Here is a sample chapter from my book, The Groundhopper’s Guide to Soccer in England. I wanted to give folks a sense of what the book offers in terms of the club profiles. There are 54 of these in the book.

If interested, you can also see the buy the book here.

The Putney End from the Riverside Stand

Fulham FC

Location:

  • In a posh corner of West London, on the banks of the Thames
  • Stevenage Road, London, SW6 6HH
  • Phone: 0843 208 1234

Online:

Essence:

Considered among the most polite, old-fashioned, non-threatening clubs around, mainly since it’s in a wealthy neighborhood and has the ultimate quaint old ground. They’ve also had more American players than any other club in the country.

Craven Cottage itself

Nicknames:

The Cottagers (for their ground). Their fans also call them The Whites.

History:

Founded as a church boys team in 1879, Fulham moved into Craven Cottage in 1896. They never made the top division until 1949, then they bounced up and down through the 1950s and had their first glory days in the 1960s. They spent nine of those years in the top flight, led by the great Johnny Haynes, who was on England’s 1966 World Cup winners and whose statue is outside the stand named for him.

They lost the 1975 FA Cup Final (their only one), then they went off the deep end, down to Division Three, and almost out of business in 1987. They were saved by a very wealthy, eccentric Egyptian named Mohamed Al Fayed, also the owner of Herrod’s; it was his son who died with Princess Diana. (He’s also the one who installed a statue of Michael Jackson at the ground; it’s now in the National Football Museum in Manchester). In 2001, they made the top division (by then the Premier League) for the first time in 33 years. They staged a “Great Escape” to stay up in 2008, with several Americans involved – foremost among them Brian McBride, for whom a bar in the stadium is named.

Fulham surged to the 2010 final of the Europa League, which they also lost, in extra time to Atletico Madrid. That turned out to be a high-water mark, as in 2014 Fulham were relegated to the Championship and went through a dizzying array of managers in just a few months. They rebuilt with youth under a new owner, Shahid Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, and made it back to the Premier League for the 2018-19 season.

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Kickoff from the Johnny Haynes Stand, looking at the Riverside.

Rivalries:

Fulham really hates Chelsea (who doesn’t?), but they have only beaten the Blues nine times in nearly 80 tries, so it isn’t much of a rivalry. Still, it’s only two miles to Stamford Bridge, and Fulham has a fun song about where to “stick the blue flag.” The real bitterness is with Queens Park Rangers, 3.4 miles away, though they haven’t often been in the same league. They’ve played 30 times since 1892, and the wins are virtually even. Brentford is also a rival, but they’ve played even less.

This year:

Premier League, promoted in 2018

Last year:

6th in The Championship (promoted via playoff), FA Cup 3rd Round, League Cup 2nd Round.

 

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West Bromwich Albion

Stadium:

Craven Cottage (25,678 seats) is the absolute epitome of an old-fashioned football ground. In fact, the Haynes Stand has wooden seats! The Riverside Stand is right on the Thames, and during afternoon matches you can often eat your pie and watch rowers on the river. It’s all impossibly charming and old-fashioned – also tiny and cramped. Best of luck with the restrooms in the Haynes Stand.

The Fulham rowdies, such as they are, sit in the Hammersmith End, and away fans are on the river side of the Putney End. So that end of the Riverside is where to sit if you want to get in on the banter. The other side of the Putney End is technically a neutral area, one of the very few in the country where opposing fans can mix; in reality, bigger clubs fill the whole thing, and the whole Putney End becomes enemy territory.

The most famous thing about the ground is the Cottage itself, which is actually an old hunting cabin, and still hosts the tiny dressing rooms and manager’s office. There are three rows of wood seats on the balcony, where the players’ wives and girlfriends sit during the game.

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The home dressing room during a tour.

Tours:

You’ve got to take this tour, if only to see how incredibly tiny the dressing rooms are. Also fun to see are the hand-pushed lawn mowers and the spot where the Michael Jackson statue stood. Be sure to have the tour guide tell the story of the team placing security around it … so Fulham fans wouldn’t attack it!

Tours are offered Friday through Sunday, with a Sunday option that includes lunch. Adult prices in 2019 were £15.

Tickets:

When they are in the Championship, Fulham tickets are a snap; even games against other London teams don’t sell out. In the Premier League, though, it is a pretty tough ticket. “Fulham Faithful” Membership (£30 annually) virtually guarantees a single seat and gets you £5 off all tickets. There’s also an official ticket exchange at viagogo.co.uk.

Putney Bridge over the Thames

Getting There:

The Tube stop you want is Putney Bridge on the District Line, about a 15-minute walk away. From there, you either tend right and walk along Fulham High Street (loaded with pubs) or left, through a tunnel, and into Bishop’s Park. Yes, you can walk through a park along the River Thames to get to Craven Cottage! However, for some bigger games the police may only let visiting fans through the park, to avoid trouble. They’ll probably let a neutral go through if you’re nice.

