Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 2 October 2014

Steven Beacom: I feel a traitor saying this, but Spanish will end Fulham fairytale

Cards on the table. How many times have you watched an English team in a European final hoping they would lose?

And be honest!

There’s a myth that is perpetuated, mostly by Sky TV presenters, that everyone in the UK wants to see Premiership clubs do well in the Champions League and Europa League. Do me a favour!

Do a straw poll in your office and ask the Liverpool fans if they wanted Manchester United to beat Barcelona in the European Cup final last season.

And then ask Chelsea followers how many of them wanted Liverpool to perform that heroic comeback in Istanbul.

Finally go to the Arsenal supporters and gently enquire if they would like to see Spurs win next season’s Champions League final at Wembley once the Gunners get hammered in the early rounds by Barcelona again.

Football doesn’t work the way Richard Keys and his cronies would like you to think. You want your football team to succeed and all of your rivals to fail.

There is one exception to this rule. And it comes in the shape of Fulham Football Club.

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t like to see them win the Europa League final tonight against Atletico Madrid in Hamburg.

Roy Hodgson’s boys have captured the imagination and hearts of the football public with their marvellous run in the competition.

They started way back in July and have defeated holders Shakhtor Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus, German champions Wolfsburg and in the semi-finals a Hamburg side motivated by the fact the final was on their home patch.

It is incredible to note that tonight’s match will be Fulham’s 19th in the competition.

No doubt about it, this is fairytale stuff for Fulham.

The job Hodgson has done at the club has been phenomenal since he took over from a certain Lawrie Sanchez.

When Hodgson arrived Fulham were on their way to the Championship. Now they are playing in a European final.

En route he has rejuvenated the careers of Danny Murphy (pictured), Damien Duff, Bobby Zamora and our own Chris Baird.

He has also made Aaron Hughes, the outstanding Northern Ireland skipper, an even better defender. (Aaron is shamefully undervalued by many pundits, but he’s not the type to mind).

Perhaps most important of all, Hodgson has given his players belief that they deserve to be on the big stage and can win what is, despite all the criticism of the Europa League, the continent’s second most important competition.

I genuinely hope they deliver, not just for old pals like Aaron and Bairdy, but because I have so admired the way Fulham have gone about their business in the tournament.

The thing is, and I genuinely feel like a traitor for saying this, my hunch is that the Fulham fairytale will end tonight.

Yes, Fulham have a wonderful team ethic that has carried them all this way, but if Atletico click they are capable of blowing Hodgson’s side away.

Look at the talent in the Madrid line-up. Up front is Argentine Sergio Aguero, rated at around £40 million. Beside him is Diego Forlan, a flop at Manchester United but a hero in the Spanish capital. Add the midfield craft of Simao Sabrosa and Jose Reyes and the defensive graft of Luis Perea and on their day Atletico are a formidable outfit.

It promises to be a fascinating final. I hope I’m wrong about the outcome. Come on Fulham!

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