Fulham v Swansea

Fulham v Swansea Programme CoverWith the shockwaves of last Sunday’s colossal victory over league leaders Manchester City at fortress liberty still reverberating around the football world, the Swans attention turned to south west London and a visit to Fulham.

The Cottagers were unbeaten at home this season (for games played on a Saturday) and were sure to provide yet another difficult/different test to those already faced thus far this season.  Whilst not setting the league alight this year (or previous years for that matter) Fulham – in similar fashion to ourselves – have prided themselves on being strong at home and as a result have survived comfortably in the Premier League.

If nothing else, today’s fixture would give us an excellent indication of how far we’d really come this season and as the now sadly departed but legendary Fulham fan Michael Jackson would say if we’d “wanna be startin somethin” – then a positive result at craven cottage today was a must.

Without the prospect of a trip through mid Wales this time around, Tourism Jack and I opted to let the train take the strain and head off to the big smoke in style.  Wishing to avoid any likely queues (and carnage) of Grand Slam proportions, we decided to catch the 8am train out of an extremely sunny Swansea and were pleasantly surprised to see that quite a few other members of the travelling Jack Army had obviously formed the same opinion.  Judging by how many of them were well stocked in terms of beverages, this was going to be an entertaining 3 hour train journey.

For those of you wishing to follow the Swans by train in future, take note – they don’t serve jam in the buffet carriage unless the chef is on board or at least that’s what the GWR rep working today informed us.  She was obviously very well versed in best selling Kindle book “Bullsh*t & Lies – Customer Service Quotes to get you out of the Sh*t”.

Arriving at a rain sodden Paddington shortly after 11am, there was a steady stream of Swans fans – easily identified due to their singing(!) – heading for the district line and a tube to Putney Bridge, the nearest tube station to Fulham’s craven cottage.  We didn’t need to follow any directions, we simply followed the noise and unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before we picked up a British Transport Police escort as a result.

Not wishing to be herded about south west London until kick-off, Tourism Jack called upon his extensive geographical knowledge of these parts and we thought we’d beat it and make a sharp exit at Fulham Broadway.  In theory this was a great idea, as the station – despite being literally on the doorstep of Chelsea’s stamford bridge – is only about 1.5 miles (15 minute walk) from craven cottage.

However, a combination of TJ being unable to read his phone based sat nav, the rain and a distinct lack of local people seemingly knowing where the hell “Fulham football club” was meant a 10 minute walk turned into a 45 minute meander around the streets of Parsons Green and Fulham!  Fortunately, we hit upon a street market, whereby a resident OAP and female fruit stall owner – after a good old fashioned 2 minute cockney debate between them – gave us the best directions for those going via ball of chalk!

Given the fresh impetus, we were soon in the vicinty of craven cottage, having enjoyed a pleasant stroll along the Thames through the picturesque (but currently being re-landscaped) Bishop’s Park.  The riverside walk was made all the more interesting due to a rowing regatta taking place at the same time.  I can imagine the park being the perfect location to watch the Oxford Cambridge boat race in April – which starts just downstream of the nearby Putney Bridge.

Craven cottage is located at the northern end of the park and upon exiting the park you are immediately faced with the “away” end of the ground – known as the ‘Putney End’.  This is an away end with a difference though, as it is shared with the home support!  There is no physical segregation whatsoever – the only ‘split’ between rival fans is that tickets are sold in blocks to home fans/away fans.

Welcome to Craven Cottage

The ground is very old and some of the original buildings from 1896 are still in place – as you can see! The other striking thing is how small the ground appears from the outside and it was hard to imagine it having a capacity of over 25,000 – which it currently has.  What the ground lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in character though with a warm, easy going and friendly feel to the surroundings.

Outside the Johnny Haynes Stand at Craven Cottage

As seems the case with most Premier League grounds these days, there were also a couple of statues on display.  From a footballing perspective, there is Fulham’s most famous player – Johnny Haynes, whom played a club record 658 games for Fulham over an 18 year period.

