Adventures in Football #15: Craven Cottage
August 8, 2021
FULHAM vs. MIDDLESBOROUGH
Before I start into this I want to give a massive shout out to Luton Town’s fans on Twitter for the support they gave my article on Kenilworth Road. I did genuinely love being a part of your crowd for a day. The Hatters will always have a place in my heart. It does feel like a special club and having been there, it’s only gone up in my estimation.
Kenilworth Road wasn’t the only ground I went to at the weekend though, as we made the trip to fancy West London to see Fulham play on the Sunday. A bit of background first. After the Luton game we hopped on a train to St Albans with Barney. He was heading straight home but we fancied a few beers. So myself and Mike ended up at the Mad Squirrel place. Had a few pints. Realised we hadn’t eaten.
Ended up doing a little mini pub crawl, got a burger, ended up in Harpenden for one, dealt with drunkards on the train and got some sleep around 2am. I got woken up at 7am by Mike’s cat (Jensen, not Bob. Bob just sniffs my trainers). Big shout out to Mike’s mom Helen for a) giving me whisky on the night and b) giving me coffee in the morning. General all round good egg. She even held onto my bag during the day as we weren’t sure what Fulham’s bag policy was.
After getting up, getting coffee and getting awake we headed to Luton’s station to get a train into London, which turned into a bit of a shitshow. The first train we got on was cancelled. The next train was late. When it finally turned up it was on a different platform. Then it decided to stop at every station, extending our journey into the capital. It’s a 1.30pm kick off lads, sort it out! To add to the misery; the district line is closed so we end up going to Hammersmith and walking. Having gotten to Hammersmith we nip into Belushi’s to get a pint and a pizza.
We meet up with Brinkley, who’s from Gillingham and I’ve never met before. He’s joining us for the game. None of us support Fulham so it’s going to be a less detailed ground experience than Luton. Brinkley has selected shorts, which seem like a bad idea as it’s overcast. In Belushi’s we run afoul of more drunks. This time a pissed-up bloke taking a shit with the door wide open in the gents while his missus does her makeup in the mirror. The poor fella from behind the bar tells them to do one and they still have the audacity to try and order a pizza before leaving. In West London! I expect these shenanigans in Brixton or Bethnal Green or Walthamstow at a push but West London? I thought this was the posh bit!
We give ourselves about 40 minutes to make the ground and take a pleasant stroll through Hammersmith. We mostly just follow people who look like football supporters…only neater. West London is a leafy suburbia type of place with loads of electric cars. It still feels like London but more like London in Minority Report. We feel slightly in the future here. We get to the ground and there’s people everywhere because the stand by the Thames is being rebuilt. So today’s entire crowd is wedged into three sides.
When that stand is done it’ll be worth coming to Craven Cottage again just to see how it changes the feel of the stadium. Attendance today was 16,058. When the riverside stand is completed the ground will have a capacity of 30,000. It’s that big, it doubles the grounds capacity. Apparently, it’s going to have an assortment of bars and restaurants. The whole deal. Fulham’s match day experience is steeped in history. Several of the other stands are listed buildings and coming in from the Hammersmith end is like walking through time. The weird little slope up from the tiny turnstiles into the ground feels like a complete throwback.
I’m currently reading a book on great British football grounds and Craven Cottage ranked very highly in it. Having been in there I can see why. Or rather feel it. When I went to Old Wembley I could sense that history all around me. Echoing off the brick work. Craven Cottage feels like that. The actual Cottage itself is a marvellous sight. It never seems to make it onto TV, which is a real shame. The other listed building is the Johnny Haynes Stand. It was all designed by Archibald Leitch. If you don’t know the name his fingerprints are over many of the UK’s most famous stadia including Ibrox, Villa Park and Old Trafford. We end up in the Hammersmith End with the loudest home supporters. Unless you count the Middlesbrough Ultras over in the Putney End.
