Fulham v Watford
Sunday, January 1st 2007, 3pm
By Steve Beattie
It's been a long time since my last and indeed first visit to Craven Cottage back in 1998 when Watford needed a win to guarantee being crowned second division champions. A 2-1 win over Kevin Keegans side on a sunny Saturday afternoon in May ensured we lifted are rare piece of silverware and embarked upon a journey that ended the next season with promotion via the play offs to the premiership whilst Fulham crashed out in the play offs.
A lot of water has flowed under Putney Bridge since then. Fulham became an established premiership team while Watford faltered then returned via the play offs only to struggle again and at time of writing where rooted firmly to the bottom of the premier league.
It was with this thought in mind, I re-enacted my journey round the M25 and down the M4 to Hammersmith on a wet new years day mid season hoping that Watford could somehow get a result against a Fulham side who had their tails up after holding the reigning Premiership champions to a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
So many things had changed in that 8 year period including my chosen route to the ground. I had initially planned to take the train but had little faith in the bank holiday Sunday service so drove. Instead of taking the congested Fulham Palace Road I took the A306 Hammersmith Bridge over towards Barnes then turned left onto the B349 Lower Richmond Road at the junction where T rex singer Mark Bolan (Showing my age here!) met his untimely death after his mini lost an argument with a tree. This road had little traffic and took me right up to Putney Bridge past a number of pubs including the famous Half Moon live music venue. A quick left over Putney bridge itself bought me on to the bottom end of the Fulham Palace Road just a few hundred yards from the visitors turnstiles.
Although it was only about 1.45pm a steady stream of Watford fans who had braved the train where already heading through Bishops Park towards the ground. I knew that the meter parking would be free on bank holidays so after spending a bit of time driving round the back streets off Stevenage Road managed to find a space outside some poor residents house just a short walk from the turnstiles.
The ground itself has changed dramatically but not beyond recognition. From Stevenage Road the ground looks almost as it was with the old Edwardian turnstiles still in operation but more amusingly with Bar code machines reading the ticket, and turnstile operators reduced to pressing the peddle at the prompt of a bleep and four green lights! Once through however the redevelopment is clear.
Gone is the old concrete terrace through which you could see daylight and in its place is a smart all seater stand in grey steel work with modern clean toilets replacing the old portaloo's which once perched perilously along the old passageway which itself is now a wide tarmac concourse.
The Stewards seamed friendly enough and there was a noticeable but relaxed Police presence. I found my seat with ease the gangways and rows are clearly marked and leg room is better then at most grounds. The view was a bit limited as the lower portion of the stand has a shallow rake meaning that even in Row E, I was only a few feet above pitch level. The stands are smart and almost identical behind each goal but do have a very temporary feel about them as the normal concrete steps are in fact plywood and metal. The Executive boxes in each corner look like the temporary ones you would find at a race course.
The side stands are pretty much as before, The Riverside stand a single tired smart 1970's structure raised above pitch level affords decent view of pitch and river alike while the Older Johnny Haynes stand to our right has only seating added to the paddock. The Riverside stand is accessed by home fans via both ends through tunnels under each stand. Fulham appear to have little if any hooligan problems as even the away end when shared with home supporters has no apparent separate turnstiles or facilities for the rival factions.
I took the advice given in this excellent web site and found there are food and drink facilities in the far corner near the river which are less crowded although just as expensive. A Meat Pie cost £2.50 and a bottle of Fosters £3.00. I chatted to a few fans non of whom had drunk locally but at various points en route and many where heading into central London after the game.
The game itself started with a minutes silence for the death of Maurice Cook who played for both clubs and was impeccably observed by both sets of fans. surprisingly even though Fulham had most of the first half there was very little noise coming from the Hammersmith end. In fact they made very little noise all match with the exception of the final ten minutes or so plus nine minuets of stoppage time (added on after an horrific injury to their goal keeper, thankful not as serious as first thought). The Watford contingent of around 4,000 tried to get the atmosphere going to the amusement of the tourists in the Riverside stand and in the second half the team did at least respond hitting the post twice. One wonders what the atmosphere would have been like had one of Fulham's two disallowed goals have stood.
With both sets or fans resigned to a nil - nil we left together with again both sets of fans sharing the same exits with no problem or intimidation from either set of fans and I made my way back to the car. I took the same route back with only a small amount of traffic over Putney Bridge and was home in a relatively short space of time.
All in all a good day out and Fulham is a ground well worth visiting as part of a day out in London. I will say the ticket allocation was excellent but a tad expensive at £30.00 for what are nice but basic facilities. Fulham do have trouble filling their ground and tickets can be purchased on the day for the less attractive matches and are regularly advertised on London Radio stations. Be prepared to sit next to tourists too which can be an experience in itself! My memory of leaving Craven Cottage this time was of two Watford fans attempting to teach several Japanese girls how to pronounce Wat far!
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