Michael McCarthy: Feathered friends down Fulham way

Rural Notebook
Click to follow

How many species of birds can you see from a Premier League football ground? Not many, you would suppose. A typical list might run: 1: pigeon, 2: pigeon, 3: pigeon, with, possibly, 4: gull (type unknown). But Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham FC, is different, because the ground backs directly on to an attractive stretch of the Thames, and all along the rear of the Riverside Stand runs a terrace overlooking the river.

Those of us Born To Follow Fulham, currently blessed in Roy Hodgson with a manager who brings the application of intelligence to the beautiful game, have always been blessed with the terrace. On a fine autumn or spring afternoon, there can be few more pleasant places in the whole of the footballing universe to wait with a drink for a game to begin, as the sweet Thames flows softly by and the scullers pull up and down, lazily and easily, past the ground.

But I find myself drawn even more towards the water to check out the bird life, my attention wandering from discussion with No 1 Son about Jimmy Bullard's ability in dead-ball situations to the dot near the opposite bank, as the thought forms in my head, "Gordon Bennett! That's a great crested grebe!" Admit it, you've never heard John Motson say that. My Craven Cottage List (as birdwatchers would say) now stands at 11 species: mallard, tufted duck, coot, black-headed gull, herring gull, Canada goose, cormorant, heron, mute swan, pied wagtail and the grebe aforesaid – the total no doubt boosted by the fact that the wonderful London Wetland Centre, Peter Scott's dream come true of a nature reserve in the heart of a city, is just across the river at Barnes.

I take great pleasure in looking across the water from the Riverside Stand terrace and knowing that the wetland centre is just over the way; but then, I take equal pleasure in looking across from Barnes, and catching sight of the floodlights of Craven Cottage. The next thing I want to see from the ground is a seal. You've never heard John Motson say that, either ("I do believe that's a seal, Gary").

Home to roost

Even Craven Cottage couldn't match the bird spectacle of the Finland's Euro 2008 qualifier against Belgium in June last year. The match in Helsinki (which the Finns won 2–0) was held up for several minutes when an eagle owl, the biggest owl in the world, flew into the stadium and roosted on one of the goals. The amazing footage is all there on YouTube. Eagle owls are now breeding in Britain, by the way – probably as a result of captive-bred birds having been released into the wild. More on this curious situation at another time.