Last night was the heartbreaking second overtime defeat of Fulham FC by Atletico Madrid in the finals of the Europa League. The feeling when that Atletico ball hit the back of the net with less than four minutes left in the second overtime – minutes away from a penalty shoot out – was absolutely devastating. But now, having given away the unhappy ending, I can focus on what was, without question, the greatest sports experience of my life and my mother’s last full day in the UK.
It was already set to be a very sporty day. We had plans to visit the Wimbledon grounds and museum to get a taste of the famous tennis venue, even if we couldn’t see any matches, and that evening we were off to see Fulham play a home match against Hamburg in the semi-finals of the Europa League.
The Wimbledon grounds had a great little museum, outlining the history of the club and the game of tennis however much more exciting was the tour. Although the Championships are still almost two months away, there was already a lot of activity underway to get the grass prepared, the facilities in top shape and the tournament going. In fact, both Court 1 and Centre Court had 24 hour guard staff and guard dogs to protect the grass. Our tour guide claimed it was to keep the foxes off but the speed of the guards’ reaction when someone on the tour got too close to the grassy courts suggested they were prepared to tackle bigger threats to the greenery.
The highlights of the tour were, of course, Court 1 and Centre Court but also, a surprise as I hadn’t expected this to be part of the tour, the briefing room. Mom and I got to spend a happy few moments pretending we were winning Wimbledon players in the press room, chatting with reporters about our successful match.
We ended the tour at Centre Court and it was probably the closest I will ever be to that lawn but even with empty seats, no players and guards watching the grass, the atmosphere was electric and I can only imagine how exciting it must be to watch the finals in that stadium.
The afternoon allowed us some time to shop around Wimbledon. While Wimbledon is considered part of greater London, it has a completely unique feel to the rest of the city. It is significantly more rural, the Wimbledon golf course adding some open space between the residential area and some of the busier parts of London, and the pace is a bit less frantic. Wimbledon Village still retains a village feel – and has some great shopping.
A long morning in Wimbledon left us just enough time for a quick tour through the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington before heading back to Fulham for dinner and pregame drinks. We found a perfect riverside pub, The Blue Anchor, for a last plate of fish and chips while I caught my mother up on Fulham’s incredible journey through the Europa League which had brought them to the semi-finals, briefed her on our key players, and generally talked soccer until she tuned out completely.
Finally it was game time. The whole Fulham riverside was buzzing and we definitely weren’t the only people heading from the Blue Anchor to the game. Fulham had to win tonight – a draw or a loss would see them removed from the tournament and the crowd was ready for a show.
Things got off to a rough start when Hamburg scored just before the end of the first half and my mother began to wonder how she would deal with a distraught daughter on the last night before her flight home should things continue to spiral downward.
She needn’t have worried. With 20 minutes left in the match, Fulham pulled ahead 2-1 and the Cottage exploded. Known for being one of the most calm, family-friendly and sedate stadiums and set of fans in the league, the Cottage and Cottagers were all in unison screaming their heads off – and the noise didn’t let up until the final whistle, sending Fulham through to the Europa finals. It was, without question, one of the greatest nights of my life and I’m so glad I got to share that with my mother (who didn’t entirely understand the significance of the event but was happy we won – even if just so as not to put up with me the next day).
And that officially ends my mother’s one week in England. I’ll try to do a recap post with all of the places we visited and links to attractions we saw. It was a crazy, busy, exciting, whirlwind of a week and although I may have tired her out immensely, I think we both enjoyed the whole experience.