Writer: Kristian Balkin
Date:Saturday May 15 2010
2009/2010 has been nothing short of spectacular for Fulham Football Club. Domestically our campaign may have withered but on European turf we have had a year to remember.
Now though, it is all behind us. A summer of sheer uncertainty lay ahead on the banks of the Thames and the prospect of the World Cup doesn't even come close to hiding my fears and doubts as we enter the close-season.
However, rather than foreseeing a predictably miserable and bleak few months, I will reflect on what has been a historic campaign for us and, more specifically, re-live some unforgettable moments.
It all officially started on Thursday 30th July in Lithuania. Little did we know that the 3-0 victory that night over FK Vetra would kick start a revolutionary Europa League run which would stretch right through to only last week.
That first European tie followed a somewhat inconsistent Pre-Season with confident victories over Perth and Melbourne, alongside shaky results against both Peterborough and Gold Coast United.
That aside, we had secured a place in the next Europa League qualifying phase with a similar 3-0 result over Vetra in the reversed tie, at Craven Cottage; before the Premier League season had even begun.
Still though, the victories did little to boost our egos and many a Fulham fan was still highly skeptical of the prospect of European football.
Significantly in my eyes, Fulham kicked off the league season with a 'fortunate' away win at Fratton Park. Whilst the result was far from memorable and while the winning goal was a bit, let's say, 'cheeky', a win away from home for Fulham is a very valuable 3 points.
Taking into account the previous year, which held distinct bad fortune in any arena that didn't hold the name 'Craven Cottage' (or the Reebok, or St. James e.t.c), an opening day away win was a sign of much promise for the Whites.
After an aggregate victory over Amkar Perm, in controversial circumstances, with Andy Johnson picking up a worrying injury following a cynical foul, Fulham were through to the group stages of the Europa League. Again, this was met with mixed reactions from the Fulham faithful.
Fulham started where they had left off from the season previous; with some admirable home form. The likes of Everton, Basel and Liverpool fell to the Cottagers in London and a respectable point against Roma went on to further prove Craven Cottage's new 'fortress' status.
After a relatively disappointing November, European football finally became a highlight for us Fulham fans. After an unlucky defeat at the hands of AS Roma, Fulham needed to win their 2 remaining group games to stand a chance of progressing to the knockout stage of the competition.
We did so too, in Fulham fashion: the hard way. CSKA Sofia came to London and were defeated 1-0 before we flew out to Basel in what was an all-or-nothing affair. We achieved our aim in the snow, albeit sailing close to the wind, with a 3-2 victory. Celebrations were rife and mid-week was now a time to treasure rather than a time to dread.
We dragged our inspirational performances from European football into our league campaign and only 3 days after the Basel result we celebrated a very pleasing 3-0 win over Manchester United in SW6.
January was of course the month that the FA Cup rolled into town and our performances in that very trophy led us on another interesting, if not shortened, cup journey.
We had beaten Swindon Town, Accrington Stanley and Notts County before being drawn against high flying Tottenham Hotspur.
With belief intact and the tie being at home, we went in the game with quiet confidence. However, a poor 0-0 draw was played out and the replay proved an inconvenience to an already crammed fixture list for Fulham.
We lost the replay convincingly and our domestic trophy dreams were dead and buried for another season. However, after defeating Shakhtar Donestk, the trophy holders, in the first knockout stage of the Europa League, one dream was still alive.
The next round of the cup drew us against Juventus. The Italian giants and firm favourites to lift the trophy itself. We traveled to Turin and fought out a 3-1 loss; with our away goal proving crucial.
The return leg at the cottage proved to be a magical tie and one that will go down in Fulham folklore. Many fans, myself included, wrote us off well before the game had kicked off. Deep down though, we still believed, and even after conceding an early goal, we replied with the required four to progress to the next round. It was a night that will never be forgotten for the spirit the Fulham players showed.
Next, concentration turned to Europe. Our League form dipped slightly as Roy turned his attentions, rightly, to our fledging European campaign. We had already stifled the critics and we weren't going to let German champions VFL Wolfsburg spoil the party.
Fulham comprehensively beat the Germans with more than a little help from Bobby Zamora, who has proven himself to be a prolific goalscorer as well as a terrific target man this year.
The semis beckoned and we faced the hosts; Hamburg. With ash clouds causing devastation to travel arrangements for the Fulham squad, Roy Hodgson and his men arrived in Hamburg by coach; finding time to train on the motorway in the progress.
We battled for a 0-0 draw and the return leg in London proved to be another night for the history books.
We went a goal down to a fascinating Mladen Petric free kick on 22 minutes, which churned chants of 'Stand up, if you still believe' from the Hammersmith End.
The players responded gracefully and the Cottage was brought into raptures with splendid strike from Simon Davies followed by a sublime Gera goal. The scenes of jubilation post match created an atmosphere that I will personally cherish for years to come. It was the night we made the final.
And, that final did come around on the 12th May. We wrapped up our Premier League season with disappointing results to Stoke and Arsenal respectively and set our eyes firmly upon the Europa League final.
All of England was behind us as we turned up in Hamburg, again, to face Atletico Madrid. We were, as always in this competition, underdogs. However, as the story of this fantastic campaign goes; Fulham fans never stopped believing.
We conceded first yet again but Davies responded well and carried the game into extra time.
Extra time though, was our downfall, and with little under 4 minutes remaining, former Manchester United forward Diego Forlan dealt a cruel blow to the Whites.
We had lost the final but our pride was still intact. The loss capped off a season to remember, but, it failed to extinguish the hurt of 131 years without a major trophy to taunt.
Maybe next year, hey?
Date:Saturday May 15 2010
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