Livescore Thursday, April 25

Fulham’s Riverside Stand has been under construction for nearly five years, with its proposed opening date pushed back three times.

Now, at last, the end is in sight.

The club have announced seven new matchday hospitality packages, all available before the end of the year. Included in their latest update was a set of CGI pictures detailing, most eye-catchingly, the image (above) of their open-air swimming pool — the first such rooftop facility on a stand in English football.

So will Fulham fans be able to watch in their swimming shorts and bikinis as their team make a splash Premier League campaign? Will Marco Silva and his players be enjoying post-match pool parties on site?

And, more pertinently, have the club given any indication on when the new Riverside Stand will actually open?

So Craven Cottage has a cottage and a swimming pool?

Yes, there will be a swimming pool in the new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage. It is located at the south end of the stand, closest to the Putney End.

It is actually an ‘infinity’ pool — basically where the water flows over one or more edges, producing a visual effect of water with no boundary — and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it will be heated.

It will be 15 metres in length and 5m wide, with a depth of 1.2m, so there will not be much scope for diving — albeit that shouldn’t be an issue given no Fulham player has been booked for simulation more than once in the past five years. That’s true, by the way.

So can you watch Premier League football from the pool?

Hold your horses. That pool party while Rodrigo Muniz celebrates a hat-trick, samba style, against Chelsea will remain a Fulham fantasy (the party bit, anyway). Punters will not be able to go for a swim during a game.

For one thing, it might not be possible to see the whole pitch from the pool as the view is obscured by the rest of the terrace. Looking the other way, though, the infinity pool should offer some impressive views of the River Thames and London — and, judging by the artwork supplied by the club, the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Clubs. This year’s event takes place tomorrow (Saturday).

So who can use Fulham’s pool?

The swimming pool is part of a high-end health and leisure club in the Riverside Stand, for which membership is not yet available.

Both aspects of the stand are designed to help the club maximise revenue and become a more sustainable financial operation. The club last posted a profit in their annual accounts in 2011.

What challenges are posed by building a pool on the top of a football stand?

This is the first time Putney-based architecture firm Populous, which designed the fit-out at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the Sphere in Las Vegas, have designed a swimming pool on a stadium.

The key challenges Populous faced, beyond safety and accessibility, included waterproofing the pool to ensure there are no leaks; designing a maintenance regimen due to environmental impacts of salt water nearby in the River Thames, as well as pollen and leaves from nearby Bishop’s Park; drainage more discrete than that for a standard swimming pool.

“The pool has created a lot of interest, but it won’t be open to fans on matchdays to watch games from,” said architect and senior principal at Populous Philip Johnson.

“The bigger picture here is how clubs and architects are innovating to create facilities that are amazing for the fans on matchday but that can also be used and maximised every day of the year, generating significant new streams of income that are then put back into the club and the football side.”

Does Fulham’s owner have previous with stadium pools?

Yes. Shahid Khan also owns the Florida-based NFL side Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2014, their stadium, EverBank Field, underwent a major $63million (£50m) renovation. As part of that, 9,500 seats in the north end zone were replaced by a two-level party deck that includes two pools from which you can watch an NFL game.

For a ‘waterfront’ experience, including food and drink, prices for a cabana (basically a cabin) “start at $16,000”, according to the Jaguars’ website.

To mark the unveiling of that renovation in 2014, Fulham travelled to the United States to face D.C. United in a pre-season friendly, which was followed by a concert from country music singer Carrie Underwood.

Fulham won 3-0 thanks to a Moussa Dembele hat-trick. They then held the first pool party at EverBank Field to celebrate the birthdays of forward Hugo Rodallega and, believe it or not, head coach Felix Magath.

Let’s just say he was not always quite so ready to let his hair down at Fulham…

So no matchday fun splash, but what hospitality packages have Fulham unveiled?

Fulham’s packages are called Sky Deck, Gourmet, Brasserie, Originals, Thames Bar Room, Matchday Plus and Dugout. Sky Deck grants access to the top three floors of the stand and offers views of the London skyline from the rooftop terrace, next to the pool, as well as post-match entertainment.

The other packages promise, among other things, four-course dining and a sports bar offering seats behind the dugout “as close as 3.5m from the touchline”.

Only the Dugout and Matchday Plus packages will be available for the start of the 2024-25 season. The rest are set to begin in December 2024.

Why has it taken so long to open the stand in its entirety?

This has all been a long time coming.

