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What Could Thomas Heatherwick Mean For Craven Cottage?

Whilst it may have nothing to do with what’s happened on the pitch, the announcement last week that influential designer Thomas Heatherwick has been commissioned to work on the Riverside Stand, is a significant one for Fulham.

The existing planned Riverside Stand

The current planned Riverside Stand

Why is this significant?

Fulham’s Riverside Stand plans were hatched in the period before Shahid Khan bought the club. By appointing a design and architectural practice of the stature of Heatherwick Studios to enhance the plans is a statement of intent. If Khan is to spend money developing the Riverside Stand, it appears he’s going to make it stand out.

Who is Thomas Heatherwick?

Heatherwick himself is arguably been one of the most influential figures in London’s recent design history. His rise to household name came when he was commissioned to design the London 2012 Olympic cauldron, but he is also responsible for the new Routemaster bus as well as the somewhat controversial “Garden Bridge” which is to be built over the Thames. Heatherwick Studio is his London based architectural and design company that do everything from design household objects to large scale architectural projects.

Why Heatherwick?

Khan has an existing relationship with global stadium architectural mega-firm Populous . That he has chosen Heatherwick for the Riverside Stand project at Craven Cottage suggests this isn’t simply a matter of stadium principal architecture. Heatherwick is a designer and his and Heatherwick Studio’s role will probably be a hybrid one, taking the existing plans and enhancing the design into something of higher creative value.

Do Heatherwick Studio have experience of Stadia?

No, but everyone has to start somewhere. As I’ve already said, this is unlikely to be a full scale architectural project. Planning permission is already in place and the club has applied to commence preliminary works this summer.

Olympic cauldron

What can we expect?

My guess is that this project will likely focus on the exterior of the stand in some capacity. Looking at Heatherwick Studio’s previous work and considering Craven Cottage’s unique Thames side location and I would imagine this project will see the exterior design and cladding of the new Riverside Stand evolve into something designed with a link to the natural environment in mind. For inspiration, a link to Heatherwick Studios current large scale projects can be found here.

Why does architecture and design matter here?

Architecture and design are subjective; one person’s gem is another’s carbuncle. However, buildings that are architecturally significant [be they gem or carbuncle] have immeasurably higher profiles than those buildings that sit in architectural anonymity. With a higher profile comes more opportunity. Part of any plan to develop the Riverside Stand is making it a 7 day a week, 365 days a year income generator. The gravitas attached to Thomas Heatherwick’s name and the potential for a statement piece of architecture or design means that the new stand may become anything from a high end events venue to tourist attraction. A few pounds spent now on improving and signifying the design of the stand may make the project more financially viable in the long term. With Archibald Leach on one side and Thomas Heatherwick on the other, Craven Cottage will be arguably the most architecturally significant stadium in the country.

Does Shahid Khan have a track record of doing things like this?

Yes. EverBankField, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is partway through a series of large scale alterations and developments across a range of functions all designed to increase revenue streams. These include those to improve the fan experience, such as building one of the largest video screens in the world at an estimated cost of $50m and developing the first swimming pool from which you can watch a live NFL game, major improvements to corporate facilities and a masterplan to develop an amphitheatre concert venue adjacent to the stadium. What the Jaguars and Fulham have in common is a lack of an overwhelming fan base, and Khan appears to believe in using the stadium itself as a way of getting people through the turnstiles.

What does this do for the development timetable of the Riverside Stand?

This is the ‘Million Pound Question’ and it’s hard to say as we really have no idea the extent of Heatherwick Studios involvement. Amending the design in any capacity is hardly going to speed up the process, so the question becomes one of how long will the project be delayed?

The first thing Fulham must do is commence the implementation works for the existing planning application. “Implementing” is the act of materially commencing the development stated in the actual planning permission. As soon as enough work has been done for the local authority to consider a development to have begun, and thus implemented, the planning permission can no longer expire.

If Fulham do not commence implementation works before the date 3 years after planning permission was granted, the permission would expire and the application process would have to start from scratch.

Will Fulham need to get a new planning permission?

Once a scheme is implemented, it is possible to amend the design of a development to a degree. There are two forms of amendment that Fulham could choose: a Non-Material amendment or a Minor Material amendment.

A Non-Material amendment is one that is “wholly acceptable, uncontroversial and of very little impact” and can include changes to the design of a building. These are essentially formalities to get approved via a simple form being submitted to the local authority. The timetable for a decision by the council is 28 days.

A Minor Material amendment is more significant than a Non-Material amendment but not significant enough that the description of the development changes as a result. A Minor Material amendment is treated as a new planning permission though and as such has a lengthier due diligence process.

