So my first walk down the Fulham Road was in April 1982. If I remember clearly it was a couple of weeks after the Task Force had set sail for the Falklands and the country was in a grip of jingoism. Chelsea had been my boyhood club. The 1970 Cup Final win had done it for me and I had a major soft spot for the 1977 promotion-winning side. In those days London might as well have been Los Angeles. The idea that your dad might have treated you to a trip over for a birthday present was simply out of the question. It used to cost the world to get there.
Now back down in the Second Division, there were only two players left from that ‘77 side – Gary Locke and Ian Britton. I was fairly pleased to be seeing them at last.
The ground was nothing like it is today and now that I think of it, the other thing I recall is that Ken Bates had just bought the club for a pound. The club had been having massive financial problems for years as a result of the construction of the main stand. 11005 of us turned up that spring afternoon. I stood at the infamous Shed End which was a draughty spot that day. I watched as Derby beat them 2-0 with one of the goals scored by the famous Charlie George, a hero of the Arsenal 1971 Cup Final.
The next time I returned 23 years later any love I had for the club had pretty much dissipated such was my now contempt for big-time football. How strange it all was. They had just won the league for the first time in 50 years and I viewed it all with suspicion compared to the limp afterthought of the 1982 game. Still, it was a standard Chelsea powerhouse show, typical of the team at the time. On a very hot October day, Chelsea put five-second goals past Bolton who had the temerity to take a fourth-minute lead. Lampard and Drogba scored two apiece with Gudjohnssen adding a fifth. The sheer power of the side was something to behold. Michael Essien and Drogba between them looked as if they could stop a tank.
My last visit there was Boxing Day 2007 for a 4-4 draw v Aston Villa which I’m glad I wasn’t professionally covering. The action never stopped. Eight goals, penalties, and three sendings-off. It even had Andrei Shevchenko scoring a brace. Ashley Cole wasn’t sent off much in his career and neither I suppose was Ricardo Carvalho despite his proximity to the dark arts. They were the two who walked for Chelsea that day. Fairly uncalled for treatment by jobsworth stewards post-match convinced me that I was right to have mentally dispatched them as a club. Good match though.
In the midst of all that I managed to squeeze a trip into Loftus Road to watch QPR take on Aston Villa at Hallowe’en 1994. It is not often in a day that a football match is not the highlight of said period for me, but this was a mere forerunner to the main event which for me and my mate was a visit to Earls Court to see Pink Floyd that night. The dark side of the moon that day, however, occurred for Aston Villa who were to go down 2-0.
The inimitable Ian Holloway was all leader on the pitch as you would expect. Villa had the likes of Ugo Ehiogu, Paul McGrath, Andy Townsend and Dean Saunders on show. I liked the way you were that close to the street outside sitting in the stand in that there was no approach – you simply opened the back door of the stand and you were in your seat. It was also good of course to have a pint in the famous Springbok pub.
If there was one ground which for no particular reason irked me that I hadn’t visited it was Craven Cottage. The fact that it was nowhere near a name change along with its romantic tradition appealed to me. The walk to the ground through parks, tennis courts, and leafy avenues is as pleasant a walk you will find anywhere. It’s not actually ideal preparation for a football match. But then again Fulham is one of the more gentle clubs amongst the league’s four divisions. The very fact Hugh Grant is a follower says it all.
In April 2014, they were playing a Steve Bruce managed Hull who were already FA Cup finalists. I liked the way I could have thrown a stone into the Thames from my seat with little exertion. A throwback to my youth was pitch MC and ex-Radio One DJ David Hamilton. I could almost hear his voice doing the summer roadshow from the likes of Weston-super- Mare. It was a pretty entertaining game too with Hull coming back from two goals down for a draw. Ashkan Dejagah scored a brilliant opener for Fulham and I was right in line for its flight into goal. I was directly opposite the actual ‘cottage’ which was originally a hunting lodge. Pleased as punch I was to finally get there.
So the only remaining West London club to sort is Brentford. That will have to wait until their new ground is built.