A COUPLE of Fridays ago, I was invited on to BBC Radio London to discuss Fulham’s appointment of Mark Hughes. While I would like to think I was asked on because of my authority, depth of knowledge and articulate manner, it was actually because the journalist they originally wanted to speak to was on holiday.
When I’m not writing this blog, I do occasionally dabble in proper journalism. And as a journalist who has developed a minor reputation for being able to string a sentence together, and for answering my mobile when a radio producer rings in a panic 20 minutes before his show is due to start, this means I occasionally get to do a bit of broadcasting.
(Incidentally, when I tell people these days that I am a freelance journalist, they usually say either that I am working in a dying industry, and should immediately retrain as a plumber/electrician/account/burglar, or that they never read any of the publications I work for.
In much the same way, when I used to tell people I was a student at Lancaster, they often responded by insisting – without evidence – that it had the highest suicide rate of any university in Britain. In both cases, I have never figured out if people are trying to make conversation, or to give me some sort of warning, or if they just don’t like me very much.)
I told Radio London that I thought Fulham had made an excellent appointment, and that although expectations at Craven Cottage would be high following Roy Hodgson’s astonishing achievements, it should be remembered that Hughes secured two top-six Premier League finishes at Blackburn on a relatively limited budget.
And I genuinely believe he will do well. But there’s something Fulham fans should know. I’m not very good at making accurate forecasts when it comes to talking about Mark Hughes on the radio.
Eight days before last Christmas, Five Live got me in to talk to Simon Mayo about Hughes’ position at Manchester City. The previous evening, they had been battered 3-0 at Tottenham, whose fans had taken great delight in chanting: “You’re getting sacked in the morning.”
Mayo: So Mike, how do you see the speculation over Mark Hughes’ future? Is this just media flim-flam, or are there serious questions being asked here?
Me: I think there is a certain element of media flim-flam to it, Simon. It seems that there’s always one Premier League manager under pressure … Certainly from what I know of the board, they’re not the type to make knee-jerk reactions, and the manager will be judged over the course of the season.
Two days later, Hughes was sacked. Ah, well.
On Radio London, I was asked what sort of football Fulham fans could look forward to under Hughes. I said that they could expect plenty of goals, as his Manchester City side were full of attacking threat but susceptible at the back.
Last night’s final match: Bolton 0 Fulham 0
Commentator: Steve Bower
There was one Bolton fan who had a difficult decision to make yesterday. Should he go to the match, or stay at home with his pregnant wife, due to give birth any day now? He chose the match. You can probably guess what happened.
“It wouldn’t be the opening day of the Premier League season without a tannoy announcement asking an expectant father to join his wife who is in labour,” remarked commentator Steve Bower, using a rather elastic definition of the word ‘expectant’.
If the dad-to-be was still wavering, Bolton and Fulham very kindly helped him out by ensuring that he didn’t miss any goals.
It was a particularly useful clean sheet for Hughes’ side, given that they were missing the injured Mark Schwarzer, who wants a transfer. (I’m presuming he wants to go to Arsenal, though I’m sure, say, Barnet wouldn’t turn him down if he was really that desperate to move on.)
In Schwarzer’s absence, there was a very impressive display from David Stockdale, who has had one of English football’s odder careers. Put it this way: he’s the only man I can think of who has played in a League Two play-off semi-final and the Europa League within the last three years.
I saw Stockdale when he was on loan at Plymouth last season, and although he was perfectly competent – give or take the odd understandable wobble behind a less-than-sturdy defence – I didn’t find myself thinking: “Wow, he’s too good for the Championship.”
But then he is only 24, and still learning as a goalkeeper. And given his chance yesterday, he made two very good saves from Johan Elmander to keep the scoresheet blank. Whether he will get to be first choice in the event of Schwarzer’s departure remains to be seen – after all, Hughes decided he needed a more experience keeper at City despite having Joe Hart around. But on this evidence, Stockdale won’t let anyone down.
One thing Fulham fans will notice about Hughes is that he does choose his words very carefully in interviews. I suspect this is partly the result of being asked about Robinho’s future at least once a week for nine months. (Indeed, I was disappointed no one brought that question up at his first Fulham press conference, just to make him feel at home.)
Sometimes, when he’s being particularly careful, he can almost sound like a lawyer reading a prepared statement at the end of a complex legal case. Even so, you can usually read between the lines.
So when Hughes responded to a post-match question about Schwarzer’s future with an incredibly careful answer which featured the word ‘situation’ three times in 15 seconds, Gary Lineker still got the gist.
“Seems like they want a few more quid,” said Lineker in the Match of the Day studio. Perhaps he should be the one going on the radio to talk about Hughes-related news, not me.
1=. Bolton: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
1=. Fulham: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
3=. Blackburn: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
3=. Everton: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
5=. Wolves: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
5=. Stoke: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
7=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Birmingham: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Newcastle: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Sunderland: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. West Brom: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. West Ham: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
7=. Wigan: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Blackburn 1 Everton 0)
3L=On third last (Wolves 2 Stoke 1)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Nyon hosted by Sepp Blatter, Charlize Theron, Tony Gubba and Michael McIntyre, with music from Four Poofs And A Piano.)