In 2018 Fulham were promoted to the Premier League. In 2019 Fulham were relegated from the Premier League. In 2020 Fulham were promoted to the Premier League. In 2021 Fulham were relegated from the Premier League. In 2022 Fulham were promoted to the Premier League.
You would not need to be an expert member of the Nphet modelling group to forecast how this pattern might develop next season. Following promotion, Fulham’s third in five years, the club’s Twitter account was inundated with photographs of yo-yos, an object that ought to be the best selling item of merchandise at the club shop. One cynic offered commiserations, claiming it was “a sad night for Fulham as their 2022-23 relegation is confirmed”.
Of course the Cottagers are not the only inhabitants of this twilight zone of teams too good for the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. Were he a fan of Championship football, Isaac Newton would quickly observe that if Fulham go up then Norwich City must come down, a tradition that continues this season with the Canaries relegated from the Premier League for a record sixth time.
TV presenter James Richardson even wondered if Fulham and Norwich had ever been seen in the same room.
Yet despite it being a biennial occurrence, Fulham don’t take promotion for granted. The Championship is such a competitive league that after just two rounds of fixtures, no team had a 100 per cent record. The key to Fulham’s title victory was scoring an incredible 106 goals, 32 more than any other team.
Perhaps the greatest week in Fulham’s history came in January when, in eight magical days, they beat Reading 7-0, Bristol City 6-2 and Birmingham City 6-2, becoming the first second-tier club in 68 years to score at least six goals in three successive matches. This led fans to chant, “We’re Fulham FC, we score when we want”, a cheerful upgrade to “You’re nothing special, we lose every week” defiantly sung last season when on the wrong side of similar scorelines in the Premier League.
Once again, the top scorer was the combustible Aleksandar Mitrovic, who picked up his first booking just 12 seconds into the season, but calmed down to score a record 43 league goals which saw him deservedly named Championship Player of the Season.
So prolific was Mitrovic that he scored more league goals than both Barnsley (33) and Hull City (41). Named alongside the Serb in the Championship Team of the Season were Tosin Adarabioyo, Antonee Robinson and Welsh wizard Harry Wilson, who scored 10 and provided 19 assists in a brilliant season following his £12m move from Liverpool.
A second title winning side at Craven Cottage are Fulham’s youth team which won the Premier League 2 (Division 2). One key performer was Ollie O’Neill who, following the departure of Cyrus Christie on loan to Swansea City in January, is the only Irish player at Craven Cottage. O’Neill is both literally and metaphorically the brightest prospect at Fulham having received 11 A* GCSE grades and two A* A-Level grades.
O’Neill came close to a first team debut in September when he was an unused sub for the Carabao Cup tie against Leeds United, but his season highlight came at Tallaght Stadium in November when he scored the winning goal for Ireland’s under 21 team in a European Championship qualifier against Sweden. The goal so late into injury time that the referee didn’t bother to restart the game. O’Neill has been recently linked with moves to Tottenham and West Ham.
Masterminding all this success is a Portuguese boss who enjoyed a remarkable first season. Marco Silva is just 44-years-old, but Fulham will become the fourth club he has managed in the Premier League after Hull, Watford and Everton.
However, Silva’s greatest success came in his first job when he transformed tiny Estoril from a mid-ranking second division side into a top-four side competing in the group stage of the Europa League. Silva’s tenure was so successful that when he left Estoril to take charge of Sporting Lisbon the club renamed part of their stadium in his honour.
In their 143-year history, Fulham have never won a major trophy and their 7-0 victory over Luton Town in their last home game of the season secured their first Championship crown since 2001. There is a huge practical advantage to winning the title, as when Fulham were last promoted in 2020 they came up through the play-offs and only had a 39-day close season in which to upgrade the playing staff. This time promotion was secured in mid-April, leaving a lot more time to plan.
Funding these improvements will be multi-billionaire owner Shahid Khan, whose trademark handlebar moustache explains why he is fondly known as ‘The tache with the cash’. The first arrival is likely to be Israeli striker Manor Solomon from Shakhtar Donetsk for £8m.
Khan has also invested heavily in extending the Riverside Stand on the prosperous banks of the Thames. This will reinforce the status of Craven Cottage as a 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 that you’re here?”
Khan is also the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished bottom of the AFC South for four years in a row. Last season the Jaguars had the worst record in the whole of American football and this failure was rewarded last month when the franchise were given first pick of the best college players in the NFL draft. Unfortunately the reverse happens in soccer with Fulham winning the Championship before immediately losing their most promising young player. The generational talent at Craven Cottage is Fábio Carvalho (19) who scored 11 goals in an outstanding season that will end with a £5m transfer to Liverpool.
As Khan spends the summer working out how to ensure a top 17 finish for Fulham in next season’s Premier League, he might ruefully reflect on another key advantage of American football that eliminates any possibility of a yo-yo team ever emerging — as the NFL owners insist on having a closed league, there is no such thing as relegation.
James McDermott is a lecturer in the UCD School of Law and a long-time Fulham season ticket holder