Trecker in London, Day #1: Craven Cottage

Welcome back to a new edition of road diaries, the moderately popular series on FOX Soccer that I write every time I am someplace that is not the South Side of Chicago. As you may have gathered from the videos, the tweets, the Facebook posts and the interviews on FOX Soccer, I’m in London through Boxing Day.

This is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I’m in London, which is superb, especially since the city is at least on the same bit of rock that I grew up on, albeit further south, less Scottish and (as must follow) vastly less sexy. On the other hand, I am so severely jet-lagged that it is difficult for me to see straight much less tell you about the Big Smoke. I blame the children. Specifically, the very small children in the next room over who demanded to be fed at 3 a.m. GMT. Granted, their parents were not right to deny them food. On the other hand, who really gets up at such an ungodly hour and says “I really feel like a snack?” Small children, that’s whom.

I blame this for my embarrassing display at Fulham, a perfectly nice club with doors that most people don’t walk face-first into. True, they are dark-colored doors, but the sun was out and in any case, the walls were bright white. I now realize why my optometrist insisted I buy these big, East German glasses. They’re unbreakable.

Other things I realized:

  • Mayfair, the section of London I am staying in, is impossibly posh. The hotel overlooks Hyde Park and some Palace is not too distant. There are several car dealerships that boast vehicles with impressive hood ornaments in rare, shiny metals. There is nothing to eat that doesn’t cost the day’s wage of a union man in Chicago. And everyone is impossibly blonde, even the men. It doesn’t look very fetching on the men … or the women.

  • Fulham is a really nice club. It is staffed by nice men and women who pick you up after you walk face first into doors, dust you off and give you a pie, and then ask if you’d like to see McBride’s, the Lounge named after an American player that, presumably, is why you’ve come to see them. That, or the Michael Jackson statue, which they are oddly proud of.

  • It is colder than I remember, even though I’ve spent a fair share of time in windy towns with names like Crail and Arbroath. It is a different cold than the cold of Chicago, somehow managing to turn your insides to ice first, then seeping from there outwards to your feet and hands. Many people didn’t seem to notice, but then again, many people were also drunk.

  • Fulham happened to play a fine game, with the American I had actually come to see looking dangerous, thoughtful and incisive. That this was against Bolton, a team that is terrible, should not take the glow away. Craven Cottage is also a real gem of a stadium, a small box that abuts the Thames. It is, however, very, very small. This puts you far closer to the action than, say, at Wrigley Field. It also reminds you just how fast the players are and how much work they really are doing – things that TV tends to compress and dissolve. On the other, hand, two balls were launched out of the grounds and one landed on the river silt. My partner was very pleased that people cheer when balls land in the river. So, there’s that.

Tomorrow, I am off to Loftus Road, an even smaller park in a much rougher area of the city. After that, I’m off to a pub that promises me the “real Gooner experience,” which sounds vaguely threatening.

Do follow along. Until tomorrow, I’m off to bed.