Alternative London: Touring Fulham Football Club
Fulham Football Club offer a fantastic Craven Cottage Tour. If you've ever wondered what the pitch smells like, or where the players get changed, then this tour offers a great insight into the history of one of the oldest professional football teams in England.
Originally founded in 1879, and known initially as the "Fulham St Andrews Church Sunday School Cricket and Football Club", Fulham FC are the oldest professional football club in London, and have played their home games by the River Thames in Fulham since 1896. The Craven Cottage ground was initially designed by Archibald Leitch in 1905, and the Stevenage Road stand (now the Johnny Haynes stand) is the oldest working stand in the football league.
Archibald Leitch is the king of stadium design, and over a forty year career has been involved with some of the most iconic stadiums built, including Highbury, Anfield, Old Trafford, White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and Ibrox. As well as Lansdowne Road and Twickenham Stadium. He really is the guy you wanted designing your stadium back in the early 1900s.
The Stevenage Road stand cost £15,000, and only took 4 months to build. And it still looks amazing today, even if the stonemasons did get the date wrong with the 1880 plaque instead of the 1879 they were supposed to craft!
The ground has a capacity now of 25,700. Back in the day, when standing stadiums were allowed, the largest attendance Fulham have recorded is 49,335. One of the beautiful quirks of Craven Cottage, is that the players actually get dressed in a cottage in the corner of the ground. The tour takes you through the away and home dressing rooms, showing you just how small the dressing rooms actually are! There's barely enough room for the 30 people that have to cram themselves in on match days.
Being next to the river can obviously cause issues, as anyone who has ever had a kick-about near any kind of body of water will know, footballs seem to have an inbuilt magnet that guides them automatically towards said water. What's more, the ball seems to speed up as it approaches the water! Fulham actually had to employ a man in a boat to fish the balls out of the Thames up until 1972, before their river-side stand was updated.
One of the most beautiful parts of the stadium, is in the seating. In the Johnny Haynes stand, many of the seats are the original wooden seats, which were installed many, many years ago. It's just one touch of many that bring home the history of the club, as you sit down, imagine how many thousands of people have sat in those seats and watched their team's trials and tribulations over decades.
If you would like to experience the history of Fulham FC and enjoy your own Craven Cottage Tour, go to fulhamfc.com, or call 0843 208 1234. Adults (12 years+); £12, Kids (Ages 5-12); £9, Under 5s go FREE with a paying adult, and a Family Ticket costs £32 for 2 Adults and 2 Children. Tours are run on selected Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so get yourself down to Craven Cottage.
Special thanks to Fulham Football Club for my private tour.