If there are no ulterior motives from Shahid Khan (such as deliberately delaying the development) Fulham will likely hope to take the route of a Non-Material Amendment. However, given ambiguous nature of Fulham’s announcement of Heatherwick Studios involvement, anything is possible and a complete redesign and planning application can’t be ruled out.

Under either planning amendment route, the design of the Riverside Stand can be amended but the specific details such as the height, capacity and footprint must stay the same or close to the same or the matter will become far more complicated. In particular, the club will not want to alter anything which would fall under the Port of London Authority’s jurisdiction for river works given it has taken nearly 3 years to get the licences in place for the current planning permission.

So what are the key dates?

Fulham have been working towards performing implementation works this summer. That is unlikely to change as these need to be done to prevent the existing planning permission falling away.

The club’s previously stated timetable – to commence the full redevelopment in May 2017 – could still happen, although this may now be delayed depending on the scale of any design changes.

For now, fans will have to take the club at their word, both on intentions and timing. The lack of any clear detail in the club’s Heatherwick announcement does means that all we can do is speculate.

The Fulham Supporters Trust will be meeting with the club’s CEO Alistair Mackintosh on Tuesday 10th May, and subject to any further announcements in the interim, this should give fans the first opportunity to understand more. You can join the Fulham Supporters Trust here to receive minutes of the upcoming meeting with the club.

Voting with your feet: What falling attendances at Craven Cottage means for Fulham

With disenchantment and disillusion engulfing Fulham at present, Saturday’s match with Blackburn presents the most palpable opportunity to bear witness the discontent amongst the fan base. It has been three weeks since our last home match, and Saturday’s attendance at Craven Cottage will tell its own story as to whether fans are now voting with their feet when it comes to showing their discontent.

Whilst angry rhetoric and volleys of verbal bombardment can cause quite the uproar, empty seats provide nothing for the club. No atmosphere, no support and more importantly, no money.

Relegation to The Championship has already hit us hard attendance wise. From three home games so far this season, we are averaging a crowd of 18,374. When you consider 24,447 turned up to watch an already relegated Fulham draw with Crystal Palace back in May, that is a drop of over 6,000. Indeed the Crystal Palace match was our lowest league attendance of 2014 at the time, with 25,700 turning up to watch the penultimate game against Hull when we still had a remote shot at staying up.

Compare the Hull fixture in April (25,700) to the Cardiff game three weeks ago (17,508), and that is a drop off in attendance of 8,192 people. At a hypothetical average ticket price of £30 a head, that is a staggering £245,760 fall in match-day revenue from ticket sales alone. By the time you factor in merchandise and food and beverage spend, that’s close to £300,000 per game.

With 20 league games to go, that could mean a whopping £6,000,000 in reduced match-day income from last season to this.

In an environment as we are now, where money does not grow on trees, this revenue is of vital importance. What can be done to recover lost bums on seats? It is the Six Million Pound question for Fulham this season and there is no one answer.

Sat bottom of the Championship, the most obvious way to get fans back would be to start winning. Easier said than done however, and with the predicament the club finds itself in getting worse by the match, there must be an over-riding fear that attendances have not yet reached their lowest ebb. The upcoming league cup tie with Doncaster looms on the horizon like the grim reaper looking to collect his debts. With season ticket holders already gifted their ticket to the tie as part of the season ticket renewal package, this fixture was always intended as something of a loss-leader. Unless there is a dramatic shift in the next week, financially, this game is likely to now just be a loss.

10,139 (of which I was unfortunately 1) saw us disgracefully bow out of last season’s FA Cup to Sheffield United in February. It will be interesting to see if this number is bettered next Tuesday. When you take into account the free tickets it certainly should be, a failure to do so would be damning in its verdict.

It may not get that far though. Football fans ever want to view the grass as greener. Were a change in the offing, it would take little to shift the paradigm to optimism. Whether that would be enough to get the undecided back to Cottage would remain to be seen.

BPI_JG_Fulham_Cardiff_JG2_6172

Indeed it is those undecided punters that hold the key here. Us season ticket holders are a sunk cost. We’ve already paid up for the year and our emotional investment runs even deeper. We’ll travel come rain or shine, both physical and metaphorical, to see our Fulham at Craven Cottage. Whilst this may not feel much like the Fulham we all know and love right now, we’ll still be there…well, maybe not for Doncaster, that remains to be seen.

