Walking through the idyllic Bishop’s Park on the banks of the River Thames from Putney Bridge Underground station to Craven Cottage yesterday afternoon inspired a not entirely unexpected realisation. As the amber Autumn leaves rustled underfoot and young children played ball games in the brisk November chill against the backdrop of houses with an average selling price of £746,709 and terraced properties valued at £1,659,934 I thought to myself how different this was to walking through the Gallowgate as I do any other Saturday to reach my footballing paradise. There was no-one stumbling from darkened doorways in search of cigarette butts; no slurred requests for change.
Large groups of away supporters mingled amongst the Fulham fans in a sombre procession to the ground without a police officer sporting a body camera from the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act 2012 collection in sight. I tried to imagine swarms of Hearts fans walking up London Road alongside 50,000 Celtic fans without so much as a “fuck the Pope” being uttered and it seemed very unlikely. This was like a different planet. Perhaps it was.
Craven Cottage is quite unremarkable from afar. It is, quite literally, a cottage nestled in the middle of a sleepy residential area – unlike Celtic Park, which dominates the skyline of Glasgow’s east end. Upon squeezing through the impossibly small turnstyle and entering the ground there is immediately another indication of the different planet of football you are now on as you encounter a series of carts offering cold beer. Guinness and San Miguel on tap before you even enter the stadium. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.
There’s nothing particularly remarkable about enjoying a pint of San Miguel. But when the choices inside a Scottish football ground are Bovril or something vaguely resembling hot chocolate then a cold pint of San Miguel is like an attractive blonde woman at a Donald Trump rally: it is bound to be grabbed.
Of course, the addition of a beer to the standard half-time fare of a pie was all the more welcome and made the ten minutes spent in line that bit more rewarding than at Celtic Park – especially when there was an actual pie at the end of the line. To enjoy this with a riverside view as opposed to the bi-weekly struggle to find a spot around the monitors to glance at the half-time scores whilst fishing through hundreds of tomato ketchup sachets to find a lone brown sauce was a real treat.
It is reasonable to suggest that going to the football at Fulham was a gentrified affair. The atmosphere in the home stands was largely generated by those abominable clapper contraptions that seem the craze in modern football, unlike the boisterous support offered up by the travelling Sheffield Wednesday fans. There was an ocassional cry of “come on whites, movement! Movement!” from the gnome-like gentleman in the row in front of me, but none of the scathing abuse that greets any misplaced pass in Glasgow. Even the referee, whose decisions certainly seemed to favour the away side, was spared accusations of being an orange bastard or questions pertaining to his masonic tendencies and merely faced the suggestion from a woman behind me that he might have travelled south on the Sheffield Wednesday coach. I’m not sure whether it was an accusation of bias or of austerity, both of which are likely to be looked down on around leafy Richmond.
A late Fulham equaliser meant that both sets of fans left the Cottage into the early evening darkness in good spirits, though with the eerie quietness that is more speculation than it is a statement.