I was there when Fulham played in front of a record-low crowd – how times have changed

West London Sport’s Paul Warburton, previously sports editor of the Fulham Chronicle, has covered the area’s clubs for 25 years. Here he remembers the night he watched Fulham play in front of the smallest-ever league crowd at Craven Cottage. 

Like any lowest gate, the game needs context.

It’s hard to imagine Fulham ‘attracting’ a paltry 2,176 paying punters but that was the size of it on January 30, 1996, a 3-1 defeat by Scunthorpe United in the old Division Three, now League Two.

The match that followed also plummeted the cash-strapped Whites to their lowest-ever league position, 91st, and at the time the real threat of non-League football.

The Scunthorpe game was on a Tuesday night. It was misty, dank and cold, and Fulham had been beaten 1-0 in the previous match, at Mansfield.

It was the perfect poisonous cocktail for a tussle in which Mark Blake scored a header to make it 2-1, even though his side looked bereft of ideas for most of the match.

Craven Cottage had terracing on two sides back then; the Putney and Hammersmith Ends, as well as standing in the paddock in front of the Johnny Haynes stand.

There were three of us in the press box; club statistician Keith Evemy, the Press Association reporter and me.

I started to count the fans in the open Putney End at one stage and got interrupted a couple of times by action on the pitch.

Eventually, I got to 170, give or take, and remembering the size of the End as a terrace, they looked as forlorn and isolated as the Fulham attack.

Fulham even got more, 2,479, for a meaningless Associate Members Cup (whatever that was!) tie against Bristol Rovers on January 9.

The half-time refreshments were provided by the indefatigable mother and daughter team of Dawn and Sue, hidden away in what is now a refreshment kiosk under the Haynes Stand.

They would provide a batch of cheese and fruit scones and a cup of tea – and paid for it themselves.

As Dawn pointed out, she started the tradition when that “mean so-and-so” Ernie Clay (a previous controversial chairman) was “too tight” to provide anything for reporters.

That night the three of us could have had six each and still not finish the Tupperware box.

After the game, one had to wait outside the Cottage itself for a player or the manager to interview.

The manager Ian Branfoot was at best grudgingly willing to grunt answers. This time he was all but dismissive.

“What do you expect? The club hasn’t got a pot to p*** in!” Not a quote to be used in the Fulham Chronicle, as you might expect.

The next game was at Torquay on the Saturday, who were bottom – and Fulham lost that as well, 2-1.

That was enough for Branfoot and assistant Micky Adams stepped up to the plate.

Adams started to grind out results, and the club eventually finished a reasonable – in the circumstances – 17th.

Torquay finished bottom, one place below Scarborough – and two behind Cardiff City!

Yeah, it seems a long time ago.