Down by the Thames riverside in south west London lives a club called Fulham, situated on Stevenage Road if you’re into your tenuous connections. Dating back to 1879, there’s no older club from London in the Football League. After relegation from the top flight back in 1968, it took a long while for them to scale those same heights. Egyptian businessman Mohamed Al-Fayed bought the Cottagers as a Division Two (League One) club in 1997, however. Four years later, they were in the Premier League. Al-Fayed moved on in 2013; taking with him a weird statue of Michael Jackson.
It’s one of those “long stories”. So, do strap in and pay attention; this tale starting long ago in 1879. Such is the age of the Cottagers, they can claim to be the oldest professional team in London. That honour was the result of them turning professional in 1898; the year in which the club also joined the Southern League. The competition gave them their first major honours, with back-to-back titles won in 1906 and 1907. Much more importantly, probably, is the Football League place they were awarded as a result of that second title.
From that moment, the Cottagers never looked back. Sure, it’s not always been a prestigious existence as a member of the 92. They spent a lot of time in Division Two, albeit with a brief hiatus in Division Three South. That was before World War Two, to be fair, and 1949 would be the year in which they first reached the main event; Division One and all its glories. Their first experience in the top flight was only a three-year stint. But they returned in 1959 for a slightly longer crack at it.
After relegation to Division Two (again) in 1968, the club would have to wait 33 years for the next chance to play top flight football. In the years between, they sort of drifted down the pyramid a bit; swapping places in the second and third tiers during the 1980s and 1990s. They weren’t all that far off suffering relegation into Division Four in 1991; surviving only by a couple of points. If it was a reprieve, it didn’t last long. The London club then did find themselves in the basement division in 1994.
It’s fair to say the arrival of Mohamed Al-Fayed in 1997 saw a dramatic uptick in fortunes for the Cottagers. Soon, the club were on a charge – and money was being spent on the players and manager(s) who’d push them back up the pyramid. After promotion from the old Division Three in 1997, they endured several quick promotions to end up in the Premier League by 2001. It is a level in which they have since become familiar, to be fair. Mind you, they are now getting a rep for being a bit of a yo-yo team… if that’s a bad thing?
How to get to Fulham – Travel Information – Distance: 36 miles
A tough ask if you’re heading for sunny south west London in your motor. Famous for being a pain to drive anywhere, London gives you two options – both of which could be excruciating depending on nothing more than the toss of a coin.
The most direct route takes you into the smoke from the north; travelling down the A1(M). You can either go right down to Baker Street and chance your arm along the Westway or settle on the North Circular to get you round to where you need to be.
Our option here, however, is to abandon the A1(M) at its junction with the M25 and go counter-clockwise until you get to Junction 15. The seasoned pros among you will know this to be where the M4 runs towards London in one direction and South Wales in the other. No prizes for guessing you want the London-bound carriageway.
Keep on keeping on when the M4 becomes the A4. It’s no more than 2.5 miles to the A306/A315 exit towards A219/Hammersmith, but it’ll feel like 25. Go right round the giant building that houses Hammersmith Tube station and continue onto the A219 Fulham Palace Road. If you’ve gone past the Apollo theatre, you’ve gone too far and have to go round again.
After a mile-or-so, take a right onto Finlay Street. The ground will literally be right in front of you.
It’s a built-up area in London, so your chances of finding free parking close to the ground are almost non-existent.
Station: PUTNEY BRIDGE
Services to: LONDON VICTORIA (for LONDON KINGS CROSS)
The nearest station to Craven Cottage is Putney Bridge, which is served by the District line from Victoria. You can get here from Finsbury Park off the train from Stevenage.
As a walk, it’s not a bad ‘un from Putney Bridge. Go south on Station Approach and turn right onto Ranelagh Gardens, before taking a left for Fulham High Street. Soon after, it’s a right onto Willow Bank. A couple of slight rights will take you under the A219 and up towards Fulham Palace.
Keep going with the Thames to your left and the Palace to your right. As you come to Bishops Park, you’ll be heading around to the right and then left onto the bottom of Stevenage Road. Head on up here and you’ll eventually get to the ground. The walk is no more than a mile (15 minutes) in total.
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