The government today have reassured potential buyers of my book, From Manor House Station to Gibson Square – and back again, that there are no queues at book shops, no websites crashing, and readers are not buying more copies than they need. There are no scuffles at Waterstones. There is no panic. The Army are printing extra copies in order to maintain adequate stock for Christmas, and temporary visas are being issued to EU workers to help with distribution.
Please don’t panic-buy my book. But if you like my articles and want to read more, it’s available from (copies restricted to 100 copies per person):
(Original edit of article written for Taxi magazine).
In August, excited by the start of the new football season I started to think about London football clubs: their histories and cultures, the areas they’re located in, and what it’s like driving football fans to and from stadiums. I’ve already looked at Arsenal and Tottenham: this time I’m looking at another neighbourhood rivalry with Fulham and Chelsea.
Due to last season’s relegation of Fulham these two clubs probably won’t meet this season, and their successes and aspirations differ considerably. Please don’t expect any punditry or predictions of success or failure: I like football, but I can’t honestly say I know a lot about it. I’m more interested in the culture and history.
Fulham Football Club were formed in 1879 as Fulham St Andrew’s Church Sunday School FC; a church team made up of worshippers who were more adept at cricket. Consequently, much of Fulham’s history has involved them trying to stave off relegation from various leagues, and thus it continues into the modern age. Johnny “The Maestro” Haynes is widely regarded as Fulham’s best ever players, signing as a schoolboy in 1950 and retiring in 1970. The great Bobby Moore played for Fulham in his later years, as did George Best towards the end of his career: he played 47 times for Fulham in the 1976/1977 season.
Fulham have one of the nicest stadiums in London. Their compact Craven Cottage stadium sits right by the River Thames by Putney Bridge. It’s a nice ground to visit. The problem is, away teams regard a trip to Fulham as a nice day out by the river and invariably come away with all three points.
A visit to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium is a different prospect, though it hasn’t always been so. I remember them being relegated twice, and at one time they had one of the worst stadiums in London. Away fans were housed in the uncovered North Stand and there were big gaps between the stands and the playing area – this is quite normal now of course.
Stamford Bridge Stadium was such an uninspiring place before development in the 1980s because it was built as an athletics stadium. Gus Mears acquired the Stamford Bridge athletics stadium and tried to lease it to Fulham FC. They turned it down, so Mears founded his own club to play in the stadium. Chelsea FC were founded in 1905 at the Rising Sun pub on Fulham Road. In looking for a name for the new club, names like Kensington FC, Stamford Bridge FC and London FC were considered. There was already a club in Fulham borough so the name Chelsea was adopted from the neighbouring borough of Chelsea. Chelsea were promoted to the first division in their second season. They won the league championship in 1955, and apart for some bad patches in the late-1970s and early -1980s they rarely looked back, becoming one of the world’s most successful football clubs.
Unusual in the world of football, both clubs are situated in pleasant, affluent areas. Football supporters therefore have a range of pubs, cafes, Michelin star restaurants and wine bars to choose from. Fulham has the celebrated River Café close to it’s stadium, where well-heeled fans can buy a main course costing more than their match ticket. The White Horse pub on Parson’s Green – also known as the “Sloaney Pony” – is equidistant between both clubs. This was my pub of choice on my last visit to The Cottage. I was in the away end when West Ham fans were good-naturedly chanting “You only drink white wine.” I’d be quite proud of that if I were a Fulham fan. Chants like that show that few folk have anything bad to say about the club or its supporters, having to resort to mocking people’s drinking habits.
In my time I’ve picked up two passengers associated with these clubs. Roberto di Matteo was still playing for Chelsea when I was asked to take him to Chutney Mary, an upmarket Indian restaurant that was at the time situated on New King’s Road. George Best spent his best days with Manchester United. He was still a star when I picked him up in my cab in about 1990 though by then he was best known for his drinking and clubbing exploits. Many cab drivers working around Mayfair and St James’s at that time can claim to have picked him up. I found him a quiet and pleasant man, and twice took him from Curzon Street to his flat in Oakley Street.
Cab drivers are regularly asked to take passengers to both grounds. Getting to Stamford Bridge is easy enough, though if you leave it late you’ll find Fulham Road closed off well before the stadium. Taking passengers to Craven Cottage the object is to avoid those narrow residential streets. A good run from the West End and you can stop for a starter at the River Café for lunch.
It only seems a few weeks since the end of the European Championships, but the domestic football season is already well underway. Football fans provide lots work for the cab trade: if you’re not taking them to stadiums, they’re travelling to and from stations or enjoying a day or a weekend in the capital. Let’s look a little at some of the football matches we can look forward to this season, by way of the cultural and geographical aspect.
