Sat, Nov 01, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Don't cry for me Maradona, Fulham is doing great now


Just over 17 years ago Fulham, languishing in the old third division, played Liverpool, who had won the English League and Cup double a few months earlier, in a League Cup tie at Craven Cottage and lost 3-2.

On the surface that defeat appears far from a disgrace. The only problem for Fulham was that they started the second leg of that tie at somewhat of a disadvantage on the night for they had lost the first leg 10-0 at Anfield two weeks previously.

The match program for the return at Craven Cottage bizarrely had a picture of Argentina skipper Diego Maradona with his hands clasped together on the cover.

"Even he is praying for us. We need all the help we can get" ran the self-mocking message inside.

Eventually help did arrive for Fulham -- but it took more than another two decades of misery and lower division football before Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of department store Harrods, bought the club in 1997 and began to use his fortune to turn its fortunes around.

Nothing illustrates just how far the club have come than a glance at this weekend's league table for when Fulham and Liverpool meet in the premier league tomorrow, Fulham will start the match in fifth place while Liverpool are 10th.

Fulham's astonishing 3-1 win at Manchester United last week has not transformed the team into championship contenders.

But it has made a mockery of widespread pre-season predictions from a range of experts that Fulham would be relegated this season.

That now seems unlikely, though manager Chris Coleman is taking nothing for granted and wants his side to collect 40 points -- usually more than enough for safety -- as soon as possible. They currently have 18 from their first 10 matches -- just six behind league leaders Arsenal.

"We will not get carried away -- although the way we played against Manchester United has instilled the players with confidence to go and do the same against Liverpool," Coleman said. "You might say I am being negative, but all I'm thinking about is getting the 40 points as soon as possible."

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