Ever since Neil Etheridge and the Azkals became household names, fans have eagerly anticipated Etheridge’s debut for Fulham FC. Despite his recently renewed contract with the club, people were left wondering when the broad-shouldered Folded & Hung model would finally show off his goalkeeping prowess, as a Fulham keeper, to the rest of the world on live television. There were instances when the fans thought he would get to play, but they all turned out to be premature expectations. All in good time, I suppose. Then the game against Odense Boldklub in the 2011–12 UEFA Europa League came—with prior notice, of course (one day before the match in my case)—and Etheridge’s fans were once again reenergized. People had to find a live, streaming link somewhere, somehow, because they could not afford to miss his much-awaited first team debut. Were you able to watch live?
Waves of excitement later, the game ended in a 2–2 draw and Fulham got knocked out of the Europa League. Was it a good game? Did Etheridge perform well? Were the fans pleased by his performance? Are we proud of him again? Jamie Jackson of The Guardian said, “Etheridge’s opening touch was a confident dribble, although he nearly lost possession near his goal. He and Fulham escaped. That was as scary as proceedings got for Jol’s side as they dominated the first 45 minutes and should have scored more than the two goals with which they ended the half.”
There are too many questions we can raise from that one game, so maybe, instead of answering them, we can leave it all at that. IMHO, it was about time for Etheridge’s debut and it was a satisfying performance. It had been a long time coming, and I can’t believe we had to wait for Mark Schwarzer to get injured (do we have to thank Swansea?) before we got to see him play.
It’s nice to see that even if people have their own favorite Premier League teams, they’re more than willing to support Etheridge, as a Fulham player, without reservation. Crashing out of the Europa League is definitely not good news, but seeing Etheridge’s name in The Guardian, on Fox Sports, BCC, and Goal.com (voted as “Fans’ Man of the Match“) makes me proud of him in the same way that I would be proud if he were my own brother.
As in any match, there are lessons to be learned from his debut, so I hope he took them down. Yes, he has earned 28 caps so far, which is already commendable considering his age and many commitments, but a goalkeeper constantly needs exposure to various offensive strategies to achieve world-class caliber. What he needs at this point in time is a game. “Inexperienced” goalkeeping can only be remedied if he gets more opportunities to play. It’s all well and good to be on loan to another football club, but what really makes it worthwhile is if he gets to play and experience what it’s like to make brilliant saves and even errors. Etheridge is cut out for the job; we’ve seen him play for the Philippines, and the game against Odense showed that he truly has what it takes to be part of Fulham or to be any team’s starting XI. Well, whatever happens, he knows that we’ve got his back.