Craven Cottage has the ideal setting, on the North bank of the River Thames at Putney, right in the heart of suburbia. You take the District Line Tube eight stops from Victoria to Putney Bridge and then a brisk 15 minute walk.The famous University Boat race between the coxed eights of Oxford and Cambridge row past here each spring in one of England's famous sporting events.
Fulham FC have had a rich and colourful history with famous players and owners. The current owner is Mohamed Al-Fayed, the controversial Egypian businessman who also owns Harrods store and whose son Dodi was killed alongside his girl friend Princess Diana in a tunnnel next to the River Seine in Paris back in 1997. He has pumped millions into the club and rebuilt all four sides of the stadium and even made Fulham FC Ladies the first ever full time professional English women's side 4 years ago but has now closed them down. A previous owner in the 1960's was comedian Tommy Trinder who sensationally gave his captain, and England's captain Johnny Haynes, the first ever £100 a week contract. Haynes played 18 years and 657 matches at the club from 1952 to 1970. He died in an auto accident in 2005. Now of course players at Chelsea, Manchester United and elswhere are getting one thousand times that amount per week.
Anyway the stadium has an actual Craven Cottage in one corner which looks like a 2 floor cricket pavilon. On my last visit 30 years ago I was entertained there after the match. The club have had such coaches as Kevin Keegan, Vic Buckingham, Jean Tigana, Bobby Robson and now have Lawrie Sanchez and have Americans Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra. Past players include George Best, Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore, George Cohen.
It makes good economic sense for the match that I went to, Australia vs Nigeria, to take place in London, since the majority of players of both squads are based in Europe. While Europe's finest countries were battling out to right to go to EURO 2008 in Switzerland/Austria next June, it was an ideal time for such a 'friendly' to take place. Nigeria have the African Nations Cup in Ghana in the New Year while Australia have the Asian Zone of FIFA World Cup 2010 to contest in February.(they moved from OCEANIA Confederation last year). If it was played in Sydney or Melbourne the 11 hour time difference would take its toll on players returning to their European clubs.. Harry Kewell, who played after many injuries only has a 2 hour train trip back up to Liverpool where he can go fill and fetch the water bottles for Peter Crouch, Steven Gerrard and co!!!
The Qantas Socceroos as they are now called have a temporary coach, Dutchman Rob Baan, and Dick Advocaat, who was expected to come on board full time has just turned down the opportunity. For The Super Eagles, former WC 1974 winner Bertie Vogts, West Germany and Borussia Monchengladback star is in charge, after less than distinguished positions as boss at Germany and Scotland. Players on both sides travelled from clubs in England, Spain, Germany, Greece, France, Israel, Switzerland, Netherlands, Turkey, Denmark., at the most 2 time zones away.
When I was at school our class was asked to write down an english word with a Q not followed a U, and I came up with QANTAS, the Australian airline. It was not allowed since it wasn't a real name. However (drums roll), I am about to let you all where the name came from. Wait for it ... Q.A.N.T.A.S, started as Queensland and Northern Territories Air Services. Now you know!!
Both goalkeepers, Middlesborough's Mark Schwarzer and Dele Aiyenuga of Bnei Yehuda of the Israeli League, were in fine form in what proved to be a very entertaining match, refereed by England's up and coming Premier League FIFA official Mark Clattenburg. David Carvey of Sheffield United scored the only goal of the game, after 52 minutes with a 30 yards rocket of a shot. I was impressed with captain Brett Emerton and with the hard work and zeal of Nick Carle. Obafemi Martin of Newcastle United impressed for the Super Eagles. At Putney Bridge station I was inundated by people thrusting flyers into my hand from pubs, Aussie magazines, pre-game fan parties and even an Australian politician and his party. I did pass 3 pubs choked full with green and gold clad Socceroos fans, many coverd by giant national flags and some wearing the felt or leather 'stockmens' Waltzing Matilda floppy hats with corks hanging down from the brims, and there were some burgers on the barbie in one pub courtyard. In fact the majority of the 12,000 crowd supported Australia, since there is a huge population of both temporay and permanent antipodians in the neighbourhood in West London.
I was a guest in the Riverside Stand which has a number of suites and a promenade looking onto the river, ideal for outdoor entertaining in warm weather. It was chilly so I enjoyed the comforts of 'The Trophy Suite' with catering from the food hall at Harrods, including salmon sandwiches with the corners removed,and the best India tea. I mentioned to some new found friends who were Ulsterman but also supported Arsenal, that I had read that the Queen of England insists that her sandwiches have their corners cut off.They reminded me that the Queen probably had somebody to to the cutting for her at Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, Balmoral etc.