Fulham are renowned for their special bond with Craven Cottage, as many fans view the ground as being the epitome of what the club stands for. The stadium has one of the most picturesque settings in British football, located next to Bishops Park on the banks of the River Thames.
It was lived in by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who wrote The Last Days of Pompeii) and other somewhat notable (and moneyed) persons until it was destroyed by fire in May 1888. Many rumours persist between Fulham fans of past tenants of Craven Cottage. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jeremy Bentham, Florence Nightingale and even Queen Victoria are assumed to have stayed there, though these are all likely to have been fabricated. Following the fire, the site was abandoned. Fulham had had 8 previous grounds before settling in at Craven Cottage for good. Therefore, The Cottagers have had 10 grounds overall (if including Loftus Road) meaning only their 'landlords' and rival QPR has had more home grounds (14) in British football. Of particular note, was Ranelagh House, Fulham's palatial home from 1886-1888.
The first event at which there were any gate receipts was when Fulham played against Minerva in the Middlesex Senior Cup, on October 10 1886. The ground's first stand was built shortly after. Described as looking like an "orange box", it consisted of four wooden structures each holding some 250 seats, and later was affectionately nicknamed the "Rabbit hutch".
Before the ground could become too well established, the now defunct London County Council became concerned with the level of safety at the ground, and tried to get it closed. A court case followed in January 1905, as a result of which Archibald Leitch, a Scottish architect who had rose to prominence after his building of Ibrox a few years prior, was hired to work on the stadium. In a scheme costing £15,000 (a record for the time), he had a new pavilion (the modern Cottage itself) and a stand built, in his characteristic red brick style.
The stand on Stevenage Road celebrated its centenary in the 2005-2006 season and, following the tragic death of Fulham FC's favourite son, former England captain Johnny Haynes, in a car accident in October 2005 the Stevenage Road Stand was renamed the Johnny Haynes Stand after the club sought the opinions of Fulham supporters.
Both the Johnny Haynes Stand and Cottage remain the finest examples of Archibald Leitch football architecture to remain in existence and this has been recognised with both being designated as Grade II listed buildings.
One of the club's directors Henry Norris, and his friend William Hill, took over Arsenal in the early 1910s, the plan being to merge them with Fulham, to form a "London superclub" at Craven Cottage. This move was largely motivated by Fulham's failure thus far to gain promotion to the top division of English football.
The ground again suffered a scare in 1933, when there were plans to demolish it and start again from scratch with a new ground. These plans never materialised.
On October 8 1938, Craven Cottage held host to 49,335 fans during a game against Millwall. During the 1930-60's era, Fulham often averaged over 45,000. However, the official attendances can be considered somewhat dubious in this era as many fans would get in by climbing over the fence from Bishops Park into the Putney End. Like many other grounds, fans would sneak in through the turnstiles as well (and not be counted) so this boot money would be given to the players (stuffed in their boots) and would not be counted in the gate money. The ground hosted several football games for the 1948 Summer Olympics.
After Fulham was relegated, the development continued. The Riverside terracing, infamous for the fact that fans occupying it would turn their heads annually to watch The Boat Race pass, was replaced by what was officially named the 'Eric Miller stand', Eric Miller being a director of the club at the time. The stand, which cost 334,000 pounds and held 4,200 seats, was opened with a friendly game against Benfica in February 1972, (which included Eusebio). Miller committed suicide five years later after a political and financial scandal that he was involved in boiled over. The stand is now better known as the Riverside Stand. The Riverside bank also was unique for the fact that flags of all the other teams of the first division were flown along the promenade.
On Boxing Day 1963, Craven Cottage was the venue of the fastest hat trick in the history of the English football league, which was completed in less than three minutes, by Graham Leggat. This helped his Fulham team to beat Ipswich 10-1 (a club record). The international record is held by Jimmy O'Connor, an Irish player who notched up his hat trick in 2 minutes 13 seconds in 1967.
Between 1980 and 1984, Fulham rugby league played their home games at the Cottage. They have since evolved into the London Crusaders, the London Broncos, and then into Harlequins Rugby League. Craven Cottage held the team's largest ever crowd at any ground was 15,013, at a game against Wakefield on February 15, 1981.