Johnny Haynes statue at Craven Cottage

Then there is another statue – located between the Hammersmith and Riverside stands – of the late but allegedly lifelong Fulham fan Michael Jackson.  Whilst we were unable to get up close to see it in its full glory – due to the gates being closed – it was from what I could see, bad.

Michael Jackson statue at Craven Cottage

Lots of Swansea fans I spoke to on Saturday raised the notion that there should be a statue of Bonnie Tyler outside the West Stand, but I’d imagine that would cause a lot of heartache and personally I’d like to see us hold out for another hero which would totally eclipse wee Bonnie.

Having done my pre-match ground recce it was time for a spot of lunch and despite the local constabulary advising us of taking the 15 minute walk back in the direction of the tube station at Putney Bridge, we opted to head up along Fulham Palace Road to see what we could find. Once again having duped London’s finest we felt a right pair of smooth criminals.

Shortly afterwards it was hey presto, as we found ‘The Magic Cafe’ – run by local boy Armand – an upmarket cafe serving all day breakfasts et al. Whilst the food and humungous cup of tea was good, the welcome from fellow customers in particular was far from pleasant. How rude we both thought, anyone would have thought only barbarians from Wales would act in such an ungentlemanly manner. You’ve got to love stereotypes…

After releasing our belt buckles a notch, it was time to head back to the cottage for a bit of pre-match action and discussion with the rest of the 2,300 strong Jack Army.

Upon entering the ground, it was a strange feeling to be mingling with the home fans or neutral fans as they are called in Fulham.  The idea behind the mixed stand is that ‘neutral’ football fans can turn up and watch premier league football purely for that reason – to watch the football and not necessarily to support either team.  I’m not sure what that says about Fulham’s football in the community scheme or their fan base!?!?

Hammersmith End at Craven Cottage

In fairness it seemed to work though – much to the bemusement of most of us, whom are used to some banter from “shared” stands at other grounds.  The views were excellent and the ground looks a lot bigger once inside than it does from outside.  The facilities were far more modern than the outside exterior of the ground would have you believe – even if the away stand had a seating arrangement which made you feel you were at the Motorpoint Arena!

Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage

As kick off approached I took some time out to have a good old chat with David Brayley – Sports Writer and Swansea EPL Index columnist about the day ahead and also caught up with Jeff Stelling’s young protégé Swanabi.  Incidentally, rumours of Stelling’s backroom staff looking to add her to the Sky Sports team appear to be gathering momentum in light of press reports over the weekend.

The news of ‘The Rock’ missing the game due to illness was a shock and a la Stoke, I feared for what losing such a presence would mean to the team and the back four in particular.  His absence was all the more disappointing personally for Ashley, as it would have been his 170th consecutive appearance for the Swans – which is some record.

Whilst I had no reservations about Garry Monk being the replacement – as IMO he had always been one of the Swan’s unsung defensive heroes – what did concern me was the lack of game time, especially in terms of his partnership with Caulker. Would communication and understanding be a problem? Only time would tell.

And so onto the game with Mark Halsey being the man in the mirror – oh I mean middle sorry…

  • The Swans started brightly and had an air of reassured confidence about them, helped no doubt by last weekend’s memorable victory.  In my opinion, the self-belief that the squad has increasingly showed as the season has progressed is one of the main reasons we’ve done so well;
  • Any fears I did have about Monks were quickly extinguished after a couple of key headers and interceptions – it was like he’d never been away.  Caulker was his usual imposing self, with Taylor and the ever improving Rangel also playing significant roles in an impressive rearguard display.  IMO the last 3-4 games have seen Rangel back to his very best;
  • Bar a couple of shots from Fulham’s main men Dempsey and Demble, the Michel Vorm wasn’t called into action a great deal and the back 4 were comfortable throughout the the game;

Spot the ball

  • Some 15 minutes into the game our midfield maestros – in particular Britton and Allen – really began take control of the game and dictated the pace and direction of play at will;
  • It came as no surprise when yet another good ball into the box from Routledge – duly pulled back by a Sinclair volley into the path of Siggi’s head – and it was 1 nil.  Simples, the Swans had a deserved lead;
  • With the Swans ahead at half time and news of Wales being in control against Les Bleus, my thoughts drifted to how this could turn out to be one of those great sporting weekends;

Guess who's ball watching?

