Every competition has underdog stories that will be remembered for the rest of time.
Leicester’s Premier League win will never be forgotten, Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang beating Liverpool’s Culture Club is simply a part of British folklore, while Brian Clough taking Nottingham Forest from the second division to two European Cups can only be described as a miracle.
However, one competition that doesn’t really have one of these legendary tales it is the Europa League. Yes, it’s predecessor, the UEFA Cup had some marvellous tales, but since the rebrand in 2009, there hasn’t been a run that has really captured the imagination, except for one.
Indeed, Fulham were the unlikely finalists in 2010, but that achievement isn’t spoken about as often as it should be, and we’re hoping to change that by giving you five reasons why the Whites’ run to the final was the Europa League’s greatest underdog story.
Who They Beat
Ric Flair once said ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man’, and in Fulham’s quest for European glory, they had to do it the hard way.
Fulham had to navigate a group with Roma and Basel in it, which was a tough task in itself, but when the knockout stages came around, that’s when things got very tough.
In the round of 32 Fulham had to beat the reigning UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk, in the round of 16, the Whites conquered the tournament favourites Juventus before toppling the reigning Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg in the Quarter-finals, and eventually booking their place in the final by beating Hamburg, the team who were set to host the tournament’s finale.
Who they lost to
Unfortunately, this underdog story doesn’t have the happy ending we all dream of, but then again, not all underdog stories have to, Rocky Balboa did lose to Apollo Creed, and Fulham were beaten by Atletico Madrid.
The Whites put up a valliant effort, they pushed Madrid all the way, taking the game to extra time before a 116th minute winner from Diego Forlan dashed their hopes.
However, when you look at the quality in that Madrid side, you start to see that even taking them to extra-time was a massive achievement.
To say Quique Sanchez Flores’ team was star-studded would be an understatement. The likes of David De Gea, Sergio Aguero and Jose Antonio Reyes started, while star man Diego Forlan would go on to win the World Cup Golden Ball that summer in South Africa.
An argument can be made that this Atletico team was the best to ever win the Europa League, and Fulham shouldn’t be ashamed to have lost to this all-star cast.
Fulham’s route to the final wasn’t an easy one, as we’ve already said, but tough draws weren’t the only obstacle Fulham had to overcome.
The Whites had an incredibly long campaign, with their first qualifying game taking place in July, so fatigue was a factor, while their trip to Hamburg for the semi-final was disrputed by the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, meaning that the squad had to take a 12-hour coach trip to get to the game, which certainly isn’t ideal just a day before one of the biggest games in the club’s history.
Even in the final, Fulham had to overcome a huge obstacle, with star striker Bobby Zamora basically playing on one leg, he had to be subbed after 55 minutes, and with the form he was in, who knows what could have happened if he was fully fit for that one.
Every underdog story needs a moment where it looks like the protagonist is down and out before mounting a miraculous comeback, and this cup run certainly had that.
After a 3-1 loss in Turin, it looked as though the clock was about to strike midnight on this Cinderella story, but as ever, Roy Hodgson’s warriors had other ideas.
The 4-1 win over Juventus at Craven Cottage has gone down in Fulham’s history as arguably the greatest game the Whites have ever played, and to be honest, it should go down as one of the greatest European nights we’ve ever seen in England. Fulham overcame mammoth odds and toppled one of the biggest clubs in Europe.