Interview: Manchester United fans

We managed to catch up with Paul Freeman who runs the www.unitedonfire.co.uk website, as well as United fan Stuart Parish ahead of Monday night’s match at Old Trafford. Our thanks to both of them for their time.

How do you think your season has been so far?
PF: So far so good, the hiccup against Bolton last week so far. It started slowly when we had injuries and suspensions but we managed to grind out a few results to get our season going. Then we went on a spree where we couldn’t stop scoring. Obviously, we’d have preferred a win over Arsenal and it was gutting when they scored in injury time, but looking back it was a good result (better than last season). I hope that the loss to Bolton is a rare mistake.

SP: I think Fergie has made some excellent buys, especially Tevez, him and Rooney are an absolute joy to watch, so much for the press saying they wont be able to play together, Fergie has also added a couple of exciting young players in Nani and Anderson, who have brought our average age down considerably, alongside Hargreaves, we know have a squad who can challenge on all fronts. We are also playing attacking football, which is what this clubs built on, we have won five out of five in the Champions League and are not too far behind Arsenal in the Premier League, so no complaints here, our dreams of the League cup will have to wait another year though.

Who have been the stars for you so far?
PF: We are a different team with Rooney and Ronaldo in the team, it almost goes without saying. Who wouldn’t be? But the best, most consistent player has been Nemanja Vidic. A rock in defence, and also seems to make Ferdinand play to his best ability. Another player looking good is Anderson. With a reported price tag of £18million, he should be good, but we’ve been surprised quite how well he has been doing, and as a result, how little we’ve missed Paul Scholes.

SP: For me, personally, I think our defenders deserve a lot of credit for the start we have had, Patrice Evra has been immense since the season started, but Carlos Tevez has been unbelievable, his work rate, skill, vision, commitment, has been second to none, I can see him becoming a bit of a United legend if he carries on the way he is playing over the next few years.

Anyone you’re disappointed with?
PF: Your ex-player, Louis Saha. I think, because he has been out so much with injury he just hasn’t been able to get a run of games in. With only three strikers available, we need him to come in and do well now, but in the last two games, he has been poor. When he was in a good run of form last season, he was the key player in our team.

SF: Saha doesn’t seem at his best yet, but he hasn’t played much so hopefully he can get match fit, and I would like to see Hargreaves start more with Anderson in the midfield.

What silverware will you end the season with?
PF: I’d like to think we can win the league and Champions League this season, but most likely just one of the two. We are already out of the League Cup and we’ll do well in the FA Cup again, probably. I think the league will be hard to win this season, Arsenal are looking very good, and Chelsea have quietly got themselves back into the race.

SF: The title is the one most reds want, but we need to prove ourselves in Europe too, if I had to choose, I’d take the title every time, its harder to win and a true test of any team.

Is there anything about your team/its tactics you’d change?
PF: I’d like to see another striker come into the squad, but apart from that, I think it is spot on. The 4-5-1 formation is mostly long gone.

SF: I can’t understand why Fergie plays John O’Shea in so many different positions than defence, but he’s won nine Premiership titles, so who am I to judge?

Who would you like to see take over from Fergie?
PF: Hard question. I think it will probably be Queiroz and Fergie will go just as soon as we win the Champions League (so another 5 seasons then). I’d like to see an ex-Red get a go, and of the current managers I think Mark Hughes has done a great job at Blackburn, so I’d go for him.

SF: I honestly have no idea at the moment, I see Fergie being around for a few more years yet, so it would be best to make that judgement then.

How do you view the Glazers?
PF: They have plunged the club into debt and raised ticket prices so the fans are paying for their own club. I think worse is to come. I fully support MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) and hopefully one day the Glazers will sell up.

SF: Would you trust a family that to a man wear NHS specs? My season ticket has risen by over 40% since they took over, we are now saddled with even more debt, all season ticket holders have been forced into the Automatic Cup Scheme, so you could say there’s a lot of bad feeling amongst match going reds about the price hikes, especially the ACS.

What’s your view on Fulham this year?
PF: I think you will do enough to stay up this season. You are currently top of the relegation third of the Premiership and as long as you pick up points against your rivals, you will stay up. Have to say that I prefer Chris Coleman to Lawrie Sanchez as a manager though. I did think you were relegation bound at the start of the season.

SF: Honestly, I haven’t seen you play at all, so I can’t comment, a lot of United fans tend to be very insular and only follow United or results which influence United, that’s what I am like, if United aren’t playing, I’m not really bothered.

Any of our players you’re wary of?
PF: Danny Murphy because he always seems to score against us. Well, when he was at Liverpool anyway. Maybe David Healy will start to reproduce his Northern Ireland form against the bigger Premiership teams.

SF: Same as above.