Other options are Hammersmith station on the Piccadilly Line or the Putney National Rail station, each about a 20-minute walk.

Pubs:

All along Fulham High Street between Putney Bridge and the ground. Away fans tend to drink at Eight Bells near the Putney Bridge Tube. Another fine option is to walk along the river a few minutes west of the ground on the Thames Path until you reach The Crabtree, a pleasant pub with good food and a fantastic, sprawling outdoor seating area.

Grub:

Food at the ground is pretty standard fare, but the better-than-average pies include Craven Cottage Pie – a traditional meat pie with a crust of mashed potatoes. Otherwise, all the options are along Fulham High Street.

Songs:

  • “Too Good to be True” when the teams come out
  • A long, looping chant of “Come … on … you … Whites!”
  • A version of “Country Roads” that talks about taking me back to Craven Cottage by the river
  • A taunt at Chelsea: “One team in Fulham, there’s only one team in Fulham …”
  • Another one for Chelsea: “Stick the blue flag up your arse.”
  • To “Volare”: “Al Fayed … oh oh oh oh. He wants to be a Brit. And QPR are s—.”
  • “We are Fulham, super Fulham, we are Fulham, FFC! We are Fulham, super Fulham, we are Fulham, f— Chelsea!”

Johnny Haynes Statue

Notable Players:

  • Johnny Haynes, whom Pele called “the greatest passer of the ball I’ve ever seen.” His statue is outside the stand named for him. He led the team in the 60s, when he was the highest-paid player in the country, and was a starter for the 1966 England team that won the World Cup, beating Germany in the final at Wembley.
  • Sir Bobby Robson, who played in 627 games for Fulham in the 50s and 60s and later managed England to a World Cup semifinal in 1990.
  • Clint Dempsey, who set scoring records, was twice their player of the season, and was a star on the Europa League team. He’s from Texas and later played for Tottenham and Seattle Sounders. Check YouTube for his chip vs Juventus during the Europa League run.
  • Brian McBride, another Yank who was a star on the “Great Escape” team of 2008 and is a beloved figure. McBride was twice a Fulham player of the year, and after he left, the club named a bar at the stadium for him. He is now with ESPN.

Good times:

The 60s, the 1975 FA Cup, the Great Escape of 2008, the Europa League run, and the 2011 game when they beat QPR, 6-0, at the Cottage

Bad times:

Everything from about 1976 to 2001, manager Mark Hughes leaving for a club with “greater ambition” and then landing at QPR, relegation in 2014, and the managerial merry-go-round of 2013 and 2014.

Americans:

So many that for a while Fulham was called Fulhamerica. The list includes seven national-team players: Dempsey, McBride, Kasey Keller, Eddie Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Marcus Hahnmeann, and Eddie Lewis. In 2016, teenage midfielder Emerson Hyndman was there.

A packed house, from the Riverside — Hammersmith on the left, Haynes on the right.

Match Day:

I can’t decide which is the defining moment of my time as a Fulham fan: walking through the beautiful park by the river before the game, counting Aston Martins and Porsches and Bentleys in the neighborhood after it, or the time I saw them lose at Arsenal and the Gunners didn’t bother taunting the (quiet) folks sitting in the corner because, as one fan said, “It’s just Fulham. They’re so bloody nice!”

But I think it goes back to my first visit, to take the stadium tour, during which I saw the dressing room that’s hardly any bigger than my college apartment, the hand-operated lawn mowers, and the wooden benches in the Johnny Haynes Stand. After the tour, I went into the team store and requested a #23 shirt with Dempsey on the back. (This was before he went to Seattle and I had to start hating him). The older woman working there went to the back room and came out with a sad smile, saying, “Sorry, dear, but we’re fresh out of S’s”

A (then) Premier League team, in the middle of London, with no S’s to iron onto my shirt! Loved ‘em ever since. By the way, I could have picked up one of two videos: “Seventh Heaven,” about the time they finished seventh in the league, and another about all eight times (out of 63 tries) they’ve beaten Manchester United.

Everything about Fulham is old-fashioned and friendly and easy. There is a video screen that looks like it was lifted from the 1980s, and it’s the one ground where a kicked ball could make the Thames. The brick turnstiles are borderline claustrophobic, and looking across at the Johnny Haynes Stand from the Riverside Stand, it might as well be 1879. I wonder if anything has been added other than lights and seats. (In fact, the Haynes Stand is a nationally listed building and virtually immune to renovation).

It’s really no wonder that just about all other teams’ fans, other than QPR, will tell you they love visiting Fulham; it’s sweet, small and friendly … and you’ll probably come away with a result.

You won’t be anywhere near the only American if you tour the Cottage or go to a game there. But you also won’t find a big-time club that more reminds you of going to games as a kid, in the days before television and money messed everything up.

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