31 March ~ Sometimes it's the little things that show how times have changed. Like a pair of tubby Italians, chugging as fast as their stubby legs would carry them towards the away end during Fulham's trip to Turin two weeks ago. The duo – Juventus fans – were keen to share their joy with the away following after the home side's first goal. Having aimed a few traditional Italian gestures at the gloomy faces beyond the Plexiglas they waddled off, patting each other on the back a tad over-enthusiastically. Juventus fans taking the piss out of Fulham? Fifteen years ago these fatties would have been wearing Brentford shirts. This really is a brave new world.
Which, interestingly enough, was the consensus in the national press a week later after Fulham had knocked the Italians out in SW6. "Fabulous Fulham humble Juventus," barked the front page of the Guardian's sport section. "There cannot have been a greater day in the history of Fulham," wrote Kevin McCarra. "Juventus, aristocrats of Serie A and twice winners of the European Cup, have fallen at Craven Cottage."
The Scotsman's breathless tone was replicated almost across the board, although elsewhere the tone was perhaps a tad more condescending. "Oh I say!" sniggered Andrew Dillon in the Sun. "The well-heeled at the Cottage will remember this night for the rest of their lives. History is rarely made at this genteel club, especially when money counts for so much in modern football." The general feeling was that the Cottagers – as no Fulham fan ever calls them – had exceeded their brief as English football's lovable/slapstick underdogs. The club that everyone likes to patronise had finally shown it had teeth.
Fulham's supporters were understandably euphoric. Grown men cried in the Hammersmith End and the Riverside Stand even raised the occasional cheer. It was remarkable stuff but many had been less pleased after the first leg, and not just because Fulham were so mediocre. A 9pm kick-off time in Turin made for plenty of very well-lubricated away fans, an excellent atmosphere and a fight 20 minutes in. Although only about ten supporters at most appeared to be involved, the punch-up dragged on almost until half time and only came to an end when the rest of the stand struck up a jaunty chorus of "If you can't take your drink, fuck off home."
It was a nasty incident, though, and on the web afterwards many thought it symptomatic of a new edge to the club's support that was out of line with its traditional values. Messageboards were full of supporters inviting the protagonists, somewhat pompously, to go and support Chelsea if that was their idea of fun. Others felt the incident had been blown out of all proportion, a not uncommon event now every supporter with a computer and a modem can have his say to the world.
Nonetheless, it clearly struck a nerve with many and perhaps made them see the club differently. A week later, and for a much happier reason, everyone was seeing Fulham in a different light. Will Hawkes