Where do you think we’ll end up?
PF: There are at least 3 sides much worse than you, so to pick a place completely at random, 14th.

SF: Mid table.

Who will be relegated?
PF: Derby, Birmingham and Wigan. Although Sunderland and Middlesbrough are looking really suspect as well. It is hard to say (apart from Derby) because even a team reasonably placed in February can go on a dreadful run and go down.

SF: Hopefully Bolton, Middlesbrough and Wigan, in terms of football they don’t offer much to the premiership

What will the score be on Monday night?
PF: Ok, I’m dreadful at picking the right score, so whatever I say will be wrong. Of course, I think we’ll win, and the score will be 3-1 (Rooney, Tevez and Ferdinand for us, Murphy for you). So, now I’ve predicted that, it will be 1-0 to Fulham

SF: United 2 – 0 Fulham

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Player Rankings: Fulham V Blackburn Rovers

Here’s how I scored our lads on Sunday’s performance against Blackburn Rovers.

Niemi – 8/10
Another outstanding display and wasn’t at fault for either of the goals.

Baird – 5/10
Allowed Warnock to dominate on the left – and we paid the price.

Hughes 6/10
An okay display.

Stefanovic – 6/10
Again, an okay display. I like his presence at the back.

Konchesky – 5/10
Very rusty…Finger of blame could be pointed at him for both of their goals.

Simon Davies – 6/10
Not his usual assured display. Disappointing by his high standards although put a nice ball in for Kamara’s goal.

Davis – 6/10
Battling display but we were over-run in midfield.

Murphy – 5/10
Apart from putting away an excellent penalty and scything down David Bentley to the delight of most fans, he was his usual invisible self and his passing was atrocious…again.

Bouazza – 5/10
Anonymous.

Dempsey – 6/10
The usual tremendous effort but could have prevented Blackburn’s second equaliser when Warnock sneaked behind him.

Kamara – 6/10
How frustrating? He put in a decent shift and was on hand to finish off a great move but failed to make the most of a virtual one-on-one with Friedl in the first half.

Substitutes

Kuqi – 7/10
Very close to scoring his first Fulham goal. Loved his passion and commitment.

Healy – 6/10
Good when he eventually came on.

Ki-Hyeon – 5/10
Battled but pretty ineffective.

Man of the match: Antti Niemi. Simply kept us in the game.

New magazine

Morning all…will be on later today/early tomorrow with my player rankings for the match against Blackburn Rovers, plus a round-up of how the papers viewed our draw…however, a copy of a new football magazine has just landed on my door mat so I thought i’d give it a plug.

It’s called ‘Backpass’ and focusses on football in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. A4 in size, full colour, running to some 44 pages and just £2.50 for the launch issue, it’s certainly excellent value for money.

Of particular interest to Fulham fans in this first issue is a piece on Frank Large who graced the Cottage turf in the late 1960s, a photo of Johnny Haynes battling with Peter Lorimer and Bobby Robson scoring a penalty against Leeds in the 1965-66 season.

There’s also features on Nottingham Forest’s 1979 European Cup heroes, a look back at the 1970-71 season, a chat with Jim Smith – and even a very amusing piece on fashion disasters with a shocking photo of Coventry’s chocolate coloured kit- yuck!

I’m off to give the mag a proper read with my coffee. Futher info can be found at the mag’s website: http://www.backpassmagazine.co.uk/ and via the editor, Mike Berry, on email: backpassmail@aol.com

Thoroughly depressing…

Yep, we’ve done it again….proved that, for us at least, holding on to a lead is as difficult as juggling three eels dipped in grease…Time and time again we fall apart in the last 10 minutes or so of a match – just what is going on?

It’s all very well Lawrie getting shirty with the TV interviewer when he has the temerity to point this out but saying (and I paraphrase here) ‘England let a lead slip and they’re a national side so don’t have a go at us’ is absolutely ridiculous.

To be honest I’m too annoyed to post rationally yet…I shall review the highlights recorded and try to draw some positives to accompany the many negatives witnessed at the Cottage yesterday but it’s going to be a tough job.

Interview: Blackburn Rovers’ fans

Good morning…this post comes direct from the Kensington Hotel in Birmingham where i’m staying on a business trip, although needless to say i’ll be travelling down for this afternoon’s game against Blackburn Rovers.

We have managed to catch up with Simon Gray, the chairperson of the Blackburn Rovers Supporters Association of Northern Ireland for his views ahead of the match. Our grateful thanks for his time in answering our questions.

1. How do you think Rovers have done so far this season?
They have done extremely well in the league thus far, and we’ve also had to deal with quite a few injuries, along with one or two suspensions. Having spoken to a few of the players, they are disappointed to have been knocked out of Europe, but are building on the league to try and make up for it when the next campaign resumes. However, there is a long way to achieving that goal thus far.

