78 and Fulham
78 and Fulham
Being greedy, Bobby celebrated his 78th Birthday for four whole days. The theatre; South Bank; the theatre; Brick Lane; The Cemetery. And finally – a special treat. Going back to his first love to watch a big football match.
Fulham v Blackpool. His allegiance these days is to the more practical and truly exciting Sutton United. Particularly in view of how well they are doing, but also because Andrew buys his season ticket. That is his birthday present. And Christmas. Father’s Day. The fall of the Berlin Wall. The rise and fall of Boris. To be honest, it’s all Bobby really wants.
As he walks through the new electronic turnstiles, waving his coded season ticket, it fills him with pride. A sense of belonging. This is where he grew up.The ground at Gander Green Lane must come as a shock to some visiting teams for the first time.
A few months ago, Sutton United were non-league, semi-professional, playing in a small old ground competing in a league of big boys. Former league clubs relegated into the National League. Winning that league was the start of a fairy tale that was destined for a quick return to whence they had come. A return to non-league, where they should really be.
Unfortunately for the doubters, the team and manager Matt Gray didn’t read the script and are currently fifth in English Football League 2 looking up rather than down. 50 points so far this season. Writing this the day after they drew and nearly beat Forest Green Rovers, the runaway leaders of League 2.
So where does his first love fit into this? He can’t even remember half the current players of Fulham, who are once again top of the Championship heading for the Premier League. The match against Blackpool was a witness to tragedy when a Fulham fan fell ill. And died later in hospital. We included an obituary by his daughter in 78 and All That.
This week is not about football, but rather how Bobby fell in love with Fulham FC in 1958. To achieve this, we re-enacted the journey from 138 Brocks Drive via the 93 bus to Putney Bridge. The walk to the ground. And in doing so we realised that it is not just the football that attracted him, but far more where it is and what is.
We wrote all about the football club in ‘Johnny Haynes‘. This story is not about football, but the final realisation that the love affair is synonymous with beauty. The natural world and the created world combined to make a football club very special back in 1958. And no different today. Exactly the opposite of Sutton United. “Up the ‘U’s'”. Or is it? They both fill our hearts with glee.
So we walked from 138 Brocks Drive to Priory Road to catch the 93 to Putney Bridge Station. Remembering that on occasion we had arrived on the historic District Line as an alternative. And many times by bicycle. Walking through the subway under Putney Bridge into beautiful Bishop’s Park by the River Thames. Is this really the way 20,000 fans walk to a football match?
Is it sacrilege that they do? Might they wreck a beautiful park? Well, no… football matches are transient affairs and not even every single week. The park is closed after dark and the hordes make their way back the longer route through residential streets of wonderful Victorian houses. For Fulham Football Club is set in a very posh part of London indeed.
In front of you lies Bishop’s Meadow, lined each side by large London Plane trees. Choose your route. Ours is always by the river. Beautiful old Plane trees, spring blossom and the Thames glinting in the winter sunshine. Twenty minutes maybe to the ground from the station.
Finally leaving the park into Stevenage Road. Not just home to a football club, but some beautiful houses as well. Within the park is historic Fulham Palace. The Gentle Author wrote all about this in Spitalfields Life.
So we returned through the Palace grounds over Putney Bridge and up the opposite side of the river to view the new stand. Opinions always vary about new build. To us, it doesn’t seem that different to blocks of apartment buildings all the way along the Thames. Apart from the aerofoil roof.
It has been built largely from a temporary base of a pier and barges on the river bed. Much of the materials were delivered by boat. A works compound was erected at the end of the Park and it does seem that the Football Club, local residents and authorities are in accord with what is expected from Fulham FC when the stand is completed and the site and Park returned to normal.
We loved our day of nostalgia, but this story would not be complete without a celebration of the football ground itself. Not football, but the fact that the original stand facing the Stevenage Road is the oldest football stadium in London. It is also Grade ll listed.
Designed by celebrated Scottish architect Archibald Leitch and opened in 1905. He also designed the Cottage, having left no room for changing facilities in the stand itself. The changing rooms are still in the cottage today. Back in 1958, it was the only stand. The other three sides being open raised terracing.
Bobby always stood riverside. You could turn round at half time to watch the boats on the river. Even the Boat Race, if the football was boring. The river never was. Before the modern stands arrived, the capacity of the ground was much larger. Bobby was once there with over 40,000 to watch Fulham v Spurs. The record attendance is 49,335 against Millwall in 1938.
Crowds before WWII were often well over 30,000. Nowadays, with all seating, the maximum will be nearly 30,000 when the new stand opens later this year. Even the seating is historic in the Johnny Haynes stand, being the original 1905 wooden Bennett pop-up seats specified by Archibald Leitch.
Bit tight for Bobby, and not that comfy, but hey, there are still 3,571 of them in match day use 117 years after they were installed. The floor is wooden planking. Woe betide you if you drop your cup of tea and it drips through the gaps to those below!
There are lots of YouTubes for those of you who want to know more about Fulham. There are howling mistakes and even a swear word. Our apologies. But we found them entertaining. Particularly the one covering 1958 when the ground looked very different towards the river.
And finally, Craven Cottage has the only tree growing in a football ground in the Premier League and possibly the whole Football League!
Lighting a Candle for Diddley
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