BetButler. Knowing I would be down in the south over Easter I called in some favours and persuaded Fulham's betting partner to score me a pair of tickets for the Easter Monday derby with Chelsea. And they did. With gusto. I was only expecting a pair of common or garden tickets, but instead they furnished me with the full on Craven Cottage corporate experience, providing two tickets that individually would have cost more than any one of my Fulham season tickets.
We were let in at 5.30 at the Stevenage Road reception and walked through the stand to walk around the pitch to get to the Riverside. It was actually quite nice being in the empty stadium (apart from the stewards getting a pep talk in the stands) and Colin and I were reminiscing about the goals we had witnessed on the pitch (Dempsey v Juventus in particular).
We were 'hosted' by former Fulham player Fred Callaghan, which really entailed two short trips to our table to talk about the game. In fairness to Fred, with 75% of our table being Chelsea fans I can understand why he didn't bother with us too much. Still the champagne was provided freely as we looked onto a rather high and grim looking Thames and the food, when it came, was fine albeit a bit rushed. I would have been disappointed had I paid for it (but BetButler did - what a great idea for a company).
Our seats were in the 'directors area' which in truth, were just behind the proper directors area when Mo usually sits - although I didn't see him at this game. We did see a couple of Chelsea reserves sitting near us - Paulo Ferreira and Henrique Hilario. Strangely both seemed to be in training gear and tracksuits, as if they arrived at the Cottage with a chance of being in the squad.
Anyway the view from the directors area was superb - there's even a little TV in the roof where you can watch action replays. Actually it was more like action plays, as the TV was around 20 seconds behind the action right in front of us.
As for the game itself, well I was disappointed that Ruiz got injured at weekend, as he was one of the few players I hadn't seen live, but the cameo from Kerim Frei more than made up for it. A desire to run with the ball which is only usually seen by a) the young and fearless or b) the supremely talented and assured (Dembele) was extremely entertaining. The only problem was that because Fulham had lined up in a more traditional 4-5-1 to counter Chelsea's 4-5-1, there was not many options open to the young Austrian/Turk/Moroccan/Swiss winger once he had ghosted past Ivanovic (and Ramires) once again. Jol clearly fancies Frei against Chelsea for some reason - this was the young lad's third start against them this season and he didn't let his manager down. Several times crosses came in and they were easily mopped up at the front post by Cahill or Terry.
The first half saw Fulham rather comfortable and in control, albeit with no real danger on Chelsea's goal, so when Clattenberg awarded Chelsea a pen, it was even harder to take. On watching it live I thought it was no way a penalty. Watching it 20 seconds later, I thought it was a penalty. Then watching the action replay, I wasn't so sure again. But of course everyone was looking at Danny Murphy's challenge, not Stephen Kelly's. No-one apart from the ref realised Kelly was anywhere near. Which he wasn't.
Anyway Lampard put away the penalty (the only thing he really did all night) and took the opportunity to celebrate in front of the Hammy End, which was fair enough given the amount of times they called him a fat bastard when he went to take a corner. Fans have got to be bale to take it as much as they can give it. I've seen Frank have a laugh with that corner of the ground before now, so it's a love/hate relationship really.
The goal gave Chelsea confidence and they started the second half actually playing nice football and controlled the game for about 15 minutes. Credit to Fulham, they played their way back into the game and when they scored it was from a little sustained pressure. Cech made an astounding save from Hughes from a corner by pushing the defender's barnstorming header over the bar. However Dempsey was quick to retrieve the ball and throw it back out to Duff for a second corner which found the American completely unmarked. Goal machine Dempsey's header somehow found its way through the throng and bounced in at the far corner, Chelsea paying the price for not marking Fulham's top goalscorer.
BetButler also paid the price - I had a fiver on Dempsey to score the last goal. I love BetButler - it's the firm that keeps on giving. Also a special mention for FXPro through whom I also manged to get four free tickets for this game, although Jarrod was a bit upset to find their seats in the Putney End among the Chelsea fans than the Riverside, which is where we expected them to be.