I had the pleasure of visiting the ground in late November as part of the inaugural EPL Talk tour to watch Fulham play Reading on a windy afternoon. After all, the match was the closest thing to an American derby in the Premiership with Marcus Hahnemann playing in goal for Reading, while Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride suited up for Fulham.
There probably isn’t a finer walk-up to a ground in the Premier League. Walking from the tube station into Bishop’s Park, the blustery wind blowing in my face, I walked alongside the Thames and west through the wooded park to Stevenage Road, passing the regal homes built in the Edwardian age and finally through to Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC.
Standing outside the Johnny Haynes Stand alongside Stevenage Road, I just stood back and marveled at the red brick and architecture of the back of the stand that was built in 1905. Even at over one hundred years old, the stand looked as majestic as ever, which was designed by famous stadium designer Archibald Leitch.
I couldn’t wait to get inside the ground. After purchasing a programme, and interviewing a Fulham fan outside the ground, I picked up my ticket from will call and squeezed through the tiny turnstile into the bowels of the Johnny Haynes Stand.
Inside the Johnny Haynes Stand, the main passageway was narrow. I managed to climb the stairs to get a good vantage point of the innards of the stadium and took in the intricate design.
After I climbed the stairs, the first thing I noticed was not the expanse of the green pitch glaring before my eyes but the original wooden seats in the upper section of the stand.
Walking down the aisle to my seat in the second row near the halfway line, I sat back and watched the Reading and Fulham players warming up on the pitch before me. Oster, Doyle, McBride, Boa Morte and others broke a sweat doing quick sprints and played keepaway.
On to the match itself, it wasn’t a classic on the pitch with Reading’s Kevin Doyle getting the sole winner courtesy of a penalty. But what did impress me was Reading’s resolute performance away from home, and their adoring fans who amassed in large numbers in the Putney End of the ground. Not only did they fill the entire end, but they were far more noisier and supportive of Reading than the entire Fulham crowd.
Nestled into the corner of the ground between the Johnny Haynes Stand and the Putney End is the majestic and one-of-a-kind cottage, the Craven Cottage was built in 1905 and originally held the changing rooms and board room. The original cottage, before Leitch built this one, was erected in 1780 by the sixth Baron Craven. But it burned down in 1888.
Next up in the written account of the EPL Talk tour is the final match of the tour from Old Trafford where I, The Gaffer, witnessed Manchester United against Chelsea.