Perhaps there was an over-reliance and under-appreciation of the proportion of “tourists” at the Cottage. I’m not referring to overseas Fulham fans, but rather neutrals and those to whom the attraction was the Premier League and Fulham was simply the most accessible vehicle with which to gain entry. Our club’s core values espouse this accessibility. It may be a bit cheesy, but we are the Fulham Family. Being a family club is always something I have viewed with great pride about Fulham. Our ground, our supporters and our football all championed a higher virtue that made it easy for others to take to.

With supporters getting increasingly antsy and the football increasingly worse, Craven Cottage, as charming as it is, will not be enough to get people through the turnstiles.

The answer unlikely lies with ticket prices, though as shown above they do illustrate the extent of the problem. Indeed, if we actually consider that average Premier League ticket prices were probably closer to £40, the drop in ticket and match day income this season could be as much as £8 million, or 72% of Ross McCormack.

With away supporters contributing up to 3,000 to the attendance (probably more in Millwall’s case), and there being in the region of 10,000 season tickets (I’m not aware of the actual number so this is merely a hypothetical guesstimate), that leaves about 13,000 potential seats to fill with the so called “undecideds”. At the Cardiff game, there were probably less than 5,000 Fulham fans who were not season ticket holders. At an average of £30 a ticket they will have generated about £150,000 of ticket revenue. If the stadium was sold to capacity, Fulham fans would generate an additional £240,000 in ticket sales per game on top of that £150,000.

At what price though, would tickets have to be lowered to get fans back through the gates on money alone? £20, £10? There must be a large proportion to whom money is not the issue as to why they are not coming.

To recover the same amount of income, £150,000, at £15 a ticket, the club would need an additional 5,000 fans to turn up. Would a ticket discount be enough to get them back and double the pay per game attendance? I’m not sure. At £10 a ticket, it would not be possible for the club to even get to the £150,000 mark, with a capacity crowd only reaching a maximum single game ticketing revenue of £130,000.

However, we could now return to the concept of a loss leader. Instead of at a relatively meaningless League Cup game, were the club to discount tickets to such an extent that people did actually turn up for a League game, perhaps the atmosphere would be such that the team might actually win? If they did, then some of those undecideds might come back at full price. Unfortunately though, even once you’ve got people through the door, the product must be good enough to get them back, and that simply isn’t the case at present.

This point is thrown into stark light when you compare us to fellow relegated sides Norwich and Cardiff. Norwich currently sit top of the table and have averaged 97% capacity so far this season. Cardiff, who like Fulham are languishing towards the bottom of the table (albeit still 7 points better off), are averaging 75% capacity when you compare it to their final Premiership home game against Chelsea. Performance at this level really does impact on getting fans through the turnstiles. With success breeding full houses and, in turn, full houses often breeding success, Norwich are currently sitting pretty, while Cardiff and Fulham both face uncertain immediate futures.

So what can be done?

Well, not a lot from the commercial standpoint. You have to feel for those held responsible for selling the tickets, their job has been made increasingly difficult of late. Whilst communication counts for a lot, without a sustained upturn in performances and results, no amount of giveaways or price reductions will make a substantial impact when it comes to attendances. The rolling out of a “letter from Emerson Hyndman” this week was the latest in a series of ticket selling initiatives, and while putting the young players front and centre is certainly the most optimistic way to communicate, with all the chopping and changing on the field, 18 year old Hyndman has almost become the only viable marketing tool at the club’s disposal.

If reports in today’s Mirror and The Times as well as in tonight’s Evening Standard are to be believed, a change may very soon be in the offing. As bizarre as a leaked story about a one game stay of execution away at one of the best teams in the division is, it is emblematic of where we are today. Whilst better attendances are important, keeping the crowd that are there onside should not be ignored. As the aforementioned article today’s Standard also mentions, there is a groundswell of support for Kit Symons to play an increased role at the club.

Any new manager would need to be an appointment to unite the supporters. Whilst there would be palpable relief in the aftermath of any change, the next appointment is of paramount importance. After several years of wayward wandering, it might be time for the appointment of a member of the Fulham Family to the top job. The fans need something to cling on to, and a Kit Symons and Danny Murphy dream is perhaps all we currently have left.

COYW

A Message to Fulham Fans

This coming Tuesday, a delegation from the Fulham Supporters Trust is meeting with Fulham Football Club at Motspur Park, the team’s training ground. The purpose of the meeting is to foster the links between the club and the supporters, as represented by the supporters trust, and to highlight any issues fans have that are connected to this great club of ours.

The meeting is a serious opportunity to have issues that matter to you raised with the club at a senior level, with the club’s Chief Executive Officer and Communications Director both expected to be in attendance.

The Fulham Supporters Trust would like to canvass fans, through mediums such as Hammyend.com, so that all issues, no matter how big or small, can be brought forward for discussion with the club.

