By Morgan Phillips
At the start of June 2016 the distinguished football historian Peter Lupson informed me that a young player of his acquaintance had just signed for Fulham’s academy. He suggested my interviewing the youngster for this blog.
Peter's suggestion slightly daunted me as I realised that I had not interviewed anyone for publication since a school magazine back in 1968, but I was willing to give it a go. However the club's communication team were, as they put it: “Not keen on him doing an interview until he receives his club media training.”
Fulham's Sean Cullen explained: “We have a duty of care to protect the players (from themselves as much as anyone).”
I could hardly complain, because one of my recent blogs praised a similar initiative previously enacted by Kit Symons.
Two decades ago when my daughter Cathy Phillips was on the editorial team of the supporters’ club magazine, Cottage Pie, there was less attempt to shield Fulham's personnel. Jimmy Hill, manager Ray Lewington (and his many successors!), groundsman Steve Magee and a number of players spoke freely to Cottage Pie.
These interviews now have more than nostalgic interest. In the May 1992 issue, Cathy interviewed the prolific striker Gary Brazil, who spoke of the club’s progress under manager Don MacKay, saying: “We’re playing more as a unit. I think the defence is a lot tighter now, which is a big difference. We had the run where we didn't concede a goal for something like 600 minutes... Knowing you’re unlikely to give a goal away and you only need one to win a game it gives you a big cushion. If you score early on you know they're going to have to be a decent team to come back at you.”
Cathy asked Gary about his favourite playing position ‘as early on in his time at Fulham he was switched around quite a lot’. He replied that he preferred to play upfront ‘as an out and out striker, playing with a big lad, someone like Sean (Farrell). I don’t really enjoy playing out wide. I’m out of the game for long periods of time’.
For the February 1996 Cottage Pie Cathy joined Tom Sperlinger to quiz Gary Brazil and Gordon Jupp. This time Gary spoke at greater length about the negative attitude of some fans. When asked if he had ever felt like quitting the club he replied: “Yes there have been times, there’s bound to be.
“But I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’m certainly not going to hide in a corner. I think I get a load of stick anyway. I’ll always want the ball so I’m going to make mistakes. I’m there to be shot at. I don’t mind that particularly. It used to hurt at first because I had never been in a situation where that had happened, so it was quite an education coming here.”
Players out of position, the need for a strong defence and the unaccountable depth of hostility shown by some supporters – these issues have bedevilled Fulham season after season. Let’s hope that it is different this year.
I think I’ll leave interviews to other people. It must be so easy to raise in all innocence the wrong topic (“What's your favourite cheese, Mr Magath?”).
BBC Radio London’s recent interview with Slavisa Jokanovic after the Cardiff match elicited calm and uncontroversial responses until the reporter mentioned the imminent closure of the transfer window: “Your business isn't done yet, is it?”
“It's not my business,” retorted the senior coach. “I’m not the most important person.”
For two whole minutes he voiced his frustration that his preferences were overruled by the data analyst Craig Kline.
It is hardly unusual for a manager to want more new signings than his paymasters will sanction.
Jokanovic has elsewhere voiced the need for another midfielder and a central defender but his main disappointment must be the lack of replacement for the top scoring Ross McCormack. Matt Smith looks to be in good fettle, Sone Aluko and Tom Cairney have real class. A marksman could complete the attack.
Fulham fans are crossing their fingers that the team’s fine start will not be derailed by internal disputes.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.