Fulham is a charming oddity among London’s clubs. Boasting a picturesque stadium located next to a pleasant park on the delightful banks of the river Thames, you certainly won’t find any ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners here.
With a distinct weighting toward the sort of cosmopolitan, middle-class support that you’d expect from a club in one of the capital’s richest areas, there’s even a ‘neutral’ end of the ground for day-trippers and others who fancy seeing some top-flight sport without any aggro.
While it would be weird and wrong if all English clubs were like this, the atmosphere doesn’t necessarily suffer as a result – indeed, Craven Cottage’s uniqueness creates a fine setting to catch a game. (If you look to your left from that end, the Putney Stand, you can watch the river lazily rolling by. There's also a plane tree in that end, the only tree to be found in a senior British football ground.)
Now is as good a time as any to watch them play, too. Founded in 1879, the club had spent just 12 years (mostly in the 1960s) in the top flight when they were bought in summer 1997 by the then Harrods-owning publicity-lover Mohamed Al-Fayed. At that point Fulham were just escaping the bottom division, but Al-Fayed bankrolled a rapid climb through the divisions to reach the top flight in 2001.
Fulham haven’t quite managed to become the “Manchester United of the South”, as their owner’s initial mission statement declared, but they have become solid top-flight performers. When they were struggling in the relegation zone at Christmas 2007, they appointed Roy Hodgson: he kept them up in 2008, helped them finish 7th in 2009 and led them to the Europa League Final in 2010 during the side’s first taste of continental football.
Hodgson left for Liverpool but current boss Mark Hughes is no slouch either. Fulham have always enjoyed a reputation for playing attractive “champagne football” – Johnny Haynes, Alan Mullery, Rodney Marsh, George Best and Bobby Robson all worked here, remember – and the likes of Zoltan Gera, Danny Murphy, Brede Hangeland and Clint Dempsey mean that there is still plenty of polished talent on display.
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Dating back over 300 years and once a royal hunting lodge, Craven Cottage is a real slice of London history. Fulham have played here since 1896 (they had eight different grounds before settling) and after major refurbishment in 2004 capacity was raised from 22,000 to 25,700. Built in 1905, the Johnny Haynes Stand is a Grade II*-listed building and the oldest stand in the Football League – while the famous Cottage Pavilion lets fans watch from a cricket-style clubhouse balcony, if you don’t mind paying top dollar.
Driving isn’t the best idea on a matchday. From the North Circular take the M1/A1 to the Harlesden A404, then the A219 to Hammersmith, then follow signs to Fulham. From the South or East, come in on the A205 (South Circular), follow signs for Putney Bridge A219, cross the bridge and follow signs for Hammersmith for half a mile. From the West: Take the M4 to the A4. After two miles branch left into Hammersmith Broadway, then follow signs for Fulham.
As is so often the case in London, it’s simpler by Tube: Putney Bridge station (District Line) is a pleasant stroll away, while Hammersmith (Hammersmith and City, Piccadilly, Circle and District Line) is a 20-minute walk. Numerous buses also run nearby.
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