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As Good Friday approaches when nearly 7000 Bees fans look to make the short trek across London to invade Craven Cottage, Billy Grant chats to Fulham Supporters trust director Chris Gilbertson (@hammyend) – also from The Hammy End blog – about £11million McCormack, Bees Up Fulham Down and mourning the Michael Jackson statue

Bees Up Fulham Down …. an accurate description?

Life has to imitate art once in a while. Hopefully this season proves the wake up call Fulham needed after we got relegated, once we get our act sorted out it won’t be too long before Bees Up Fulham Down becomes the ironic chant it has been for most of the past generation. That being said, having a rival like Brentford again has actually been a good thing. Playing Chelsea so often was getting boring, I doubt most their fans could point out Brentford or Fulham on a map.

Fulham fans have been calling it our ‘cup final’. We haven’t played each other for well over a decade before this season and the rivalry in the 80s and 90s was absolutely massive between the clubs. I can guarantee there will be faces on the terraces I haven’t seen for years on Friday. The reality is – with a win probably seeing you safe from relegation, Fulham (financially) need the points more than we do.

Well we did beat you lot 5-0 in a pre-season friendly a few years back. The game undeniably means a lot for both sets of fans. West London might not be well known for its football rivalries but that is probably more due to the fact we don’t play each other that often. This season has been little short of an unmitigated disaster for Fulham so yes, beating Brentford would be nice, but we’ve still got Rotherham and Wigan at home and in reality those games matter more from the league perspective.

You recently signed Brentford goalkeeper Agent Richard Lee. You do know it’s a ploy don’t you? He’s a Bee through and through.

That’ll be like Agent Trotta. You think that missed penalty was an accident?

Fulham have always been mocked for their poor away support in the Premier League. But is that down to the olde ‘once you’ve been to Old Trafford the 1st, 2nd and 3rd time, the novelty runs out’ factor?

In all seriousness there is a lot to be said for having as bad an away record as we did at times in the Premier League, after a while, paying astronomical ticket and transport costs to get to unwinnable away games becomes a fairly unattractive proposition. We were in the Premier League for 13 years and I think it became a question of being more selective to which away games people went to. We would always fill our sections at Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal but persuading people to pay £40+ a ticket to go to somewhere like Newcastle, where you are sat closer to the clouds than the pitch, became a hard proposition once the novelty wore off.

You also have to look at the pool from which clubs like ours garner their supporters. You have Fulham, Chelsea, QPR, Brentford and now AFC Wimbledon all competing for fans in a congested area of West London, so we simply don’t have the width of support that some regional or other London clubs do. Take West Ham for example, they have the entirety of East London and Essex to themselves and they still won’t fill the Olympic Stadium unless they start giving tickets away.

Have you noticed a marked upturn in away support in The Championship?

Yes absolutely. I think we are one of the higher average away attendances now. The Championship is far more entertaining a league than the Premeir League as anyone really can beat anyone, I mean in the space of two games we beat Derby 2-0 and then lost 5-1 to Bournemouth.

There is undoubtedly a novelty factor to the Championship, many of our fans won’t have ever had the opportunity to go to some famous clubs like Leeds and Forest before, or to grounds as ‘compact’ as Griffin Park. The biggest change has been the chance to win games, it’s not a chance we’ve taken that often but there is at least more hope than the last few years.

After a poor start and a couple of managers sacked, you got on a roll with Kit Symonds. Decent results against Bolton, Norwich, Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday, Reading and Forest. Apart from the Derby result, it all seems to have gone wrong since the mini FA Cup run where you lost to Sunderland in the 4th round

The entire season has been pretty shocking from a performance side of things. Recently, results have on the whole mirrored our performances. The exception to that being our 3-0 home defeat to Leeds and the 2-0 away win at Huddersfield. Coming off the 5-1 thrashing at home to Bournemouth (who were comfortably the best side to come to the Cottage this season), we actually played well against Leeds and just couldn’t find the net.

It was one of those days, we had something like 27 shots to their 6, whereas up at Huddersfield we scored in the first and last minutes and were pretty dire in between but rode our luck as they missed two penalties. We’ve also developed a nasty habit of getting players sent off for really stupid things.

Louis Saha has asked the board to back Kit Symonds. Does he have a point?

Not for me no. Kit was the perfect man at the perfect time after we finally sacked Felix Magath. The German was an authoritarian and was widely disliked, so our performances and results improved simply because Kit wasn’t Felix. After all the trouble last season where we went through Martin Jol, Rene Meulensteen, Ray Wilkins, Alan Curbishley and Felix Magath, there was a palpable sense of relief when the club appointed a “Fulham man” in Symons, who had previously been a scout and U18 and U21 manager at the club. However, this is Kit’s first proper manager’s job and it shows. He doesn’t appear to have a grasp of tactics or substitutions and unnervingly spends entire matches stood passively with his hands in his pockets.

A lot of that might be due to the balance of the squad being so poor with inexperienced youngsters and overpaid underperforming veterans. In truth, I’m not sure our owner, Shahid Khan, will sack Symons, as after the last 18 months he’s probably a bit gun shy by now. We have a new technical structure in place with transfer policy now being overseen by former FA Head of Player Development Mike Rigg and Alan Curbishley is back at the club to provide Symons with some experienced support.

