Fulham are likely heading back to the Premier League, but some of their supporters are unhappy at what they may be charged once they’re there.
Fulham will be returning to the Premier League again come the end of this season. They’re 14 points above third-placed Luton Town having played a game less, and at this juncture, only an unprecedented collective case of the yips could possible derail another return to the top flight after a season away. But none of this means that Craven Cottage is a particularly happy place to be, and the chief driver behind any supporter unhappiness is what they may be expected to pay to watch Premier League football next season.
Supporters of the club have a special relationship with Craven Cottage. Its location on the banks of the River Thames means that it has long been prone to the interest of property developers, from the 1987 proposal to merge the club with Queens Park Rangers to play at Loftus Road under the name of Fulham Park Rangers to their extended stay at Loftus Road between 2002 and 2004 because no work had been carried out on the ground to bring it up to Premier League standards, which led to a boycott of ‘home matches’ by some supporters.
The protest group from that era, Back To The Cottage, later morphed into the Fulham Supporters Trust, and 18 years on from the club’s return to Craven Cottage, the Trust has had to speak out on the subject of the ticket prices to sit in the club’s new Riverside Stand, which is due to reopen for the start of next season. Work on the new stand started in the summer of 2019, but the pandemic slowed completion of the project, with the capacity of Craven Cottage cut to just over 19,000 while the work was completed.
Fulham intend to have the lower tier of the stand open for the start of next season, but the prices they will be charging for a season ticket there are eye-watering; £1,000 for adults and £500 for under-18s, with no further concessions. When the club was previously promoted to the Premier League in 2018 (no fans were admitted into the Cottage upon their next promotion in 2020), season ticket renewals cost from £299 to £839. The club had charged over £1,000 for a season ticket before, but this was only for people buying them for the first time.
The club states that these prices will be charged for one season only because there will only be 2,000 tickets available, although this does raise the supplementary question of why it has taken four years to get this one stand (not quite completely) built. There is no doubt that the new Riverside Stand will be a spectacular complement to the rest of Craven Cottage and with the stand opposite, The Johnny Haynes Stand, being a Grade II Listed Building, it was the only part of the ground that could really be developed. It’s understandable that the pandemic will have delayed construction, and the location of the new stand – the clue’s in the name – made access to the site difficult, but there is also an extent to which dithering over what to do with the inside of the stand has caused a delay.
And those price increases are nosebleed-inducing. Even from the more expensive seats previously charged at £839 per season, season tickets at £1,000 are a 19% increase. For those who may have been paying £299 before, it represents a 334% increase. Furthermore, these ticket prices are the only ones that the club has made public. Many supporters had to relocate in 2019 in order to accommodate the rebuild, and these same supporters are being asked to pay these numbers to sit in the Riverside Stand next season.
But season ticket prices for the rest of the ground – including the seats that they were relocated to – have not been made available yet, so how on earth are they supposed to calculate whether paying this very large amount of money – more than £50 per match – is even worthwhile? The reaction of the Fulham Supporters Trust has been withering, with a comprehensive article on their website detailing the reasons why this such a mis-step on the part of the club. The Trust, it turned out, hadn’t even been consulted.
They conclude by saying to supporters, ‘Our advice for displaced supporters is that you don’t have to make any decisions this year’ and that ‘If you choose to stay in the Putney End and have maintained a season ticket since 2018/19 then your priority to return to the fully open new stand will be maintained and there will be a much wider choice at that time.’ And this is a point that is well worth hammering home. This whole matter is a ‘one season exercise’, and the seats will be available at the end of next season as well. What, exactly, would Fulham supporters be getting for their four-figure sum? After all, according to the Trust, ‘the stand is still a building site and it is not possible for in-person visits to take place during this renewal period’.
Considering that it’s taken three years to get this far and that the top half of the stand won’t be completed by the end of the summer, what exactly will they be getting for this very large amount of money? Because it looks from outside as if fans could end up paying through the nose to sit in a half-completed building site for a season, for the price of the best seats in the house. And it’s hardly as though they’re guaranteed anything like a winning team in the Premier League; Fulham only won 12 of the 76 Premier League matches that they played in their previous two (relegation) seasons in the top flight.
Towards the end of the lockdowns, football clubs made a great play of how fans would be welcomed back afterwards. Many made videos about ‘coming home’ or how much the fans had been missed. Fulham made one themselves. But with season ticket prices that high, we should recall that these marketing gimmicks mark the other side of the relationship between a club and the supporter to the credit card-draining service they offer every summer.