Friday, 1 December 2006
Anyone who's never been to a Premiership match in the London area could do a lot worse than take the short stroll along the river Thames from Hammersmith Bridge to the home of Fulham F.C. Don't be put off by the slightly aggressive posturing in the name of their fanzine ("There's only one 'F' in Fulham") - they're like pussycats. No, really - they *are* Indeed, it's more like a night out at the dogs or evening races than the normally adversarial atmosphere at many other football grounds - as if the crowd is amusedly watching the antics of the creatures rushing around before them, mildly interested as to which of them will come out on top. Of course they're partisan and want the team to do well, but they're as likely to indulge in the time-honoured pursuit of barracking their own players (even at two-nil up against the [once] mighty Arsenal, than for the more usual hero-worship and idolatry). Robin van Persie's exceptional long range free kick even brought a generous smattering of appreciative applause from around the ground, even though it brought Arsenal back into a game that had started to look all over, bar the shouting. Of course there were the occasional paedophile chants directed at the dapper-as-ever Arsene Wenger. But you can't expect them to keep *all* the Stamford Bridge lot out, what with the clubs being so close....
In fact, if you're lucky enough to get a seat in the newly refurbed Riverside stand, you can spend the pre-match and half time interludes on the terrace that looks out over the Thames, supping on an exhorbitantly priced (3 nicker for a 330 ml) bottle of Fosters and gorging on a tasty (but miniscule) cheese, onion and mushroom pie with the rest of the Fulham faithful - a charming mix of old time cockernees, French, Japanese and abundant Chiswick, Hammersmith nouveaux riches of admirably mixed gender (admittedly, you'd probably have to be to be able to afford the ticket prices. I paid 50 notes for mine. Mind you, you probably wouldn't have to pay quite so much to watch one of the less attractive sides. Middlesbrough visit soon. Or better still, wait for the local derby with Cheslea. They'll probably be giving them away for that.) The ubuiquitous racism aside ("come on you whites!" What's that all about? Half their players were black!)
All in all, a wonderful evening out, the highlight being the walk back among the happy hordes. Their first victory over Arsenal in 40 years brought about little of the more usual triumphalism and gloating. Rather, a joyful buzz filled the west London night air, as if each of the supporters was emittting a little E.T. like hum of deep satisfaction beneath their overcoats and jumpers. It can't have been all that different from the days when my Dad would accompany a drinking mate of his to the Cottage, returning with a broad grin on his face, brandishing a copy of the print out to the popular terrace chant of the time, the one the then standing terraces sung out to Elkie Brooks' most famous tune: "Earl's a Winger". Halfway across Hammersmith Bridge, back once more in the breast of the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, I looked back east along the river to see the brilliant glare of the floodlights breaking through the silhouettes of the clumps of bare riverbank trees, like a second moon. You really should give it a go some time - especially an evening game.
It's just a shame the Arsenal never turned up.
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