The three of us are six rows back from the front. It’s a perfect view and perfect weather for football. We have been blessed. The leg room is excellent. The smattering of boos greeting the players choosing to take the knee is disappointing. Thankfully the vast majority are well behaved and the boos are drowned out by loud applause.
I’m sat directly behind a gent with three tattoos; “mum”, “dad”, and “England”. The England one has a Union flag next to it. Him and his mate are off their feet every time the ball goes anywhere near the goal and my knees are fucked before the hour mark. I can’t complain about the atmosphere though. The Fulham lads love a sing song and I discover the depth of their contempt for neighbouring clubs QPR and Chelsea. Sticking “and QPR are shit” into a chant nonchalantly, like it’s something that’s obvious and just needs briefly bringing up before moving on the meat of the chant was amusing to me. Also the “Stamford Bridge is falling down, fuck off Chelsea” chant got stuck in my head.
I loved the mascot; Billy the Badger. He walked around taking pictures with the front row before the game and at half time. I also loved the Fulham faithful reaction every time Tim Ream touched the ball. Sometimes it’d just fun to yell a player’s name out. Big header clear? “REEEEAAAAM”. I’m left perplexed by some behaviour though. Like the stand slowly emptying five minutes before half time and gradually refilling during the break. I’ve seen it happen before but not to this degree. By the time we were into first half stoppage time the five rows in front were basically empty.
At which point my friend Joao, watching at home in Portugal, sent me this picture. He’d spotted us on TV! At the start of the second half the stadium played “London Calling” by the Clash and “I live by the river” is screamed out by 16,000 people. I got chills. Fantastic stuff there. The whole set up at Fulham is imbedded into my conscience by the time we hit the second half. The noise, the low flying airplanes from Heathrow disappearing into cloud overhead. The stomping of feet on the metal stands.
The seats are really great too. Here’s a picture of Neeskens Kebano taking a corner. I should mention Middlesbrough. They adapt Warnockism to the fullest and there’s a lot of long balls and up and unders. It’s not always route one but that seems to be what happens when Boro are struggling and they struggle throughout the game. Fulham go for a sleeker, more exciting style. Kebano is a talent and Harry Wilson scores a cracking goal for 1-0. Fulham, all cosmopolitan and rich, almost feel like the game is theirs by right and don’t force the issue to put it away. The result is grubby Northern Boro battling back for a share of the points and arguably could have won it near the end when the weather turned against Fulham.
With 80’ on the clock the heavens suddenly opened. Bizarrely the roof kept us dry in row 6, while the front 5 rows got drenched. One bloke with a umbrella in the front seemed happy enough but most people darted for cover or hid under waterproof macs. We all looked perplexed at each other as we remained dry for about a minute. “It’ll change” said a knowing older supporter the row behind. The wind moved slightly and we went from bone dry to drenched in about five seconds flat. Also, being in row 6, we were just under the lip of the roof, so it kept dripping on us.
Not ideal but luckily it was a hot day and we dried out pretty quick. Brinkley’s choice of shorts proving spot on for 80’ or so. The scoreline wasn’t ideal either. Not for Fulham who controlled most of the game and looked the better side, nor Boro who could have won it at the death. 1-1 seems fair based on a glaring miss by the visitors near the end. The class struggle ends up even. Both these teams seemed destined for midtable finishes this year. Warnock’s typically old fashioned approach will only get him so far and Marco Silva is a fraud who will get found out and probably sacked around January/February time.
Overall I enjoyed Craven Cottage. It was a bit of a bugger to get into the seats but public transport on a Sunday is a nightmare so we got there as early as we could. We took a turn down the wrong row at one point and had to double back. I saved face with the locals with a mockney “facks sake”. Once we were seated it was awesome. Good atmosphere, good legroom and I’ll probably look at Fulham a bit differently after this. I always thought of them as a relatively unimportant London club. Having breathed in their history, it feels different.