Fulham and Chelsea’s history have been intertwined from even before Chelsea’s inception, when Gus Mears approached Fulham chairman Henry Norris with the offer to leave Craven Cottage and move to the Fulham Road and his newly acquired Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground. Norris declined, and Mears went on to build his own club, Chelsea. Neither club experienced much success until the post-war years, so it was leading up to them that any real intensity was felt between the two sides.
Now, many Chelsea fans have expressed neutrality regarding Fulham’s potential relegation – which was in fact confirmed on May 3, with some even going so far as to admit that they don’t want them to go down. In fact, you could say some Chelsea supporters have a soft spot for the club around the corner, in a similar way you might relate to your little cousin.
The west London derby has been far less renowned (or notorious) than its north London counterpart, largely because the west London teams (Chelsea, QPR, Brentford and Fulham) have often been in different divisions. The most common match between the four sides, Chelsea versus Fulham, has taken place (competitively) a mere 76 times, compared to the (approximately) 253, 227 and 208 times (including both competitive and non-competitive fixtures) the north London, Merseyside, and Manchester derbies, respectively, have been played.
This lack of encounters meant that both teams developed other rivals. For Chelsea, there was Leeds, other London clubs like Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham, and even Manchester United and Liverpool. However, Fulham (as well as QPR) fans maintain that Chelsea is their main rival, perhaps because their neighbour has been the more successful club. While the rivalry between Chelsea and QPR is mutual, any rivalry between Chelsea and Fulham at all is due to geographical proximity, and even that does not make Chelsea fans see Fulham as a threat, as Blues supporters are often found singing at matches, ‘We don’t hate you cos you’re [not very good at all].’
Perhaps Fulham’s most successful season to date was 2009-2010, which included their run to the Europa League final. A team that had been fending off relegation in 2007-2008 finished seventh in 08-09, ensuring they would qualify to play in the Europa League. In a 63-game season which saw them beat Hamburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Basel, and notably, a massive turnaround against Juventus, they defied the odds again and again as the perpetrators of many upsets, and it was an unfortunate loss in the final to a strong Atletico Madrid side, in the dying minutes of extra time, that saw them come up empty-handed.
Fast forward to the end of 2013, and the end of Martin Jol’s reign at Fulham. Not unlike the closing stages of his term at Spurs – results going the wrong way meant his sacking was imminent, and quite inevitable.
Next up, new manager Rene Meulensteen, untested as a number one, surrounded himself with an accomplished backroom staff, including Chelsea’s Ray Wilkins. Still, Fulham conceded goals – seventeen in his first month in charge, including six at Hull City before the New Year. In the January window, Meulensteen replaced Dimitar Berbatov, Adel Taraabt, and Bryan Ruiz with Konstantinos Mitroglou, Lewis Holtby and Clint Dempsey (both on loan), all energetic, hard working, and experienced, and would hopefully help defensively by tracking back.
But for a side that finished twelfth last season, and subsequently spent a few million on new summer signings that should have strengthened the side (Darren Bent, Scott Parker, plus Fernando Amorabieta on a free), Fulham have not only had problems upfront with unreliable strikers (Chelsea supporters may find this familiar), but also have conceded 83 goals in 37 matches.
With inconsistency from too many players (whose sporadic flashes of brilliance and spots of good football have obviously not been enough) disinterested players, and the lack of a playmaker in midfield to complement the abilities of Steve Sidwell and Parker, Fulham’s amalgam of players can hardly be called a cohesive unit. It hasn’t helped that in Felix Magath they are on their third manager this season, and that they were never quite united or guided under Meulensteen.
Fulham’s match against Hull dented their confidence, especially after having been 2-0 up and going on to draw 2-2. More importantly, it rendered their destiny out of their own hands. A heavy defeat at the Britannia Stadium confirmed their fate. Possibly the most marked indication of just how poor Fulham has been is that even Jon Obi Mikel, without a Chelsea goal in six years, managed to score against them.
Though out of the FA Cup in the fourth round (at the hands of League One side Sheffield United, no less), Fulham supporters can still look to their U-18s in the FA Youth Cup final, leading by a slight advantage against Chelsea after the first leg, for a bit of glory.
Is Felix Magath the right man to guide Fulham back into the Premier League at the first attempt? Who is to blame for a disastrous season at Craven Cottage? What needs to be done in the summer?
Read the rest of Nikki’s Top Flight London series here!