Monday, 19 September 2011

Fulham 1 FC Twente 1

The Daily Mail induction was going well and the return of European football to the calendar allowed me to sneak in another London match. After the once-in-a-blue-moon spectacle that was Brazil against Ghana, there was a danger that returning to Craven Cottage for Fulham’s Europa League opener with FC Twente would be a terrible anti-climax. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case and a very watchable draw unfolded. 
Remarkably, this was the first European fixture I’d ever seen and while this ridiculously-drawn-out, trans-continental sister competition may not be anywhere near the class of the Champions League - as visibly displayed by the universal lack of enthusiasm during the theme tune - there was still plenty of entertainment. This time, Huw and I paid to sit along the side, in the creaky old wooden seats which seem to be unique to Fulham. 
As the ground filled up, I couldn’t help think how many of these people followed Fulham back in the old second division days when European competition, let alone reaching a European final as they did in 2010, was a distant pipedream. I also wondered how many travelled to Boston for that second round League Cup tie in 2004 - a very small percentage I would imagine!
Huw had worked as a steward here during the York University holidays, and saw a good deal of that famous run to the final in Hamburg, where they were beaten by Atletico Madrid. He’d even seen FC Twente before, albeit at Arsenal, and said their fans made quite a racket. They were less in evidence here, however, and certainly not too noisy. In fact, they were outsung by the home fans, which did surprise me. The fact that Fulham are unbeaten in Europe at home might have inspired the belief. 
An exciting first-half unfolded and both sides profited from errors of judgement. Andrew Johnson opened the scoring after 19 minutes after seizing on to a loose pass from Dwight Tiendall, producing the kind of poacher’s finish that once had him sniffing around the fringes of the England squad. 
The Dutch side equalised shortly before half-time when number nine Luuk de Jong, who was not unlike Dirk Kuyt, hit the post with a header, only to see the ball bundled over the line by goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. 
While not quite as free-flowing as last week’s international, there was plenty of enterprising play and chances to enjoy, with both keepers tested. Clint Dempsey and Johnson would have been disappointed not to convert their chances and get Fulham’s group stage off to the perfect start, but a draw was a fair reflection. Schwarzer made amends for his error by saving another effort from de Jong and one from Willem Janssen as Twente looked for a second-half winner. 
With Wisla Krakow and Odense also in the group, Fulham probably have little to fear and, who knows, this could be the start of another glorious run to the final in Dublin. That’ll be in late May, meaning should they make it, their European adventure would have lasted a remarkable 11 months!
Next Match: Just spent my first weekend in ages without going to a game, as I moved from London to Leeds, so will be desperate to get on the terraces next weekend, somewhere in Yorkshire.            

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