After one and a half seasons at Loftus Road no work had been done on the Cottage. Suddenly, a plan to partially redevelop the stadium sprung up, and the club were able to return to their home for the start of the 2004-05 season.
The current stadium is not the 33,000 state of the art ground Fulham fans would like to see; in fact it is one of the Premiership's smallest grounds (in 2007-08 it was fourth-smallest, after Fratton Park, the JJB Stadium and the Madejski Stadium, but all three clubs promoted for 2008-09 play in grounds smaller than Craven Cottage), but it at least lets Fulham play at their "spiritual" home. Much admired for its fine architecture, the stadium has recently hosted a few international games, mostly including Australia. This venue is suitable for Australia because most of the country's top players are based in Europe, and West London has a significant community of expatriate Australians. Also, Greece vs. South Korea was also hosted on 6 February 2007. Craven Cottage often hosts many other events such as 5-a-side football tournaments and weddings. Also, many have Sunday Lunch at the Riverside restaurant or the 'Cottage Cafe' on non-match days. Craven Cottage recently hosted the 2006 Oxbridge Varsity Football match prior to the famous 'The Boat Race', as well as having a Soccer Aid warm-up match. The half-time entertainment often includes the SW6ers (previously called The Cravenettes) which are a group of female cheerleaders. However, other events have included brass bands, Michael Jackson (albeit just walking around as opposed to performing), Travis playing, Arabic dancing, keepie uppie professionals and presentational awards. Most games also feature the 'Fulham flutter', a half-time draw; and a shoot-out competition of some kind, usually involving scoring through a 'hoop' or 'beat the goalie'. On the first home game of the season, there is a carnival where every Fulham fan is expected to turn up in black-and-white colours. There is usually live rock bands, player signings, clowns, stilt walkers, a steel (calypso) band, food stalls and a free training session for children in Bishops Park.
The Fulham Ladies (before their demise) and Reserve teams occasionally play home matches at the Cottage. Other than this, they generally play at the club's training ground at Motspur Park or at Kingstonian and AFC Wimbledon's stadium, Kingsmeadow. Craven Cottage is known by several affectionate nicknames from fans, including: The (River) Cottage, The Fortress (or Fortress Fulham), Thameside, The Friendy Confines, SW6, Lord of the Banks, The House of Hope, The Pavilion of Perfection, The 'True' Fulham Palace and The Palatial Home. The Thames at the banks of the Cottage is often referred to as 'Old Father' or The River of Dreams. The easiest (though it's still quite hard) to get to the ground is to walk through Bishops Park, often known as The Green Mile by Fulham fans (as it roughly a mile walk through pleasant greenery).
Craven Cottage is where most Fulham fans would like to be, although the club might prefer a more lucrative situation - a larger ground enabling greater ticket revenue. Whether the club is still looking for a new site for a stadium is unknown, but comments in summer 2004 from Fulham's CEO at the time, Jim Hone, suggest Fulham are back home for good. Fulham's move back to the Cottage is believed to have been instigated and financed by the sale of Louis Saha to Manchester United, as his transfer covered the £9 million bill. Plans to move to White City with QPR into a 40,000 all-seater stadium appear to have been put firmly on hold. Fulham now have more realistic expectations of aiming for a mid-table finish and ensuring Premiership survival. The board seem to have moved away from their grandiose ideas of making Fulham the "Manchester United of the south" as Al-Fayed has come to realise how expensive it is to subsidise a Premiership outfit. Fulham appear to be committed to a gradual increase of the grounds capacity every summer between seasons. The capacity of Craven Cottage has been increased during the summer for the past 3 years and this trend looks like continuing in 2008 with a small increase in the capacity of the Hammersmith End. Fulham have announced that they are planning to increase the capacity of Craven Cottage by 4000 seats.
The Hammersmith End (or Hammy) is the northernmost stand in the ground, and, hence the name, the closest to Hammersmith. It is situated such that looking out from the stand you can see the Putney End and the Cottage opposite, the Riverside Stand (and the river itself) to the right and the Johnny Haynes Stand to the left. The roofing on the 'Smithy' was financed through the sale of Alan Mullery to Spurs. It is home to the more vocal Fulham fans, and many stand during games at the back rows of the stand. If Fulham win the toss, they always choose to play towards the Hammersmith End in the second half.
