Fulham And That

Just what is it about Martin Jol that instantly puts you in mind of a predatory prison cellmate? It’s hard to see those granite features on Match of the Day without imagining the screws tittering as they lead you to your two-man cell where Jol seems to make a point of ignoring your presence while peering intently through a magnifying glass at a particularly intricate section of antenna-work on his matchstick model of the space station, Mir.

You shuffle uncomfortably until eventually he looks up at you, one eye distorted grotesquely by the lens, and asks, ‘So, what do you think about space?’

He lays down the ground rules, which all seem fair enough, and essentially revolve around refraining from doing number twos in the bucket at night. ‘Not cool’.

After lights out though, as you huddle under your scratchy blanket and listen to the echoing menagerie noises begin to settle down, for the first time since you were sentenced you begin to drift towards something resembling sleep. And that’s when Martin’s bulk shifts above you and the springs of the mattress creak in relief as his mighty calves swing off the edge of the bunk.

The rest, well, as much as you try to blank it from your mind, you can’t shake the feel of his shovel hands smoothing down your hair and his whispering in your ear ‘Shush, everything’s going to be fine’, like when the vet put down the family Labrador.

He does though, doesn’t he. That’s exactly what he always makes you think of when you see him on Match of the Day.

Away from raping shoplifters, Jol is a jolly decent football manager and his recent comments, about how his present Fulham team deserve as much credit as Everton for the way they have started the season, seem pretty valid, especially when you consider that they lost Clint Dempsey, Moussa Dembélé and Pavel Pogrebnyak over the summer.

If any of those players left during the transfer window before, please don’t bother correcting us in the comments, as it was only when looking at Wikipedia just then that we learned that Kieran Richardson is at Fulham now as well as the quite cool little Greek midfielder Giorgos Karagounis. Ex-Blue and head of the Baker Street Irregulars, Simon Davies, is apparently still on their books as well.

Their most notable business of the summer though was obviously the £5 million signing of Dimitar Berbatov, a player who not that long ago was almost commanding ‘Andy Carroll money’ when moving from Tottenham to Manchester United.

There is a bit of an obsession with Berbatov throughout football, essentially because he is the archetype of the moody but boss foreigner who many of us remember from our childhood. The sort of fella that your dad would single out and say, ‘Watch him, son.’

In the modern game, nearly all players regardless of their nationality seem to originate from the same heart-monitored island with protein powder beaches where they do nothing but get Japanese tattoos and do sit-ups all day. Berbatov though, with his loping ‘I’ll be your dog’ bird-off-the-Kia-Ora-advert run, is the player that every talented but ultimately lazy get who had trials when he was young and was ‘well better than that Richard Edghill’ thinks he might have been if the coaches were not so stuck in their ways and only interested in ‘signing all the biggest kids’.

It really is one of football’s great contradictions that we constantly berate players for not running until they melt while at the same time the ones we wax lyrical about are very often right bone idle twats.

Anyway Everton, for their part, should be more or less at full strength for this game given that Steven Pienaar has served his suspension and Kevin Mirallas has recovered from the injury he sustained during the derby. After three successive draws it is time for the Blues to start winning, and although Fulham are excellent at home and lie a mere point behind in the table, there comes a point where you have to go to these places and demonstrate that you are indeed a serious team. After all, you can look at more or less every game in the Premier League, especially away from home, and declare it at the very least ‘tricky’.

The prize we are all eyeing is a Champions League place, the achievability of which for anyone outside of the usual candidates essentially boils down to one question: exactly how shit are Arsenal this year?

And every season the Gunners are expected to struggle, but then surprise everyone at the start so that journalists begin making them their dark horses for the title, until that is they go through quite a long patch of rough form where some of their fans start demanding Arsene Wenger’s head, before they finally get their act back together and end up finishing fourth with a little bit to spare.

There’s no real reason to think that it’s going to be any different this time around, leaving Everton, Tottenham, Fulham and the rest fighting for a place the Europa League – essentially the last cup of piss on a drifting lifeboat.

In the morning, Martin is up first and actually wakes you by smacking you on the side of the head with a rolled up Daily Express. ‘Hey sleepy head,’ he says, grinning. ‘It’s a beautiful day. Here, I got you a cup of tea and some toast.’

The sun is actually streaming in between the bars and you can’t help but notice that he has carefully arranged some freshly cut flowers in a jam jar up on the window sill. And for a fleeting moment you think ‘that’s a nice touch’.