Josh Hallmark looks at the ongoing saga of the Riverside Stand and it’s impact on fans and the local area.
Fulham fans were promised a new £80 million stand in 2021. Two years on and the stand still isn’t complete. The delays caused by difficult site conditions, disruptions from covid, and the contractors, Buckingham Group, going bust has meant that it’s now anticipated to open in 2024. But even without the delay, it has still caused some issues with the local community, and Fulham fans. Before construction even began, locals opposed the project culminating in a campaign to save trees that would need to be cut to make the site accessible. Since then, controversy has only grown.
Our future at Craven Cottage has not always been certain. The new stand shows positive signs of securing this. But is the construction of the Riverside Stand creating more negatives than positives, and are the Khans taking the right approach to solve the problems they face?
Unwelcome side effects
The most noticeable impact of the new stand has been an increase in ticket prices. Based on the success of last season, by getting a record number of wins in the Premier League, alongside the fresh 8,650-seater stand, the cost of a ticket in the Riverside has driven up by almost 100%. During the 2018/19 season, the prices ranged from £45 to £55 yet, even against Wolves this season, the ticket can cost up to £105. Overall, this season there has been an 18% rise in ticket prices with even the smaller games being less accessible. The 60% (£100 to £160) rise in the price of tickets to our home fixture against Manchester United this season was the final straw, evidenced by the FST’s recent protest.
Those who previously sat in the Riverside stand have suffered the most, having been forced out of their seats with the promise of returning to a new and improved stand, but many have found it unaffordable to return. The FST has said the overall price rise has caused “distress, anxiety, anger and disillusionment.” While Kahn justifies this by claiming this will boost the budget to better succeed in the transfer market, the impact on it will most likely be negligible.
A biproduct of having a fancy new addition to the ground is tourists – and by this I mean day-trippers with no interest in the club itself, but who just want to watch a Premier League game. This creates division between Fulham fans and nullifies the feeling of togetherness. With more tourists, the atmosphere worsens. The atmosphere plays an important role in the team’s success as getting behind the team encourages them to fight. The bottom line is tourists prevent an exciting atmosphere developing, which will reflect in the team’s performance. A counter point is the fact that the new stand has filled the riverside gaps between the Hammersmith End and the Putney End, which will improve atmosphere as, previously, sound was easily dissipated towards the river.
An issue among the local community is the construction of Fulham Pier. This hasn’t gone down well with many sailing clubs, youth clubs and schools. A petition was launched in 2022 that reached 17,184 signatures as they believe it will be unsafe for rowing clubs to pass through a smaller channel while large ferries will be coming through simultaneously. The most noticeable impact is on the annual boat race as it could cause a major disruption to its route. The club has been encouraged by the results of a survey taken in the local area, which showed that 80% were in favour of the pier, so, regardless of all the backlash, the plans are still to go ahead. As this is the case, this will forever be an unresolved issue, leaving many members of the community angry which should be of concern for the Khans. They have to ask themselves if it’s worth it.
More than football
Although the locals are irritated, the stand will go beyond just football, and cater to them. The redevelopment is expected to provide a wide variety of hospitality services and become a leisure destination. These include restaurants, cafés, bars, corporate hospitality, an event space from the ground floor to fourth floor and even a rooftop pool. In addition, nine serviced apartments will be introduced and a river walk will be accessible to the public. It is anticipated to deliver a wide range of benefits to the public alongside those who want to enjoy football.
It’s clear that the new Riverside stand has brought about various challenges, both with the community and fans. Balancing economic benefits with the differing interests of stakeholders is no easy task and something Shahid Khan needs to achieve in order for the construction of this state-of-the-art stand to be considered a success. Regardless of all the issues it has already caused, Khan has done well to maintain the iconic charm of Craven Cottage; something we all love about this club. Crucially, the resolution of pressing issues such as ticket prices holds the key to unlocking the full potential of The Riverside and if resolved, The Riverside could live up to expectations and, in the end, it will be a positive addition to this historic ground.