There’s something impressive about professional sport when it is played at speed and with precision at the highest level. Wednesday evening saw my sons and I pay a visit to Craven Cottage in London to see Fulham FC welcome Manchester United in an English Premier League game. Fulham had won the same fixture by 3-0 in 2009, the last time that we’d been at this famous old ground by the Thames, a result that had disappointed my sons, both of whom are die-hard United fans.
With a maximum capacity of 27,500, Craven Cottage is an anachronism in the world of modern sports stadia. It’s built alongside the River Thames in the middle of a residential district. The stands are small and the ground is tightly gathered around the pitch. However, it’s a friendly place as the Fulham fans are welcoming and the security staff always seem to smile, which is definitely not the experience that you’ll get in other soccer grounds.
United brought their best game to London and dominated the first half with an impressive performance full of power and speed. Watching soccer on TV has its advantages but it doesn’t deliver the same feeling of movement, pace and interaction between players that unfolds when you watch a game live. It’s the same for any high-level sport. Manchester United played superbly and gave Fulham no quarter to score three unanswered goals in the first half. At least Fulham showed some improvement in the second half before late goals from Rooney and Berbatov, the former a powerful drive from well aside the penalty box and the latter a delightful back-heel, took the winds out of their sails.
We sat in the Putney Stand in a position right behind the goal. (above) The Putney Stand is referred to as the neutral end but everyone around us seemed to support Manchester United. At least, they knew the words of all the weird and wonderful football chants that featured United greats such as George Best and Eric Cantona, current players such as Ryan Giggs (clearly a favourite based on the number of songs that lauded his many gifts), as well as the contempt in which United fans hold teams such as Liverpool and Leeds. Many of the songs were not for the faint-hearted. The singing started before kick-off and persisted right to the end with a small gap at half-time. Far worse than the aural assault, the hard-core fans insisted in standing up for the complete game and we were forced to forego the comfort of our seats and stand to watch the game.
Craven Cottage is a great place to watch soccer and we enjoyed ourselves. What wasn’t so good was the Travelodge Toleworth, which must be the worst hotel that I have ever had the chance to stay at since lodging in an Intourist hotel in Kiev in 1992. The fact that you can get rooms at this hotel for STG12/night is no reason to stay there. Avoid at all costs! Much better were the splendid lamb burgers and home-made chips that we ate at the Royal Oak Hotel in Betws-y-Coed en route to catch the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. The road through Wales (M54 and then A5) is a far nicer and more scenic route between Holyhead towards London than the hassle of the alternate A55-M6 battleground.
Finally, the Sat Nav in my Audi A6 showed some interesting information when we were waiting to get onto the ferry. Apparently we were positioned 10m deep in water off the Welsh coast (above). In any case, all went well and our feet stayed dry.
Happy Holidays to all…