Cam reviews the highs and lows of the year that was 2021.
365 days of travail and wonderment have nearly passed us by, almost within a blink. From outside survival hopefuls to heavily-touted promotion candidates, Fulham have have sunk to the depths and risen to the top again like the cream we indisputably are, and with 2022 upon the horizon, smirking wryly, we peer ahead to the challenges and opportunities that lay before of us.
2021 was a strange concoction of fear, anticipation and for the most part, heartache where football’s concerned but on a personal level, away from the pitch, our lives have been dictated by an evolving pandemic that’s just as prevalent as it was at the beginning of 2020. Covid hasn’t dispersed, and over the festive season we’ve seen, first-hand, the derisory affect it has on the game, as well as our livelihoods.
Match postponements won’t cancel our optimism, though. Moving forward, we have to be able to look back, and we’re ending this year on a high. I’d like to take this moment to wish every single one of you a fruitful, enriching 2022, from the Fulhamish gang to yours. Go well, cherish seconds as though they were hours, and don’t forget to raise a tall one for the world’s greatest, the super shaggin’ Whites.
Fulham began the year by progressing in the FA Cup with a determined 2-0 victory against Queens Park Rangers in the 3rd round. The Whites were held to a goalless draw in normal time, however two quick-fire strikes from Bobby Decordova-Reid and Neeskens Kebano in the first period of extra-time were enough to subdue our local rivals at Loftus Road.
A spurring point was earned against Tottenham Hotspur in north London, with Ivan Cavaleiro netting the equaliser in the 74th minute. Harry Kane nodded the hosts ahead midway through the first-half, although Fulham held firm for the remainder and our Portuguese winger-come-striker came good with a ruthless bullet header of his own.
On Valentine’s Day, at the 28th time of asking, Fulham finally submitted their first ever league victory at Goodison Park. On-loan striker Josh Maja, on his full debut for the Whites, notched a clinical brace as the visitors outclassed Everton, a historic 2-0 dub that sparked amore with hearts aflutter. Fulham had been shot down in each of their 22 previous visits to the blue half of Merseyside but this time, Maja’s arrow had us tickled pink.
Not long after their successful trip to Lancashire, Fulham were on the road to Liverpool, again, to face Jurgen Klopp’s Reds and nobody could quite envision what eventually unfurled at Anfield. Another lengthy winless spell was broken, the Whites had not won on this side of Stanley Park since 2012 and just before the break, Mario Lemina let rip from the edge of the 18 to record the only goal of the game. Six points snatched from Scousers in their own back gardens, how’s that for a robbery?
Solid reasons to be cheerful were few and far between for Fulham’s first-team in April, however Steve Wigley’s U18 set-up ran riot against Reading’s equivalent age group, and we simply couldn’t bypass an entire month without having something to shout about. Kieron Bowie’s brace and singular goals from Ollie O’Neill, Matt Dibley-Dias and Idris Odutayo fired the young Whites towards a comprehensive 5-1 mauling of the Royals, a triumph that saw them regain top spot in the U18 Premier League South standings. Wigley’s boys would go on to win their respective division on goal difference, ahead of Crystal Palace’s U18s, who scored 18 less.
An offside wonder strike from Edison Cavani propelled Old Trafford into rapture but then, in the 76th minute, Joe Bryan emerged at the back stick to silence Manchester United and their cocksure droves. The Red Devils started fast and furiously, their Uruguayan hitman spanked a worldie from a neighbouring postcode, but an onslaught failed to materialise. The Whites rallied, the run-of-play was in our favour and our resident Bristolians, BDR and Bryan, combined to restore parity. An inviting cross from the Jamaica international, butted home by a left-back with a taste for adventure. 1-1 at the Theatre of Dreams, a purposeful point which proved to be our final hurrah in the top-flight.
Despite playing second fiddle to Alphonse Areola for the majority of the 2020/2021 campaign, current first-choice stopper Marek Rodak was still included in Slovakia’s Euro 2020 compliment. Testament to his ability and professionalism, Rody’s international calibre was respected by his nation and the 25-year-old is now recognised as a trustworthy representative.
Having just been relegated from the Premier League, it was soon brought to our attention that 2021 signified a milestone for our fabled 2000/2001 title winners. 20 years after returning to the top-flight, following an absence greater than three decades, Jean Tigana’s acclaimed outfit were rightfully eulogised and to many, it’s a side that will never be superseded. 101 points, 90 league goals and a 10 point buffer between Blackburn Rovers – that’s how to win the second division, and it’s a resounding return that aroused optimism for the coming Championship season.
