The DNA for every Fulham FC follower appears stamped with a default response that suggests disaster is always lurking just around the corner. Like Bram Stoker's Dracula, malevolent spirits come in many guises. Perhaps, as with Nosferatu, they arrive water-born before wafting over the roof of the Riverside stand to insinuate themselves into the brickwork of the Cottage, there to float wraith-like under the dressing-room door at a time of their choosing.
Too fanciful for you? Research how many clubs through history have considered themselves cursed, with a stadium stalked by ghosts, their premises built too close to ancient burial grounds or linked with acts of devilry. There's more than a handful of clubs in the Football League believe me who since Victorian times have called in the priest to exorcise demons, sanctify the turf and - hopefully - inspire a change in fortune. Derby County and Birmingham both believed enough in rumours of a 100 year Romany curse on their clubs to seek out gypsy folk – this in the 20th century – asking to have the curse lifted in exchange for cash. Ron Saunders, as Spartan and no-nonsense a manager as you might wish to meet in the game had crucifixes attached to floodlight pylons at St. Andrews and the soles of players' boots painted red to deter the attentions of Satan! In light of their current league status, City may need to up the ante to reverse their slide down the leagues. Virgin sacrifice anyone?
In Africa all this is taken to a whole new level. Known variously as ‘muti,' juju or just plain witchcraft – the spirits must always be invoked. When Burkina Faso progressed to the semis of the '98 African Cup of Nations as hosts, the squad begged coach Troussier to summon up the dark arts to ensure they made the final. He laughed it off, but the players were serious. The strong rumour was that, to avoid local embarrassment to the Burkinabe FA, a flight was made to neighbouring Bamako to secure the witchdoctor's blessing and the remains of a monkey were then interred on the pitch at the national stadium. Troussier never denied the story when I asked him about it. Four years later, again in Mali, Cameroonian officials were caught trying to bury ‘magical' items at the four corners of a ground on the eve of a game.
We Whites fans must now assume therefore that, following his exile from the national side, Mahamadou Diarra failed to appease the gods before turning up again to play for Mali in their ANC qualifier with Botswana. He has been duly punished for his snubbing of the ‘Eagles' and we now have to deal with the consequences of his serious knee injury. The club chaplain will accompany all Fulham players called up for any future African Cup of Nations fixtures.
Thank heavens for the brood of chickens recently added to the Motspur Park landscape. Slaughtering a few before the next round of international games is now a priority, though I would draw the line at having their blood added to the squad's isotonic drinks. Get cracking Mr. Mackintosh and look to the positives. Turn the ritual into a media event, perhaps at half-time during the next reserve game, with free entry for the kids and a souvenir slice of genuine FFC chicken entrails on a stick. Much more fun than those plastic ‘clappers,' and who knows what power of voodoo they may call down when waved at the away keeper in the Putney End?
Back to our theme from the first para, if you are still with me. Why the weepin' and a wailin' at news that our midfielder must go under the knife? Did we miss him Saturday? Do we not have cover enough for the midfield? Yes, perhaps not quite as we would have wanted, but enough options surely to keep the ship afloat. And until the surgeon takes a look, I won't worry that Diarra is side-lined till the spring and the club confirm it. I resisted a gloat at AJ's anterior cruciate injury because in a business where your players put their physical fitness on the line each time they lace up their boots, every club suffers injuries over the course of a season. This is where managers earn their corn. Jol now plans for the absence of two exciting squad players – the influential Malian and our vibrant young winger Mesca, until their ligament injuries heal. We came through a tough period when Bobby broke his leg and Andy relocated to the treatment table full time (I'm sure he'd want to be playing, especially at his age, but never has one man picked up so much dough in wages for sitting at home with his dodgy legs up on the couch).
A sensible transfer policy and the excellent husbandry of youth means Fulham will ride out these setbacks with minimal effect on team performance. I recall with a chill the moment we saw McBride collapse in a heap clutching his knee at the very start of the 2007 season, and the afternoon I heard via the radio of Bullard's career-threatening injury at Newcastle. These were losses at the time in Fulham's history that holed us below the waterline and impacted severely on the team. I don't see that being the case now. We are far stronger. To remind yourself take a look at the eleven who started the 2010 Final in Hamburg, where both Damien and Zamo were asked to give it one last gung-ho blast while not fully fit. In fact, returning to our theme earlier in the week, we have all read Bullard on the official site tipping us to finish higher this season. I do think we can get up around 7th as I don't see the Magpies having another season like the last. The Europa League is an additional burden – as it will be for Spurs, and now the Toon look to be driving Ba away from Tyneside. A strange policy from the rather febrile Pardew.
As for our bogey side Everton, Moyes may be heading for a similar problem off Fellaini to the one we had with Clint. Yes, the door is open for the Whites to edge up closer to the Big Four…and we can grab that chance by raising our game away from CC. That makes Saturday's trip to the DW a crossroads opportunity to show a new ruthlessness, and comes against the ideal opponents.
We did the double over them last season, but frankly could also have lost both times, the contests were marginal. As for team selection, Jol says his one big decision is Bryan or Hugo? Does that mean no start for Petric? Both he and Ruiz are fit again. Never change a winning team, especially when they've played well. I would go with the same again, and feel Rodallega will give it a real go against his former club. I admire Martinez enormously and hope Wigan defy the odds to retain their status. But can we have the three points please. The Latics, like every team in the league, will have a star against the visit of Fulham on their wall planner where the gaffer says, “this is where we must pick up three home points”. Show us your cards Martin. Dandy and dynamic new outfit on the road inspired by the incomparable Dimitar, or slumbering old-style Fulham barely capable of forcing a corner? We'll find out soon enough. Saturday is a very winnable game for the Superwhites. An update on how to order your chicken gizzards for the future when I have it. For now I am keeping the faith and lighting a candle, but another road loss come 5pm Saturday will see me howling at the moon...
If you're travelling, let's really make some noise ! COYW!!!