There was still an hour before kick-off when the Fulham pub burst to life.

A couple of kilometres away at Craven Cottage, the Whites were going through their pre-match preparation ahead of a largely irrelevant clash with Nottingham Forest, but the festivities had well and truly begun at The Temperance.

The cause of the noise at the nearby watering hole? A 69th-minute strike for Barry Bannan in Sheffield Wednesday's meeting with Derby, another English Championship encounter that at first glance beared little relation to events in London's southwest.

The uproar was a result of three factors. First, the pub was filled with away supporters who had made the 225km trip from the Midlands. Second, those Forest fans, by virtue of geographical proximity, hate Derby, as they let everyone know. Finally, and most importantly, English football supporters know how to enjoy their sport.


My first taste of the match-going experience might have been spent on the second tier of the long England ladder, but it illuminated just why football doubles as religion there.

The Temperance was packed to capacity at 2pm, with two games taking prominence on the multitude of televisions. Consigned to the smaller screens was a Premier League fixture featuring Manchester City, with The Temperance showing an awareness of its audience and offering the Derby game on a projector.

Bannan's goal was greeted with as much enthusiasm as any of the three Forest would soon score in their comfortable victory over Fulham, leaving the visiting fans in fine mood as they swilled the last of their pints for the 10-minute stroll to Craven Cottage.
The home of Fulham since 1896, the narrow turnstiles and cosy seats suggest a stadium built when the average man was much smaller. How a more cliched English football fan - the type whose beer belly spills out from underneath a 3XL replica shirt - would watch their favourite team remained a mystery.

Given football's close association with loutish behaviour, it's surprising supporters are prevented from consuming booze in the stands - although that hardly ensures sobriety.
Instead, in addition to pre-loading at the local, fans simply drink in the concourses until the last possible moment, a practice repeated en masse at halftime. In Craven Cottage it can all be rather intimate, but that allows for a chance to engage in first-half analysis with 20 of your closest friends.

And there is clear camaraderie among supporters. Having snagged seats on halfway in the Johnny Haynes Stand, the repartee flowing from the surrounding seats was indicative of bonds formed between season-ticket holders who see one another 20-odd times a season.

For the lowly Fulham, that largely meant a healthy dose of gallows humour, but the rowdy 3000-strong section where the visitors sat - sorry, stood and sang - was no reflection of Forest's equally modest standing.

And why would they be glum? Setting aside the victory, what a wonderful day out - travelling down with mates, experiencing some local hospitality, watching footballing heroes before heading home.

That day trip, and the day out this 'local' enjoyed, begged a couple of questions of this country: why do we avoid travelling in numbers to away games and why do we refuse to play professional sport in daylight hours?

At a time of declining crowds and waning interest, those two facets add so much to the match-going experience, the product on the pitch almost becomes secondary.