The official start of the Premier League transfer window usually has fans everywhere excited about how their club will improve and who will be joining the good guys in their quest to defend titles, qualify for Europe, climb the table, avoid relegation, or whatever your team’s goals may be.
Unfortunately, in order to get to the fun part, teams must first do some dusting, and clear spots on the roster to make room for the new boys. Old contracts aren’t renewed, players are bought out, or contracts are mutually terminated.
It’s then that everyone is reminded how professional sports are, well, professional. It’s a business. Money is at stake. Often that means personal connections are sacrificed.
Fulham’s core of players that have romped around Craven Cottage the better part of the last half decade is slowly decaying, crumbling to the windy sands of time that wears down certain names quicker than others, but in the end every man succumbs to it. Ties with Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu were severed last season, as the club deemed their age liability had finally outweighed the great benefits they have brought to the club.
It is due to this that teams choose to part ways with those who become just another number, another transaction, despite the individual connections they’ve made with staff, teammates, and most importantly the fans.
It is with great sadness that we have to say goodbye to three more of these great men who brought so much joy to the hearts of the Fulham faithful. As a relatively new Fulham fan myself compared to many out there reading this site, it is extra difficult to bid farewell to two players who hold a special place in my heart.
Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird, and Simon Davies have been added to the list of the old guard who will no longer spend 19 matches a year entertaining young and old at the Premier League’s family club.
Despite the fact their names will no longer grace the back of a Fulham shirt on the Craven Cottage pitch, that does not mean their contributions to the club will be forgotten. Not at all.
First, I would like to thank the ageless Australian, having finally given way to a Dutchman 10 years younger. It seemed every year since he arrived from Middlesborough at the ripe young age of 35, at some point fans called for youth to replace him. I was guilty of it myself just this past year, when Mark’s form dipped in the early part of the season.
He seemed less agile, his reaction time was failing, and he seemed to have a disconnect with a defense that was reshaping itself around him. When fans began to call for a graceful end to his tenure between the Fulham sticks, he responded, like he had so many times before. The second half of last season was as good a 5 months as Mark has had in his Fulham career. He looked 25.
With it being the best time to say goodbye to a man who gave nothing but 500% effort every time he pulled the Fulham shirt over his head, I would like to thank Mark for all his contributions he gave to not only the club but the fans. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but from everything I heard he had as much to be proud of as an individual and as a professional as he did as a player.
To the Bairdinho, his versatility was invaluable for many years at Fulham, and despite not always finding himself on the first choice teamsheet, he never ceased to work and would always somehow find himself useful to Roy Hodgson and the like. When a player gives his all to a club like Chris did, it never ever goes unnoticed by the fans.
Baird’s goals were few and far between, but they did happen, and when they did often they were massive. This was because Baird had a knack of finding the back of the net out of nowhere, in turn knocking the opponent to the ground with a left hook they never saw coming.
The Northern Irishman found himself at one of center back, right-back, and central midfield, which only provided the manager with another reason to make use of his skills. When injuries hit the Fulham squad, there was Bairdinho ready to take up whatever position was found decimated.
To Simon Davies, I also would like to dedicate some time. He became an instant hit with Fulham fans since signing on a free from Everton due to his never-ending work rate, much like his counterpart mentioned before.
What the Welshman did in the final two Europa League matches against Hamburg and Atletico Madrid will never be forgotten. The elation he gave fans was enough to earn him respect for a lifetime. A career is hardly defined by a single moment or two, but when fans reflect on Davies’ tenure at Fulham, those two moments will forever headline the story, and rightly so.
These three players racked up a whopping 550 appearances for Fulham between the three of them across all competitions. Doing the math, that’s the equivalent of 14-1/2 Premier League seasons.
And now to those that remain. Damien Duff and Brede Hangeland are the only old two regulars who are still with the club, with Aaron Hughes now stuck behind Philippe Senderos and the recently acquired Fernando Amorebieta. I can’t imagine those two – or three – sticking around much longer. Hughes has stated he wants first-team action (as he deserves), Duff may be finding minutes fewer and fewer with the rise of Alex Kacaniklic and Ashkan Dejagah along with the very likely acquisition of Bakary Sako. Hangeland is reaching an age where mistakes are more common, as evident by spotty patches last season.
It’s a time of change in the Fulham squad, and a sad one largely because it’s hard to identify any players who will take their place. Leadership not only has to do with age, but tenure as well.
From the roster of the 2008/09 season – Schwarzer’s first with the club – only a single player remains aside from the Hangeland/Hughes combination: David Stockdale.
Times are changing, and thus fans must change along with it. But something that will never change is a need for not just leadership but stability, and Fulham will need to find that somewhere. They will need someone to step up and take over the holes left by these departing players and those soon to depart.
That is, however, for another time. For now, it is a time to say not just goodbye, but thank you. Thank you Mark Schwarzer, Chris Baird, and Simon Davies for those moments, memories, and most importantly time and effort you have given this club. They will not soon be forgotten.