Five years ago today I watched Fulham get trounced 5-1 by Manchester United. I was in the Castle Pub, Tooting, and, well, you can read what I thought here.
That was the first post on Craven Cottage Newsround. Hade (who had worked out the five year thing as we were making dinner tonight) and I had been on holiday in Prague to celebrate her 30th and while out there I decided to start writing. I’d always wanted to write, and always wanted to write about football. This seemed like a good way to do it.
I didn’t know if I wanted anyone to read it, and wanted to make sure I had something to say and would stick at it (I succeeded on the latter at least). At some point I mentioned the blog on the Fulham Independent, and while nobody was particularly interested, I kept at it and posted match reports there and after a while I had bumbled into what I considered a fair readership. So that was great.
When Fulham signed Clint Dempsey we got a lot of American readers, and I guess that was key. In America sports blogs are very common and this gave CCN a welcome bump. Brian Quarstad, now doing wonderful things covering football from the grass-roots up in Minnesota, wrote with me for a while, and between us we built some momentum. That was a happy period. On we went, and another happy coincidence popped up to ensure the blog kept going.
After that first season my friend Martin and I cobbled together a short book. (I remember finishing it one day we both took off work. Then we went and played billiards at the Selkirk pub round the corner from here). The book contained my match reports from the season just gone and a few humourous pieces from Mart, who is brilliant at these things. We got a couple of other contributions, the legendary Bruce from DuNord (always an encouraging presence) wrote about American players, and that was great. A second contributor was Dave Harris, who wrote about players leaving Fulham that season (notably Boa and Steed).
Martin and I put the book together using a website called Lulu.com, and made the download available for free. This was a good decision, as it meant that a number of people had a read. They seemed to like it, too, which was gratifying. We would’ve left it there, I suspect, happy with our handywork, but a colleague of Martin’s, Toby, passed the PDF of the book along to a friend of his, and this friend, Matthew, happened to be running a bookshop that was flying. For whatever reason Matthew and his business partner, Adam, decided to try to publish the thing. I think they ran off 1,000 copies in the end and we sold them on Stevenage Road, the Golden Lion, anywhere really. I say we sold them – Mart and I stood there looking embarrassed, Toby went round persuading people to part with their fivers. I think we shifted about half of the copies, so Matt and Adam just about broke even.
Well! That gave me a reason to carry on with the blog. A business plan if you will. Next season Lawrie Sanchez came in and nearly ruined it all, but in stepped Roy Hodgson and we all enjoyed an extraoardinary run-in. Martin, Matt, Toby, Hade and me were all at Portsmouth that final day. It was a thrilling finale, and writing down the season on CCN as it progressed really was proving… well, interesting. The Fulham Review that came of this was fantastic, and remains the best selling edition so far (sold out of two print runs now). It featured more of the same, match reports, essays, and Dave’s Departing Heroes section, now covering everyone to leave the club (there were a lot of them) in fantastic detail. It became my favourite section of the book, and to this day Dave slogs his way through the player exits for each Fulham Review. I still read back through them all. (His Ahmad Elrich comment “I’ve really got nothing constructive to say about Ahmad” always makes me chuckle (everyone else got about half a page)). Rob Griffin wrote about “Baird baiting”, which is fascinating to look back on given the way Chris’s career has changed since then.
So the blog and the book became intertwined. The book was/is a pain to put together but justified because I am always proud of it and it usually makes a small profit. The blog can be hard to keep at, but feeds the book and gives me somewhere to write, and we muddle on. Dave’s writing more again now, we occasionally see Colin Baker, and of course Timmy Gelles was an inspired signing, poached from The Offside for an undisclosed fee. Along the way we’ve had invaluable guest contributions from Jamie Ruszczynski (had Jamie not been studying in Leeds we’d never have got all the Northern match reports in the early days, so a big thanks to Jamie), Jamie Doak, the late Peter Thomson and many others besides (there’s a risk I’ve forgotten someone here…). So yeah, five Fulham Reviews, five years of CCN covering five of the more extraordinary seasons you could dream up. We’ve been lucky that way.
934,989 people have now come to the website, deliberately or otherwise (6,612 people have arrived searching for “Arcimboldo”, 1,859 for “Palermo FC”, 1,857 for “Merry Christmas”, 1,232 for “Mango” and 1,203 for “Marmont”. And 983 for “Shefki Kuqi”, which makes him the highest ranking player on this list.) Thank you for being one of them.