“Fulham are poor cousins, beating Chelsea means everything”

Craven Cottage erupts. Referee David Coote has sounded the final whistle, ending 16 years of purgatory. Fulham supporters have waited so long to beat Chelsea again it’s confusing at first. Not only have Fulham defeated their unpopular local rivals, they are six points ahead of them in the Premier League table.

It’s the stuff of dreams, but that’s what Marco Silva has taught Fulham over the last 18 months. From league title rush to record results and goalscoring, Fulham’s success has felt like a hurricane.

But despite all the milestones ticked off, this result has a bigger meaning – Fulham served up the result their fans were longing for most.

“It was a great night for our fans,” said Silva. “Chelsea’s superiority in those games was huge. They’re a huge club. Your budget is totally different, we cannot compare. But we knew that we could keep the balance with our work, with our strategy, with our identity.

“And we did it.”

Fulham’s record against Chelsea was nothing short of abysmal. At the start of the game, there was no game in the English Football League to be played more than 50 times, a worse win rate than Fulham’s v Chelsea.

The last time Fulham won a substitute, Luke Harris hadn’t celebrated his first birthday. Since that day, when Silva’s assistant Luis Boa Morte scored the only goal in a 1-0 win on 19 March 2006, Fulham have tried and failed 21 times.

That lone achievement equates to just one win in all competitions from 40 games since 1979, when both teams played in the old Division Two. At the same time, Fulham have seen Chelsea win every available trophy, rise to greater heights and go further.

While Brentford has meddled in the major league entertainment from time to time and QPR does surface, for fans it’s this frustrating game against the mile-based team down the street and who share the same zip code, that’s the most important thing.

A belated victory tastes all the sweeter.

The Ventoms sat outside The Boathouse pub in Putney, sipping a drink and calming nerves.

It’s 90 minutes before kick-off and the family is pondering the possible team sheet. There are Caroline, 58, and Mark, 61, and their children Michael, 25, Liam, 23, and Laura, 22, as well as Mark’s brother Gerard, known as Tigs, 59, and his daughter Becky, 23. They are all Fulham fans and are all adorned in colors. Caroline has her scarf on. Mark has his current track jacket. Liam wears the Puma shirt, which was worn between 2003 and 2005, and Laura has the 1997-98 edition.

Today they all have season tickets at Hammersmith End, where they sit together in a row, with Laura in a seat behind and Michael in one in front. If they go to Fulham, they can get together every week to share a common passion.

“This game feels like we could actually win,” says Michael.

“You hex it!” interjects Liam.

Mark and Tigs first went gambling in the 1960s. They lived in Barnes and could see the floodlights across the river from the end of the street. At times the crowd at Craven Cottage could be heard from the garden.

Mark on his way to Craven Cottage for the Chelsea game

“My first game was in 1968,” says Mark, who is retired and part-time tour guide at Craven Cottage. “I was 7. It was a pre-season friendly against Manchester United. They had just won the European Cup. It was Bobby Charlton and Dennis Law. My father took me with him. I think he thought I would fall in love with Man United. I’ve been a Fulham fan ever since.”

The rest of the family moved to Craven Cottage more regularly at various stages. Liam’s first memories are of Steed Malbranque, while Becky’s first game was against Hamburg in the 2010 Europa League semifinals. The family lives at Motspur Park near the club’s training ground and sometimes attends U21 games. Liam played at school alongside former academy player Jerome Opoku.

When it comes to the rivalry with Chelsea, they offer different perspectives. Tigs was there when Fulham last beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October 1979, with Gordon Davies and John Beck on the scoresheet. “I was in the Shed End for my own safety!” he says.

The rivalry is not mutual suffering. Historically, Chelsea’s formation is said to have started when Gus Mears approached Fulham to play at Stamford Bridge Athletics Ground at Fulham Road. They declined and he decided to start his own team. Chelsea was born.

The teams competed regularly in the interwar period, but they only played five times in the same division between 1968 and 2001 and did not play each other between 1986 and 2001. Rarely have they competed for similar honors, and the rivalry lacked that advantage. “There’s a rivalry, but it’s not about United-City or that we’re a divided borough,” says Mark. “We’re always the poorer cousins. But whyWhen people ask who Fulham’s biggest rivals are, I’ll say Chelsea.”

Tiger agrees. “Fulham sees it more as a rivalry than Chelsea fans. They don’t see it as a rivalry at all.”

“It’s little brother and big brother,” says Caroline.

There was a time when fans would visit both clubs when one was not playing. “In the early 70’s I watched Fulham play Oldham and Chelsea should play against United,” says Mark. “The Chelsea game was canceled so the United fans went to the Putney End to support Oldham and the Chelsea fans came and stood at the Hammy End. There were huge numbers of them.”

However, modernity feels different. Fulham returned to the top flight in 1997 and the two sides have frequently locked horns. But with one-sided results.

“It was always Chelsea,” says Liam. “It’s the game I would look out for in the pairings, the first where we would try to get tickets for the away game. It’s the greatest.”

Lately, Brentford’s success means they’ve struggled for similar things; Premier League promotion and top league stability.

“There were tense battles with Brentford,” says Michael. “We don’t sing about Brentford. But Chelsea…”

“I knew about the rivalry but I’ve never been to Fulham-Chelsea,” says Laura. “But the first few games I went to, the fans were singing about Chelsea. Even if we haven’t played them. It happened in every game. It sticks.”

The thought of predictions for the game elicits a sharp inhale, leaving Tigs with his head in his hands. With Chelsea in crisis mode, opportunity is knocking and Fulham fans know it.

“I’m really nervous. It’s like watching your kids play,” says Caroline.

“All my Chelsea friends say we’ll do it,” says Liam. “You are not confident. This is the chance guys.”

Without Aleksandar Mitrovic, the stage was clear for Carlos Vinicius. And with a twist of his neck muscles, he carved his name into Fulham folklore.

His winning goal from an inch-precise cross from Andreas Pereira secured a win that felt elusive for so long. The celebrations match the performance. Vinicius is inundated with his teammates and coaching staff, not the least of which is Boa Morte hugging him; two Fulham heroes of this game.

In the stands, the scenes are cheerful.

“Pereira was man of the match,” says Caroline wholeheartedly. “We are very happy for Vinicius. Leno was incredible.”

“The fans were there from the first minute,” says Liam. “Every tackle, every loose ball was celebrated.”

For Chelsea supporters flocking to Stevenage Road, the thought of losing to Fulham will not hold much weight compared to their fears of a difficult season.

But for Fulham, who are now sixth, it all feels unprecedented. They broke the hoodoo and bloodied their so-called big brother’s noses. They have also now won four games in a row for the first time since April 1966 and are the first newly promoted side to score 31 points at this stage since Wigan Athletic 2005/06.

Relegation remains the main goal, but if they continue to set such standards, they could even end up ahead of Chelsea.

And for those unaccustomed to this device, that conveys the un-Fulham reality.

“Becky and Laura have never been to a game between Fulham and Chelsea,” says Mark. “Now you think we win all the time!”

(Photo: From left: Caroline, Tigs, Becky, Liam, Michael, Laura, Mark)

https://theathletic.com/4086876/2023/01/13/fulham-chelsea-marco-silva-fans/ “Fulham are poor cousins, beating Chelsea means everything”

Russell Falcon

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