Work on the stand began in 2019 and was originally expected to open in 2021. Then came the Covid-19 pandemic and issues arising from the complexity of building on the river itself. The project required a special licence from the Port Authority to encroach over the River Thames and the careful transportation of pre-built roof trusses along the river from Tilbury Docks, east of the city, in line with the tides.

The Athletic reported that Fulham faced delays in finishing the base build of the stand. This was overseen by Buckingham Group, Fulham’s main contractor, which has since gone into administration. Although not mentioned by name in Buckingham Group’s last set of accounts, Fulham’s project was cited as the reason for a carried £14.1million deficit. The stand was “priced and planned pre-pandemic” and they also suffered badly from the collapse of a subcontractor in February 2022.

Last year, Fulham said: “Many of the principal delay factors include addressing difficult site conditions during the demolition of the old stand, as well as remedying issues arising out of the construction of the new stand.” The delayed project has cost owner Khan more than £130million, according to the club’s latest available financial accounts.

What else will be in the Riverside Stand?

Fulham have altered the design of the stand as construction has taken place. They had originally intended to build nine apartments, but those have been replaced by a four-star hotel with 15 rooms on the Hammersmith (north) end of the stand. The logic behind that decision was that hotel guests stay for shorter periods and are more likely to engage in the restaurant and bar facilities provided by the Riverside Stand and Fulham Pier development.

The club also changed the planned event and function space on the top three floors into a members club instead. The blueprint for the members club has been drawn up by Parisian design studio Dion et Arles, which designed the interior of French restaurant Louie London near Covent Garden in central London.

There will also be restaurants, bars and cafes along the new Thames pathway between Hammersmith and Putney on the north side of the river. In the long term, Fulham also intend to build a pier on the river, though this remains in the pre-planning stages. 

In terms of seats, it will raise the capacity of Craven Cottage to 29,600.

How much will the new hospitality packages cost?

The club say prices will range, per place for a season, between entry-level hospitality at £3,360 (including VAT) to £12,000 (including VAT)Fulham call their offering the best matchday experience in English football — with a big price to match. 

What does head coach Marco Silva think about it?

Silva will not be going for a half-time dip (in either the pool or the Thames).

“First, the pool is not going to be open on a matchday — it’s important for people to know that,” he said. “I understand (the stand) is a big project for the club in all aspects. Not just about football. It’s thinking about revenue, all that stuff. The people making these decisions think it is the best way to help the club to grow.

“For myself, and the football people, it’s going to help us on a matchday. It’s going to help us to have more support. Since I joined the club, I asked (the chief executive) Alistair Mackintosh every single month when it was going to be ready because a full stand can play a big part in us being stronger at home. It’s really important for me.

“If it helps us for revenue, like the financial people and the owner really believe, then fantastic for us. That will help Fulham to be stronger. About the facilities, myself and Alistair don’t have a lot of time to enjoy these things.”

What do supporters think about it?

The Riverside Stand’s redevelopment has been welcomed. There is an understanding that the club needs to generate alternative revenue streams given how reliant Fulham are on television broadcast revenues. Khan, who has invested more than £500million into the club, shoulders annual losses.

The Riverside Stand should enable the club to generate revenue all year round while benefiting from lucrative hospitality packages that are competitive with their London rivals. Above all, it means that a sale of Craven Cottage, for a long time a major fear for Fulham fans, looks improbable in the foreseeable future.

However, your average Fulham supporter is unlikely to be able to afford any of these hospitality packages.

Fulham supporters have protested ticket price rises at Craven Cottage this season. An average season ticket price rise of 18 per cent across all four stands for this season sparked an outcry, with the Fulham Supporters’ Trust (FST) launching a campaign called ‘Affordable Fulham’.

In its monthly meetings with the club, the FST has also raised concerns about the facilities in the other three stands. There is also a fear that some of the former season ticket holders in the old Riverside Stand, who were relocated during the stand’s redevelopment, may now be priced out. Last year’s renewal season ticket prices in the stand for an adult cost between £1,250 and £3,000 — the latter was the most expensive season ticket without hospitality in English football.

“The Riverside will go a long way to securing Craven Cottage as our home for the future,” says FST chair Simon Duke. “But it doesn’t get away from the fact prices have been increasing at a faster rate than before and the matchday experience is not keeping pace.

“It is a great asset. They have built it, funded it, and we are grateful. Charge what you like in there for hospitality, but make the rest of the ground affordable.”

(Top photo: Fulham FC)

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