Jack Stroudley looks back at Fulham’s year and reminds us of the moments we all wanted to forget.
It wouldn’t be the festive period without someone reminding you of the doom and gloom in the world. As a whole, it’s been quite a successful year for Fulham with a top half finish and a couple of good cup runs – there’s certainly been lots to be excited about. However, it’s not been all sunshine and rainbows and while George Rossiter will run you through the best of 2023 later this week, I’m here to look more at the troughs than the peaks.
5. The current run
It’s obvious that throughout a season you’re going to go through tricky periods and while I hear the cries of ‘cut the team some slack we won two games 5-0 earlier this month’ we’ve got to include five things on the list and this feels like a good starting point. It’s true, we’ve had some very high moments this month with those previously mentioned wins and a Carabao Cup Semi Final secured, which is what makes this sudden downturn in form all the more worrying.
Fulham have failed to score in their last three games, have looked pretty poor throughout and with the likes of Luton and Burnley seeming to have upturns in form some fans are beginning to grow concerned we need to start looking over our shoulder. I think we’ll be fine (albeit with a good winter window) but these last few games certainly have raised question marks.
4. Derby day dismantling
The 2022/23 season saw us pick up a fair share of points in the West London derbies with three points against Brentford and four against Chelsea including that infamous night at the cottage. However, half way through the season with both home fixtures played, Fulham have been taken to the sword by both of our neighbours.
In our first home game of the season, Fulham looked lost and devoid of ideas against an Ivan Toney-less Brentford. Did Tim Ream deserve to be sent off? Probably not and that may have turned the tide in Thomas Frank’s side favour, but Fulham looked really flat and we once again allowed our bogey team to have bragging rights, amazingly that still wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Fulham on 19 August 2023, as Mitro departed later that day.
In October, we once again met a Chelsea side who were in a rut of bad form with just one win from the opening six. Fulham fans were hopeful we could get another famous result over Mauricio Pochettino’s side. That wasn’t to be with yet another poor display in a local derby. Goals in quick succession from Mudryk and Broja kicked the stuffing out of Fulham in the opening twenty minutes and we never recovered.
3. Ticket prices
It would feel wrong to talk about the negative points at Fulham and not mention the hikes in ticket prices, alongside the naivety shown by board members to ignore the fan base’s opinions. In the summer, Fulham announced an 18% rise in season ticket pricing on average alongside a £3,000 season ticket in the new Riverside Stand. There were rumblings of discontent throughout the fanbase which boiled over once Manchester United tickets were announced with some tickets going for £160.
A protest ensued with yellow cards shown in the 18th minute demanding the board not to continue to price Fulham fans out. Just before Christmas, Alistair Mackintosh questioned whether the FST was representative of the whole fanbase and continued to defend the club’s decision for the rise in prices.
2. Mitrovic to Saudi Arabia
Following the return from his suspension, Aleksandar Mitrovic was greeted in Southampton with a plethora of Serbian flags and adoring fans welcoming him back to the side. He rewarded Fulham fans with a goal on the coast alongside a brace in our final home game against Crystal Palace. ‘Freed from Desire’ played over the tannoy during the end of season walk around the pitch with all four stands joining in unison to sing ‘Mitro’s on fire’ little did we know that would be the last league appearance he would make at Craven Cottage.
Saudi Arabian links started to get thrown around on Twitter with Fulham fans collectively laughing them off thinking that Mitrovic wouldn’t have his head turned… how wrong we were. The Serbian striker made it abundantly clear from an early stage that he wanted to move and would do anything in his power to move, including a refusal to play for the club again. Eventually on 19 August, a move to Al-Hilal was confirmed ending a saga which has left a bitter taste with Fulham fans. A true legend of the club with a far-from-fairytale ending.
1. Three reds in a minute
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over this. Following Fulham’s 2-0 win over Leeds to secure a quarter-final place which saw the likes of Grimsby Town, Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers still in the competition, a place at Wembley felt within touching distance… until we got our annual away trip to Manchester.
Nevertheless, we went to Old Trafford with confidence as Casemiro was suspended for Manchester United and we had every right to be. Fulham bossed Erik ten Hag’s side during the first half and were rewarded for their dominance five minutes into the second half when Mitrovic got on the end of a set-piece to give Fulham the lead.
Despite being 1-0 up, Fulham continued on the front-foot and were denied a second thanks to a magnificent David De Gea save. We were in control and a dream of a semi-final was getting closer and closer – until the 72nd minute.
Manchester United broke on the counter with Jadon Sancho eventually having a free shot into an open net, Willian blocked the shot for a corner. Initially I remember celebrating the block like we’d scored until I realised he’d used his hand to clear it. Red card number one. Marco Silva then made his feelings known with Fulham denied a penalty in the first-half following a push from Luke Shaw – red card number two. Then the most memorable of the three came with Mitrovic completely lost his head and made his feelings known to referee Chris Kavanagh… red card number three, and a subsequent eight-match ban.
Manchester United went on the win the game 3-1 and Mitro’s ban then seemed to derail our season and our outside shot of European football. Oh, what could’ve been.