It’s been fascinating to follow the progress of the construction of the new Riverside Stand. The club has posted updates at different stages of the development and many helpful fans shared their own images on social media during the months that were played behind closed doors. We are lucky to be back in the ground watching the football now and can admire the progress in person and I am excited by the prospect of opening it, hopefully as a Premier League club.
With work coming on apace, some of us have started to wonder if the club are planning to mark the Stand’s opening with a commemorative match. The original Riverside Stand was marked in such a fashion and the programme from the game with Benfica in February 1972 is featured here.
I had started going to games in 1969 when the Riverside of the ground was still an open terrace. There are many iconic photographs to be found such as the one below. It’s from a game with Newcastle in 1939 with a packed crowd and fans sitting precariously on top of advertising hoardings to afford themselves a better view.
My favourite picture is the one below of our goalkeeper Ian Seymour, from a friendly match with Kilmarnock in 1968 when fans seemed to be more interested in the Boat Race going past on the river behind than in the match itself. To be fair the team that season were hurtling towards relegation so it was arguably more entertaining watching a few men messing around in boats?
Perhaps this was one of the reasons the club decided to go ahead with the construction of a stand on this side of the ground. With a permanent seated structure, punters would have no option but to watch the game?
Even so, it was quite an undertaking for the club, to make the necessary investment as we followed that relegation in 1968 with another the year after. Therefore, plans for the new stand were made in earnest as a Third Division club with dwindling gates. Tommy Trinder alludes to these problems in the programme for the Benfica match. By the time of the game, we had been promoted back to the Second Division but we were still hardly awash with money. It would be many years before the influx of Satellite TV money and the flood of foreign investors, attracted to the game. Trinder was an old Music Hall star and celebrity fan who became Chairman in 1959; more as a popular figurehead than a financial benefactor. In the years after the stand opened, it became clear that we had borrowed heavily to finance it. A businessman named Eric Miller joined the Board around the time and for a while, the stand was named after him as a tribute to the financial assistance he had offered. When he committed suicide in 1977 after being investigated by the fraud squad, the nature of the assistance he’d offered became less clear. In light of all the publicity, the stand reverted to its original name with little fanfare soon after.
The game that officially opened the Stand was something of a coup for Fulham, as a humble second division team at the time. In contrast, Benfica were one of the biggest names in World football. They had been one of the most successful sides in the formative years of the European Cup in the 1950s. Throughout the ’60s were perennially at the top of the Portuguese game and they still had the superstar Eusebio in their ranks.
A well above average gate of 15,646 were in attendance to see us triumph 3-2 over the Portuguese giants with Steve Earle and a Roger Cross double providing the goals. It was a welcome break from a season of struggle that only saw us avoid the drop courtesy of a last-day draw with Sunderland.
It would be nice if the new stand is opened with another commemorative match and this time we should be able to fit twice that Benfica crowd in the stadium. There’s already been some debate as to who would be suitable guests for the occasion. My personal choice would be Atletico Madrid in tribute to the club reaching the Europa League final in 2010. That’s an achievement I could never have dreamed of when I was in the Putney End for this Benfica game almost 50 years ago!