Happy Wednesday night and welcome to Craven Cottage for a match-up against our visitors from Hull City, a club that arrives with an extra day’s rest and likely ready to make a statement following their difficult result on Friday at Derby County. The Tigers’ 5-0 defeat at Pride Park, as you know, is in no way indicative of the quality of Hull.
I was astounded over the summer to see the challenging run of fixtures that we were assigned to open the season, and back then I was thinking we needed to be in decent shape by the time Hull, relegated from the Premier League just last May, called on us. The Tigers will provide a great test for us this evening but, win, lose or draw, the good news to me is we’re in excellent position to march forward and begin to make our run in 2017/18.
Why? As noted, this was unquestionably an extremely rugged string of fixtures to begin the season. Collecting points wouldn’t be easy. And it hasn’t been. But, while we’ve only recently begun to register points and climb the table, I believe from our first match versus Norwich City that we’ve played and performed extremely well. We ended Ipswich’s string of four straight league wins to start the season with a firm 2-0 victory on the road.
On Saturday, though we couldn’t hold on for the win, likewise we stopped Cardiff City’s undefeated and untied run with a draw here at the Cottage. Like last season, we’re fun to watch. And that, to me, has been - and is still - rewarding. Anyone who had fears of last season’s brilliance being a brief moment in the long, long history of this Club can relax. Slaviša Jokanović’s brand of football remains unmistakable and as effective today as it did from January through to the Play-Offs. Who couldn’t be optimistic?
Like all clubs, we also today have the benefit of the 2017 summer transfer window being behind us. I don’t find the business of transfers to be a burden or annoyance. On the contrary, it’s an important element to immediate and future success in football, and that extends beyond the pitch. Along with my son Tony Khan, our Vice Chair and Director of Football Operations, always know that we want the same as you - a club that competes, has the ability to rise to the next level, entertains and will make you proud no matter the final score. But, financial considerations cannot and will not be ignored. We all want Fulham to be strong, bold and stable for another century-plus, and that won’t happen if we’re managing the transfer window irresponsibly. We won’t.
And, we didn’t. From the start of the window, we extended for multiple years the contracts of a handful of Fulham current and future heroes, namely Tom Cairney, Ryan Sessegnon, Steven Sessegnon, Tayo Edun, Marcus Bettinelli and, most recently, Luca de la Torre. We acquired a very impressive cast of new players on permanent contracts - Marcelo Djaló, Ibrahima Cisse, Aboubakar Kamara, Rui Fonte and Yohan Mollo. And finally, we saw through a number of loan deals that were either critical to maintaining our chemistry from last season or will be crucial to our promotion efforts, namely Lucas Piazon, Tomas Kalas, Oliver Norwood, Sheyi Ojo, Rafa Soares and Jordan Graham.
I welcome all of these gentlemen to Fulham Football Club, either in their return or as they become part of our family for the first time. Please join me!
And, as I mentioned, I know the transfer window is part of football like the pitch itself. I am also delighted at how well we navigated it, keeping and attracting talent while being fiscally responsible. But, I’m also happy it’s over. I really like the squad we’ve assembled, and now it’s time to play football!
But, a few final matters, and the first one I know will be of great interest to you.
We are a club with ambition to grow, but to grow you must protect and never damage your roots. Here at Fulham, those roots are at our home of Craven Cottage. That’s why it was important to me when I was privileged to become your chairman in 2013 to find a way to grow all that is good about FFC while always minding our roots. And that is what we will do.
We are currently in the process of submitting pre-application documents to the council this week which will highlight our intentions for the much-anticipated redevelopment of the Riverside Stand. This procedural measure will be followed later this year with a formal application to the local authorities, and the process will include consultation with our wonderful supporters.
The future of the Riverside Stand and, by extension, Craven Cottage itself, has been the subject of speculation and various plans well before my arrival, maybe going back as far as 10 years. For my part, the project has always been a priority, but not at the expense of making a mistake that wouldn’t serve our club, the neighbourhood and all of London both immediately and for generations. I have admittedly been deliberate in reviewing concepts, interviewing designers and studying the economics of what will turn out to be a signature project for an entire community. I know that our supporters have hungered for information or signs of progress, and I appreciate that. But, I am confident that our approach has been the right one, and equally assured that you’ll find the wait to be worth it.
We have engaged Populous, a world-class architectural and design firm, to deliver a Riverside Stand project that will transcend the customary standards of football grandstands. Imagine a new Riverside Stand that will be iconic and beautiful, include riverside pubs and restaurants, event facilities, green spaces, open the river walk every day of the year and, of course, make Craven Cottage a greater destination in all of sport than it already is. It will be a spectacular venue to watch Fulham. And our home ground will blend history and the contemporary like no stadium in the land or beyond.
It won’t be long before we’ll be sharing some of the architectural elements and designs. In the meantime, we continue with the consultation process with local authorities and look forward later this year to making a full plan submission for approval. Your CEO, Alistair Mackintosh, has my complete respect and appreciation for keeping this challenging yet rewarding project on task, and I ask that you join me in thanking him for being a champion not only for the new Riverside Stand but for all things that represent your club.
Finally on the Riverside Stand, what the project timeline will look like upon approval of the plans will be known soon, but it’s almost certain that we anticipate playing our home matches at Craven Cottage through any construction periods. Craven Cottage, after all, is home to Fulham Football Club.
I must also take a moment to congratulate Huw Jennings and everyone affiliated with our spectacular Academy. Thanks to their dedication and brilliance, Fulham last week had its Academy Category One status confirmed for another two years. Well done everyone!
Thanks very much for coming out tonight, especially given the change in date from Tuesday to Wednesday. And I hope to see you next week when we bring a large contingent from Florida to Craven Cottage for our home match against Middlesbrough. That fixture will be played on the eve of the Jacksonville Jaguars-Baltimore Ravens game at Wembley, and I sense it will be a great weekend for everyone who loves both teams. Please make our guests feel at home, as you always do, and thank you as always for your passion and love for Fulham Football Club!
Come On You Whites!
Shahid Khan, Chairman