With players like Benik Afobe (18 goals this season) costing Wolves £2m, Callum Wilson (19 goals) costing Bournemouth £3m and even Brentford’s Andre Gray (15 goals) costing £500k, is Ross McCormack (12 goals) really worth £11m. Or is that just an indication of where it’s been going wrong for Fulham?

There’s several points here; firstly McCormack didn’t cost anywhere near £11m up front. Should Leeds ever actually get the full £11m for him, we’ll be in the Premier League and he’ll have been worth every penny. Secondly, McCormack has actually been excellent and will probably be in the top 3 for our player of the season. Thirdly, there is a bigger issue to which you allude to. Fulham’s transfer policy in recent years can loosely be described as scattergun cheapskate and at worse be described as having no discernable policy at all.

We have interspersed a couple of expensive signings (Dimitar Berbatov, Bryan Ruiz, Kostas Mitroglou and Ross McCormack) with a whole cavalcade of random players on low transfer fees and high wages. This has ranged from signing Scott Parker to a 3 year deal to people like Adel Chihi, Mark Fotheringham and Kay Voser who were all brought in on bizarre free transfers last summer.

There has been no regard to sell on value at all and very little clever scouting with all the managers sticking to players they knew already. Fulham need to get much smarter in the transfer market and people like Callum Wilson going from Coventry to Bournemouth are the perfect example. We have a tremendous youth set up and scouting department which is starting to show fruit, but the first team needs to be built better going forward.

There will be a clearout this summer either way.

Some people would say that it all went a but horribly wrong when Al Fayed left the club and took the Michael Jackson statue and, by the looks of it, Hugh Grant with him? Is that a fair point?

I think you can actually pinpoint a year or two before Al-Fayed left as the start of the decline. After we reached the Europa League final, it looks like Al-Fayed decided the time was right to prepare to sell the club and as such began to slow down the level of financial support, this then affected the transfer policy as detailed above.

Mark Hughes left the club because of a “lack of ambition” and perhaps he was right in some ways, Al-Fayed, who bankrolled us to the tune of c. £160m had simply put in enough of his money. He ended up getting it all back when he sold to Jacksonville Jaguars owner Khan, but by that stage the wheels had already begun to come off.

Despite the ending, Fulham fans still adore Mr Al-Fayed. His genuine passion for the club (and his cash) made an enormous difference and are in stark contrast to our current owner who rarely ventures this side of the Atlantic.

As for the Jacko statue, in a bizarre way it’s kind of missed. Al-Fayed was a bit bonkers but he was our bonkers chairman and frankly, he could do what he liked and he always spoke his mind. Regarding the celeb fans, Lily Allen might be a bit part time, but Hugh Grant is still hopefully knocking about.

At least our celeb fans don’t leave their husbands for our players 😉 (ed- ooh you b!tch)

Big match on Friday. Brentford need to win to to keep in the playoff mix. Jota scored in the 94th minute at our place to give him the keys to the city. He’s warming up for this match with his goal against Blackburn. Fulham need to win to stave off a late fightback from Wigan under Malkay McKay. What do you have under your belt in terms of a fight back?

We have finally begun to play Ross McCormack and Matt Smith together up front and it is paying dividends. Expect high balls to Smith with Ross feeding off him. However, McCormack got an injury against Leeds so England U21 striker Cauley Woodrow may play instead. He has exceptional technique but lacks experience and a bit of strength. This should be the busiest Craven Cottage has been in a while so atmosphere should help both teams. We also have a couple of new loanees (along with Richard Lee) in James Husband and Danny Guthrie so it’ll be interesting to see if they play. One thing is for sure, we have no width so expect balls down the middle rather than crosses.

Brentford are bringing 6,000 fans with them arriving by bus, train, car, coach and boat – which could turn this into a bit of a home game for us. Orient gave us ¼ of their stadium last season and live to regret it now as we pipped them to promotion off the back of a win there. Are you always this generous to your visitors?

This is a fairly divisive issue. Personally I think it is absurd we’ve given this many tickets to you lot as it can only help you. However, we probably need the money and it’s hard to turn down an extra few thousand ticket sales. We also have a neutral section which often enables visiting clubs to have a few extra supporters (if you ever play Utd or Liverpool you’ll see their fans tend to get in everywhere) and at least they have somewhere to go. It’s usually only for Cup games that the neutral area is assimilated into the away section but I think they do it for local derbies as it’s a policing issue in order to keep away and home fans separated.

If that’s the case then we may as well sell the seats rather than leave them empty. At a capacity of 26,500, we have a decent sized ground so 6,000 here is not the same as 6,000 at Griffin Park, Loftus Road or Brisbane Road. In the Europa League we shunted away fans into the Johnny Haynes Stand and put home fans behind both goals and it worked well as the Putney End has the best acoustics.

Score prediction?

QPR have had two cup finals at the Cottage in recent seasons and we beat them 6-0 and 3-2. We’re not the same side anymore but if our players can’t get up for this one they really do deserve to be let go. Fulham to claim bragging rights and win 2-1.