THE mounted Police were out in force. “I think they use horses to calm the fans down,” said one Fulham fan walking through Bishops Park as a large, Shire-esque creature plodded through the waterlogged pathway. “This is how they control football crowds in England,” he added to his foreign guest. A police horse has never introduced a calming effect on football fans, far from it. They unnerve you and they occasionally shower you in fresh manure or urine.
But the gentle folk of Fulham were braced for the arrival of Leeds United. Across Putney Bridge, the pubs had “Home Fans Only” taped to their windows, while it was noticeable that there was a considerable high-vis presence in one of London’s most sought-after locations, an area full of yummy-mummies looking for the best olives, sour dough bread or bullet journals in what was one of the few success stories for the Labour party in Jeremy Corbyn’s career-defining general election. Those Leeds fans that strayed across the Thames were not going shopping or heading for wine bars called Tequila Mockingbird.
But the days of rabid Yorkshire folk with blue, white and yellow scarves marauding down Fulham Road have long gone. The problem is, reputations stick like glue for decades. In terms of critical mass, Leeds have it and by sheer virtue of their numbers, they can appear intimidating. They’re also in good spirits because they believe they are heading for the Premier League after a prolonged absence. And it was the festive season, as the fake snow that showered the state of Fulham legend Johnny Haynes demonstrated.
Our season tickets are right next to the away supporters at Craven Cottage, so you get a great opportunity to people watch and make a study in human behaviour. The problem for some of the more aggressive and provocative away supporters is Fulham’s fans don’t really respond, aside from a few at the very back of the Putney End that mostly just exchange insults and posture as if they mean it. Millwall or Chelsea it certainly isn’t. Neither is it the dump the Leeds fans were claiming London SW6 to be.
Leeds came to Craven Cottage in second place in the Championship and had not lost since October. Despite their ups-and-downs over the past 20 years, Leeds remain one of the top dozen best-supported clubs in the country, with an average gate at Elland Road of 35,000. The club has been in the spotlight quite a bit since Marcelo Bielsa became manager in 2018 and last season, they should have won promotion.
Fulham were doing their best impersonation of an inconsistent team still getting to grips with relegation from the Premier, losing their last three games after four consecutive victories. The Championship remains a tight division, but Leeds are seen as one of the favourites for promotion. It promised to be an interesting 90 minutes.
Certainly, Leeds’ fans provided a raucous soundtrack – “marching on together” – by far the noisiest and passionate visiting contingent this season. They fell silent, however, when Fulham took the lead from the penalty spot, a slightly controversial decision after Ben White fouled Bobby Reid. It was a lively first half but it took Leeds until the 54th minute to level, Patrick Bamford tapping home from close range.
In between the halves, Fulham brought-out Allan Clarke, who played for both clubs. Clarke was an excellent striker but a less proficient manager with Leeds. During his playing days, he was known as “Sniffer” and commanded a £ 165,000 fee when Leeds signed him from Leicester in 1969. He had two and a bit seasons with Fulham, scoring 45 goals in 86 league games.
You fancied Leeds might push on and win the meeting between two of Clarke’s teams, but they didn’t create enough clear-cut chances and their keeper, Kiko Casilla prevented Ivan Cavaleiro from restoring Fulham’s lead with a spectacular save. They did eventually go ahead again when Josh Onamah shot home inside the area after the ball fell invitingly after a corner. Fulham had to thank a couple of late goal-line clearances to prevent Leeds from snatching a draw, which given the amount of possession they had (65%), was not have been an unreasonable outcome. A good, value-for-money game between two decent teams and for Fulham, a boost after their recent run.
Leeds’ fans were not happy, and their frustration briefly spilled over beneath the stand when half a dozen menacing middle-aged fans set about a member of the matchday catering staff. Fortunately, the stewards managed to pour cold water on the fracas. “It used to be like this all the time,” said one supporter as he navigated his way round the melee. The journey back to Kings Cross passed without incident.
London hasn’t been kind to Leeds this season, they’ve lost all three of their visits to the capital. It shouldn’t prevent them from finding their way to the Premier League for 2020-21, and don’t rule out Fulham, either.