Ground #: 103
Ground: Craven Cottage
Competition: UEFA Europa League Group Stage
Kick Off: 8:05pm
Fulham FC 2
Dempsey 27’, Frei 31’
Odense BK 2
Andreasen 64’, Fall 90’
While normal European game prices would keep me away, this season the Europa League challengers (bar Tottenham) have sold their home games for a reasonable price allowing fans like me to plod along for the evening and watch (normally) a dire Europa League game against a team you were unlikely to see again. I had pre-bought a ticket for Fulham’s crunch game against Danish crack (or crap) side Odense BK fully expecting it to be a procession with Fulham already through. However, a defeat to FC Twente in their previous game meant this was a vital match. Excellent stuff.
Fulham is an area of southwest London in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and lies on the left bank of the Thames, between Putney and Chelsea. Fulham was formerly the seat of the diocese of "Fulham and Gibraltar", and Fulham Palace served as the former official home of the Bishop of London, (now a museum), the grounds of which are now divided between public allotments and an elegant botanical garden. Having been through many transformations in its history, today it is a green London area within very close reach of many famously extravagant places such as Chelsea and Kensington and this is reflected in the high local house prices and was included within Savills' 2007 list of "prime" London areas. One interesting fact about Fulham is that during the 18th century had a reputation of debauchery, becoming a sort of "Las Vegas retreat" for the wealthy of London, where there was much gambling and prostitution. Nowadays people who want to do that will probably just head east to Stratford and Westfield.
The area’s football team have come a long way from 10-20 years ago when they were struggling to stay in the Football League. Their first FL season was in 1907 when they finished 4th in the Second Division. A period of doing not a lot in the FL after that was ended in when they won promotion to the top tier for the first time since 1949 after winning the Second Division, although were promptly relegated back down in 1952. Around now, their best ever player was beginning his career as Johnny Haynes (or Mr Fulham) made his debut in 1952. 18 years and 657 appearances later, he played his last game for Fulham in 1970 before moving out to finish his career in South Africa. Fulham were back in the top flight from 1959-68 before being relegated and beginning their sink down the leagues before being relegated to the new Third Division (Level 4) in 1994. Being in relegation trouble in 1996 saw Fulham at their lowest ebb before their saviour rode in during summer of 1997.
Mohamed Al-Fayed (owner of the shit shop Harrods), bought the club for £6.25m and then proceeded by promising Premier League football within 5 years. And to be fair to Al-Fayed, he put the money in as Fulham romped up the leagues under the guidance of Ray Wilkins, Kevin Keegan, Paul Bracewell and finally Jean Tigana as Fulham achieved their target of Premier League football in 5 years by getting back to the top flight in 2001. Their ground, Craven Cottage has seen major development due to this promotion as they had to rebuild part of it to comply with all-seater regulations. Despite this, the ground is a cracking one, especially the Johnny Haynes Stand where I was sat for this game. The cottage in the corner is still there in pride of place, dating from 1905 – it was put in there because Leitch had forgotten to put changing rooms in the ground. Craven Cottage now hosts its fair share of European football due to Fulham’s fair play over the past few seasons and I was lucky in the fact this game still had something major riding on it.
Danish Superliga side Odense Boldklub were the side standing in between Fulham and the Europa League knockout rounds. Already out, the Danish side shot onto my radar in 2006/07 when they hilariously knocked Hibs out of the Intertoto Cup on away goals before going out that season in the group stage. (A group containing Parma, Osasuna, Lens and Heerenveen) They then knocked out Motherwell of the Europa League last season to continue their good record against Scottish clubs. Despite having not won the league since 1989, they have come 2nd for 3 years in a row. Although this time out, they are struggling slightly being down in 8th (out of 12) and a massive 14 points behind leaders FC Copenhagen. They had came into this game with the final Superliga match before the Winter Break with a 4-0 away win over SønderjyskE. For Fulham, the task was easy. Win and go through. Fail to win and hope that Wisla Krakow didn’t beat FC Twente. Odense were already out despite winning their first game against Krakow 3-1 before losing their next 4 to crash out.
