Dream turns to nightmare for Fulham

HAPPIER TIMES: Fulham's owner Mohamed Al Fayed (centre) and Jean Tigana (right) with the UEFA Intertoto Cup at Loftus Road in Londan in August last year. Fulham beat Italian team Bologna 3-1. But now Fulham's fortune have taken a dive. - AFPpic

LONDON: After a swift rise to England's Premier League two seasons ago, Fulham are a club in turmoil – homeless and with no decision in sight over a new stadium, while manager Jean Tigana's future appears uncertain. 

The west London club could also find themselves subjected to a transfer ban from FIFA this week after failing to pay the full fee for France striker Steve Marlet because of complications arising out of the deal. 

In less than a year, the Fulham bandwagon has stopped rolling merrily along and the wheels are in danger of falling off. 

Chairman Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of luxury department store Harrods, had great ambitions for the long-slumbering club when he took control in May 1997. 

Fulham had been out of the top division since 1968 and the only real high points in three decades of mediocrity were a surprise appearance in the FA Cup final in 1975, when they lost to West Ham United, and a brief period in the 1970s when George Best, Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore and returning hero Alan Mullery all played in the same entertaining team. 

By 1997 that relatively golden era had turned into a sepia-tinged memory. 

When Al Fayed arrived, Craven Cottage, Fulham's home since 1896, still looked much as it had done in the 1960s. The main difference was that the 1960s crowds of 20,000 or 30,000 had been replaced by long-suffering crowds of 3,000 or 4,000 resigned to watching lower division football. 

Al Fayed's involvement transformed Fulham, helping the club to quickly rise through three divisions with promotion to the lucrative top flight in 2001. 

After Kevin Keegan left to coach England in 1999, Paul Bracewell made way for former France international and Monaco coach Tigana. 

Al Fayed's money paid for an entire new team of players including Marlet, at £11.5mil (US$18.13 million) the club's record signing. 

At the same time plans were being put in place for a new stadium on the Craven Cottage site. 

But less than a year after leaving their home to share Queens Park Rangers' Loftus Road ground while Craven Cottage was redeveloped, Al Fayed has pulled the plug on the scheme. 

He says costs have soared. The fans are bewildered and angry. 

The uncertainty has resulted in a reported rift between the chairman and his manager. The players too are unhappy as Fulham find themselves hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone.  

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