Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Fulham 0 Liverpool 1
I’ve never left a game with ten minutes to go and I rarely down copious amounts of alcohol at football either. I respect the game too much to break these golden rules; today’s an exception.
We’re walking to the pre-booked taxi to begin part two of Super Saturday. AFC Wimbledon fans are queuing in their droves for tickets for the crucial championship decider against Hampton and Richmond, which takes place in a fortnight.
We jump in the taxi before the ground empties and the streets become filled with joyous Dons fans. The taxi driver has got Radio 2 on. We’re not even going to find out if the mighty Lincoln City have beaten Accrington Stanley up in Lancashire.
My head’s throbbing and I feel dehydrated. It’s not the best preparation for a Premiership clash. I’ve not seen a top flight game since Blackburn v Chelsea back in October; boy did I enjoy that day.
The Mayor of London has given away his tickets. He insists we go at the expense of himself. What a fantastic gesture this is.
The taxi driver kicks us out on Putney High Street; the roads are gridlocked. We arrange to meet the Mayor of London later in the Walkabout Bar. It’s not one of Sticky’s favourite dives, but the prices are competitive.
We’re right on top of the Thames. It’s still a gorgeous, sunny day. We walk through a park en-route to Craven Cottage. Dads and lads play football, with jumpers for goalposts. Teenagers fling Frisbees to one another. Boys and girls hold hands. There’s a fantastic ambience about the place. It doesn’t feel as though we are on our way to a crucial game of football.
It’s a mad dash; we have to peg it to the ground. We just make it in time. You have to use a credit card to enter the ground; naturally I have mine upside down.
White Van Man and The Architect shoot up the stairs. I have a mosey around and take a few snaps.
I haven’t watched Liverpool live since the saddest day in my football life. I was with The Architect on April 15th 1989 at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough, in the Nottingham Forest end, to watch a game of football. My body goose pimps up just thinking about it. Nottingham Forest fans were a credit to our county that day.
South Yorkshire Police put in a woeful shift. I hope Chief Superintendant David Duckenfield suffers the same sleepless nights those poor relatives of the deceased must have had for the last twenty years. He showed no sign of remorse and accepted little responsibility.
As I walk up the steps to my seat I hear the Liverpool fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘Justice for the 96.’
Fulham is in south-west London in the borough of Hammersmith. During the 18th Century it had a reputation for debauchery and wealth. Gambling and prostitution were high on the agenda.
In September 2007 the average house price in Fulham was £700,000. Famous people born or raised in the area include: the longest ever serving female Member of Parliament, Gwyneth Dunwoody, actor/comedian, Jessica Martin and the first winner of the main prize on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Judith Keppel.
Celebrity football fans of Fulham FC include: the toff Hugh Grant and Supernanny Jo Frost. The way Sticky junior is behaving at the moment I may well be calling on the services of Supernanny. I’m not complaining though as me and my mate at work, Shifty have a bit of a crush on her. I believe the old Radio One and Radio Two DJ David ‘Diddy’ Hamilton is the PA guy at the club.
White Van Man and The Architect are waving to me from their seats at the back of the stand. I love this old fashioned ground, with it’s unique cottage and tightness to the pitch.
I came here in 1982 with my team Lincoln City. We needed a win against Malcolm McDonald’s side to gain promotion to the old Division One. Fulham had some good players back then: Tony Gale, Ray Houghton and Gordon Davies, to name just a few.
Despite my drunken haze I’m taken aback by the occasion. I’ve watched my football for most of the season in front of just a few hundred, sometimes just one man and his dog.And yet here I am along with 25,000 energised souls watching a game in the ‘most exciting league in the world.’
Liverpool are pretty much ‘on it’ from the word go. They sweep forward at every opportunity. 20 year old Argentinean left back Emiliano Insua is playing a beautiful game of football and links up superbly with Andrea Dossena.
The Italian forces a smart save from Schwarzer. He hits a shot from the resulting corner which smashes against the crossbar.Liverpool are in full flow and The Groundhopper is loving it, despite a banging headache.
The Fulham fans are in good voice, but appear to barrack Barking born forward Bobby Zamora at every opportunity. The boy appears short on confidence and has the first touch of a baby elephant.
Alonso is delightful on the ball, he plays in Torres who forces a double save from an overworked Schwarzer. The Spaniard rattles the woodwork with a textbook volley, with Fulham once again not clearing their lines.
Moments later smart interplay between Gerrard and Torres sends the latter racing away. His shot also falls victim to the woodwork.
This passage of play is spellbinding. Liverpool end the half pretty much as they started it with Dossena’s diving header crashing against the crossbar. I applaud The Reds off.
I’m fully expecting an announcement over the PA system asking if someone can nip out to B&Q to fetch a tin of paint, to give the crossbar at the Liverpool fans’ end a fresh coat of paint. ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton treats us to Rock the Casbah and London’s Calling by The Clash. Thankfully we don’t partake in an alcoholic beverage at the break.
Liverpool play with less momentum in the second period. Hangeland and Hughes are resolute at the heart of the Fulham defence.
Benitez shuffles his pack. Dossena is sacrificed for Babbel and the ineffective Kuyt replaced by the Israeli Yossi Benayoun.
Fulham are unable to retain possession; their defending has become desperate. Babbel, Gerrard and Benayoun all spurn chances.
The clock’s ticking to 92 minutes when Gerrard finds the substitute Benayoun in space. He hammers the ball past a despairing Mark Schwarzer, to keep Liverpool in the title race. The visiting bench lose all sense of normality. The travelling support are delirious.
I’m digging White Van Man in the ribs; he's a big Man United fan. For the first time today his mile wide smile has disappeared from view. I can’t half pick em son!
Man of the Match: Mark Schwarzer