Fulham fans are probably pulling their hair out reading this. And no, not because they were beaten 2-1 last Saturday after amassing 78% possession, but because we are assessing a ground, their ground, which is only 75% completed. In March last year, Fulham released the blueprint for their new corporate riverside stand. Renovations began in the summer, leaving the stand unavailable for this season and most likely the next. The wait will be worth it though, with the new stand extending majestically out into the Thames and raising the capacity of Craven Cottage to almost 30,000.
Ignore that temporarily uninhabited part of the ground, however, and you have an absolute peach of a football stadium. Spacious; modern but in no way soulless; and then there’s the famous cottage nestled quaintly in the corner of the ground, the symbol of Fulham football club and it’s 144 year history. The cottage hosts the dressing rooms, along with a balcony for the owners to spectate from. It is not the only striking aspect of the ground, though. Walk along the Stevenage Road Stand, and -if it weren’t for the sporadic Fulham badge and ticket offices at the end- you wouldn’t have any idea there was a football pitch behind it. Erected in 1905, the stand can easily be mistaken for terrace housing, with it’s red-bricked façade providing another utterly unique aspect to an already mystifying ground.
Much like the San Siro, Craven Cottage manages to fuse old and new. One minute you’re marvelling at the ancient cottage, the next you’ve got a magnetic pint in your hand. The stadium’s concourse beneath the away fans’ stand is a slick, open-air plan, equipped with large TV’s and hot-dog stands that don’t, for once, use horse meat.
It was a welcome break from the grimy, claustrophobic tunnels of the City Ground. True, the old-school grounds are often the more atmospheric, yet Craven Cottage and, in many aspects, the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, have proved that you can harness both new technology and an intimate spectating experience.
A pet-hate of fans around the world is the misplacement of their stadiums. Location can mean everything. Too often are sacred grounds plopped beside some motorway in the middle of nowhere, away from the heart of the city. It robs the fans. Craven Cottage, though, is famously situated on the banks of the Thames, surrounded by a prosperous housing estate and the lush Bishop’s park stretching on from Putney Bridge. And when I say a prosperous housing estate, I mean a prosperous housing estate. I’m talking millions of pounds for semi-detached houses.
That’s West London for you, and in many ways that’s Fulham for you. With celebrity fans from Michael Jackson to Richard Osman, Fulham is a real glamour club, and a rich one too. Lest we forget, Shahid Khan- Fulham owner and billionaire- was on the verge of buying Wembley a year or so ago. Of course, they aren’t in the elite bracket- but for a ‘small’ club, Fulham are one of the richest out there.