It’s great to be back in London and, specifically, here at Craven Cottage. This is certainly a big weekend for me personally as both Fulham and the Jacksonville Jaguars will compete here in the capital, but what’s most important is the fans of each team are served and entertained.
That’s my goal at all times, of course, but I’ll confess that it’s definitely something special for me in London each autumn when Fulham play at home on a Saturday afternoon followed by a Jaguars game on Sunday at Wembley. This year, the excitement level is elevated with encounters against arguably our fiercest rivals - Queens Park Rangers visiting Craven Cottage today and our NFL divisional opponents Indianapolis Colts as our “guest” at Wembley on Sunday. A lot of Jaguars fans will be in attendance this afternoon for what will be, for many of them, their first English football match. I know you’ll welcome them, and our visitors from QPR, with the kindness and warmth that is customary at FFC.
Meanwhile, to the Fulham faithful, I hope you’ll make it to Wembley tomorrow for the first NFL game of the 2016 season in London - the Jaguars’ home away from home thanks to you and thousands of others who are helping to make the Jags the UK’s favourite team. I know you enjoy the occasional game away from the Cottage, as evidenced by nearly 500 Fulham supporters who made the hard journey on Tuesday night to Nottingham Forest. Your support was exceptional and much needed as we battled back to gain a draw and an important point in the table. Full credit to Head Coach Slaviša Jokanović and his men who answered a poor result here a week ago with a performance on the road deserving of three points. But, as always, I tip my cap to our travelling supporters for 90-plus strong minutes at the stadium and the many hours of travel to and from. We’d love to see you tomorrow backing the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium, which is much, much closer than Nottingham!
I’m happy to see interest in Fulham growing in Jacksonville and support for the Jags building here in SW6. And when it comes to connecting Fulham supporters with Jaguars fans, and linking Jacksonville to London, we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Visit Florida. This is the second season for Visit Florida to make a significant investment in all we’re trying to accomplish here at Fulham and in London, and I don’t want this extraordinary weekend to go by without paying my compliments and thanks to everyone who helps make this alliance as ideal as a partnership can be.
From the beautiful logo and distinct message atop Craven Cottage to the best-looking kits in the Sky Bet Championship, and much more, our Visit Florida partnership combines the best of two worlds - the UK’s preferred leisure destination that is Florida and one of the UK’s most respected and beloved football clubs that is Fulham. I’m elated that Visit Florida returned to Fulham for what I believe is one of the more distinctive and imaginative partnerships, not only in football, but in all of sport. To everyone behind Visit Florida, welcome and thank you!
And while I have faith that we’ll look back on this weekend with fond memories of a Fulham win over QPR, I know for a fact that today will be remembered at the Cottage for something - actually, someone - who represents the classic definition of “once in a lifetime.” And that’s George Cohen.
Today marks the unveiling of the George Cohen statue, celebrating a man who is equally a national hero and a Fulham legend. Throughout England, George is revered for his leadership and effort as a right-back to guide the Three Lions to World Cup glory in 1966. As England observes the 50th anniversary of that milestone, George is no less a star today to those who recall the magic of ‘66 and others who wish they’d experienced that remarkable achievement themselves.
George will always be a World Cup champion for an entire nation, but his heart is here at Craven Cottage. On these grounds, George played his entire professional football career for Fulham. Specifically, George competed in FFC black and white in the first team from 1957 until his retirement in 1969. George wore no other colours, he carried no other badge. What a great story, and how lucky can we be at Fulham to claim George as ours, and only ours?
I wasn’t fortunate to see George play, but I’ve met him on numerous occasions over the past four years and everything said about the man is true. George is affable, honourable and a gentleman who provides all of us - no matter who you support - an example to live by.
George is deserving to be honoured, as Johnny Haynes before him, with a statue that will celebrate his place in the game and in our hearts at Fulham for generations to come.
The statue is the result of the artistry of Douglas Jennings, one of the country’s most talented and celebrated sculptors who also brought the Johnny Haynes statue to life. The proposal to honour George was made possible in part by the friends and supporters who have donated generously to worthy causes that have been important to George and his family for many years. Bob Howes and Bill Muddyman, two wonderful supporters, deserve special credit for their passion in seeing the statue campaign through to fruition.
But today wouldn’t be possible at all if not for the gift of George Cohen himself. Congratulations to George and Daphne Cohen, as well as to his family and friends!
Let’s have fun today. Whether you’re from London, Florida or any point in between, let’s introduce ourselves and make new friends. Let’s build on Tuesday’s impressive effort at Forest. Let’s rally our First Team today to establish Craven Cottage, from this point forward, to be a troubling destination for visiting sides. Let’s score some goals! And let’s give thanks to George Cohen.
Thanks for being with us today.Come On You Whites!
Shahid Khan, Chairman