Few clubs are as closely identified with their grounds as Fulham with Craven Cottage. Yet, for a time, the battles for the ownership of the seven-acre site threatened the Club’s very existence.
When Ernest Clay purchased the ground in late 1984, it set off a chain of events which virtually crippled the Club and almost saw it and the ground disappear for good. Clay sold his stake to Marler Estates, a company that also owned Stamford Bridge. In February 1987, new Chairman David Bulstrode then revealed plans to merge Fulham with Queens Park Rangers (who he had also bought) and name the side Fulham Park Rangers. Loftus Road would host home games and the Cottage would be turned into housing.
Jimmy Hill headed a public outcry and, along with his backers, bought the Club back but not the ground. They remained at the Cottage as tenants whilst the owners drew up their planning. Marler was then purchased by another property company, John Duggan’s Cabra Estates. But, as the ground issue rumbled on, Cabra went under and the Royal Bank of Scotland emerged as the Club’s new landlords.
In February 1993, and with Fulham’s lease on the Cottage ticking down towards a 31st May deadline, the supporters unveiled their ‘Fulham 2000’ scheme, inviting fans from all over the land to join for £10, with all monies raised going towards the cost of a high-profile campaign to win back the Cottage.
RBS and Fulham eventually agreed a price of £7.5m – how to finance it was another matter. Enter Mohamed Al Fayed in 1997. A single stone in the Stevenage Road Stand now pays tribute to the fans involved and their efforts to help.
When Fulham travelled to Middlesbrough for a end-of-season fixture in May 2007, they made history as the substitute appearance of Matthew Briggs at the age of 16 years and 65 days saw him become both the Club’s and the Premier League's youngest-ever player.
Spotted by Fulham scouts at the age of 10, Wandsworth-born Briggs progressed through the ranks to make his debut at Boro and recalled: “Lawrie Sanchez said he wanted me to travel with the squad and there was a chance I’d get on. I was buzzing. Going back to the school the day after, everyone was like ‘oh my God’ you’ve played in the Premier League.”
Six years on, Briggs, who ended this season on loan at Watford in the npower Championship, is still to nail down a regular place in the Fulham side. But there’s no doubting his will to succeed.
In 1910, Woolwich Arsenal faced bankruptcy, with an average crowd dwindling to 11,000.
London property magnate and Fulham Chairman Henry Norris bought Arsenal out, but an attempt to merge them with the Whites was blocked by the Football League.
He then sought to have Woolwich Arsenal play at Craven Cottage on alternative Saturdays. This plan was abandoned when he was forced to agree that Arsenal would stay at their Manor Ground for at least two years from the summer of 1910. He later proceeded to move them all the way across London to the new Arsenal Stadium in Highbury.
Entry into the First Division of the Southern League had put the Club on a more professional footing. Craven Cottage had been Fulham’s home for eight years but Director Henry Norris felt Fulham needed a modern stadium.
In 1904, Stamford Bridge, a ground which for the first 28 years of its existence was used almost exclusively by the London Athletics Club, was acquired by businessman Gus Mears.
With Stamford Bridge better served by transport links, Mears approached Fulham with a regard to moving into the ground. Negotiations did not get very far as Norris and Fulham baulked at the proposed rent of £1,500 per annum. Chelsea Football Club was formed in 1905 and moved into Stamford Bridge, while Norris and his colleagues on the Fulham Board commissioned an unknown Scottish engineer, Archibald Leitch, to turn the Club’s ground into a stadium worthy of top-class football. The redeveloped Craven Cottage was given an official opening ceremony, with lunch, on the first day of the 1905/06 season.
An 11-game winless run had seen Fulham hurtle down the Premier League ladder. With two matches remaining, relegation was a real possibility when Merseyside giants Liverpool arrived at the Cottage on Saturday 5th May 2007.
Chris Coleman had been replaced as Caretaker Manager by Lawrie Sanchez for the final five games of the season, while, with a UEFA Champions League Final just around the corner, Liverpool named a much-changed side – to the anger of Fulham’s relegation rivals.
But the Reds should have been out of sight by the time substitute Clint Dempsey sidefooted the ball past Jose Reina in the 68th minute to score his first Fulham goal. Antti Niemi had denied Craig Bellamy three times and Robbie Fowler had missed an open goal, before Dempsey found the net. Papa Bouba Diop was sent off after a second booking in the dying seconds but the win secured Fulham a precious three points.
Our top-flight status was secured when Charlton Athletic lost 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur two days later.
Sanchez was later named Whites boss on a permanent basis. Despite considerable backing, he was unable to ignite his charges during the following campaign with Roy Hodgson installed as our fourth Premier League Manager in December 2007.
Be sure to check back on fulhamfc.com as numbers 40 to 36 are revealed on Monday 10th June.