One of those timeless, charming treasures that defies football convention, Craven Cottage is classic, quaint and oh so very entwined with our glorious game. In pinpointing those finer details, photographer Charlie Coleman has taken us inside and expressed what makes this ground, so damn special to shoot.
From a photographic perspective, what makes Fulham such a unique place to shoot?
"Fulham itself is a lovely area, away from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke, situated on the River Thames within a green space of Bishops Park, it's in a unique area. Fulham's heritage stands out. Photographing a cottage in a football stadium is pretty unique. In the modern era of football this is rare, the contrast between the cottage and heritage of the stadium to modern football is very interesting. Fulham's supporters are very tight-knit and passes through generations, it's great to see grandfathers taking their grandchildren to games at Craven Cottage."
How would you describe the atmosphere of the place? It's a traditional ground with the fans so close to the pitch isn't it...
"It's an extremely friendly and family focused club. You can feel the heritage within the ground; the historic brickwork and signs, small, narrow turnstiles, fallen apart wooden seats and of course, The Cottage. The locals show a great pride to be a part of Fulham Football Club and you can see the support through generations. The pitch is very close to the fans and this helps with the atmosphere, especially in the Premier League as it's one of the smallest grounds - having that intimidation is an advantage for the home team. Fulham have been on good form this season and on the verge of returning the Premier League, the fans are in great spirits."
"I'm a huge Liverpool fan and having moved to London for work, Fulham are now my closest team to where I live. A few years ago when they were relegated I saw the emphatic game when Steven Gerrard scored a last minute penalty to win 3-2 and the away end was rocking! I also went to see Man City play at Craven Cottage in a goal fest beating Fulham 4-2. I was sat in the home end and within minutes the elderly season ticket holder next to me asked "who do you support then?" (obviously knowing I wasn't a local). I was reluctant to say as at most football grounds you wouldn't dare...but I thought what is an elderly lady going to do? Before I knew it I had several Fulham supports discussing how well Liverpool were doing that season. It was around Christmas time and at the full-time whistle half a dozen Fulham fans were saying Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and good luck to Liverpool for the rest of the season. I couldn't quite believe it. They are genuinely a very friendly football club."
What features of the place stand out most to you about Craven Cottage?
"The cottage itself is a special feature. On match day it hosts the players families and friends - a private cottage is a very unique seating area for any football club. No matter what stand you'll be sitting in you can only access the stadium via Stevenage Road, The Johnny Haynes stand. Pre-match this is great to capture the atmosphere of the fans as they all enter the 25,700 seater stadium together."
"Being a Grade II listed building the club are restricted to redeveloping certain areas. I believe they are planning a second tier on the Riverside stand, however the seats in The Cottage and Johnny Haynes stage are the same wooden seats from day one. Showing signs of what it used to be like back in the day...not the comfiest of seats but fantastic to see they keep character and heritage of the club in place."
Before you go to game or a ground like this - what goes through your head? Are there shots you can already picture in your head?
"Fans are the life and soul of any football club. I don't plan too many shots beforehand unless i'm going to a new ground to capture something specific, the build up to a game is always exciting. The thoughts through my head are to photograph the authenticity of the club and it's supporters. The real fans, the real moments and the simple moments that not everyone sees."
Then going to the game, how does it feel to bank one of those shots you wanted?
"Once you've seen a moment and taken the shot you instantly know. Whether it's that split second of the ball in the air about to hit the back of the net or an almighty fan screaming right at you. It's a very satisfying feeling, especially when it's a special moment and a piece of history."
Do you find that football as a backdrop always offers something unexpected?
"Absolutely! It's very hard to predict what is going to happen in football. That's the magic of it and why I enjoy it so much. It's out of your hands. You let the story unfold and capture it at the right moments with emotion and passion of the game."
If you could capture one moment at a match like this, what would it be? Is there something about the energy you'd like to shoot most?
"However big or small a football club is, I want to photograph the passion. Determination is transferred from the fans to the pitch. As long as the energy and passion is there, there's no more to it. It's not staged or modelled, it's focusing on the beautiful game in the right light, waiting for that special moment."
Where next? What fixtures or places have you got your eyes on?
"Germany is on the list to photograph, their fans carry so much passion and create a brilliant atmosphere. European nights sat in The Kop as a kid and teenager are my fondest memories of football. The atmosphere is like no other; i've seen all sorts of emotions. Now Liverpool are back in The Champions League I hope to be able to go back next season."
Take a look at more photography by Charlie Coleman here.