My flight to London held the entire marching band of a Texas high school. Each kid was wearing a t-shirt that listed on the back the places they would play (the St. Patrick’s Day parade, Westminster Abbey) and a long list of the places they would tour (Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower of London, etc.) I had a close-up look at the list as one of the drum line was sitting next to me. He was curled up in his seat in a small ball with the list facing me. It had been such a crazy week that I slept some on the plane. When I woke up, there was that shirt in my eye. Looked like a great trip, and I was a bit jealous. Then I realized that I, too, was going to London.
The line at the Border in Heathrow was massive, and it took me a long time to get through. I was in the line of the most thorough Border guard I’ve yet encountered. “Are you meeting someone here?” She asked, suspicious of my traveling alone. When I told her I was meeting my husband, who had arrived yesterday, she asked, “Why didn’t you travel together?” Hmmmm…..To pull out the flowchart or not, I asked myself. I chose a simpler explanation. She seemed not completely satisfied, but told me to have a good visit.
On the Tube, at one of the early stops after Heathrow, three men and two boys got on. The boys were very well behaved, but the men were something else again. They exchanged good-natured but rude banter with each other for many, many stops. They were supporters of some Championship football club, but I couldn’t tell which one. They spoke of needing the three points today, and one of them said if they didn’t get the three points, the other two should not call him for a month because he would not speak to anyone for 30 days. They got off in search of breakfast not too long before I exited at the Gloucester stop to find our hotel, the Ashburn.
The Gloucester stop is located in the Kensington and Chelsea area, not far from Hyde Park and Kensington Palace. The station is very pretty, and the neighborhood is full of stately old, well-kept Georgian buildings.
I found the hotel with little trouble. It is on Cromwell Road, a relatively major thoroughfare adjacent to the station. The receptionist had a key ready for me, and I went up to our room, where my husband was napping. My first impression of the hotel wasn’t favorable, “It’s a bit of a dump,” I stated.
Over time, it has been growing on me. What I noticed to the bad is that there is stained carpet throughout. And the furniture is very distinctive and ornate, not really my style. But, to the good, the room is relatively large, it has a real bathroom with plenty of space and a tub, the only one I’ve seen in the hotels we’ve stayed in. And it has a large walk-in closet, so you can get things out of the way, plenty of hangers to hang up things. If you were staying in London for quite a while, you’d really appreciate all that space. The hotel offers continental breakfast, with pretty much anything I would usually choose to eat for breakfast.
I got in so late, I didn’t want to waste much time napping. My husband had had time to walk around the neighborhood and saw a few things that seemed interesting. The Museum of Science had a popular exhibit about Russian cosmonauts, and the Natural History Museum was nearby. He had also seen that Fulham was playing Bristol City in the afternoon. It dawned on me that the men on the train must be going to that match. I’ve been told many times that attending a Championship match can be a lot more fun than the Premier League, because the stadiums are more intimate and the fans are so much more spirited. My son and I had planned to attend the Reading match when we were here in December, but we ended up spending too much time on the Emirates tour to get over there. Fulham was relegated from the Premier League a couple of years ago, but I always enjoyed the name of their stadium, Craven Cottage. On television, it always looked, more than any other stadium, plunked in the middle of a neighborhood. You could see the buildings in the background. And it was the team that U.S. national team player Clint Dempsey played on for most of the years he was in the Premier League and where Tim Ream plays now. Fulham and Bristol City were both close to the Championship relegation zone, so it was a match that meant a lot to both teams. We decided to go there.
When we got off the Tube at Putney Bridge station, I was surprised at how beautiful the neighborhood was. I had not pictured it that way at all. You walk from the station through Bishops Park, a long narrow stretch that has two walkways, including one next to the Thames. We took that one. It was so peaceful, with birds singing and spring flowers blooming. There weren’t tons of people walking along the path toward Craven Cottage, but a fairly steady stream. They were mellow, more mellow than you see around the Emirates.
We found the ticket office and bought tickets, then went out seeking lunch before the match. The ticket office had suggested The Crabtree, up the road from the stadium. The Crabtree turned out to be like Tollington Arms in the sense that it is the a pub frequented by the nearest club’s fans, and no others are permitted in on match day. Naturally, we weren’t wearing any Fulham gear, so the bouncer at the door looked us over quite carefully before letting us in. In contrast with Tollington Arms, though, in which all character is apparently imparted by the characters inside the pub and jammed into the yard, The Crabtree was lovely. It was a sunny day and the patio was open. It was beautiful and civilized and had some highly civilized patrons gathering in civilized fashion. We were seated in the restaurant area at a beautiful table with daffodils on it. We ordered Camden Hells lager (yummy). For lunch, my husband ordered Charred and Roasted Fennel, which also had roasted parsnip and carrot, and something called “curried bean bon bon.” Curried bean bon bon turns out to be something like falafel, but with beans instead of chick peas. I had French-trimmed pork loin. Both dishes were beautiful and delicious.
On the way back to the stadium, we kept remarking over how empty the streets were and how silent. My husband said it was like “football on tranquilizers.” We got into the circle around the stadium (no invasive security searches at Craven Cottage!) and as we rounded the corner, we heard absolutely fervent singing and chanting. There were the fans! We must have been wrong about Fulham.
Then we turned another corner. No longer could we hear the fans chanting, for what was drowning it out, easily, was Frank Sinatra singing over the loud speaker “You’re just too good to be true.”
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you
You’d be like heaven to touch
I want to hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off of you
We found the door we needed to enter, just as the kick off was happening inside. Two young guys were hanging out, one of them doing a lounge act while singing along with Frank. He looked at me and opened his arms and sang, “I LOVE YOU, BABY!” as I ran up the steps. These Brits make an old lady feel young. But, have to say, that doesn’t seem the right kind of music to inspire a physical competition.
By the time we found our seats, Fulham had already scored. Looked like a good day for Fulham.
Although Fulham scored quickly, it quickly became apparent that the fans we had heard outside were NOT the Fulham fans. They were the Bristol City fans. They were singing their hearts out at that one end of the stadium, not so far from where we were. They kept it up the entire match, even with their team down nearly the whole match. The Fulham fans were so quiet, the Bristol City fans started chanting “Is this a library?” Later, they were more pointed: “Your support is shit!” they proclaimed to the Fulham fans.
They were so loud and so supportive, you kind of hoped Bristol City would get a goal. It was a long time coming, but Bristol City managed to get one goal to tie the game. And, then, in the 89th minute, they got another. The Bristol City fans went nuts and started singing “WE are staying UP! WE are staying UP!”
We left the stadium amidst Bristol City cheers. The Thames was lovely and peaceful. Birds were singing in the place of Frank Sinatra. The barbiturate of Fulham.
We got on the Tube and headed back to the Ashburn and had a nice dinner at Wildwood on Gloucester Road.