  • The 2nd half saw the Swans continue where they had left off the first, controlling the play and as much as Fulham did huff and puff (unlike the first half) they weren’t given a sniff at goal.  The Swans were in complete control;
  • After some quality build up play, another Routledge pass found Siggi whom calmly slotted past Schwarzer to double the lead and was no more than the Swans deserved.  It was the Iceman’s 5th goal in 9 Premier League games. Priceless;
  • I don’t usually take much interest in the oppositions substitutions, but I couldn’t help but notice how irate Kerim Frei was getting waiting to come on for Fulham… due to Swansea’s 1 min 30 odd seconds of consecutive passing (which I think MoTD quoted as 38 passes)!

And that's three nil!

  • By the time Joe Allen broke away and calmly slotted home the Swans 3 goal, the 2,300 strong Jack Army to the right of the goal were already in celebratory mood (bouyed further by news of Wales’ victory) and had given the team some rousing, noisy support all afternoon – unlike the natives.  An all to familiar trend this season;
  • With the game fizzling out, Sinclair had a chance to make it 4 – but sadly choose to shoot high over the bar. It was a shame as he’d one of his better games of late and a goal would really help his confidence;
  • A late Dempsey drive was pushed onto the bar by Vorm and that was it – the Swans had managed to keep a well deserved clean sheet on the back of an impressive display from the entire team;
  • Much has been made of our midfield play this season but for me, today was another example of the huge contribution our back 5 have made – both individually and collectively.  12 clean sheets says it all really;

Despite seeing the final score in bright neon lights on the scoreboard above our heads, I still couldn’t quite believe or comprehend what I’d just witnessed.  The Swans were fully deserving of the 3 nil drubbing they’d dished out and truth be known it could so easily have been as much as 5 – especially if Scotty had chosen to slot rather than convert his chance.

The scoreline certainly wasn’t what I’d envisaged before the game and the Swans still continue to amaze me (and everyone else?) week after week.  What next, a victory at White Heart Lane or Old Trafford?

Given our pre-match walkabout experience, we opted to take the sensible approach to the journey home and catch the nearest tube destined for Paddington!  That meant a pleasant, happy, sing-a-long walk through Bishop’s Park back to Putney Bridge along with hundreds of other Jacks, disgruntled but muted Fulham fans and a couple of police horses.

Before we could say “bottling it since 1927” we were back in Paddington and were embarking on our journey home with plenty of Jacks and Ambers to keep us company – or rather entertained as was more the case.  It was good to have a decent conversation with other Welsh football fans whom like ourselves had enjoyed a successful day on the road.

The majority of the journey seemed to be taken up by the inebriated elements of the Jack Army serenading their Newport County counterparts about their upcoming trip to Wembley, a mutual dislike for all things Cardiff and doing the conga up/down the carriages – much to the amusement of the British Transport Police that were in tow (not literally).

Incidentally if the 14 year old looking girl with teeth braces whom got off the train (with her parents) in Bristol really wishes to know “Where is Swansea?”, then perhaps she really does need to brush up on her geography.  Never has the wonderful “I can’t read and I can’t write but I can drive a tractor” song usually reserved for Bristol City fans been more appropriate!

This was surely just the warm up act for the arrival at Cardiff and the Grand Slam Glitter Girlies whom were bound to board the train destined for west Wales.  Sure enough as we pulled up in Cardiff central we were met by hoardes of Stella ‘esque hotties all the worse for 15 pints of bow and a superb Welsh Grand Slam win.  There were some real cocking beauts I can tell you!

No more than 10 minutes after departing the station they were all pretty much flat out – some were even spreadeagled across the tables – fast asleep, snoring and destined to miss their stop – FACT.

Upon arriving at Swansea’s stunning refurbished station at 11pm, I reflected on yet another wonderful away day watching my beloved Swans and what lessons I’d learned from the day.

Well, I learnt that (a) you should never trust Tourism Jack when it comes to directions and (b) that above all one should ALWAYS expect the unexpected from the boys in Black or White!

Swansea City, I just can’t stop loving you