Expectation – is it a burden or a motivator? In football terms, I suppose it’s different things to different clubs. As a Fulham fan back in the 1995/96 season I was grateful that we managed to avoid relegation to the Conference. There was no expectation, just a relief that the club actually existed. That season marked the low-point and the start of a journey that has been quite unbelievable. If somebody had told me that within 16 years, the club would be in the top-flight for 10 consecutive seasons and would reach a European Final, I’d have said they needed a very long lay down in a darkened room.
As wonderful as that journey has been, on a personal level I’ve always tried to be realistic about the expectations for Fulham. For others, there has been an unreasonable (as I see it) rationale as the club has progressed. There is nothing wrong with ambition, but it has to be balanced with reality. Some people may consider my views as lacking aspiration or as killing a dream, but I have my position because ultimately our teams do let us down.
As the last of the winner’s tickertape fluttered down in Hamburg at the end of the Europa League Cup Final and Fulham trudged off, thinking of what might have been – there were bound to be consequences. Firstly, Roy Hodgson became a managerial target and was bound to leave and secondly fans were thinking that Fulham “had arrived” and that 2011/12 would bring a top seven finish and domestic silverware.
Mark Hughes took over and after going unbeaten in the League in August and September, the remainder of 2010 became decidedly desperate. A Boxing Day mauling by then bottom of the table West Ham at the Cottage and dropping into the bottom three made those balmy European nights seem a life-time away. The reality of relegation was an unwelcome apparition as 2011 awoke. I had that dread and fear in the stomach that comes from knowing your club is in trouble. Cold logic tells you that you’ve had a good run, 10 years in the Premier League has been a bonus. However, a positive run of results in both the League and FA Cup as January turns into February and suddenly there is a whiff of expectation. The FA Cup Fifth Round looms, you get a home tie against a fellow Premier League team. I’m expecting Fulham to win, for the first time this season I’m feeling confident. As I said earlier in this piece, eventually your team lets you down and it hurts. Following that loss to Bolton, I’m now looking worriedly at the remainder of the League fixtures and dreading the rest of the season. How can the result of one game make me feel so different?
Leeds United unlike Fulham is a “big-club”. History, tradition, trophies, fans – and a huge expectation. But that expectation varies too. There are those who think a mid-table finish this season would be creditable – those who feared a relegation battle – and those who see a second successive promotion. The trap has been laid, 14 games to go, sat in 6th place, just three points away from an automatic promotion spot – expectation level has been set. Barnsley come to Elland Road tonight, a win and the right results and Leeds could be second. And so the expectation would grow. Would that be the springboard to go on and clinch promotion? Would the pressure become too great? Expectation – is it a burden or a motivator?
He who dares Rodney. He who dares…..