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  • Writer's pictureBy Kaz Mochlinski

Fulham fans’ ire is directed at board and they fully support manager and players

Craven Cottage   Picture: Kaz Mochlinski
Craven Cottage Picture: Kaz Mochlinski

By Kaz Mochlinski

It has not been a good year for Fulham. In the first month of 2024 they were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions, plus they failed to win or even score a single goal in the league. But far worse is the growing disconnect developing between the club and its fans.

Large empty spaces around Craven Cottage for a weekend FA Cup game against Newcastle United were impossible to ignore, and prompted talk of supporters having staged a boycott. It should be of much more concern to the club hierarchy that there was no organised protest but instead simply a lot of disillusion.

Not that the Fulham fanbase are turning against the team in any way. Despite a run of 5 matches without a win - and only just scraping past Rotherham United 1-0 in the FA Cup third round for their solitary victory in January - the players and manager Marco Silva retain near-unanimous backing.

There is understandable perplexity at how the new year could have started so badly after some wonderful wins in December, which included 5-0 defeats of Nottingham Forest and West Ham United, before culminating in a first success over Arsenal since 2012.

Less than 5 weeks later Fulham find themselves just 6 points above Luton Town at the wrong end of the Premier League table, and the Hatters have a game in hand. That is in addition to the Cottagers being eliminated from both the League Cup and the FA Cup in the space of four days in two home matches.

Nevertheless, Marco Silva only endeared himself some more to the core support with his comments backing the terraces against the boardroom after the contrasting cup contests with Liverpool in the League Cup semi-finals and Newcastle in the FA Cup fourth round.

“I’d like to see… of course an agreement” stated Silva last Saturday. “You don’t need the fans angry. We need the fans with us from the first moment until the last one, like they were on Wednesday [v Liverpool], when the stadium was bouncing. Tonight it was easier for Newcastle.”

The official attendance announced by the club for Newcastle’s visit was 18,960. That included a sold-out away section of 3,800 in the Putney End, but it was still well down on the 24,500 Craven Cottage capacity registered with the Premier League, and on the 24,320 crowd for the midweek match against Liverpool.

More contentiously, there was a significant number of free tickets given out by Fulham for the FA Cup tie to try to fill in the gaps as much as possible and make the attendance look more respectable. This damage-limitation exercise was then repeated for the Everton encounter which followed in the Premier League.

That was primarily carried out through the Fulham FC Foundation, helping to take the latest Craven Cottage crowd figure up to 24,376. But, according to a senior representative of the Fulham Supporters’ Trust (FST), they had never previously seen a home league “sell-out” with so many seats left unoccupied.

A third game in seven days at the Cottage, all with evening kick-offs, would be enough to test the commitment of many fans, especially in economically-challenging times. And officially the club expressed themselves to be satisfied with the numbers in the stands, according to a statement they put out.

However, it is failing to acknowledge the unhappiness of many Fulham supporters, who believe that their voices are being increasingly ignored. The principal issue is ticket cost, with the FST involved in a campaign against recent steep price rises, which has gained widespread backing.

#AffordableFulham was established, with a supporters march to the ground ahead of the Manchester United match in November and the raising of yellow cards in the stands during the game - in the 18th minute to signify their objection to paying an average 18% more for tickets.

In the new Riverside Stand, the prices have gone up to £160 for standard non-corporate / hospitality seats. Inevitably, many season ticket holders in the old Riverside Stand, who were temporarily displaced during the building works, have been unable to afford to return there now.

The costs for cup ties are always lower, but there was some surprise that Fulham put them up from £40 for Liverpool to £45 for Newcastle (with a £2 discount for restricted view seats). Even with one being on a weekday in the League Cup and the other at a weekend in the FA Cup, it was still obviously opportunistic.

This feeling was reinforced by Sheffield United dropping ticket prices to £10 for their FA Cup match with Brighton & Hove Albion to ensure Bramall Lane was full and the side got as much backing as possible. Plus that game had a much more convenient and popular 3 o’clock kick-off.

