To “boo” or not to “boo”? That is the question Sammy James asks ahead of Scott Parker’s return to Craven Cottage on Friday.
The night is upon us. Fulham vs Bournemouth, First vs Second, Parker vs Silva.
The reaction that Scott Parker will or should receive on his return to SW6 has been the topic of much debate pretty much ever since it became apparent this match was on the cards.
But is it right? Many think that it’s harsh, many think that it’s just part of football’s tapestry. It’s football’s equivalent of the ‘Two Generals’ problem – ultimately, there isn’t really a right answer.
Regardless, let’s delve back into what Parker did and didn’t achieve at Fulham, and see if we can conjure up an answer.
(I should caveat this entire article by saying I find it a bit strange to talk about “booing” at all. It’s a weird word, and it feels implausible to have a sensible conversation about it. Whenever I hear it, I just think of Kevin Bridges describing the 00s TV show Get Your Own Back. Anyway, instead of “booing”, I might use the phrase “negative reaction” – but we all know that it’s the same thing.)
Parker’s highs and lowsEmbed from Getty Images
Summing up Parker’s time at Fulham is tricky. I feel like there were more lows than highs; but that the highs were pretty meteoric.
His first job was to unite the team. Heads had gone after Ranieri’s disaster in 2018/19, and Scott’s job was to bring everyone back on board, and he succeeded. Mitrovic and Cairney signed new contracts, and in the summer of 2019 he helped to calm everyone down ahead of what promised to be a good season.
And while Scott guided Fulham to a credible fourth place finish in 2019/20, it was rarely spectacular. The team were seldom able to win by more than one goal, and despite a plethora of expensive attacking talent, games were frequently won via moments of individual brilliance rather than positive, intuitive football.
Of course, watching your team score screamers is always fun, but it’s not very sustainable.
However, when you are a play-off destined team, only one game really matters: the play-off final. It doesn’t get bigger than that, except it does when you’re playing your local, noisy, ambitious rivals down the road. After 48 games, it was all on one night, Fulham vs Brentford at Wembley.
Jubilation to jumbled messEmbed from Getty Images
And that is the night Parker will always dine out on. One of the greatest Fulham nights. It was more a “must-not-lose” than a “must-win”, but fortunately we did both.
In the long run, Brentford got the Premier League status they craved, and taking our place must have been sweet, but do not forget that the multi-coloured seat shaggers would never, EVER have let us live down a win that night. Joe Bryan’s boot may have swung it, but Parker was the mastermind.
I feel like that night and its significance is sometimes forgotten. The lack of fans, and the chaos that followed in the top flight quickly evaporated the memories, but the consequences had we lost would have been disastrous in a myriad of ways.
So enter the Premier League, where it had all unravelled before. Parker talked of keeping the play-off winning team together, and he did that… for one game at least.
Quickly, Parker had to adapt much of what he previously preached. Unity and solidarity in the camp was out the window, and shinier talents with new tactical systems were dragged in.Embed from Getty Images
In fairness, Scott was realising what most of the fanbase knew too, that much of Fulham’s cobbled together, Championship team, was not really equipped for Premier League life.
Tony Khan is widely slammed for his transfer failings in the summer of 2018, but for me the signings of Knockaert, Cavaleiro and to an extent Hector in 2019 were worse. All three had a glass ceiling, and sadly it was below the top flight.
Once the early chaos was over, Parker did an admirable job of piloting the stricken plane that was Fulham’s season. A long unbeaten run over Christmas and big wins in Merseyside gave Parker a fighting chance of landing on cherished tarmac of Premier League safety.
But, as we know, that win at Anfield was as close as Parker ever got to pulling off the impossible. The aircraft was down, and the inquest was soon underway.
Did solid players like Mitrovic, Rodak and Kebano all need to be so carelessly cast aside? Should a team with the likes of Anguissa, Andersen and Areola really have been in as much trouble as they were? And did Parker’s overemphasis on defence cost us during those crucial matches in March and April?
All of these were fair and mostly still unanswered questions. While the national media still talked of Scott being “unlucky”, many Fulham fans were wondering if Parker deserved some share of the blame.
The exitEmbed from Getty Images
When Bournemouth’s interest in Parker became more than just hearsay, it felt like a good solution for all involved. However, the length of time it took for all parties to reach a solution didn’t help anyone. Parker refused to resign, and Fulham refused to sack him with two years left on his contract. It was a bitter end to what had been an ugly couple of months already.
Ultimately, a bit of contract back-and-forth was hardly the end of the world, and given Marco Silva’s swift appointment, it didn’t really set Fulham back either. However, it did feel like Parker tossed a match at the petrol-soaked bridge on his way out of Motspur Park.
The reactionEmbed from Getty Images
So what reaction will Parker get from Fulham fans? I’m going to guess mostly negative. On the reflection of all the evidence above, I would fully support you if you said it’s unwarranted. A promotion is a promotion, particularly one achieved in such dramatic circumstances. And although last season was a failure, it was still a valiant one.
Having said that, is any “negative reaction” that Parker receives tonight that deep either? I’m not condoning tagging his car or harassing his family, but isn’t creating a hostile environment for a former player or manager part of live football’s theatre?
Parker left the club for another one of reasonably equal stature, believing the grass is greener. Fulham are the jilted ex-lovers scorning the one who thinks they knows better. He is a classic footballing pantomime villain, and therefore I just don’t think it’s wrong to treat him as such.
It’s not rational, it’s not proportional, but why does it always need to be? Wanting to create some atmosphere and realising Scott achieved some good things at Fulham are not mutually exclusive.
Get behind the team in whatever way you feel is best, I doubt Scott will really care too much either way. UTF.