Nightmare at the Etihad



Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham and Raheem Sterling of Manchester City battle for the ball. PICTURE: GETTY IMAGES

Morgan Phillips

By Morgan Phillips

If crowd behaviour is the same at the Etihad as elsewhere, quite a few Manchester City fans will have missed the event that decided Saturday’s match against Fulham. Almost from kick-off the visitors forced a corner but the ball was cleared to no-one in particular finally reaching goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, who switched it to Jean Michael Seri. Somehow the Ivorian mishit his pass and allowed Fernandinho a clear run at goal. In seconds Leroy Sane was flicking the ball into the net.

It is unfortunate that the vital error was made by Seri, arguably the most exciting and certainly the most expensive of Fulham’s recent acquisitions. Twenty minutes later Bettinelli beat out a fierce drive from Sergio Aguero only for David Silva to collect and score from the rebound. Still after such a disastrous start it was a relief that Fulham reached half-time with just a two goal deficit.

Slavisa Jokanovic , as we know from last season, is reluctant to switch to Plan B. As he says, ‘If I defend in our box with 11 players I don’t believe it’s the right way’. At the interval he will have told the players to adhere to his original strategy. Unfortunately the second half opened with Aguero and David Silva creating a goal for Raheem Stirling. Fulham lost all hope of recovery and it was thanks to Bettinelli (and some careless finishing) that City’s victory was not more crushing. With the teams playing in Varsity colours it was an easy win for the Light Blues.

Much of the post-match analysis concentrated on Leroy Sane and Bernado Silva. Fulham have the unfortunate habit of bringing out the best in their opponents (think of past displays by Eden Hazard, Troy Deeney and Harry Kane).  In the next three weeks home matches against Watford and Arsenal and a trip to Everton will compel Jokanovic to temper his admirable philosophy with a much tighter defence. He achieved this combination in the Championship and can surely do the same at the higher level.

Fulham’s 140th birthday

As the club prepares to celebrate 2019 as the 140th year of its existence, some people will wonder why the date 1880 is displayed on the Stevenage Road facade. That was the accepted foundation date for many years, based solely on the testimony of Thomas Walker the groundsman. The Yearbook for 1948-49 put it like this:

‘Lillie Road remains and so does the lamppost (or its modern equivalent) by whose light some young soccer enthusiasts foregathered one evening in 1880. They were anxious to get a soccer club gong and the chief difficulty that confronted them on the evening’s agenda was where to play. An adjacent piece of wasteland, which one of the committee, a sportsman named Thomas Walker, marked out as a football pitch, supplied the answer.’

It is an attractive picture, and the club’s first secretary Tom Norman and most of the early players did live on the Lillie Road estate now known as Clem Attlee. Although the 1881 Census gives Thomas Walker’s home as Fenelon Road Kensington, recent research shows that when he got married in 1882 his address was Dimsdale Road, on that Lillie Road estate and almost opposite the house of Arthur Thomas, one of the club’s pioneers.

Therefore it is quite feasible that in the 1882-83 season Walker did help convert a scrap of wasteland in Lillie Road into a football pitch. It really only needed two makeshift goals and a centre spot. In theory each team had to nominate an umpire to control one half of the pitch, so a halfway line would have been helpful but we cannot know whether the Lillie Road players enjoyed that degree of sophistication. Walker incidentally was in his early twenties, not much older than the ‘young soccer enthusiasts’.

No relevant scores or reports survive from 1882-83 and any games could have been improvised rather than pre-arranged. But when St Andrew’s Church started its cricket club Tom Norman had a nucleus of sportsmen ready to join. The first reported St Andrew’s FC match took place on 6 October 1883. Fulham will play Arsenal almost exactly 135 years later. But, Thomas Walker, how could you misremember the year as 1880?  I hope you did not forget your wedding anniversaries.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.

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