The 10th October 1896 saw the new ground of Craven Cottage opened with a Middlesex Senior Cup tie against Minerva. Both teams were at full strength, with the line-up for the Whites reading: Jack May (goalkeeper); Henry Shrimpton, Ted Humphries (backs); Alec Frame, Harry Johnson, Jack Shrimpton (halves); Will Robertson, Eddie Witheridge, Jimmy Lindsey, Abon Surman and Freddie Hollands (forwards).
At 3.30pm, we kicked off from the Bridge End (now the Putney End) and pressed at the Minerva defence. McTeare in the Minerva goal made some fine saves but we took the lead just before half-time as Johnson’s shot was blocked back for him to slot to Lindsey for the first goal.
We came out after the break to see a Robertson shot skim over the bar and it didn’t take long for Lindsey to pass to Surman for the second in the 70th minute. Surman bagged his second of the game after controlling a free-kick from Shrimpton, and Witheridge made sure of the win late on as he got between defenders to slot home. 4-0 on the day and not a bad way to start off!
The Christmas period was often a time for goals back in the old days, and Boxing Day 1963 proved to be the scene for our biggest ever win. An incredible number of goals were scored on this day as Blackburn Rovers beat West Ham United 8-2, Burnley overcame Manchester United 6-1 and West Bromwich Albion played out a 4-4 draw with Tottenham Hotspur, among others. In total, 66 goals were netted, with The Times putting it down to "a mixture of icy conditions in some places" and "rain and slush in others."
But head and shoulders above the rest were the Whites, who managed 10 against an Ipswich Town side who had been league champions under Alf Ramsey a mere 18 months previous. Now, the side were playing under Jackie Milburn and had already shipped 58 goals in 23 games by the time they arrived at Craven Cottage. But it was still an impressive result.
Graham Leggat took the plaudits on the day as he netted the fastest-ever hat-trick, inside four minutes. Maurice Cook opened the scoring in the 15th minute, then Leggat bagged his trio. Bobby Howfield - who later became a place kicker in the NFL for the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets - swerved a corner right in just before half-time before Gerry Baker’s consolation. In the second half, the goals kept coming and Howfield then picked up his hat-trick alongside a goal from Bobby Robson and Alan Mullery. Leggat’s fourth arrived from 30 yards to finish things off nicely and the fans erupted. 10-1!
Manager Bedford Jezzard said afterwards: “We had been playing just as well earlier in the season but had not been getting the goals. It must have been all them lovely turkeys we gave them for Christmas, from now on they get one a week.” Obviously the players had too much turkey two days later when they lost 4-2 to the same side!
All change in SW6 just five years into the new Millennium as the old ‘Rabbit Hutch’ stand was replaced by a brand new grandstand which was designed by architect Archibald Leitch. Leitch was responsible for designing some of the best stadia around and was commissioned to design part, or all, of more than 20 stadiums in the UK and Ireland between 1899 and 1939 - including Liverpool’s Anfield and United’s Old Trafford.
Alongside the new stand came new turnstiles to the street, a new red brick facade on Stevenage Road and, of course, the Cottage which we see before us today. The Cottage housed the dressing rooms and offices, but while some things don’t need to be changed there was a host of expenditure to make Fulham the envy of most clubs in the country.
After some dizzying promotions, Fulham had been allowed to play our first season in the Premiership at the Cottage with special dispensation from the League, despite not meeting the requirements for all-seater stadiums. The Taylor Report - which was commissioned after the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster - ensured that 2002/03 was the first season when every stadium was an all-seater. Unfortunately the Cottage was not quite ready.
That meant that we had to find a temporary home - Queens Park Rangers’ Loftus Road was the most suitable so we kicked off in August 2002 in a new stadium. The move was not too bad for the players and it was our home form that kept us away from danger for the next two years, but the fans never settled and pined for the Cottage.
So, in 2004, seating capacity and corporate boxes replaced the terracing behind the goals and we went back by the river. As Dennis Turner put it in his book ‘The History of Fulham’: “the whole project was so tastefully done that Craven Cottage was substantially improved without sacrificing its original charm. The ground was modernised, but not too much.”
The saga surrounding the battle for the Cottage in the 80s is almost enough to fill an entire book, but the arrival of Jimmy Hill is certainly one of the key moments in the Club’s history. When Ernie Clay sold the freehold to Craven Cottage to Marler Estates for around £9 million (he had bought it for less than £1m) in 1986, it was clear what his motives were.
Leaving the Club that same year, Clay passed control on to the new directors David Bulstrode and Robert Noonan who swiftly announced that they wanted to merge with their newly acquired asset Queens Park Rangers. It was a move that would have seen the end of the Club and so white hot rage followed from the Fulham faithful - the idea was abandoned.
Fulham was sold back to Jimmy Hill (and his backers including Bill Muddyman) the following year and he kept fans right up to date with developments in the programme, one article maintaining: “One of our immediate aims is to put all those powerful words and emotions into action to secure our financial future by buying shares, season tickets, lottery tickets, programmes, indeed anything that will make sure the Club never finds itself in the appalling circumstances we have recently experienced.”Hill had bought the Club, but not the ground and it would take until the arrival of Mohamed Al Fayed in 1997 for Fulham to get the Cottage back into our own hands. But we were still alive!