Craven Cottage: 250 years – a review
To many of us, Craven Cottage is Fulham Football Club, our sacred home that supporters have campaigned, agitated and fought for over the years. Predecessor organisations of the Fulham Supporters’ Trust refused to give up on the Cottage when owners, directors and others had long since written it off as either unsuitable for their ambitions or too valuable not to be exploited for other uses (and sometimes both).
To their great credit, and to the benefit of their readers, Martin Plumb, Ed Vanson and the legendary Ken Coton of Ashwater Press don’t start their comprehensive history – Craven Cottage:250 Years – with the construction of what we know of now as Craven Cottage. As keen readers of the earlier Ashwater books will appreciate, they do nothing by half measures. The painstaking research and eye for detail has given those of us with a strong connection to the place an authoritative and full history of every aspect of the site from the hunting lodge which gave Craven Cottage its name to the most recent changes made with the advent of the new Riverside Stand. No detail is too small, and the book is all the richer for that.
While covering every aspect of the history of the site, previous uses, its owners and status as a bargaining chip in ownership of areas of what was then a semi-rural suburb of London as Victorian housebuilding began in earnest, it is the many and complex stories of how our home has been at the heart of serial intrigues over the years which is as fascinating as it is incredible.
The complexities of construction on a constrained riverside site are not only a frustration in the much delayed and still only partially completed new stand, but date back to the original Archibald Leitch building and, as some may distantly recall, the earlier 1970s Eric Miller stand. By poring over archives and original documents, the engineering and construction detail are enthusiastically explained for the lay person. But it is in the intrigue around the serial botched and failed schemes of owners both mendacious and, latterly, trying their best to ensure the Club survived by proposing a life away from Craven Cottage, that will resonate the most.
In a section titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” every twist and turn, every face-saving compromise and incredible coincidence of the ultimately successful but frequently underestimated battle to save the Cottage is recorded. Unlike the incomplete version told by the Club even to this day, the reality of the secretive moves that led to our exile at Loftus Road and eventual return, are explained in a comprehensive and complete way.
And then there are, of course, the pictures. Ken Coton’s remarkable archive has been plundered before for earlier Ashwater publications – but it is those not of the onfield action, perhaps taken almost incidentally, that make this book complete. Details of how things were, how they were done, how football was a different place to what we now take for granted ca be savoured for hours, the details a prompt for an examination of what made Fulham Football Club. The contrast could not be greater between what was an essentially small business living hand to mouth run by local business people and enthusiasts compared to a massively indebted commercial institution with a mostly absent and emotionally distant US owner of today.
It is, sadly but understandably, the last book to bear the Ashwater imprint. Over the course of many years they have provided joy through reminiscence of our wonderful, sometimes underestimated and often unappreciated football club. The two years of research and preparation that led to this volume demonstrate just what a labour of love it has been and how incredibly fortunate we are that such a full, rich and authoritative history has been produced. There could not be a better subject to bow out on, and how impressively it has been done.