On the same day, Fulham fans were being asked to turn up for an unconventional 7pm Saturday evening start time - following on from their previous home FA Cup tie having been switched to a Friday night. Such awkward alterations to the schedule are another huge cause for complaint at Craven Cottage.

That also feeds into ordinary people’s problems bringing kids to watch football. While high prices exclude most families from being able to afford going together, so do inconvenient match times. Fulham offered cheap cup tickets for juniors, but then the late kick-off prevented many youngsters from attending.

With the Premier League’s new television deal, the changes to kick-off times are only going to get worse. There will be even fewer 3pm games, and many supporters who decided against attending the Newcastle match are also now talking about not renewing their Fulham season tickets.

As the issue has grown, it has got the attention of not just Marco Silva but other clubs’ managers as well, with Newcastle United’s Eddie Howe signalling his awareness of what it means for fans, when his team’s visit to London followed on from the Chelsea v Aston Villa FA Cup tie on Friday evening.

“Both are strange. It does look like a lack of care for the supporters. When you consider the loyalty and passion Newcastle supporters show, you know there’s going to be a huge number that want to go to the game. We thank them for their support and sympathise about the travel arrangements.”

Clubs like Liverpool and Newcastle have particularly devoted followings, so the FST put forward proposals on ticket sales to seek to maximise the backing for Fulham at these big cup games. When they were not listened to, it increased the chances of away fans getting into home areas of Craven Cottage.

For the FA Cup, season ticket holders were not even given the opportunity to reserve their own usual seats. That added to the frustration about the club’s attitude to their fans, and it contributed to the absentees on the night. As well as opposition supporters, it also allowed in more football tourists.

Both cup ties had multiple late arrivals, with a large part of the first half each time disrupted by spectators struggling to get into the stadium and then to find their seats, especially at the Liverpool match. Inevitably, that is what occurs when there is more access for irregular / uncommitted ticket purchasers.

But Fulham and many other clubs’ owners love football tourists. They spend larger sums of money on merchandise in the club shop. And they are prepared to pay higher prices for one-off tickets. It is for them and corporate buyers that premium seating is now being marketed in the new Riverside Stand.

The atmosphere at Craven Cottage has not been helped by the Riverside remaining largely unoccupied for a second successive season. But even if the appearance of the venue improves when the giant stand is fully opened, it has to be questionable how much backing the home team will get from those seats.

The delays in getting an apparently completed structure into use have further dented Fulham fans’ impression of the club hierarchy. Licensing has been held up by the unresolved difficulties of getting in and out of a stand on the embankment of the River Thames.

A plan for guests to arrive by boat has been undermined by the club’s application to put a pier into the river being challenged by all the local water sports organisations, who pointed out that it would impede one of the country’s busiest rowing courses and events including the annual Boat Race from Putney to Mortlake.

The main option is for entry and exit through the adjoining Bishop’s Park, but that is unsurprisingly very unpopular with a large proportion of the local community who use the public park - and therefore several politicians who represent them. It is amazing that this was not fully thought through prior to construction.

And how much do Fulham need extra income anyway? To help fund the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, the owner’s other sporting commitment? According to the Premier League’s annual report, the club are a healthy tenth in the latest earnings table, above West Ham and even neighbours Chelsea.

Fulham’s most recent Premier League payment amounted to £138.1million. Their total revenue from last season of €209.8million put them in 26th place in the Deloitte Football Money League of clubs worldwide. So any further pursuit of additional income without reinvestment in the team is hard to justify.

When Fulham fans patiently articulate this, it is clear why they are worried about what is happening to their club, which until recently was highly-regarded and well-liked in general, even by many opposition supporters. And it is undeniable that a lot of Cottage regulars are re-evaluating their loyalty to the club.

The FST are seeking to bring together the various different groups with different agendas, to try to speak and act in greater unison, pro-boycotters and anti-protesters alike, to increase the power of their campaigning. So far they emphasise that there have been protests, but no organised boycott.

Maybe it was just January, and the end of the month will be greeted with relief down by the riverside. After 3 home games in a week without a win, and only one goal, scored against Liverpool by Issa Diop, a defender, with a deflection off his thigh, playing away next might be the best thing for the team along with its fans.


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