Scott Parker couldn’t inspire safety, his naïve tactics were picked apart in the latter stages of the season gone by, and with confidence languishing in the gutter, his bipolar stint at the wheel came its inevitable ending. We never doubted Parker’s dedication and commitment to the club, it’s his strategic inadequacies which were unsettling, and his departure promised a new, albeit uncertain dawn. He’d lost the support of the board and the fan base, so an exit on amicable terms was wholly necessary for all parties involved.
Appointing the right man, or men, was paramount and with Parker and Matty Wells headed for AFC Bournemouth, Fulham approached none other than Marco Silva, who had been out of action for 18 months. Compelled by the club’s vision, Silva swiftly became Head Coach and his arrival also brought a face we’re thankfully all too familiar with. Fiery club legend Luis Boa Morte linked up with his Portuguese compatriot and instantly restored identity within a team that had lost its way, and while the duo’s tenure at Everton was less than auspicious, positivity surrounding the club soared.
Silva got to work instantly. Reinforcements were required in order to soothe a squad scolded by failure and a substantial double scoop was soon served up. Paulo Gazzaniga and Harry Wilson were unveiled as Silva’s inaugural signings, and both acquisitions embodied hunger. Gazzaniga joined to rubber-stamp a starting place and Wilson left Liverpool, his boyhood club, to establish stability, and it’s those specific ambitions that intrigued us the most.
With Covid restrictions eased, the return of mass crowds was reintroduced to sporting events and that was greatly received by Fulham’s faithful, as well as Middlesbrough’s following, on the opening day of the 2021/2022 season. An emotionally charged affair, with many a Fulham fan deprived of live football since Bristol City away, Craven Cottage oscillated raucously as the encounter finished 1-1.
Initial signs of Silva’s system were healthy and the Whites’ reimagined approach took full-flight at the Kirklees Stadium. Fast-paced, brutally incisive, Fulham held the Terriers hostage and hijacked a terrific 5-1 triumph, a savaging that comprised a bizarre account-opener for Aleksandar Mitrovic, a straight red for Wilson, and a consummate double for Cavaleiro.
Lips were licked as YouTube clips of Clube de Regatas do Flamengo sensation Rodrigo Muniz were sampled and the 20-year-old striker, amid conjecture of his proposed signing, was eventually unmasked as a Fulham player in Spain, where he was quarantining before he touched down in the UK. Samba flair, bicycle kicks, Muniz put pen to paper on a 5-year deal, with Fulham fandom far and wide waiting eagerly for a first glimpse of the south American youngster down by the river.
Chopping and changing line-ups is essential at the start of the season with league and cup meetings in close contention and, in the second round of the Carabao Cup, Silva named a blend of experience and youth in the starting XI to take on Birmingham City. A team comprising Adrion Pajaziti, Tyrese Francois and deadlock-breaker Jay Stansfield remained alert to sweep the hosts aside 2-0, a performance that enlightened us to the capable depth within our ranks.
Perhaps the biggest and most critical revelation of the year, Aleksandar Mitrovic, settled and utterly besotted by SW6, agreed a bumper 5-year contract extension, pledging his future to the shaggin’ Whites until the summer of 2026. Mitro’s deadly prowess is more than an asset, it’s a privilege to behold and if Fulham are indeed to climb back to the Premier League, the Serb’s instinctiveness is indispensable. Fulham Twitter tumbled into meltdown, gushing, gracious posts adorned timelines for weeks after the news was delightfully disclosed and with our backing, the 27-year-old’s slung 22 strikes into the back of the net. Love and appreciation, reciprocated.
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Further additions were purchased in the dying embers of Transfer Deadline Day. Domingos Quina and Nathaniel Chalobah joined from Watford, bolstering Silva’s selection pool and though Quina, the loanee, has vanished into thin air, Chalobah, who’s weathered injury setbacks, is certainly worthy of regular game time. The former Chelsea man signed a 2-year contract with an option to extend by a further year, and we’re yet to see the very best of the versatile midfielder.
Another win at St. Andrews (I refuse to call it the Trillion Trophy Stadium) appeared in the shape of a 4-1 pasting, and it also included a rare but customary header from Denis Odoi. Mitro scored two, Wilson chipped in with one of his own, the visitors lived a charmed life despite the scoreline, but ultimately exacted supremacy in emphatic style come the final whistle.
Players and fans alike stood in solidarity with Rhys Porter, a courageous fundraiser with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, after the teenager was subjected to vile discrimination and abuse online. Tim Ream heaped tearful praise upon Rhys, who bravely stood up to those who’d cowardly mocked his condition, and in the only way Fulham fans know how, the 13-year-old had an entire club, and more, stationed staunchly by his side. Our club is uniquely beautiful because of its diversity and inclusion, we’re a family through thick and thin and the manner in which we reacted to embrace Rhys and his mission to rid prejudice was commendably heart-warming. This, in particular, is one of the many reasons why I adore Fulham.
