This was my first time in London. My first time in Craven Cottage. My first time to see English Football in person. Fulham were in a relegation place and had a huge six pointer against Norwich City. April 12th 2014 was one of the best days of my life, and one of the last times I really believed good things were going to happen for Fulham.
I remember how excited I was leading up to this game. I had come over from Seattle with my wife and two of our friends. Fulham were only selling tickets to members, to try to have better home crowds during the relegation battle. But they were happy to work with me to make sure our group could get tickets.
We started the day early with a walk from our apartment to VQ in Chelsea for a full English breakfast. We ran into some other Fulham fans from South Africa as we walked to the tube stop to take the train to Putney Bridge. The walk through Putney to the stadium was amazing. Someone we spent ten days in London in April and didn't see rain. I remember drinking bad beer before the match and daring each other to order Bovril. I remember just how great our seats in the Johnny Haynes stands were.
The match itself is kind of a blur. The tension was so thick in the Cottage as the match began. It was fairly even, with Norwich playing slightly better. But then Lewis Holtby (still one of my favorite players) stood over a free kick. He curled in a beauty and Steve Sidwell was able to flick a header onto Hugo Rodallega who pounded it into the back of the net.
I've been to many sporting events over the years, but I don't think I've ever seen such a release of joy as at that moment. I was on a huge high so that I don't remember a single thing about the final five minutes of the half apart from the chants of "Hugo, Hugo, Hugo!"
The second half was a nail biter. It felt like Fulham never had the ball. While Norwich never got super close to scoring (The defensive performance by Fernando Amorebieta and Brede Hangeland is something I pine for now), it felt like it was only a moment of time. The relief I felt when the final whistle blew was amazing. The Fulham players celebrating in absolute joy, while the Norwich players collapsed in anguish on the field knowing that relegation was getting close to imminent.
Fulham had won three matches out of five. They were sitting on 30 points. They had four matches remaining and probably needed seven more points to be safe. They were travelling away to Spurs next (in a match I also attended). But they then had Hull City at home, and Hull was almost as dismal as Fulham. The other two matches were Stoke (who had nothing to play for away) and Crystal Palace (also with nothing on the line) at home. This was doable. I remember drinking in BrewDog's SoHo location after the game and running into another Fulham fan. We both thought they might just pull it off. Even after the disappointment at White Hart Lane the next week, I thought they were going to do it.
But then there was Hull. Up 2-0 with only fifteen minutes to play, Fulham somehow conceded two late goals to drop two points. That was when the season ended. Would it have been different if they'd won that game? Maybe, they still would have needed to get four points from Stoke and Crystal Palace. No one saw Sunderland going on the run of getting twelve points out of 15 to end the season. It's possible Fulham ended up tied with Hull or West Brom at 36 points and still went down on GD. I choose to remember the feeling I had walking out of the Cottage that day. That feeling of hope. The feeling that Fulham were going to reward me. I haven't felt like that about Fulham in a long time, but that memory and the desire to feel it again is why I support this club.