After the period at the ‘Half Moon’ ground, the next important move by Fulham was to Craven Cottage in 1896. The colours were again changed, this time to shirts with red bodies, white sleeves and collars as now worn by Arsenal F.C. At this time the Craven Cottage house and ground were in a very dilapidated state (*), the grounds were all ups and downs, covered with uncared-for trees and shrubs, and dotted with lakes and mud left by high tide floods.
Members of the committee and supporters all put their shoulders to the wheel, and everyone concerned showed great enthusiasm and keenness in efforts to assure a really good home for the club. Harold Wilkins - also a master at Halford Road School - was the secretary, and this player of earlier days had a great hand in developing the Club. The following is an extract from a local paper of September 12th; 1896:
‘ But while the Stanley F.C. are seeking fresh fields and pastures new, the Fulham Football Club have been making extensive arrangements in order to meet the requirements of the sporting section of the community. Their efforts in providing such a magnificent ground as that which is now being prepared at Craven Cottage, Crabtree Lane, deserves to meet with extensive patronage. The new ground, which will be ready for opening in about three weeks time, is in the form of a vast amphitheatre, and is capable of accommodating some 20,000 persons; it is in fact, almost a replica of the famous arena at Crystal Palace.
No expense has been spared by the committee who are now considering plans for the erection of a grandstand and pavilion. A track is to be prepared outside the turf, and its possibilities will be about four laps to the mile. The club hopes to make the ground a centre of athletic sports generally. It is a boon, the need of which has been long and sorely felt in Fulham. The Club this season has entered for the English Cup, London League, London and Middlesex Senior Cups, besides having arranged a capital programme of what may be called private fixtures.
The fact that the organisation has become possessed of the new ground has already given it a splendid impetus in its favour, for 40 new members have joined since the commencement of the year, bringing its total to about 250. Mr Hayes Fisher, M.P. for Fulham, is the patron, and Mt. T.W. Shrimpton, the captain.’
Mr. Arthur Thomas, the honorary treasurer, and Mr. Arthur Wilson, a member of the committee, also put in splendid work for the Club at the time. The circumstances in which the Craven Cottage ground was obtained were these: it was the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and leased to Mr. Tod Heatley. From the latter, Fulham F.C. obtained tenancy on the ‘half gate’ principle, that is to say, half of the gate money was paid to the landlord as rent. In after years, other possession arrangements were made.
On obtaining the ground the then Fulham committee found themselves faced with the task of filling in the creek which led from the Thames, and felling the vast number of trees on the estate. This work was done by contract, and a local firm was given the job of raising the ground some six feet above the high water level and completing it as a playing pitch with a Cumberland turf surface.
The dressing rooms, which comprised substantial wooden buildings, were made and erected by members of the committee and honorary members in their spare time, supervised by Mr Harry Coleman, also an old player and committee man. There were two team dressing rooms and one for officials, in addition to a members’ room with fully licensed canteen.