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Fulham can win says John Collins

last updated Saturday 13th April 2002, 8:40 AM
Fulham midfielder John Collins has too many scars from semi-final battles at Hibernian and Celtic to be overly concerned about the little local difficulty that stands in Fulham's way tomorrow. But he is aware that a place in history beckons for every player who pulls on a white shirt at Villa Park as they chase that dream of European football.

Collins, who provides the grace notes in Fulham's midfield, says: "Getting the club into Europe for the first time is the challenge that has been laid down to all the players. We all know that this is an unbelievably big game for Fulham and just being in a semi-final against a big club like Chelsea with a chance of winning it shows just how far we have come.

"We all believe we can become as big a club as Chelsea and that has to be the target. I don't think we are a million miles from making the breakthrough but, for me, big clubs win things and the last stage of the journey is the most difficult, getting to the cup finals and taking on the big boys in the league."

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To that end, Collins is talking not just about tomorrow but the final itself. At 34, he is not a man who can treat a semi-final as a nice day out, though his attitude was no different when he first played in one for Hibernian as a 17-year-old. "There's no point just being happy to participate," he says. "We're going there to enjoy it, yes, but believing we can win it as well. And that goes for the final, too."

Any inferiority complex Fulham might have carried into a game against neighbours who have always lived in the bigger house and had the flashier cars has been dispelled, he says, by the two Premiership encounters between the sides this season, their first in the top flight for 34 years.

If nothing else, Fulham have showed character and resilience, coming from behind at Craven Cottage to force a 1-1 draw and twice coming from behind at Stamford Bridge only to lose to Mikael Forssell's 89th-minute goal.

"I would think they would respect us after those games. But both teams like to attack and I will be surprised if the game is not open and free-flowing." The match, he adds, should also help fans to feel again the white heat of local rivalry, which had gone off the boil through lack of practice.

The Premiership encounters were pale imitations of the sort of derbies he participated in at Celtic but he says: "You have to expect that when the teams haven't played each other that regularly over the past 30 years. The atmosphere is bound to diminish a bit because of that generation gap but I'm sure you won't be aware of it tomorrow. And we hope to be playing them, and beating them, a lot more in the years to come."

Collins has been impressed that Fulham's support is mostly drawn from those fans who have lived through the club's darkest hours and not those who spotted a bandwagon worth leaping on when Mohamed Al Fayed arrived on a white charger with saddlebags full of cash.

He says: "It wasn't a huge fan base when I came and it's still not that big. But most of the supporters have seen the club through thick and thin and were there when they were in the Third Division a few years ago.

"Even so, Fulham work really hard in the community, going to schools and inviting kids here. The club wants to make sure that the community stays with the club and realise that the club wants to be part of the community. That is important for any club but particularly so at Fulham, who are small but growing."

Collins, sadly, will not be watched by one of his biggest supporters tomorrow. His second child, six-year-old Hannah, has been told she cannot attend because the 7pm kick-off would mean her getting home way after bedtime.

"Whoever made the decision, it was a wrong one and Hannah has been in tears this week," he confesses. By bedtime tomorrow, however, he hopes to be sharing her tears of happiness.
Source The Guardian by Roy Collins
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