Despite the game being fairly important, the opening spells of the match were dire and only 10 minutes in I was convinced that it would end 0-0. Odense, to nobody’s surprise, had come to put 11 men behind the ball and frustrate the home side, while Fulham didn’t seem to have any ideas about what to do. Slowly though, they did begin to open up quite a static defence and test Shaggy look-a-like goalie Stefan Wessels in the away goal. Firstly Chris Baird fired a long range effort in that was well kept out before Brede Hangeland had a header cleared off the line from a corner before the follow-up was shamefully skied over from 5 yards. (That player shall remain nameless. Purely because I couldn’t see who it was) Dempsey also had a shot cleared off the line before Fulham grabbed the deserved breakthrough on 27 minutes. Odense couldn’t live with Karim Frei and he burst away down the left before cutting the ball back to Bobby Zamora. He laid the ball off brilliantly for Clint Dempsey to arrive on time and smash the ball into the bottom corner. Fulham were well on top now and Odense were cut open again 4 minutes later when Moussa Dembele cut in from the right to put Frei clean through who finished well by sweeping the ball under Wessels and Fulham looked home and dry already. They easily got through the rest of the half, despite the Odense fans being in good voice with such classics as, “can you hear the Full-ham sing?!” Add the fact Krakow were only drawing 1-1 with Twente. Fulham could look forward to the knockout stages in 2012.
Fulham clearly decided to play it safe for the 2nd half and try to defend for 45 minutes to see what Odense were really made of. A bit of a bizarre tactic from Martin Jol considering how dominant Fulham were in the 1st half, but this did mean the Danes went for it. Despite being under constant pressure for the beginning of the half, Fulham still looked comfortable as the Danes looked really toothless as “up and coming prospect” Rasmus Falk guilty of giving the ball away a fair amount. He did win a free kick though on the edge of the area on 64 minutes after drawing a foul from Chris Baird. The group of men behind me cynically said that “this free kick goes in, Krakow probably score a 2nd and then Fulham are hanging on.” And that’s exactly what happened. Tsvetan Genkov had already put Krakow 2-1 up on 46 minutes in their game and Fulham’s wall for this free kick was in completely the wrong position that Hans Henrik Andreasen curled the ball around it and gave Neil Etheridge in the Fulham net no chance. Right then, the game completely turned. Jol’s tactics looked wrong, Odense looked half competent and Krakow now had a chance to qualify. Falk produced a half chance as the Fulham anxiety stakes rose up a notch before Aaron Hughes headed just over from a corner which would have sealed it. Late on Zamora, who had done nothing in the 2nd half, came off for Orlando Sa and it was Sa who went on a late bursting run up to the OBK penalty area before losing the ball because nobody had gone with him. This was 94 minutes in and OBK launched one final attack. (Surely not) Fulham looked dead on their feet and Espen Ruud ran down the right unchallenged. (Ref will blow up now) Nobody came to him and he swung the ball in, (someone will clear it) to allow Djiby Fall to nip in and get a header to loop towards the far corner, no, no, no, OH MY GOD IT’S GONE IN. OBK went mental as they’d snatched an equalizer and Fulham crashed out of the Europa League right then as the ref blew for full-time.
I have no idea what Fulham were trying to do for the 2nd half, but they only had themselves to blame for crashing out and not putting what looked a poor Odense side to rest. Martin Jol is a man under pressure and it was no surprise to hear shouts of “Jol out!” while he was coming off the pitch. Fulham did win their next relegation crunch match against Bolton, before coming back down to earth with a 5-0 home defeat to Man Utd. With games against Chelsea, Norwich and Arsenal coming up, it could easily be 0 points from 12 over the Christmas period. I do enjoy seeing European sides as it wets the appetite to pull my finger out and get a passport so I can do The Travelling Fan does Europe. Good luck to OBK for the rest of their Superliga season and for Fulham, Krakow got Standard Liege in the Round of 32 before likely playing Hannover 96 in the next round.
- Match: 7/10 (got better as game went on)
- Value for money: 7/10 (reasonable Euro prices)
- Ground: 8/10 (great classic ground)
- Atmosphere: 7/10 (all made by the Danish fans)
- Food: N/A – Nachos for £4? No thanks.
- Programme: 6/10 (reasonable programme)
- Referee: Alon Yefet – 6/10 (fussy)