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Chris Coleman: Tranmere the real test

last updated Wednesday 13th December 2000, 9:28 AM
It had been bedlam in the reception area, a Portakabin, at the Fulham training ground since the FA Cup third-round draw on Sunday had paired the club with Manchester United. The phone lines had all but jammed. “Don’t mention Manchester United,” the telephonist said. “They’re dirty words here.”

Of course, they are not. The overwhelming response from callers, desperate for tickets for the match at Craven Cottage on January 7, was simply a foretaste of what is to come at the University of London Athletic Ground at Motspur Park, Surrey.

When, not if, Fulham turn a ten-point lead at the top of the Nationwide League first division into a permanent place in the FA Carling Premiership, extra lines will have to be installed.

The revolution — begun by Mohamed Al Fayed, the multimillionaire chairman, and carried on so seamlessly by Jean Tigana, the French manager — is showing no signs of stalling. If anything, it is gathering momentum, a momentum that is blowing away every obstacle that lies in its path. The first division, evidently, is not big enough for them.

Tonight, Fulham experience another taste of what may lie around the corner next season. They play Liverpool at Anfield in the quarter-finals of the Worthington Cup, a competition that might be construed as little more than a distraction but a match in which to gauge their progress nonetheless.

Chris Coleman, the Fulham captain, can smell the Premiership. He has received the plaudits, heard the excitement among the supporters and read the rave reviews. Fulham have lost only three times in 27 league and cup outings this season; they know they are good enough to go up, everyone knows it.

Yet talk of the Premiership is swiftly dismissed. Tigana will not have it and neither will the players; there is still work to be done. “Nothing is taken for granted here,” Coleman said. “We’re not even thinking about Manchester United at the moment, that’s for after Christmas.

“Quite frankly, I’d rather get three points at the weekend than a victory at Anfield. I want to get out of this division, we all do, and get into the Premiership. Our fans might be talking about it but not us. Not yet. There’s a lot of football to be played and we all know how quickly things can turn around.”

Fulham had only one training session yesterday as the wind and rain swept across the bleak playing fields. Not the two, or sometimes three, stints that Tigana often demands, especially in pre-season, when the bodies need redefining after the summer break.

“We’ve had a lot of tough games recently, so it was only one session,” Coleman said. “At first we didn’t really know what had hit us. The sessions were not so much harder but longer. Jean has got his own methods — everything was new, different, fresh — but we’ve got used to them now and it looks like we’re reaping the benefits.”

Are Fulham ready for the Premiership yet? “If we get there, it will be interesting to see how we get on with the present bunch of lads,” Coleman said. “We’re a good side and I think we’ll be good enough to hold our own in it.

“We might not set the world alight, we may need one or two more players to make some sort of impact, but we’ll probably be OK. We’re geared up for the Premiership and all we’ve got to do now is make sure that we don’t take our foot off the pedal. Liverpool and United will be good tests for us.”
Source thetimes by Russell Kempson
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