Sunday 11th May 2008 approx 2am
Couldn’t sleep, the air was muggy. Lying there with the sweat dripping off me as the noise of the Saturday night drunks passed my bedroom window adding to the disturbance. Staring at the ceiling thinking of any excuse as to why this night was proving to be a long unpleasant one.
But deep down I knew why…..of course I knew why! For in just a few hours I was to begin my 15min walk down to Waterloo Station to catch my train to Fratton, a trip I’d planned in my head several times already to ensure that nothing was going wrong today. The OCD worse than ever before as my mums OCD multiplies for the same reasons influencing my own mental state in the days building up to it. I’d never been to Pompey before, not that it mattered much. Reassuring myself that our fate was in our hands for survival thanks to the win against Brimingham last week but at this point…….it was doing little for my nerves.
I eventually dose off but it’s not long before the day begins. I’ve no appetite so I skip breakfast and we head out. There were many fellow supporters on the train and commuters that day would have experienced 3 kinds of Fulham fans. The vocal ones who would sing any song they could think of and really made a day of the occasion, the figgity ones who couldn’t sit still or get comfortable such was the magnitude of what was before us. And the ones like me, quiet. Not really knowing how to feel or what to say. This had never happened to me, I’d only remembered Fulham on the up since the days of Micky Adams. I have a poor attention span at the best of times but today there was no hope of a conversation out of me. My Mum, Dad and little sister chatting away whilst I was there in body yet my head a million miles away.
We go to the pub before the game and do all the usual rituals before any away game. And then it’s time to head to the ground. We walk up the road, houses either side of us. It was a narrow road, at least it was in my head although that could just be my imagination as it felt everything was closing in around me. You could see the ground in front of you, just like walking up Finlay Street to the Cottage I suppose.
At Fratton Park, the away fans walk down what I remember as a bit of an alleyway to the away end. A wall of art with pictures of ex Pompey players from beginning to end. Steve Stone, Linvoy Primus and the very unpopular Dejan Stefanovic to name but a few. I suppose you aren’t really interested in that are you? No neither was I but it was just another excuse not to think about the game as it was now about 2.30pm and kick-off getting closer & closer.
We made it into our seats, about 10 rows back perfectly in line with the top corner to our fans’ right hand side, a view unappreicated at this point but boy would that change……
It’s important for those that weren’t there that day that I make it very clear how hot it was. For every minute we got closer to knowing our fate, the sun seem to blaze over us that bit hotter. I don’t know how the players played 90mins in that heat under that pressure. I suppose we were lucky Portsmouth had bigger things on their mind like the FA cup final. It must have been the hottest day of the year and I remember it that way because I just can’t forget the intensity. This was the most torturing heatwave I’ve ever experienced at a football match.
I remember very little about the game itself. I don’t remember much goal mouth action, it was very much a game that you’d expect in degrees such as this. I didn’t know the Birmingham or Reading scores until half time, they wasn’t spoken of by the people around me, you would have thought no other matches were being played that day…. We all know that it wasn’t good news or was it? I don’t know if I’m alone but my nerves seem to ease once I know things aren’t going our way. I’m at my most nervous when we are hanging on.
The fans throughout were amazing and the atmosphere electric. As Kamara raced through only to be taken down for a free kick to my left hand side of the pitch just inside their half, we knew we had to score a goal. Reading & Birmingham were 4v0 and 4v1 up in their games, we were now desperate to score…….WE HAD TO SCORE!!!!!
It had been a torturing season. A rollercoaster that you queue up for terrified of but are forced on by your kids or friends. The long drawn out wait fearing the worst but doing it anyway. Th anger, you feel upset, tears, stress, sleepless nights, frustration, confusion, acceptance, you don’t care anymore….you do care…..but then comes the worst emotion of them all. The one that causes the most pain in the end………..HOPE! Multiply all those feelings by 100, add in the heat and the fact Reading & Birmingham were home and hosed but helpless if we win and you can almost imagine how it felt being in that seat adjacent to the top corner as Murphy rose highest and guided the ball towards me. I could have caught it if the net wasn’t in the way, I don’t think I would have though. For I had long left my seat and was in the stairwell running down to the front. Those in rows before me with the same idea beat me to it, our heroes in a pile on the pitch as McBride wrestles Murphy to the ground. Us fans piling on top of eachother behind the barrier. Men hugging eachother, crying, overjoyed! It was a minute of my life that will never leave me. I’ve seen the birth of all 4 of my beautiful children. I’m married to the woman of my dreams and although I won’t commit to saying they were inferior experiences, I could describe those feelings. But celebrating that goal……words just can’t describe the feeling. The release of tension just for a few seconds. It was and probably always will be the best moment I will ever have supporting Fulham.
Now comes the worst part, as mentioned above. My nerves eased when I knew Reading and Birminghams results weren’t going our way, almost resigned to the fact we were down. Now they are back, the heart pounding faster in sync with those of all Fulham fans around me. Loud enough to probably drown out the famous Pompey fan with the bell. But I can’t say I heard him that day, I can’t say I remember anything about that last 13 minutes or so.
The sheer joy when the final whistle went. Not as wild as when the goal went in. This was more relief that it was over. A celebration of 9 months of failure that was rescued in the most unlikely circumstances. Defying the odds and players transforming from ars*oles to heroes.
I know some will have the attitude that we have been relegated anyway some years later so it was pointless but it wasn’t. What we went onto achieve after that finishing 7th and getting to Hamburg will go down as the 2 greatest seasons in our history, why? Because on paper it’s a fact. That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the great escape and whatever happens it’s an era I will cherish forever and tell my Grandkids about just like my Grandad did with me.
On the train home everyone was buzzing. At one point we thought we had got into Europe through the fair play league as Richard Dunne’s red card could have swayed it our way. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way in the end but it didn’t ruin the party back to London.
I read quite often people saying people shouldn’t worry or let Fulham’s poor form affect their daily lives. It’s just a ‘game’. Except it’s not is it? Football for many is much more than that. Fulham goes back in my family to the 40s, I went to my first match when I’d just turned two years old. Fulham is and always will be in my blood. Every club other than the obvious handful at the top are just one bad owner, a couple of relegations or a poor management of finances away from doing what Pompey did or in some cases worse. I can’t imagine life without Fulham, it’s what makes me who I am. It’s what makes me one of you, part of something.
Every fan has a reason for supporting Fulham. Mine was forced on me. I’d supported all my life but it really did feel like I’d come of age at Pompey. I was just turned 18 and something changed that day. I saw Fulham in a different light. I knew it wasn’t just my family tradition, my club…..it is our club and you are my family.
And all this from a supporter. Imagine the small people that nobody gets to meet or know. The ones who work in admin, commercial or in the Canteen. How do they feel knowing their fate lies in the hands of eleven men and a match in Portsmouth. When we were relegated, when all teams are relegated the amount of small people who lose their jobs is saddening. Cuts have to be made and it’s never the players who suffer most. People just doing a job to provide for their families, have done nothing wrong but are helpless as their fate is determined by others failing or not.
So please don’t tell me Football is just a game and don’t dare tell me this is just a football club. It’s not just a football club………..
WE ARE FULHAM!!!!