Fulham begin life in the Championship this weekend as England welcomes a new football season. The Cottagers will be intent on a speedy return to the English Premier League after their 13-year stint ended in May. On Saturday, Ipswich Town will reintroduce them to the second tier, a concept so unfamiliar to Fulham that it had a different name (First Division) the last time they played in it.
Fulham proved to be a great survivor during their time in the EPL. Impressively, they managed to maintain top-flight status, despite only being a middle-market team with budget constraints. In fact, they were one of only seven teams to play in each of the past 13 EPL seasons—Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Everton being the others.
Remarkably, for a team lasting so long, Fulham only managed to record more wins than losses in one of their EPL seasons (2008-09).Throughout the years, the Cottagers were a consistent mid-table club who were only once previously threatened by relegation (2007-08).
But after many years of competitiveness, the wheels came off last season. The cause of Fulham’s demise speaks for itself.
In a nutshell—three managers, 85 goals conceded, 24 defeats and plenty of turmoil in between—culminated in Fulham being condemned to the drop.
The reality of demotion equals more than just 23 new opponents and playing in front of smaller audiences twice a week. Relegation to a lower division also usually translates into wholesale personnel changes. Fulham have been no exception this offseason. Frenetic activity over the past three months has seen a cluster of new players come in—most notably the £11 million signing of Ross McCormack—and many established players depart. The likes of Steve Sidwell, David Stockdale, Ashkan Dejagah, Brede Hangeland, Kieran Richardson, John Arne Riise and Damien Duff have each played their last games in a white jersey.
Some will be missed by the Fulham faithful, others could not be shown the door more quickly. Familiar faces, such as Scott Parker and Bryan Ruiz, will now aim to blend with the newcomers and kick-start a new dawn at the Cottage.
For a team with a successful past, competing in an inferior league should translate into instant success, right? Not necessarily.
In fact, out of the last 30 teams to be relegated from the EPL only seven have earned promotion on their first attempt (23 percent).
Competing in the Football Championship will be a daunting prospect—nine months, 46 games (plus potentially more in the playoffs), as well as cup commitments on top.
Only the strong survive in this gruelling division. The facts prove that even the best sides take their lumps during the course of a Championship season—teams finishing first and second during the past decade have averaged 8.7 defeats per season. Consistency, as well as the ability to bounce back from a loss, is crucial in this league.
Still only five seasons removed from their memorable runner-up performance in the Europa Cup, Fulham remain an ambitious club. Players and management will be hellbent on reversing last year’s slide and resuming normal service.
They currently sit among the teams favoured for promotion in this highly unpredictable league. With the season nearly upon us, let’s take a look at what Fulham need to do in order to secure their return to English football’s elite division.
*The ensuing slides lists what Fulham need to address to gain instant promotion in ranked order. Consideration was given to contextual factors, such as: Club culture, current playing personnel, the nature of their new competition and financial resources.