by Mike Forrest
Believe; this was the moniker Fulham fans had adopted during Roy Hodgson’s remarkable tenure as Fulham manager. However during Hodgson’s guidance at the helm Fulham fans could be forgiven for allowing their belief to wane, not because they were disloyal to Hodgson but because Fulham had their backs firmly pinned against the wall on many an occasion.
His appointment was an enigmatic one. Relief had swept through Craven Cottage like the breeze from the Thames at the sacking of the dismal Lawrie Sanchez but the appointment of Hodgson left many miffed.
It had been heavily rumoured that John Collins and/or Jean Tigana, both fan favourites would be appointed and as Fulham were in dire straits at the time firmly rooted at the foot of the table Collins’ inexperience was overlooked and instead optimists pointed to him as the man to refuel the squad with some much needed passion.
So the appointment of Hodgson was greeted with a certain malaise; was a 59 year old man whose heyday as a manager seemed to be vanishing in the rearview mirror really the best person to save us from the drop?
A run of six games without a victory including being unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by lowly Bristol Rovers seemed to confirm that Hodgson was indeed not to be Fulham’s saviour. But like any saviour, it took time for Hodgson to perform his miracle.
Luckily his predecessor had fared slightly better in the transfer market than he had done in the league, managing to obtain a few decent players from the hefty amount of money he had gleefully spent. Hodgson combined these players with purchases of his own that enabled Fulham to have a fighting chance of staying in the league.
However it took quite a long time for Hodgson’s formula to yield positive results and after several more otiose months of underwhelming performances and results, many fans had accepted that our fate lay in the murky depths of down below in the Championship.
Just beyond the point where hope had all but gone and fans had dug past rock bottom and embedded themselves on the core of despair something rather wonderful happened. It was as if a switch had been switched and Fulham’s fortunes reversed. 4 wins out of the last 5 games, including 3 away wins on the bounce ensured a highly unlikely survival.
An away win for Fulham is always a rare occurrence and beforehand Hodgson hadn’t overseen a single triumph on the road, so to win the last three away games in succession was simply magical. Whatever potion was used was sprinkled onto the following season that saw the club transformed from relegation fodder to European finalists.
However successful Hodgson was, he like any hero had a few detractors and this just be recognised. His strict, regimented training drills that corresponded to performances on the pitch stifled flair leading to some calling his type of play boring and in addition his away record at Fulham also has to come under harsh scrutiny.
Yet these are mere minor trifles when compared to his overall success at Craven Cottage. From slaying the mighty Juventus to withstanding the Shakhtar Donetsk and on a domestic level constantly overturning bigger clubs, how one could complain of a boring game now and again is just plain ridiculous.
But perhaps Hodgson’s biggest contribution came off the pitch. Fulham fans and the club had suffered from two successive nerve rattling relegation battles. The prospect of the drop always casts a despairing gloom; fans become cagey, nervous and unsettled with one another. Hodgson’s lasting effect – his legacy – has been to eradicate this gloom from the club and instill a virtue that has been predominant among the club and fans in recent years and that has helped Fulham to grow into a fully fledged respected Premier League club. The virtue? Belief.