2. Who have been your best and worst players?
You can take it from a biased view, but there certainly hasn’t been any player in the ‘worst category type’. However, Chris Samba has been amazing this campaign and nothing seems to fluster him. He was always going to be a dead cert in my Dream Teams at the start of the season, because in a solid defence he will get you goals. Again reliability has come from Warnock, Friedel and Santa Cruz. However, Benni McCarthy hit a lull and Gamst can hit a tad of indifferent consistency, but they are players who can turn the game when least expected.

3. Have you missed Robbie Savage in midfield?
Sav, is a player who you will hate when you play against him and certainly one who you’ll learn to respect when he’s playing for you. His work-rate and determination has been missed at stages this season and he’s a pivotal part in the midfield. However, Savage’s absence could well be soothed if Steven Reid makes his long awaited come back shortly.

4. What’s your view on Mark Hughes and do you reckon he’ll be with you in a year’s time – regardless of the new contract?
The best manager anyone can wish for. When Souness departed, he was my immediate number one and delighted that the board were able to seal his signature. He certainly hasn’t disappointed, and if anything has exceeded my expectations. He has gelled the squard brilliantly and has the players razor sharp in their fitness. Made unbelievable signings with Santa Cruz, Nelsen, Samba, Bentley and Warnock. As regards to his future, when Mr Ferguson ups and leaves, then that is when he’ll be heading to the exit door. He deserves the job, but I just hope that some eejit in Old Trafford appoints Roy Keane.

5. Where do you think you’ll finish this season?
I think if injuries don’t play a huge part, then a top 6 finish is achievable and at the same time incredible. The fans and players are pushing for it and a wee cup run in either the Carling or FA would compensate for the early exit out of the UEFA.

6. What do you make of Fulham this year?
Fulham had an indifferent start to the season. I think you needed the goalkeeping situation sorted out and you have done with Niemi in. Now, I feel you’re in a position to maintain a safe mid-table position and continue to build on from there. A fairly young squad, but have expected Healy to have amassed more goals by now. You will need to try and get a superb winger who will deliver quality and if Steven Davis gets his game up to scratch then goals will flow.

7. Are there any players you are particularly wary of?
I’m always going to be wary of Healy for obvious reasons. Absolute quality and I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing him every game for my country and talk about the capability of winning a game. I think Niemi was a keeper I always admired, so getting past him will be tough. Again you have a fair bit of quality in midfield with Simon Davies, Danny Murphy and then if Davis hits his top form. One player who is hitting the headlines is Bouazza and I’m sure you’ll welcome the return of Bullard with open arms.

8. Where do you think we’ll end up this year?
As previously mentioned, a safe mid-table position.

9. Which teams do you think will be relegated?
Derby, Wigan and either Sunderland or Bolton. Fulham never entered the equation for me once the goalkeeping position was sorted and once you get the best out of Healy.

10. What Rovers players should we most fear on Sunday?
Certainly our front pairing of Santa Cruz and McCarthy. A player who will surprise you is Samba and if Bentley and Gamst hit form, then expect a tough task of keeping those two quiet.

11. What’s your score prediction for the match?Fulham 1-1 Rovers.
Santa Cruz.
Healy

12. Any final comments?
A. All the best for the game lads and maybe I might be in attendance for the corresponding fixture at Ewood and if you need advice on the area then give me a shout. Good luck for the remainder of the season and I can assure you to keep believing in Sir David.

Afternoon all

I have tried desperately to persuade all the Blackburn Rovers supporters’ clubs I could find to give me their views ahead of Sunday’s game…but haven’t heard a peep out of them all week unfortunately, despite increasingly desperate emails!
If any Rovers fans are reading this then please get in touch (followingthefulham@fsmail.net) and hopefully we can sort things out…if not then you’ll have to make do with my thoughts about our chances….

Woeful England

A couple of months ago I questioned whether I really cared whether the national side won or lost. This morning I have my answer: yes, I do. The last time I can remember feeling physically sick the day after a match was when the boys down the road squeezed us out of a tight FA Cup Semi-Final at Villa Park a few years ago. All I could think when i opened my eyes was: what if?

I actually felt McClaren was the best man for the job when all the names were being tossed around in the wake of Eriksson’s departure – certainly better than Sam Allardyce at least – as he had been around the England set-up for years, understood how it worked, and perhaps more importantly, knew what motivated and inspired the players. It seems I was wrong.

Anyway, there’s little point agonising over it. In reality there’s a far more important match to our long-term happiness on Sunday afternoon when the Whites entertain Blackburn Rovers…let’s just hope they can deliver the goods otherwise we’ll all have more than just the disappointment of England not being in the Euros when next May rolls around.