to throw money at their new toy while Fayed's club will receive far less media attention than he has been used to. With a richer, stronger local rival to contend with in the Championship, the owner of Harrods may yet come to seem like the poor relation of west London football. Fulham fans will hope that he won't try to make them tenants.