We have seen, through the trust’s original work with the Back to the Cottage campaign and, more recently, by publicly and privately supporting the planning application for the proposed Riverside Stand redevelopment, that a constructive relationship between a club and its fans is highly beneficial to both sides. You only have to look at the debacle up at Everton with their redesigned crest to appreciate the value of this relationship.

Aside from on-pitch affairs, to which every fan is want to have an opinion, what matters to you, the Fulham fan?

Would you like more clarity on the Riverside Stand start date? Would you like Fulham to explain the club’s stance on football governance issues such as Financial Fair Play or Safe Standing? How about a cheaper matchday programme or a different selection of pies?

Please let the Fulham Supporters Trust know what you would like to change at Fulham, or indeed what you wouldn’t like to change and what the club does well.

You need not be a member, just a fan, with an opportunity to have a voice. Either comment at the bottom of this article, comment on our facebook page or tweet us.

Alternatively, please feel free to get in touch with the Fulham Supporters Trust directly before Tuesday, again, via facebook or twitter.

(Un)obstructed View

One of the best things about football is that it leads to discussion, and divides opinion. Just like the finest art, football is at it’s best when not simply serving to entertain, but to provoke and make the observer think.

A few different discussions on man-of-the-match, and player performance levels, over the past few weeks has brought this concept to the forefront of my mind. Why is it that, in the match against Wigan, votes for MoTM can vary almost across One to Eleven? Why is it that opinion on our full backs, centre midfielders and strike force can vary so much?

There are obviously many reasons. Different people look for different qualities in players, have differing levels of benchmark performance or simply have a different outlook on life. However, something that strikes me as fairly significant is your viewing platform for the game. It gives you a different perspective.

By perspective, I’m not talking glass half full or half empty (although that will definitely matter), but how you actually view the match. For most of us, there are three main views from which to watch Fulham on a regular basis; behind the goal (in either the Hammersmith or Putney Ends), side on (in either the Johnny Haynes or Riverside Stands) or on television/online. There is a fourth viewing point, but frankly, I’d be impressed if anyone with access to the corner view from The Cottage balcony reads this.

View from The Cottage Balcony

Each one of the three main views has its own merits as you can see different things. Sitting behind the goal allows you to see the whole field so to speak; formations and tactics and player movement can all be seen building up before they happen. Side on; closer detail, and action at both ends. TV, while making it impossible to watch anything off the ball, you can usually see exactly what happens, and then see it again on replays just to make sure.

As someone who has a season ticket along the side of the pitch, my opinions and musings will come from a different perspective than those of you who watch our games primarily from behind the goal or on a TV. We all get the chance to watch on TV, or (at least if you’re like me), you search out every highlight of the game you’ve just got home from watching live and in person.

The players whom I feel I know more intimately than others (due to my seating position) are the right back and right midfielder when they’re attacking, and the left back and left midfielder when they’re defending. This might explain why I am such a harsh critic of Damian Duff and Stephen Kelly at times. Not due to any bias or ill will against them, but that they fall in my closest gaze more often than anyone else. It also partially explains my fondness for Chris Baird (to the extent that I own a Green and Gold third shirt with ‘Bairdinho 6’ on the back.

Stephen Kelly has been an unfortunate victim of my perspective. Where I sit is perfect position to see the right back overlap and attack. This is not Kelly’s strongest attribute, despite some marked improvements in recent weeks, and has, as such, fallen focus of my attention. Kelly’s, at times, sterling defending is not usually right in front of my eyes, so perhaps it falls, to an extent, out of sight, out of mind.

My perspective on John Pantsil was perhaps the opposite; he often attacked with verve and could sometimes cross the ball quite well. Defensively, he was (at times) a flight of fancy, and sometimes dangerously casual with the ball, especially in front of Mark Schwarzer’s goal. He was the North to Stephen Kelly’s South.

I will discuss who, in my opinion, is our player of the season once the season has actually ended, but perhaps it is perspective that led George Cohen to proclaim Moussa Dembele his choice, ahead of Clint Dempsey in a recent matchday programme column. Like me, Cohen attends every match at the Cottage with a viewpoint from the side of the pitch, and towards the middle of the park. The exact area in which Moussa has excelled since his Boxing Day position switch to central midfield.

The added dimension of a change of angle makes every away trip just that bit more interesting for me. Whether it’s the corner at White Hart Lane, behind the goal in the Shed at Chelsea or the matchbox upper tier at Loftus Road, every new view lets you see something else.

COYWs

Home and Away

We’re winning away, we’re winning away, how s*** must you be, we’re winning away”.

