It's an ugly, impersonal word and it carries with it more questions and uncertainties than one might think. If there's such a thing as temporary finality, relegation is it. It's a word that says a club is no longer good enough for its current level, but it places no end point on how far a club may slide. It's a word that tips the first domino in a series of reactions that could result in immediate rebirth or Pompey-esque immolation and everything in between. In short, it's a real bastard of a word.
Now that its temporary finality has been assigned to Fulham Football Club, a new era begins for the Cottagers - an era that starts in a somewhat awkward moment in time with one match remaining in the Premier League season. A new owner, three managers, countless player comings and goings, and a painful slog for the supporters all combined in a cruel calculus of struggle that equalled relegation after last weekend's surrender at Stoke City.
Substantively, Fulham have nothing to play for Sunday when Crystal Palace, transformed under Tony Pulis, visit Craven Cottage in this season's penultimate match. Symbolically however, as Felix Magath has stated, Fulham's new journey begins on the final day. Yes, players will be playing for their futures, either with Fulham or another club, and Magath will be evaluating the tools with which he will be tasked to build a promotion campaign, but more than that, Sunday represents an opportunity to show the supporters that there's reason to keep the faith - that this season, so cumbersome and difficult an ordeal to endure, will not define the club; that the halcyon days of a Europa League Final are not resigned to the scrapbook of history, memories to be revisited as the club wallows in obscurity. Fulham is a proud club with proud players and proud supporters. Sunday's match against Crystal Palace deserves evidence of such.
Relegated, yes, but not in spirit.