The FA Cup has always carried something a little special, especially when it enables teams lower down the league to visit a top flight club. And last weekend’s third round was obviously no surprise as League 1’s Peterborough travelled down to play Fulham. The result on the pitch was 6-2 to the home side. Yet the score line in the “battle of the fans’” was equally emphatic in favour of the away side.
Given an extra allocation of tickets as it was a cup game, the away crowd made full use of it by bringing down around 4,500 fans. Speaking to one on the walk from Putney Bridge to Craven Cottage, he told me how they had brought down more fans than usually turn up at London Road week in week out (but I think the few drinks he’d had on the way down might have caused this slight exaggeration). But the prospect of a trip south to a Premier League club was enough to entice The Posh fans to come out and support their team in their thousands. For Fulham it was a completely different story, the third round of an FA Cup tie against lower league opposition did not pull the crowds in and there were empty seats strewn all over the majority of Craven Cottage, as cut price tickets were not sufficient to get the fans in.
Needless to say having enjoyed a journey of a couple of hours down to West London the Peterborough fans were in good voice at the kick off. The Fulham fans by contrast, hardly renowned for their intimidating atmosphere in any case, appeared distinctly lethargic. I found it no coincidence that the early play greatly reflected the atmosphere created in the crowd, with Peterborough straight on to the front foot. Fulham’s less than full throttle start would have been punished by a team with a tad more quality up front, with Peterborough forcing several corners in the opening exchanges and a couple of near misses. Almost inevitably Premier League quality did prove to be the difference a couple of quality passes by Danny Murphy and Damien Duff, silky touches by Clint Dempsey and powerful finishing from Diomansy Kamara saw Fulham build up a 2-0 half time lead.
Yet still the Peterborough fans remained in far more triumphant voice than their West London counterparts and again that seemed to carry onto the pitch with Peterborough starting the brighter of the two. Yet League 1 defending let them down as they allowed Fulham to build a 4-0 lead and for the first time you could hear at least momentarily the Fulham fans over the Peterborough fans. When their goal finally did arrive you would be forgiven for thinking Peterborough had just taken the game the way their fans celebrated. Ironic chants of “we’re gonna win 5-4” had joined their others which had been accompanied with the infamous “shhhh” aimed at the home fans mocking the atmosphere, or lack thereof, amongst the home crowd.
I don’t mean to be especially critical towards Fulham’s fans as I understand it wasn’t the most popular or glamorous tie for them and I’ve heard they can truly find their voice when say local rivals Chelsea visit. Indeed the pitch invasion in 2006 after their 1-0 victory over their more illustrious neighbours shows there is passion at in the Craven Cottage faithful. But it can’t have helped the players being the home team and hearing all the support coming for the opposition and on the flip side Peterborough were visibly buoyed on the pitch by the fact their fans were winning that battle so convincingly, although they had had a good few hours drinking time on the coach down, which would have helped them find their voice. In a game where the abilities were closer these reactions by the players’ to the fans may have been crucial.