Last Monday Fulham became the fourth London club this season to announce it is joining a different league.
Unfortunately for the Craven Cottage faithful the league in question is not the European Super League but the Championship. And unlike Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal it will take more than an insincere corporate apology issued two days later to see Fulham welcomed back into the Premier League fold.
The European Super League was designed as a tournament in which there would be no promotion or relegation.
Such a ‘closed competition’ is anathema to all genuine football fans, and in particular Fulham supporters, who saw our team promoted to the Premier League in 2018, relegated in 2019, promoted in 2020 before being relegated again in 2021.
Fulham have become the great yo-yo club of English football, not quite good enough for the Premier League while simultaneously being a little too good for the Championship.
Currently there are few American owners of Premier League clubs in danger of winning a popularity contest.
The possible exception is Fulham’s hirsute multi-billionaire owner Shahid Khan (fondly known as ‘the Tache with the Cash’) who has invested heavily in players for little tangible return.
Relegation in 2019 followed an extraordinary nine figure-spending spree on 12 new recruits. So poor were the players purchased that when one newspaper subsequently ran the headline “The worst £100 million ever spent”, it didn’t feel the need to add a question mark.
This time around Fulham attempted to borrow their way to survival, with seven of the starting 11 that lost 1-0 against Spurs in March being on-loan players. The loanees included defender Joachim Andersen, whose form was so good that he was made club captain after just four games.
Another who excelled was goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who quickly displayed the form that saw him win a World Cup winner’s medal with France in 2018 despite being uncapped for his country at the time.
Unfortunately the players actually employed by Fulham proved more problematic, particularly the strikers.
Aboubakar Kamara fancies himself such a sharpshooter that he insists on wearing the number 47 shirt as it combines with his initials to read ‘AK 47’. Sadly Kamara failed to score a single league goal before being loaned to Dijon in February.
And then there is Aleksandar Mitrovic. As a long-term season ticket holder for both Fulham and Ireland it is hard not to view the Serbian’s season as something of a personal vendetta.
Mitrovic has only scored three goals all season for Fulham but scored two brilliant goals against Ireland in a World Cup Qualifier in March despite playing for less than half an hour.
Defensively things have been just as bleak. In September, after just three rounds of matches, Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports that “Fulham are going down, I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
Bookmaker Paddy Power went even further in the certainty stakes and immediately paid out on all bets for Fulham to be relegated.
They added some much needed words of encouragement for the manager: “It’ll be a shame to see the back of Scott Parker, particularly because his double-breasted cardigans are a real sight to behold on the touchline.”
However, it may not be long before Parker’s immaculate dress sense is back on display in the Premier League.
As a player Parker’s personal reputation often rose in inverse proportion to that of the team he played for. In 2011 he won the Football Writers’ Player of the Year Award despite playing in a West Ham team that was relegated.
A decade on and history is repeating itself, with Parker recently even linked to the vacancy at Spurs.
Traditionally the best way for a smaller club to progress is to develop its academy players but the Premier League is now so ruthless it is impossible for Fulham to retain talent.
Harvey Elliott’s outstanding potential was apparent from the moment in September 2018 he stayed up late on a school night to become Fulham’s youngest ever player, aged 15 years and 174 days old.
But after just three appearances Elliott was signed by Liverpool for a derisory Tribunal fee of just £1.2m and then sent out on loan to Blackburn Rovers for the season. Likewise Ryan Sessegnon, who had just turned 19 when Spurs signed him for £25m in 2019, spent the last year on loan at Hoffenheim.
As long as the big six clubs are able to stockpile talent and then get around the rules relating to Premier League squad sizes by sending players on loan all over the continent then it is hard to see how Fulham can ever compete.
Perhaps understandably, Khan’s recent investments have concentrated on inanimate objects.
The picturesque Riverside Stand on the prosperous banks of the Thames is currently being extended. When completed it will reinforce the status of Craven Cottage as the favourite away day for visiting fans who provoke the home support with chants of “You only sing when you’re rowing” and “Does your butler know you’re here?”
If anything the stadium has proven too welcoming for visitors with Burnley having secured more wins at Craven Cottage in 2021 than Fulham.
Yet I have to confess to not being too disappointed to see Fulham relegated.
As recent protests against the European Super League highlighted, cold nights in Stoke have never been more fashionable. And following a team that has failed to win a single trophy in its 142-year history has taught every Fulham fan that, however bad things are now, they can always get worse.
While many supporters think that the behaviour of their club’s owner qualifies them as professional humourists, when Fulham was relegated in 1968 the chairman Tommy Trinder actually was a very famous comedian.
At the time the club had a practice of flying the club flags of all of their top-flight rivals along the River Thames.
Following Fulham’s relegation from the old First Division, Trinder defiantly declared that these flags would be retained at Craven Cottage as in a year’s time Fulham would no longer be a Second Division side.
Trinder proved to be as good as his word — 12 months later Fulham were relegated to the Third Division.
James McDermott is a lecturer in the UCD School of Law and a long-time season ticket holder for both Fulham and Ireland