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Saturday 24th September 2016 ko 15.00

EFL Championship

FULHAM 0 McDonald sent off 80 (serious foul play)

BRISTOL CITY 4 (Abraham 19 Freeman 60 Reid 68 Flint 83)

Att 20,585

Entry (Putney End- away fans) £25

Programme £3.50

Few football grounds come with a greater sense of anticipation than Craven Cottage. From when you alight the District Line at Putney Bridge and trace the towpath of the Thames through frankly well-to-do parkland you expect something special at its end and the home of Fulham FC doesn’t let you down.

There’s the cottage that gives the ground its name, built by the sainted Archibald Leitch in 1905 as an afterthought after he’d forgotten to include changing rooms in the design of the main stand, now named after Fulham legend Johnny Haynes. Then there’s the only tree situated inside an English football league, the plane tree situated between the Putney and Riverside stands. Thankfully the statue of Michael Jackson has gone, exiled permanently in the National Football museum in Manchester.

The ground is a national treasure but it certainly wasn’t always seen this way. I remember standing on the Hammersmith terrace as a university student for the last game of the 1991/92 season versus Bradford City. Just about everyone there thought it would be Fulham’s last game here, the ground had been sold to Cabra Estates, and with land prices being sky-high, the potential for development was huge. The relief when chairman Jimmy Hill came on the pitch to announce the ground had been saved was obvious.

Craven Cottage struggled to comply with the Taylor Report and was the last ground to host Premier League football with standing (vs Leicester City 27/04/2002). Two more Intertoto games were played at the undeveloped ground and with a sense of foreboding I was there for the second one. That was versus Egaleo of Greece, a 1-0 win on 20th July 2002, but while the official line was that Fulham was to share at Q.P.R. for 2 years while redevelopment took place many, me included, wondered whether the move away was permanent. No work took place for 18 months but finally and thankfully the funding was found and Fulham moved back for the start of the 2003-4 season.

There are no lack of redeveloped stadia that have lost much of what made them unique but Craven Cottage bucks that trend. The Leitch stand, now a Grade II listed building is a massive part of that but on this Saturday the fun was to accompany Robyn, my Bristol City loving girlfriend and part watch the game, and part indulge in a little street photography.

For once I did manage to be in the right place in the right time, Bristol City ran riot after Fulham withdrew captain Scott Parker at half time to stop him from being sent off. That dubious honour went to Kevin McDonald for a quite horrible challenge on Callum O’Dowda. But by then the game had long since been lost, the away fans cheered, the home fans sulked, and I celebrated a quite wonderful ground and a happy girlfriend.

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