With Fulham’s Europa League final defeat still fresh in my mind, I find myself somewhat preoccupied with the finality of it all.
I can’t help but feel that it was all for nothing!
This is not true, of course. There is much to be proud of for our modest little club. As a Fulham supporter, I long ago accepted that we would never present much of a challenge to the bigger clubs in England for the Premier League title; that we would likely need to console ourselves with singular, standalone victories over clubs like Manchester United or Liverpool and the odd top-ten finish in the League, with the avoidance of a relegation scrap being the goal of each season.
Some might see this as a depressing outlook, but it’s not. It’s just the reality of supporting a small club and certainly not unique to Fulham supporters. There are, however, avenues for achievement for clubs like ours – cup competitions.
In any given season, the opportunity for cup glory is available to any club with the correct amount of focus, well-timed performances and, quite frankly, a little luck. In this season, we’ve seen two glowing examples: Portsmouth reaching the FA Cup final and Fulham reaching the Europa League final.
While the final chapter in Portsmouth’s tumultuous season has yet to be written, Fulham’s fairytale cup run sadly ended in disappointment. There’s a unique quality about cup competitions that makes them both inspiring and heartbreaking; inspiring in the sense that a club like Portsmouth, gutted by poor financial management and facing relegation, can focus the energy of the players and fans on a singular point of glory, and though facing the daunting task of defeating a powerful Chelsea side, present the opportunity to write their name in the record books as a champion.
The same opportunity for glory was in the reach of Fulham. To add to its significance was the underdog status overcome in the run to the final. Defeating the likes of Shakhtar, Juventus and Hamburg were great achievements in and of themselves, and the chance to cap-off the improbable run by lifting the trophy was simply irresistible. Many a Fulham supporter, myself included, believed the stars had aligned and the glory that had eluded us for all of our 131-year history was about to be bestowed with one inspired victory over yet another European giant.
Sadly, it was not meant to be. The chance for achievement and glory comes with a painful, unforgiving consequence. Lost in hope and elation, forgotten in the day dreams of long-awaited championships is the harsh reality that you might fail; and fail, we did. The heartbreaking aspect of cup competitions lies in the finality of the event. While solace can be found in league position and peripheral benefits of that position, cup competitions require winning to find satisfaction.
Our seventh place finish last season stood alone as source of pride, and even if our final day loss to Everton had sent us into eighth, the fans and the club would’ve been satisfied as the achievement was in attaining our highest ever finish, not the benefit of gaining a spot in the Europa League competition.
To be honest, many a Fulham supporter would’ve been quite happy to do without the Europa League. It was only when we had dispatched Juventus that many recognized that we could, in fact, win the competition, and with each additional step we took, the hope began to swell and the thought of failure was pushed to the side.
From the clubs perspective, and many of the supporters, League position was willingly sacrificed for this one shot at glory. And, that is the reality for clubs like Fulham.
While aspirations of doubles and trebles dance around the minds of supporters of other clubs, Fulham supporters know that singular opportunities for triumph are likely all that can be attained, and those opportunities are few and far-between. I’m sure I’m being a little melodramatic, but this is a fresh wound and it still stings a little.
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