Cardiff visited

Friday 12 April 2002

From Fulham Today's Paul Thorpe

(This piece first appeared at Fulham Today back in February - and being a little on the superstitious side, we thought we'd run it again ahead of Sunday...)

Fulham's only FA Cup Final appearance fell on my 14th Birthday. May 3rd 1975 to be precise. That year, I saw nearly every league and cup game home and away and what a season it was.

I can remember it as if it were yesterday. The long trips to Carlisle and Everton - the replays at Forest and even Filbert Street where we finally defeated Hull City courtesy of an Alan Slough strike.

As we approached the Final itself, 'The Cockney Cup Final' as the papers had dubbed it, the streets of SW6 were a sight to behold.

Everything had been decked out in the Club's colours. Some had even painted their cars black and white and every shop and pub became a shrine to Craven Cottage - and rightly so...

Every street for at least a square mile was decorated with bunting, balloons and banners and every dwelling had something related to Fulham FC in its window. (bar the odd Chelsea supporting household who had somehow forget that this was Cup Final week!)

In those days, Fulham was a real football community. Everyone knew each other and everyone was proud of its football Club. Yes, times have sadly changed...

After our excellent win at Walsall I'm starting to wonder if it could be our turn again, after all we're well overdue, aren't we? Which brings me to the point of my tale...

Last year I had a meeting to attend in Swansea and our Stadium Director Peter Randles suggested that whilst in Wales I should take in a visit the Millenium Stadium.

It seemed a good idea (for more than one reason) and in the end Peter decided to accompany me on the way home to his native little Welsh village that I certainly cannot remember let alone pronounce!

Now, you all know how superstitious us football fans are, and as we travelled to Wales I started to think that this would be an ideal opportunity to put some of that football superstition into practice.

Maybe this particular Fulham fan's Millenium Stadium visit could have a bearing on our FA Cup run I thought?

We stayed at a little guesthouse (they are plentiful and quite cheap) just around the corner from the MS itself. The area has had lots of money pumped into it and it shows. There are lots of bars and club's - and one street in particular is devoted to nothing but food outlets.

I settled down for the night imagining that I might be preparing for a trip to the Cup Final the following day. The guest house was quiet this time, but thoughts of having lots of other Fulham fans around the place, all singing about our impending Cup glory ran through my head...

The following morning Peter and I made the short walk across the bridge to the Stadium itself of which he'd played a large role in the planning and design. He is clearly very proud of his achievements and was given a warm welcome 'home' by staff.

Oddly enough the MS sits right next to Cardiff Arms Park. It's also situated just across the road from the station that makes for easy access.

Legend at the Club has it that our groundsman Frank Boahene jumped into a taxi at Cardiff Station and asked the driver for the MS. The driver duly obliged and swung his car from one side of the road the other and said: "That's £2 please sir!" (sorry Frank!)

You can see the sense in the Stadium's proximity. If enough trains are laid on you could easily get 30,000 fans in or out of the area in less than an hour.

The Stadiums stands are splendid, the seats are roomy and comfortable and no matter where you're seated, the view is fantastic. You could tell that to a large degree, Peter considers this as his first home.

He's a mine of information when it comes to new stadia and he's visited just about every major sporting arena worth a mention.

You'd never believe what goes into building something this splendid. Believe me, it's a stadium and a half...

Perhaps its most impressive feature is the retractable roof that takes 30 minutes to either open or close, making it an all weather venue. How that would come in handy for our fans at the Putney End of Craven Cottage!

I've been to Wembley on a couple of occasions - concerts, boxing etc. but The Millennium makes the old Wembley look like a run down non-league ground. In fact, it's breathtaking and every Fulham fan deserves a trip. Which brings me to my other reason for wanting to make the journey so badly.

I explained to Peter (who's a bit of a rugby fan) that all football supporters are very superstitious and that I had one or two rituals to complete on behalf of all Fulham fans before we could leave for home.

The first however, was rather personal. Whatever happens in the future I will feel an enormous sense of pride knowing that I was the first person to walk on the MS pitch wearing a Fulham crest. I did the walk up the players tunnel, imagining for a minute that I was Fulham's centre forward entering the battle arena in front of a packed house. The hairs of the back of your neck stand up.

More importantly however, I wanted to touch the Trophy stand where the FA Cup will sit in May ready for the winners to receive.

The Fulham crest was duly rubbed on the stand and a kiss followed for good measure in the hope that it might bring us luck, and that Andy Melville would be replacing me in May - but this time the FA Cup would be sitting on the oak stand.

As we departed I took one final look back, determined that it wouldn't be my last.

"We'll be back here soon Peter" I said.

"Next time we'll be in the Premiership and there will be legions of Fulham fans heading for the Cup Final".

Could this be our year? Let's hope so, its been a long wait and every Fulham fan deserves a trip the best stadium in Britain...

Note: Apologies for the poor image quality...