Ah yes, this old chestnut. Home advantage, away day blues or simply a disliking of the unfamiliar, whatever you call it, it’s written in sporting lore.

Whichever way you look at it, Fulham are not very good away from Craven Cottage. The statistics this season don’t lie:

At Craven Cottage:

Played 15 with 7 wins, 25 points and 29 goals.

On the Road:

Played 15 with only 2 wins, 11 points and 8 goals.

I probably attend between 3 and 6 away games a season on average, normally London derbies plus one other, so there are more qualified fans out there to look at our away form, but I’ll give it a shot.

There are several issues at play here; a lack of goals, a lack of confidence and a lack of belief. When we play at home, there is not a team in the land that we can’t beat on our day. Craven Cottage is ours. It really is a fortress, and has been for many a year.

Fortress Cottage

When we go away from home, there becomes a fear factor for us, and the exact opposite for teams who are playing us at their home ground. Our away form is becoming the stuff of legend for teams playing us. “Who we playing? Fulham? Well that should be three points”. Is that what the modus operandi should be when playing a team who has finished 7th, 12th and 8th the last three seasons?

So why on earth is our away form just so bad? I mean 8 goals? At home this season we have shown some real attacking quality and at times scored goals for fun. Yet away from home, we are practically anemic.

The clichéd answer with more than a grain of truth, is a lack of confidence. As winning promotes more winning, losing leads to more losing. A losing mentality away from home is the hardest streak to break. You don’t have that many fans cheering you on; you have opposition players snapping at your heels and a home crowd baying for blood like a gladiatorial coliseum.

In the build up to Monday Night’s game at Old Trafford, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said something very astute regarding our away form. When we first came into the league back in 2001, we were a team who played with no fear, snapping at other people’s heels in their own backyard, like Swansea and Norwich have done this year.

What Martin Jol is trying, and beginning to succeed in doing, is to instill in the team an attacking confidence, both home and away that says we are good enough to score at any ground, against any team and in front of any fans.

There is another important factor though. Craven Cottage is the second smallest pitch in the Premier League at 100m x 65m (equivalent to about 110 x 71 yards). The league minimum is 100m x 64m, which only Stoke City plays on, presumably to accommodate the long throws of Rory Delap.

When we played at Manchester United on Monday, I can’t have been the only one thinking that the pitch looked enormous. At 105m x 68m (115 x 75 yards) it may not sound much bigger but that’s around 650 square metres (700 square yards) more pitch. It almost swallowed up our players. Arsenal, Man City, Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom and Wigan are the only other teams to play on pitches this big.

Martin Jol is a believer in wing play, and this will surely help on bigger pitcher, watching Antonio Valencia hug the touchline against us on Monday showed how the full breadth of the pitch can be used as an effective weapon. For the moment though, we are a narrow team, our wide men all like to cut inside as their first instinct, and on a big pitch, this just means they get lost.

Our victory at QPR on the other hand was played out on a pitch only about a yard wider than our own. Bolton, a ground where we traditionally do ok, is small at 101m x 66m. There are exceptions to this of course, we beat Wigan this season on their big rugby pitch, but heck, it was only Wigan.

Former Wolves boss Mick McCarthy famously instructed his groundsman to shave over 18ft (4m) and 12ft (3m) off the length and width of the Molineux pitch following their promotion to the Premier League in a belief it would suit their (lack of) style of play.

It doesn’t relate to Fulham, but one interesting tidbit I found when researching this article was that only two teams have a pitch with the dimensions 101m x 68m. Liverpool and Everton. Apparently even pitch dimensions are stolen on Merseyside!

One question I’ve wanted to ask the club for a long time is, “do we have different size training pitches at Motspur Park? If not, why not?” Surely, we must adjust our training locale in readiness for the location of the matches on bigger pitches?

Just as bigger pitches are a nightmare away from home, our small pitch is golden when we are on it. Think of the teams that we do have trouble beating at home, Tottenham and Chelsea spring to mind. Well the fact that they have two of the smaller pitches in the league might account for it. A team like Arsenal, who use the whole width of a 68m pitch, on the other hand probably runs out of room when they come to us.

The gargantuan field at the Imtech Arena, Hamburg

Thinking back to our Europa League run, that pitch in Hamburg was colossal (105m x 68m), why couldn’t the final have been played on a nice small pitch somewhere? Well, unfortunately it is a fact of architecture and engineering that the bigger the pitch, the bigger area for a stadium to be built around it.

So perhaps, our away form is just the punishment we get for the pleasure of returning to, and now redeveloping, our magical Thameside home.

COYW