"The last top-flight team to play in front of standing spectators," was how the BBC described news of Fulham FC's impending refurbishment of the Riverside Stand. "Until as recently as 2001-02, [the stadium] contained areas of terracing for standing supporters." Those happy days indeed.
I was fortunate enough to be a visiting fan at the old away end back in August 1998, a glorious summer's day at a time when football was still some way off from completely selling its soul. The river must have been gleaming as brightly as Kevin Keegan's silver hair when the then Fulham manager took to the pitch, adored by fans who were convinced he was delivering a Fulham revolution.
It was the fourth game of the 1998-99 season in the old Division Two, and I had turned up at the Cottage to watch my local team Bournemouth, somewhat fearing the worst. both sides had opened the season with a three-game winning run, with Bournemouth having assembled by far the cheaper squad.
Mohamed Fayed's bulging chequebook had delivered not only the silky skills of veteran Peter Beardsley, still making defenders look clumsy aged 37, and the wing wizardry of John Salako. Welsh manager Chris
Coleman had been brought in at the back, while an unknown and intriguing German
striker named Dirk Lehmann had been thrust into the attack.
The massed ranks of Bournemouth fans on the old terrace that day were highly hopeful of giving Fulham a run for Al Fayed's money, especially with ex-Chelsea man Mark Stein and future FA Cup winner Richard Hughes in their starting eleven. But the sheer gulf between the two sides was soon embarrassingly apparent. A Beardsley-inspired Fulham were rampant from the off, piling on pressure relentlessly. The late-Bournemouth goalkeeper Mark Ovendale must have dealt with at least 11 dangerous crosses in the opening 45 minutes.
Bournemouth somehow reached half-time with their goal in tact and came forward a little more in the second half, even presenting the dangerous Stein with a chance to win it. The eventual 0-0 result was a huge triumph for the cash-strapped South Coast outfit, made all the more enriched by the atmosphere on the terraces.
We wish Fulham luck in expanding their capacity to 30,000 in a last-ditch attempt to compete with the big boys. But may those magical days on the terraces never be forgotten.