A merciless first-half Mitro hat-trick stunted Swansea City’s hopes of salvaging reward at the Cottage, although the Welsh outfit didn’t bow out without a scuffle. The Swans managed to claw back a goal at 2-0 down, however Mitro drove a wedge through their revival plans with a sublime first-time finish, via Odoi’s sculpted in-swinger. Two-goal cushion restored, three points in the bag with 45 minutes left to navigate.
Fulham, before the October international break, had been humbled by Coventry City and redemption against QPR was determining. Local derbies are never predictable, whoever flaunted bigger bollocks would steal the show and on a dreary mid-October lunchtime, the Whites set themselves ablaze. Mitro smuggled another brace, Decordova-Reid surfed Jean Micheal Seri’s wavelength to crash the game’s third past Seny Dieng and Antonee Robinson, crazy legs himself, rounded off the scoring with a deflected drive in added time. Bragging rights stayed put and for QPR, ‘it happened again’.
After an eternity on the sidelines with dodgy knees and creaky ankles, Tom Cairney reacquainted himself to senior action with an impact that sniped the Bluebirds off an already shallow perch. Greeted by a standing ovation, TC manipulated proceedings artistically and just after the hour mark, the 30-year-old laced a blistering missile into the top left postage stamp, in front of a cacophonous Hammersmith End. Overcome by what he’d just done, Cairney was visibly touched by the reception he’d received and if anything, it proved once and for all that there’s life in those injury-prone legs of his yet.
Fulham were ramping up their charge for the top of the table and at the City Ground, against Nottingham Forest, Silva’s battalion ran amok. Djed Spence’s own goal put the visitors ahead early on, and into the second period, within a frenzied 5-minute patch, the Whites widened the margin with three goals, two from you-know-who, and one from Kebano. I wasn’t there, sadly, but I distinctly remember going berserk at a family event, so much so that my shrill shriek as Neeskens scored nearly killed my wife’s grandmother. It was worth it.
Eyes were trained on our top-of-the-table showdown with West Bromwich Albion, a clash that was billed to be a titanic slug-fest with a narrative too close for comfort. We were so sorry to disappoint the neutral, because the Whites completely sullied Sky Sports’ script with a snug 3-0 victory. Mitro’s second hat-trick of the season was too much for the Baggies to handle and as tempers flared somewhat, both sides received red cards for reckless challenges. Darnell Furlong was given his marching orders with 15 minutes left, and Tosin Adarabioyo was also dismissed in the 85th minute, purely to even things up as a backhanded goodwill gesture, one would imagine.
We’re still waiting for that apology letter from Blackburn, you know. Tony Mowbray’s 10-man Rovers allowed Fulham to boil gallons of piss at Ewood Park and it’s a spellbinding night we’re not likely to forget in a hurry. How, in your own stadium, do you crumble so amateurishly to a 7-0 whitewashing? It could never be my club. Kebano stole souls, Wilson summoned hotdogs and Muniz channelled his inner O Fenômeno. With too much left to mention, we’ll revel in the satisfaction of a real one-sided whopping where our offensive potential eclipsed expectation exquisitely.
Playing Barnsley at home isn’t always pleasant. They’ve developed into a bogey team of ours, sort of, as they always seem to find an extra gear when they journey down from south Yorkshire to the capital. Unfortunately for the Tykes, though, they’d bumped into the Fulham at precisely the wrong time. Fulham dominated in every department and aspect, a training match tempo introduced itself after Fabio Carvalho slotted the game’s second with every member of Silva’s camp enjoying their inclusion. Victor Adeboyejo did bag a consolation, mind, but with a final score of 4-1 to the Whites, the notion of a typically tough game was banished from all post-game write-ups.
The Championship’s top-scorer, with 22 goals to his exalted name, Mitrovic was crowned the PFA Vertu Motors Fans’ Player of the Month for November (announced in December), meaning he’d claimed the gong for a third-consecutive month. Indeed, Mitro was labelled the September and October Fans’ Player of the Month, and he became the first player to do so, ever. Aleksandar’s application during November for Fulham didn’t go unnoticed, as his involvement in five goals (three goals and two assist) for the club pushed the Whites towards an unbeaten month. We sincerely hope the prolific striker continues to impress into the New Year, with plenty more personal accolades to be won, as well as our collective ambitions.