Hello, I'm Stephen. Kristian has given me the opportunity to lend a hand over here and I look forward to adding some of my limited insights to Cottagers Confidential.
I figured I'd start out with my favorite memory as a Fulham supporter and one I suspect most readers wouldn't mind returning to on frequent basis.
It was April 26th, 2008. I remember it distinctly because I was so hungover.
I had pledged to myself the night before that I would take it easy in light of Saturday morning's massive match at Manchester City. I did little to live up to that pledge, drinking heavily and getting into a fight. Good times.
Still, force myself up I did, just before the ungodly hour of 10:00 a.m. on a weekend.
Ten minutes in and Stephen Ireland made my achy brain begin to question its decision to awaken. Benjani furthered the inquiry shortly after when he doubled the lead. Fulham were down two at the half, Birmingham was up by the same margin at Liverpool and Reading was level with Wigan. Relegation had become a grim reality.
Yet, I continued to watch in a manner much like I imagined the resigned Fulham faithful must have in Manchester that day: Eyes horrifically glued to field in agony while Joe Hart acted as the fair-skinned, indestructible monster of a horror epic.
It was just, instead of watching at the City of Manchester Stadium, I was watching alone, in my bedroom.
A sad state of affairs? Not at all.
Well, maybe a little.
The second half started.
Time continued to agonizingly tick away. Roy Hodgson, a man who loathed substitutions, got desperate, pulling David Healy off and bringing on Diomansy Kamara. Desperate in Hodgson terms, at least.
Shortly after, Kamara was on. Onside to be precise, beating Vedran Corluka by a step to a looping longball from Danny Murphy.
Kamara stopped in the box, turned left, turned right and repeated the steps while trying to shake Corluka, in what seemed to be an endless flailing of arms and legs, before arbitrarily deciding to spin and fire.
Hart, as mesmerized as the rest of us, could do little to prevent the shot from clipping off of his heel and in. Twenty minutes to go and down two goals. Could it be done?
Jimmy Bullard hoped so, running around like a chicken with his head cut off, taking shots at the faintest of opportunities. Clint Dempsey added tireless work, Simon Davies couldn't misplace a pass. City were on their heels.
Sun Jihai mauled substitute Erik Nevland in the box, or it at least appeared that way, and the sure-footed Danny Murphy was on the spot. And what a grand spot to be on.
Yet, in true form for the season, Hart had to stop Murphy's penalty. Nothing could be that simple.
The save only mattered for a brief moment, as the rebound fortuitously dropped dead at Murphy's feet for him to slot home into an empty net. But, for that brief moment, we were all punched in the gut by sad, sad fate.
A second passed and our collective shoulders drooped in a sigh of relief while spirits soared. Holy hell, the score was level. And away, of all places.
The remainder of the match was a wide open, attacking affair. Fulham pushed forward because they had no other option, City because... well, just because. Bullard ever-present, Martin Petrov running about like a Bulgarian Brazillian. End to end stuff.
Just as a draw seemed an inexplicable certainty, Murphy played a video game through-ball to Kamara. Onside. Behind the defense. One-on-one with Hart.
And a finish that defined "with aplomb."
I've always loved Paul Merson's exhausted reaction to the goal. It reminds me of mine.
I stood up in my room, ran a few paces around. My hands were in the air while I grinned ear to ear. I had to tell someone. Who? I don't know. The dogs were downstairs, sleeping and eating and doing dog things. I'm fairly certain my father's girlfriend cared little about the game, aside from the noise it made me cause.
Oh, wait. I had a friend who cared a few hundred miles away. My incessant bugging gradually pulled him over to passive Fulham support a few months prior. I called him, yelled a few unintelligible sentences of excitement. He agreed. At a bit of a lesser level, but he was still in agreement.
I then ran to the internet, an asylum for displaced Fulham supporters. I posted furiously everywhere I could, mostly on Big Soccer. I was enveloped by euphoria.
We won. Birmingham and Reading were held to draws. Everything wasn't lost quite yet.
This was the first time that "we" instinctively came out of my mouth. I had cared about Fulham before then, no doubt. But it just wasn't quite the same until that day. I didn't feel as though I was part of the team or something bigger. I'm still not a part of the team, but, at their finest, sports can make you feel that way.
I watched Bullard stand over a dead ball at Fratton Park a couple weeks later.
Sun poured down onto the pitch as he squinted towards Portsmouth's penalty box like a general planning his next assault. The box looked like a large, green canvas colored with blotches of blue, black and red. A fitting color scheme for a season full of blood and bruises.
Still, the light continued to shine. There was always that light at the end of the tunnel.