The Club’s origins go back to St Andrew’s Church in West Kensington in 1879 and, at first, matches were played on a section of land close to the church in Star Road.
Although the exact location of the club’s ground in 1884/85 is not known, the place was described as being in Lillie Road.
The club played at Ranelagh House for two seasons from 1886 which coincided with St Andrew’s changing name to Fulham St Andrew’s.
The Ranelagh House ground, located close to the River Thames where the Hurlingham Club is situated, is close to the Eight Bells Public House in Fulham High Street which the team used as changing rooms.
The first known match at Ranelagh House, as reported in the West London Advertiser, was against local side Stanley FC which Fulham St Andrew’s won 5-0.
In 1888, Fulham moved to a new ground at Barn Elms, Castlenau.
The ground is close to the present Craven Cottage and from the location today, the floodlights at the ground can be seen from the football pitches the other side of the Thames. During the end of the year, Fulham St Andrew’s changed its name to Fulham.
In 1889, Fulham moved to a new ground at Purser’s Cross, Parsons Green. The ground, as described in Alex White’s book, Fulham FC the early years 1879-1907, was far from ideal as there was a tree on the pitch and the ground was often waterlogged.
The club moved to Eel Brook Common in 1891 for only a few months before relocating to an area across the road from the Half Moon Public House in Putney during the summer of 1891. It was during this period between 1891 and 1895 that Fulham shared the ground with Wasps rugby club. Fulham’s first match at the Half Moon was a 5-1 victory against Streatham FC in October 1891.
Fulham were without a ground for the 1895/96 season and local West London rivals, Stanley FC, offered to share their ground in West Brompton. Fulham played their home fixtures at the Captain James Field near Halford Road.
The Club (church) bought Craven Cottage in 1894, which took two years to prepare. Volunteers helped clear a derelict house and clean the area before building a club house changing room facility.
The first match to be played at Craven Cottage was on 10 October 1896 when Fulham beat Minerva 4-0 in the Middlesex Senior Cup.
Prior to 1903, Craven Cottage was all terracing, mainly made up from the excavations from Shepherd’s Bush underground station.
The ground was improved during the 1903/04 season which coincided with an increase in attendances. A wooden stand (pictured above) with seating capacity for 1,200 spectators, built by Robert Iles of Walham Green, became known as the Rabbit Hutch. The stand was located where the current Johnny Haynes Stand is, but around 18 months later was condemned by local county council as a dangerous structure and had to be pulled down.
The last game before the Rabbit Hutch was demolished was between Fulham and Brentford on 29 April 1905 which Fulham won 1-0.
In late January 1905, the local paper, the West London and Fulham Times, reported that Fulham had obtained a 99-year lease on Craven Cottage and that redevelopment could start.
Work started on a new stand on Stevenage Road in May 1905. The Club appointed Scottish architect, Archibald Leitch, to design and build the new stand and the Clyde Structural Iron Company was hired to provide the steelwork.
During construction, the old mud banks on the other three sides of the ground were now terraced and Leitch installed crush barriers. These crush barriers became synonymous with football terracing around the country and were later patented by Archibald Leitch. The Cottage was also built at the corner of the new stand since the architect omitted to include changing rooms in the new stand.
The 5,000-seat stand was completed for the first fixture of the 1905/06 season. The redevelopment works cost £15,000. The sitting MP and Fulham President, W. Hayes Fisher, officially opened the new ground on 2 September 1905 before Fulham and Portsmouth played out a goalless draw in front of 20,000 spectators.The Johnny Haynes Stand and Cottage remain among the finest examples of Archibald Leitch’s work and both have been designated as Grade II listed buildings.
Today, the Cottage still houses dressing rooms for the home and visiting teams. It also accommodates offices including the Head Coach’s matchday office, a players’ lounge, and a balcony from where guests of the players watch matches.
The FA selected Craven Cottage for a full international match when, in March 1907, England and Wales drew 1-1.
Craven Cottage regularly witnessed crowds of over 30,000 and 40,000 before the start of the WWII, and the record attendance for a match at the Cottage (49,335) was against Millwall in 1938.
Within the Johnny Haynes stand, there is a café located at the Cottage end, the Club’s Ticket Office and matchday press room are located in the middle of the stand, and at the Hammersmith end of the stand are the Club’s stadium store and main reception.
Floodlights were installed in 1962 and an electronic scoreboard was raised at the Riverside terrace.In 1965 the terrace at the Hammersmith End had a roof installed following an extension of the terracing in 1961.
The Riverside terracing backing on to the River Thames was replaced by a new stand. The Riverside Stand, formerly known as the Eric Miller Stand after a director of the Club at the time, was officially opened in February 1972 with a friendly match against a Benfica side which included Eusebio. The stand cost around £330,000 to build and today holds just over 4,600 seats.
The Hammersmith and Putney stands were terracing and the lower section of the Johnny Haynes stand was also a standing area. Following the Club’s promotion to the Premiership in 2001, now known as the Premier League, Craven Cottage required some redevelopment in order to comply with league rules to become an all-seater stadium.
Craven Cottage has been the home of Fulham FC since 1896 apart from two seasons (2002/03 & 2003/04) spent at Loftus Road whilst the ground was redeveloped into an all-seater venue. The Club returned to Craven Cottage for the start of the 2004/05 season.