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Fulham will bring terraces back to the Premiership

last updated Tuesday 17th October 2000, 7:56 PM
STANDING on terraces will return to the FA Carling Premiership, 12 years after the Hillsborough disaster, if Fulham are promoted this season. The controversy over standing at football matches is set to be revived as the southwest London club, bankrolled by Mohamed Al Fayed, its chairman, heads towards the Premiership after winning its first ten league matches of the season to lead the Nationwide League first division.

The Cottage from the Hammersmith End
Terracing at The Cottage
The last Premiership clubs to be allowed standing areas were Sunderland, at Roker Park, and Bolton Wanderers, at Burnden Park, in 1996-97. Both were given special dispensation while their new stadiums were completed.

Now Fulham, desperately seeking to redevelop their ground, will become an anachronism, at least for next season, if they succeed in reaching the Premiership.

Craven Cottage has a capacity of 19,250 with only 9,000 seats. If clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United visit Fulham, many supporters will be forced to stand, as they did before the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, when 95 people were crushed to death before the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.

The Football Licensing Authority (FLA), set up after the Taylor report in 1990 that recommended all-seat stadiums in the top two divisions, does allow a dispensation for at least three seasons after a club has reached the first division of the Football League. What has made Fulham so unusual is that they have no advanced plans to move or redevelop their ground.

Max Clifford, the club spokesman, said: “The safety and comfort of the spectators are our paramount consideration, whether they are seated or standing. We want an all-seater stadium here and no one is doing more than us to bring it about. We would rather be at Craven Cottage than anywhere else.”

However, a decision on planning permission is only expected in December and is likely to be followed by a public inquiry. It could be a year before any result is known. Even if there were no delays, which is highly unlikely, the earliest that the new 30,000-seat stadium could be ready would be for the 2004-2005 season.

The scheme has aroused immense controversy in the area, with the Fulham Alliance, representing many residents, opposed to the club and its supporters, who are led by an organisation called Fulham United. A previous plan for a 25,000-seat stadium received planning permission in 1996, but this was overturned by the Department of the Environment.

A spokesman for Hammersmith and Fulham Council said: “We have had a lot of letters both pro and con the scheme. We have also received a 1,000-page document detailing the environmental impact of any new stadium. The council’s wish is that all three professional clubs, Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers and Fulham, should remain in the borough.”

However, Clifford confirmed that Fulham are looking elsewhere, possibly for a temporary home, as the new stadium is built at Craven Cottage. “Reading, QPR, Chelsea and Crystal Palace have all been looked at,” he said. “None is the perfect scenario. We would like to build at Craven Cottage and are prepared to consult with people in the area.”

There are huge problems in moving. Stamford Bridge can only be used for Chelsea’s home matches and a maximum of six other sporting events a year, Loftus Road is shared by QPR and London Wasps rugby union team, the Madejski Stadium is jointly used by Reading and London Irish, the rugby union club, who are in the process of renegotiating a longer lease, and Selhurst Park hosts games for Crystal Palace and Wimbledon. It would be almost impossible to get planning permission to build a stadium at Motspur Park, where Fulham have their training headquarters.

John De Quidt, of the FLA, said that it was conceivable that Fulham could put seats on their terraces, as was done at Wembley. It might also be possible for Fulham to apply to allow standing at Craven Cottage for additional seasons after 2001-2002 if there were satisfactory plans for redevelopment either at Craven Cottage or elsewhere.

Al Fayed’s enterprise has allowed not only the club to develop, but also the supporter base, with 15,247 watching the game against Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.

Two weeks ago, Fulham made an offer to their supporters. If they bought season tickets for this season by the end of this month, the prices would remain at the same level for next season, whatever division the club is playing in. Fulham already have 7,000 season ticket-holders and this latest offer has had a “magnificent response”, according to a club spokesman.

Source The Times by John Goodbody
Since 1998
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