Tales From The Streets Of Fulham

Fulham vs. Chelsea : 23 August 2009.

This was a convincing win on a sultry Sunday down by The Thames.

I picked up Big Dave at 10am and an oh-so familiar route was followed on the way up to London. 112 miles later, we were parked-up. On all of the visits to Craven Cottage, we have met up at a pub in Putney, south of the river, called The Duke’s Head but this has become very expensive. So, this year, we decided to partake in a few beers in The Goose and save some money.

But first, a fry-up for the Frome Two at The Yadana Café on Lillee Road.

We arrived in The Goose at about 12.30pm. The boys were sat around a table in the beer garden and it was a very pleasant time. Three pints of Carling at only £1.79 a pint is not to be sniffed at. A quick “hello” to Simon ( one of our “Benches” crew from the mid-eighties…I had not seen him from 1986 to 2003 and now he reappears every few months…lovely. ) This was the first time I had visited The Goose on a non-Chelsea home game and it was eerily quiet…I expected a few Fulham fans to be present, but only saw a couple. I soon settled down to a relaxed pre-match with – clockwise – Daryl, Alan, Gary, Dave, Rob, Simon and Milo. It was the first time I had seen Simon and his twelve year old son Milo this season and I had a few gifts for Milo from America. He is our kinda mascot as he is so much younger than the rest of us. I brought over a few Yankees things for him – he had been to a game in New York last summer, too.

There was the usual smattering of jokes and micky-takes and the lovely anecdotes which bind us all together. Yet again, we never mentioned the game.

One thing made me laugh. I had been doing some gardening on Saturday afternoon and my right forearm was scratched from the brambles. Rob noticed and asked –

“Chris – what’s up with your arms?”

“Ah – been doing some gardening. Don’t worry, I’m not a self-harmer.”

“Oh – I thought you were hating the fact you had missed Sunderland away!”

With the Champions League draw taking place on Thursday, we spent a few minutes discussing options for us. I fancied Real Madrid, but would I want to go there twice in the same season? Rob fancied Maccabi Tel Aviv. However, I think I can only go to an away game on Matchday Five or Six due to work commitments.

We took the tube to Putney Bridge and walked through Bishops Park. The park was full of sunbathers and, on the last few moments of our approach to the ground, there was a paddling pool and sand area, full of toddlers…a pretty incongruous sight, with hundreds of football fans marching past. I love visiting Craven Cottage…it’s a throwback to another age and the Johnny Haynes Stand on Stevenage Road is a jewel.

Of course, if Fulham had taken the option offered by Gus Mears in 1904 to move out of their Craven Cottage ground, there would be no Chelsea today. I managed to smuggle my camera into the stadium with a swift manoeuvre – no need for Andy Wray’s bulging shorts this time.

A quick chorus of “Carefree” from the Chelsea faithful in the area below the terrace was met with this interchange between a young boy and his disdainful father –

“Dad – why are they singing swear words?”

“…because they haven’t grown up yet.”

I glowered at the father and I hope he got the message. Who honestly wants to grow up you miserable git? He symbolised our new support and it annoyed me.

Into the stadium and I had a seat towards the back in row QQ – pretty central. One row in front of a chap I recognised from The Storm Cellar and the Club America game, I believe he is a friend of Vic The Steward. I was stood behind Ian, also present in Texas. A small world. It is, of course, always an especially small world for me. I was stood next to Lurch…a Chelsea fan from the East Midlands who weighs in at about 6’5”. I was actually stood next to his armpits…it wasn’t the sweet smell of success I was inhaling all bloody afternoon.

Joe Cole got a lovely reception as he walked past us all to take his seat in the away dugout. I took a few shots of the teams as they walked across the pitch from the changing rooms underneath the cottage…a lovely sight. Away to my right, I spotted the top half of The London Eye, but the towering east and west stands of Stamford Bridge were hidden by the cottage…out of sight, but not out of mind for Fulham, who really don’t like us. They will always be in our shadows. That’s just the way it is. Always have been – always will be.

The game began and it was even during the first exchanges. I noted Frank at the top of the diamond again. Clint Dempsey shot over after only a few minutes and this turned out to be their best effort during the entire game. We replied with a resounding “OMWTM” and the away stand shook. This was quickly followed by the first of many “Bouncies” and this was met with playful comments from a middle-aged guy to my left who was wearing a Jane Fonda inspired headband…quite a surreal sight.

“Feel the burn, mate.”

I like the way that the “Matthew Harding’s Blue And White Army” chant has been resurrected…but I think this is because Carlo Ancelotti has too many syllables…what does anyone else think? At least we were singing, though. I waited 27 minutes until I heard the home fans sing. We were, by comparison, in a noisy mod. Good stuff.

Chelsea went on to dominate the first-half and a lovely move was finished off with aplomb by Didier Drogba.

At half-time, the microphone was taken over by veteran DJ David “Diddy” Hamilton and it was odd to hear him getting all excited about Fulham. He used to be on Radio One back in the ‘seventies.

Chelsea has Paul Okenfold. Fulham has David “Diddy” Hamilton. No contest.

The sun shimmered on the Thames, to my left, as the second period began.

The game progressed and a strong Chelsea dominated, but without a great amount of chances. I thought JT had a pretty poor game and gave the ball away too often. Carvalho, however, was superb and was my Man Of The Match. Frank seemed quiet and almost suffocated in that role behind the rampaging front two…he just needs more space to roam. Ballack played well and was always involved…Mikel strong defensively, but again so slow in possession. Malouda just needs to be played wider. All of my focus was on the midfield four, but the front two appear to be “getting to know each other.”

A lovely ball from Didi to Anelka and 2-0…job done. This came after a little lull, both on and off the pitch – just when Fulham might have nicked one. Game over.

During the last dieing embers of our game, the Chelsea support erupted in praise of the news that The Ashes had been regained, no more than three miles away at The Oval.

I met up with Big Dave outside the gates and we briskly walked back to the car, some two miles away, through the deserted streets of Fulham. Once the working class catchment area of both SW6 teams’ support in the days of old, the tightly-packed streets have undergone yuppyfication since the ‘eighties and there seemed to be nobody at home…all away for the weekend maybe? It was as if the game had never taken place.

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