The Putney End is the southernmost stand in the ground, nearest to Putney and Bishops Park. To its right is The Cottage, opposite is the Hammersmith End, with the Riverside and Johnny Haynes Stands to left and right respectively. This generally hosts visiting or 'neutral' supporters. When the ground became redeveloped in 2003-4 (during Fulham's exile to Loftus Road) the club applied for a licence to have a designated neutral area. Due to Fulham's past history of having no segregation in the Putney End and having very well-behaved fans, the FA gave Fulham special dispensation to allow for this. Fulham is the only club currently in the UK to have such an area. Fans can wear whatever shirt and support either side in this area, leading to friendly banter. Flags of every nationality in the Fulham squad were hung from the roofing, however they were retracted after the 2006-07 season commenced. For games against the bigger clubs, the entire Putney End is allocated to visiting supporters.
The Riverside Stand backs onto the river Thames and is elevated uniquely above the pitch unlike the other 3 stands. It contains the corporate hospitality seating alongside Fulham fans. Jimmy Hill once referred to the Riverside being "a bit like the London Palladium" as Blocks V & W (the middle section) are often filled with the rich and famous (including often Al-Fayed). There are several Harrods advertising boardings and above these is the gantry, for the press and cameras. Tickets in this area are often the easiest to buy, not surprisingly they are also some of the more expensive. It has the Hammersmith End to its left, the Putney End to its right and is opposite the Johnny Haynes Stand. During the 70's, Craven Cottage flooded, with water gushing in from the Riverside. On non-match days, the George Cohen restaurant is open providing posh-nosh from Harrods or alternatively there is the Cottage Cafe, located near to the Cottage itself. (The River Café is also located nearby). Under Tommy Trinder's chairmanship in the 60's, flags of all other teams in the Division 1 were proudly flown along the Thames. However, when Fulham were relegated in 1969, Trinder decided not to change the flags as "Fulham won't be in this division next season". True to Tommy's prophecy, Fulham were relegated again. There is now a campaign to bring back the flags again. The Riverside Stand has been used by sponsors, placing adverts on top of the covering, sponsors who have used this include Pipex.com and (Lee Cooper Jeans. 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.
Formerly the Stevenage Road Stand - named for the street it is on - The Johnny Haynes Stand. Holding Fulham supporters, a lot of whom are season ticket holders, this is opposite the Riverside Stand, with the Putney End and the Cottage to its left, and the Hammersmith end to the right. This stand includes the ticket office and club shop, as well as nostalgic but uncomfortable original wooden seats. This remains the oldest stand (dating back to 1905) in the Football League and is thus a Grade II* listed building (thanks to Jimmy Hill's efforts when saving the club as Chairman). (The oldest football stand in the world is considered to belong to Great Yarmouth Town, though Wolverton A.F.C. dispute this.) The original wooden Bennet seats as specified by Leitch in 1905 now number 3,571, remain as robust as ever.
The stand's new name was announced shortly after Johnny Haynes' untimely death in late 2005. Due to parts of the structure being wooden there is a no-smoking policy in this part of the ground. The exterior facing Stevenage Road has a beautiful brick façade rarely seen amongst stadia and features the club's old emblem in the artwork. Interesting to note, that decorative pillars show the club's foundation date as 1880 though this thought to be incorrect. Also, a special stone to commemorate Fulham 2000 and The Cottagers return to their rightful home was engraved on the façade for all to see. The family enclosure is located in the corner nearest to the Hammersmith end. The stand also features very narrow and rickety turnstiles (that all must pass through) which are very much a squeeze for some of the more portly spectators. The 2006-7 season sees a new introduction in that all tickets are now read electronically when passing through the gates. Where the new plastic seating lies (in front of the wooden seats), originally was a standing area. Children were often placed at the front of this enclosure and the area had a distinctive white picket fence to keep fans off the pitch (up until the 70's).
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