I like football, but I know little about it; so don’t expect too much punditry about the merits of different teams and likely results. I should also point out that as a West Ham supporter I’m biased! All football fans have rational and irrational biases, so please bear with me if I go off on one.
Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal were formed in 1886 by munitions workers at Woolwich Arsenal, and originally named Dial Square (not a lot of people know that; I certainly didn’t). In 2013 they moved over the river to Highbury (being forced to play away for over a hundred years might explain their recent form). The club then moved into the Emirates Stadium in 2006, built close to the old Highbury stadium. The art deco façade of one side of their old stadium has been preserved. Predictably, the façade is now a backdrop to luxury flats. A nice place to live I should think, though I’m not sure what the parking situation’s like.
Tottenham Hotspur were formed in 1882, by schoolboy members of the Hotspur Cricket Club. Football was initially just something for members to do in the winter months. The imaginatively-named Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was built on the demolished site of the old stadium in 2019.
I’m a little envious of both clubs as to their stadiums. Tottenham lost the competition with West Ham to move into the Olympic Stadium, but they had the last laugh as they built a fantastic new stadium. And their fans don’t have to sit half a mile from the pitch.
I’d say these two North London heavyweights were ranked pretty evenly. Arsenal haven’t been the same since Arsene Wenger left, and although Tottenham looked as if they might challenge for the Premiership a couple of seasons ago, they seem to have slipped back a bit. They’re both unpredictable, but unbeatable on their day. West Ham rarely beat either of them. Never have. Usually only when Tottenham’s lasagne is poisoned.
Culturally, Arsenal fans would regard themselves as representing the more refined element of North London. This has always been the case to my knowledge. The stadium is on the borders of Highbury and Holloway. It’s typical London: busy, vibrant, diverse, and with traffic thundering through – or at 30mph at least. There’s a lot going on, and something for everybody; whether you want to buy some hooky gear in a pub or enjoy a meal in a wine bar.
My first bedsitter after leaving home in 1985 was in Sotheby Road in Highbury. I developed a soft spot for Arsenal (I’m getting over it now). I spent a lot of time in the Highbury Barn and Bank of Friendship pubs, and would walk up to see live bands at the George Robey. I loved it. I’ve little experience of Tottenham. The area has a bad reputation, but it’s probably no worse than a lot of other places. On my last visit there – in the cab with a Taxicard passenger – I thought the area around Downhills Park quite pleasant.
Arsenal are still something of a glamour club, boasting many celebrity supporters. Although they represent cosmopolitan North London, they’ve never been regarded as flash. They’re solid and dependable, though detractors call them boring.
Spurs have a more gritty working class image. There’s not much art deco gentrification in Tottenham, and fewer luxury flats to house celebrity supporters. They seem to have lived in Arsenal’s shadow for many years, but things have evened out in recent years.
From the Cab Driver’s Perspective
As a cab driver I visited these stadiums many times: mostly Arsenal as they were closest to Central London where I plied my trade. It was usually a pleasant drive through the less-used streets of Islington, with plenty of opportunities to impress my passengers with clever cut-throughs (probably bombed and banned now). Tottenham was a few miles further out, but so long as you weren’t too close to kick-off time you were all right: and even then, being able to us the bus lanes helped immensely. On one memorable Sunday afternoon a Chinese tourist stopped me at the Grosvenor House Hotel. He’d secured a ticket for Spurs v Arsenal and was clearly excited about the prospect of a big London derby. He was cutting it fine, but I got him there on time with help from bus lanes on Seven Sisters Road. The fare was a good £40.
Just before making a U-Turn by the stadium to make my way back to the West End I was aware of some people trying to hail my cab. It was a German family who had turned up without tickets unable to get in. I earned another £40 taking them back to where I’d just come from, the Grosvenor House.
If you get asked to take anyone to either stadium it’s definitely a job worth doing.
To read more, there are a few copies of my book left:
I' m a former London Cab Driver, writer, currently a qualified Careers Adviser. I am also a former Knowledge of London Examiner (old customers need not call me Sir any more, we're all equals here, dude).
I'll use this site to give my own idiosyncratic spin on the cab trade, and other social issues. There will be original edits of published magazine articles, plus shorter comments.
So, why Pubcat? Simply because I like pubs and I like cats; and I support the social inclusion of all animals in pubs (Yes, that's my house tiger, Rocky, sat on a London map when I was studying the Knowledge the second time round).