Perhaps it was inevitable that it would come to this in the fullness of time. The worlds of football, celebrity and cloying sentimentality have been slowly moving towards each other for the last ten years or so. At Craven Cottage this afternoon, though, a nadir has been reached. There is so much wrong with the statue of Michael Jackson that now stands, some might say creepily, outside Fulham’s ground that it is difficult to know where to start, even if we allow for Mohammed Al Fayed’s friendship with the late singer, chimpanzee maintenance man and moonwalker. Firstly, there is the statue itself. Seemingly based on a design submitted by a reasonably artistically talented seven year-old, it is a statue seemingly made of Play-Doh, a design that would have been rejected by Madame Tussauds on the assumption that the wax had partially melted. It is startlingly bad, really alarmingly so, and, football supporters being football supporters, it seems inconceivable that it won’t lead to Fulham supporters – who, of course, were not consulted over this – being treated as laughing stocks the length and breadth of the nation for a while.
Then there is the small matter of the fact that Michael Jackson has no links with Fulham Football Club, apart from his friendship with Al Fayed and having visited Craven Cottage once. If Al Fayed was so desperate to pay tribute to his friend through the medium of the construction of an over-sized Action Man in drag with one hand twice the size of the other, why didn’t he, say, put it in the foyer of Harrods? The answer to that is probably that the customers of Harrods wouldn’t stand for it. Football supporters, on the other hand, are, somehow or other, not customers. They will have to put up with it. Furthermore, Al Fayed’s reaction to criticism of the statue is a cause for genuine concern. “If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift they can go to hell.”, he said, “I don’t want them to be fans. If they don’t understand and don’t believe in things I believe in they can go to Chelsea, they can go to anywhere else.” With Fulham still loitering just above the relegation places in the Premier League, whether it is wise to tell critics to, “go to hell” is very much open to question. He may well look at the full stands at Craven Cottage now and believe that he is on firm ground. To treat his own club’s supporters with such contempt, however, is not only insulting but potentially stupid.
At least things went relatively well for them on the pitch today. Bobby Zamora has had some wretched luck with injury over the last year or so, but he has looked spritely since his return two months ago, and his two goals in four first half minutes put this match beyond Blackpool before the visitors, who are starting to look more and more like relegation with each passing week, could even get into second gear. The warning signs had already been posted, with a low shot from Fabian Delph that was brilliantly palmed onto the post by the Blackpool goalkeeper Kingson. The first goal, however, is gifted to Fulham by James Beattie, whose pass couldn’t have been more precise had he been wearing a white and black shirt. Zamora races through and thumps the ball into the top corner of the net. Further shaky defending goes a long way towards granting Fulham their second goal, as well. A curling free-kick from the right-hand side is beautifully placed but Kingson, who does carry an air of unpredictablity about him, gets himself caught in two minds and Zamora nods the ball past him to double Fulham’s lead. Fulham look comfortable for much of the half, although Blackpool do manage to twitch back into life just before half-time, with a long ball that is nicked over the Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer by Brett Ormerod and is headed off the line by chris Baird, followed by an angled shot from David Vaughan which is deflected narrowly wide.
Although Blackpool start the second half encouragingly – James Beattie hits the outside of the post from a very narrow angle – Fulham seem more assured on the ball and more confident, and in the space of five minutes in the second half the match is thrown beyond completely beyond Blackpool’s reach. Midway through the half, Jason Puncheon fires a free-kick straight at Schwarzer, half a chance that may have put them back into the game. Five minutes later, at the other end of the pitch, Danny Murphy crosses, Adam Dempsey’s header hits the post, Brede Hangeland pulls the ball back and Dickson Etuhu rolls the ball over the line from close range to effectively end the match as a contest. Blackpool continue to push forward, but it’s empty football, playing for a consolation, and Fulham seem more than happy to stick with a three goal win.
Blackpool, therefore, continue their slide towards the relegation places and remain a single, solitary point above West Ham United, now with an inferior goal difference. Still, looking on the bright side, the peculiarities of the fixture list means that five of their remaining seven matches of the season are at home and that the next four of these are all at home. It’s an opportunity for them to grab hold of their own destiny and there can be little doubting the importance of these four matches. Fulham, meanwhile, take a giant step towards safety with this result, which lifts them to tenth place in the Premier League table and the three goals increase their goal difference to a level that those nearer the foot of the table will not be able match before the end of this season. Mohammed Al Fayed, whose stupid, insulting and ill-considered comments regarding his critics earlier today mean that he deserves the criticism that he will doubtlessly receive over the next few days, may breathe a sigh of relief at his team’s performance today, but this doesn’t mean that his club’s supporters should let him off the hook and winning this match doesn’t alter this.
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