Fulham’s Dave Beasant is looking forward to kicking off next season at Craven Cottage after local council officials approved the Londoners’ £5m scheme to bring their outdated ground up to Premiership standards.
Builders will now move into Craven Cottage and bolt seats onto terraces, add roofing and install new floodlights, giving Fulham’s traditional home an all-seater capacity of 22,000 by August 2004.
The Cottagers will end their two-season exile at QPR’s Loftus Road and return to the ground where they first played in 1896, but abandoned in July 2002.
And Beasant, the club’s player/goalkeeping coach, revealed last night: “As far as the players are concerned we are delighted to go back there – it’s been a priority for the club to get back to Craven Cottage.”
However, Fulham’s long-term plan is to search for a site for a new stadium – the club have only applied for a three-year term back at the Cottage and chairman Mohamed Al Fayed is continuing his pursuit of land at nearby White City.
Al Fayed is funding the revamp of Craven Cottage after axing a far more grandiose £100m (€142m) plan for a 30,000 state-of-the-art stadium because of its wildly escalating cost.
Dozens of residents living near Craven Cottage objected to the club’s scheme for the ground and the Fulham Alliance campaign group branded one of the stands an “industrial shed.”
However, Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council planner Paul Entwistle explained: “It is considered the benefits offered to the area – and the preservation of the listed buildings on site – outweigh any likely adverse effects of the development.
“Officers consider the development accords with national, regional and local planning policies.”
Tom Greatrex, chairman of the Fulham Supporters Trust, reflected: “This is excellent news.
“Craven Cottage is where Fulham belong and all Fulham fans will be delighted to go home at the start of next season.
“The council have always been hugely supportive of Fulham Football Club and fans recognise and are grateful for that support.”
Meanwhile, Beasant is hoping the news enables Fulham to continue to surprise some of the Premiership’s bigger names.
He added on BBC Radio Five Live: “Everything’s picked up from the latter stages of last season.
“Chris Coleman is an up-and-coming young manager with a lot of talent who has the respect of everyone inside the football club.
“But we want our own home. Going home is better than being a lodger at someone else’s home – but then hopefully we can progress and get a site for a fantastic new stadium.”