Fulham Supporters Trust Chairman Tom Greatrex relives his personal obsession with our fortunes in Lancashire.
While for some it’s a happy place, but for many Fulham fans results – and often performances – at Turf Moor invite comparisons with some sort of footballing hell. For me, it’s a bit more obsessive than that. Whatever the redeeming features of Burnley – and some of the pubs, the cricket club, the raucous nature of the determinedly old school ground suggest it has some – it has become a grim test of the extent of my stubbornness. Let me explain…
It’s Sean Farrell’s fault. While the name of our early 1990s journeyman striker might not mean much to younger or more recent fans, if your formative Fulham years just missed the high points of Malcolm McDonald’s side, then after the departure (again) of Leroy Rosenior and the retirement of Gordon Davies, he was probably the next most prolific striker we had. On loan from Luton, his hat-trick as we won 3-2 away at leaders West Brom on New Year’s Day 1992 precipitated his permanent signing. With a strong finish to that season, some of us poor deluded souls went into the 1992/93 season optimistic that Don McKay’s blananwhyarmy could finally get us back to where we belonged… the second tier of English football.
The early days
A good start to the season – only two defeats in our opening 11 league matches – and by the time of our visit to Burnley in October, there was some optimism at a wet and windy Turf Moor. Within minutes, Sean Farrell put us a goal up. There were plenty more goals that game too, including another for Farrell. We lost 5-2. Much to the delight of the home fans who gave the single coach of intrepid away fans an enthusiastic send off. That season tailed off into mediocrity, although a 4-0 home win over Burnley in front of a (relatively) packed away terrace in the April sunshine saw Farrell score another Fulham hat-trick. The following season, another early season trip to Turf Moor and another defeat, as we finally got out of the division – being relegated to the fourth tier for the first time ever – and Sean Farrell departed for the striker’s paradise of Peterborough United.Embed from Getty Images
It wasn’t until our renaissance was underway that we met Burnley again – same again: home win, away defeat. The following season, even the all-conquering Kevin Keegan side with its record points tally couldn’t break the pattern – another defeat at Turf Moor, this time most memorable for how quickly Chis Coleman – ex of Blackburn – sprinted off at the end for his own safety as the home fans invaded the pitch. Sometime around then, I decided I was going to keep going to Burnley – every fixture – until I saw us win there. Convinced it would happen one day, and an early case of FOMO allied to bloody-mindedness meaning that when the fixtures come out, it is the game at Burnley I looked for first, when we were in the same division.
I kept up the record of going to those games – it helped, living near Glasgow for some of that time, that it was the closest thing to a local match for me. In the Championship, and the Premier League, an FA Cup replay as the Tigana tenure was going sour, and a forgettable League Cup tie when a division higher than our opponents – and the best we managed was a solitary point.Embed from Getty Images
The new normal
So the relevance of this meander down memory lane? Well, as we prepare to go to Turf Moor, Fulham sit seven points adrift of safety and in desperate need of turning some of the creditable but nevertheless frustrating recent good performances from draws to wins. And after Sunday’s win at Goodison Park – our first ever in the league – things are looking just a bit brighter. Nevertheless, we’re pretty close to the territory of must-wins if there is any chance of avoiding the yo-yo tag some are comfortable giving us.Embed from Getty Images
Except we don’t prepare to go to Turf Moor. We can’t go anywhere much more exciting than the supermarket, and awaydays to East Lancashire will have to wait until at least next season it seems. Strange kick off times, ignorant commentators and the suspended reality of VAR is our lot for now. It doesn’t feel real, but it is the best we have. Perhaps less than hellish, but something more akin to purgatory. And the debate raging in my empty head, bored at home, is whether – for perhaps the first time ever – I really don’t want Fulham to win a game.
I know we need the points, and any chance of catching those above us realistically needs a win at Burnley. Even then, it might not be enough. Yet there is a horrible, lingering fear that, by dint of the impact of coronavirus and after a wait of fifty years, being able to look to our left and the aggrieved faces of home fans in the next block with a knowing, possibly slightly smug, grin before the long trip home will be robbed from us all. Trolling Alastair Campbell on Twitter just wouldn’t be the same.
So do I want Fulham to forfeit the win? Of course not. It would be, well, Fulhamish, that Scott Parker inspires us to a first win at Turf Moor since April 1951 with an emotional post-match monologue of the pride and belief he sees in his team on the bumpy road to go again against Sheffield United at the Cottage cut short to go to the build up to Everton v Man City. But if – and it’s an if, not a secret hope – we just fall short, then at least there is some small comfort in circumstances not having conspired to miss that historic victory in person. The hope will remain that next time we play in Burnley in the wind and the rain, fortified by Benedictine and balti pie, the reward for all of those trips north will be ours to savour in person.
And after the glorious day that happens, I’m never going there again. Ever.