Saturday, December 10, 2011

Visiting Craven Cottage - Club tour – Fulham FC

Emdad Rahman

I’ve been to Anfield, Old Trafford and Wembley, but this stadium tour took the longest to arrange. It’s the tour that’s taken months to arrange. “This better be worth it,” I muttered to myself whilst setting dates prior to this visit.

We arrived ahead of time and excitedly stood outside the Fulham cafe on the Stevenage Road, right next to the Johnny Haynes statue. Right on cue our tour guides Richard and Trevor arrived and introduced themselves. This is where the guided Stadium Tour begins - at the Johnny Haynes Statue, a tribute to the Club's greatest ever player. Haynes was a legendary inside forward described by Pele as “the best passer of the ball I have ever seen.” He represented Fulham for 18 years, playing 658 games, scoring 158 goals between 1952 and 1970, and was the first footballer to be paid £100.00 a week. He played 56 times for England, 22 as Captain.

As we sauntered down Stevenage Road we saw the turnstiles. Unlike the Emirates where fans can enter and exit from all around the ground, entry into Craven Cottage is from the Stevenage Road side only and this means that entry and exit of a 25,000 full house crowd takes longer than the double capacity of Fulham’s premiership neighbours.

Once through the original turnstiles, our journey featured awesome views around the ground.

On our way to the Johnny Haynes stand, we passed the famed Michael Jackson statue - Mohammed Al Fayed’s tribute to the late king of pop.

Previously known as the Stevenage Road Stand, it was renamed the Johnny
Haynes Stand after the great man’s demise in 2005.The stand houses the club shop, ticket office as well as the illustrious and original wooden seats. Jimmy Hill’s hard work as Chairman has ensured that it is now a Grade II listed building. Up the side of the Johnny Haynes stand we visited the TV studio, with a dazzling view of the stadium. Richard explained that the room is used for corporate meetings and team away days during the week, whilst Sky completely revamp the room when televising from Craven Cottage. 

The Riverside Stand backs onto the Thames and was opened prior to a friendly against Eusebio’s Benfica. The stand houses the Corporate areas and a gantry, for the press and cameras. There’s also the George Cohen lounge, named in honour of Fulham’s very own World Cup winner. The lounge offers breathtaking views across the Thames. On match day visitors can enjoy lunch with the man George Best described as the best full back he met.
The end of the Riverside Stand towards the 'Smithy' End' indicates the end of the 'Fulham Wall', which is the mile post in The Boat Race.

We were also able to see the small but state of the art changing and physio rooms. For once I behaved and resisted the urge to jump into the bath and get a picture taken as I’d done previously at Goodison and Villa Park.

We visited the dugout and sat in Martin Jol’s seat. In the Director’s stand I got to keep Mr Al Fayed’s seat warm for a few minutes. Since 1997, Mohamed Al Fayed has turned around the fortunes of this historic club, taking on debts and fighting off relegation, returning Fulham to its rightful place amongst English football’s elite.

“The club may be old, but it’s in immaculate condition,” said our guide Richard, himself a lifelong fan. “It’s all to do with the standards the chairman demands.

“There’s no peeling paintwork, nor wild weeds growing. We take pride in everything.”  

Despite spotting telltale signs, we were not able to bump into the Fox that walks the terraces, gorging and feasting on leftover hotdogs and burgers from match day, even joining his team on the pitch. Readers may remember that Fantastic Mr Fox made a famous guest appearance, running the pitch and clearing the electronic boards during Fulham’s August 2010 friendly against Werder Bremen at the Cottage.

Known for its noisy and vibrant atmosphere, the Hammersmith Stand houses many of the most vociferous supporters, whilst the Putney End hosts the official away area.

There was also a short visit to the press stand, which offers a superb view of the game.  We continued around the ground and went pitch side, before arriving at our final stop, the tunnel entry and Cottage forecourt.

In between the Johnny Haynes Stand and Putney End, is the Pavilion building, better known as “the Cottage” – the oldest and one of the grandest football stands in London. William Craven, the sixth Baron Craven built the original Cottage in 1780 and there are narratives that famous inhabitants included Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The new Pavilion was built in 1905. By Royal appointment, Anne Boleyn's hunting grounds included the surrounding wooded areas.

The tour ended in the club shop, a well laid out floor plan offering supporters and souvenir hunters a little bit of Fulham.

Our tour guides, Richard and Trevor were superb throughout. Both gentleman, with their manners, pleasant demeanour and conduct are a credit to Fulham FC and absolute Ambassadors for this famous club.  One of the features of the tour was Hamza, my seven year old locking horns with Richard - his questions bringing Richard’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Fulham to the fore.

The tour exceeded my expectations. Fulham is a smashing club. Operations are run with total efficiency but there is a warm and personal touch best exemplified by the excellent club tour guides.

To book a tour call 0843 208 1234 or email for further information.

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