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Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Crafty Cottagers

I finished my Arsenal themed festive football programme with a stroll down the River Thames to see the Gunners visit to Craven Cottage. As I wandered along the riverside, the crowd growing as we got nearer to ever looming floodlights I pondered a couple of firsts: the first time I had walked to an Arsenal game, the first time I would see a side play at each of the top four levels of the English game. I had first visited the Cottage when Fulham were marooned in Division Three, worse was to follow and I saw them at their nadir as they flirted with the bottom of Division Four. This was followed by the arrival of Mohamed Al-Fayed and his millions to send them back to the top and I made sure I popped in during their brief stay in Division Two. The ground was then transformed whilst the Cottagers moved in with QPR when I saw them play in Europe. The transformation of the Cottage into an all seater stadium managed to keep the homely nature of the ground with the closeness of the pitch and the large crowds attracted by Premier League football creating a suitable atmosphere. The support has changed too, the hardcore of locals now augmented by the well heeled residents of this wealthy borough attracted by seeing the best English football has to offer. I suppose the longevity of Fulham's stay in the top division has converted many of the new arrivals into supporters but the creativity employed by the club's Marketing department to fill the ground every week reflects the non stop effort required to maximise income and minimise reliance on the loans from Chairman Mo. One of the ticketing innovations has been the introduction of a neutral area next to the away section at the Putney End. Taking my seat here there is clearly a proper mix of home and away fans with no problems throughout the evening. Unfortunately although I had as good a view of the pitch as Wojciech Szczesny all the action took place at the Hammersmith end. 
In summary Arsenal had the better of the first half whilst Fulham dominated the second. Yes Gervinho could have had a penalty, with the referee perhaps dissuaded by his exaggerated fall to earth. Yes Arsenal should really have scored a second after Laurent Koscielny's headed opener, despite David Stockdale excellent last ditch saves. But Bryan Ruiz provided a real threat from Fulham and the half was characterised by two tired teams frequently giving the ball away with Arsenal doing most to profit from the mistakes. Fulham's approach to the second half was admirable. Unlike Wolves and QPR in Arsenal's previous two games they were not cowed by the deficit and went for broke to get back into the game. Wenger's response in withdrawing attacking wingers for more defensive midfielders merely served to facilitate Fulham setting up camp in the Arsenal half. There were early bookings in the half for Johan Djourou and Alex Song but neither player moderated their behaviour so it was no surprise when the former departed early. Likewise although going down to ten men hardly helped the Arsenal cause there was an inevitability about the Fulham equaliser and subsequent winner with the Gunners looking played out. 
I suppose it was unlikely that Arsenal would be left out of the festive shock defeat club with the four games in quick succession seeing the Premier League turn into the Championship for a fortnight. Whereas some might see this as a good thing with the mistakes caused by fatigue meaning unexpected defeats on every matchday, this is at the expense of quality and if anything I would prefer it if all of the top four divisions slimmed down by at least two clubs (four in the Championship's case). If nothing else at least there would be more time for Cup competitions which might mean they are taken more seriously.
Regardless a trip to Craven Cottage is highly recommended and as I wandered home in the moonlight I pondered their place in my selection of Desert Island grounds, deciding they should be elevated to join the likes of York Road, Highbury, Elm Park, and the pre renovation Deepdale and Turf Moor.

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