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Fulham v Watford, 2/5/98
Money makes the world go round
By Matt Rowson

My girlfriend supports Fulham. Not in an avid or even particularly bothered sort of way... more, I suspect, to annoy me. Nonetheless, it's not really in my (ahem) interests to court disaster by slagging off her precious team.

Fortunately, she doesn't read these previews.

The one breathing space in my weekly schedule at the moment is an hour or so after getting up on a Sunday morning (if you don't believe that... why else am I writing this match preview at 1am on Wednesday ?). I can normally bank on finding one of those pleasantly mind-numbing identikit cartoon series, featuring a team of charismatic and plucky good guys (normally including one token parrot/cat/robot). Set against said good guys there's normally a money-wielding big-chief (who is normally accessed via some form of video conferencing facility), a deranged and unstable deputy and a completely incompetent sidekick.

Have you spotted the link to Fulham yet? (It had nothing to do with the parrot).

I've ranted enough about Kev'n'Ray's travelling circus this season not to have to go into detail again, I think (although I'm not sure that the plan concocted with ig in a pub in Bournemouth to slag Fulham in EVERY preview quite came to fruition. I may have missed one.). Suffice to say that blundering into a small club, booting out the management and replacing most of a successful playing staff with outrageously expensive alternatives is not the best way to win friends and influence people in my book.

I am, however, beginning to sympathise with Fulham's support. A little bit. I mean, they never ASKED to become the most despised team in the lower divisions. It's not like supporting Manchester United, where you really ought to know what you're letting yourself in for.

And there is every possibility that despite having invested over 7million this season (which is probably more than York City, for example, have forked out on transfer fees IN THEIR HISTORY), Fulham will not get promoted. Even assuming they reach the play-offs (and other results will have to go a certain way to deprive them even if we win on Saturday), my gut feeling tells me that Northampton's bloody mindedness , for example, is far better equipped for this sort of event. The spectre of a rematch with Gillingham will not appeal to Fulham either, one would imagine, in the aftermath of the Matthew Fox saga of a month ago.

Wilkins' record since taking over (37 games, 17 wins, 8 draws, 12 defeats) is not a great return on such a disproportionate investment and the fans, who I don't think have ever been wholly convinced, are now beginning to openly criticise. The inevitable nerves that will be evident until the play-offs are decided may have influenced this, however describing your team as having "the finesse of a three legged donkey" (see the Fulham Independent Website) is hardly pulling punches.

It will be interesting to see how things proceed should Fulham not gain promotion (a possibility that seems to have been given scant consideration... it must have seemed safe to assume that they'd invested enough to avert this risk). Whether Wilkins goes or stays the club will be left with expensive players on lucrative contracts... some may decide to leave, will the club be able to support the salaries of those who stay ? How far is Al Fayed's bankrolling likely to go? What's worse, what if Al Fayed pulls out or sells the club?

On the other hand, should Fulham gain promotion, expect them to replace Manchester City as the first club to be linked with any unsettled "superstar" (NB Real superstars are generally paid too much to be unsettled). Already Jean-Pierre Papin and Matt Le Tissier have been mentioned. Expect stories linking the cottagers to Ronaldo, Bobby Charlton, Michael Schumacher and the Queen Mother to break soon.

The team... one of many expensive recruits is Maik Taylor in goal, a 700k signing from Southampton. Taylor has not had the most glorious of seasons, resulting in calls for reserve (and South African International) Andre Arendse to be given a go. Taylor fluffed his only serious involvement on Saturday resulting in Northampton's winner, and allegedly leading to confrontations with Chris Coleman later on.

Coleman is the centrepiece of the defence, and was recently voted into the Divisional team of the season (and at the risk of labouring a point... for 2million I should bloody think so !). Recent performances, however, have not been so impressive.

Other than Coleman, the defence has survived remarkably well... the Welshman's three colleagues on Saturday, Mark Blake, Matt Lawrence and Simon Morgan have actually been at the club for longer than the management. One can't help wondering, however, whether the more lucrative terms offered to new recruits will have been beneficial to team morale as a whole...

In midfield, the key man is undoubtedly Paul Bracewell, who continues to dominate despite the advancing years. One new recruit playing alongside him is ex-Crewe and Sheff.Wed. midfielder Wayne Collins, on whom the jury is apparently still out. Other expensive signings in this area have been less successful still... the ridiculous Ian Selley was injured in one of his first games, and Paul Trollope has been relegated to the subs bench to the relief of the Cottagers' fans.

Up front is where the great shakes have been made. Peter Beardsley still has the guile to be a major influence; Moody and Peschisolido have both been scoring goals, although both have picked up knocks recently. The charming Tony Thorpe has also been a sub, although there have been calls for his inclusion at the expense of Peschisolido. A combination of the two would surpass even the Nogan/Livingstone pairing of Grimsby for the title of "striking partnership I'd most like to seal in a mine shaft".

Saturday is a big game for us... we realistically need City to slip up at Preston, but we're still playing for the Championship. However it is a massive game for Fulham. 13000 tickets had apparently been sold in advance by last Saturday (presumably including the Hornets' allocation), and Fulham are appealing to the local council for the right to expand their capacity to 19000. The Cottagers may have lost their last two games, to Burnley (which takes some doing, although, of course, we managed it too) and Northampton. They may also have had trouble disposing of our reserves in the Auto-Windscreens shield... but they'll be fired up for this one.

And if I've inadvertently thawed anyone's attitude towards Fulham, please browse through the messageboard on the Unofficial site, paying particular heed to the bleating about everyone raising their game against the poor Cottagers... and consider also a gem from earlier in the season : "Money makes the world go round... and we've got plenty of it!".

Enjoy the game.