This is Eric Beard‘s second piece for The Shin Guardian. Eric is Wikipedia-like on global soccer. He founded and created the excellent A Football Report and he also is a recent great pick-up for The NY Times.
We’re all in a long distance relationship.
Some of us are casually making an effort to keep in contact with good friends. Others want to maintain a more intimate relationship. Sometimes sacrifices are made to keep this symbiotic relationship thriving.
Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to endure distance with technology shrinking our desired surroundings so that they are accessible at our fingertips. T
That being said, the ever-potent poison to any relationship is apathy. There needs to be a spark, a connection that keeps us interested in continuing a conversation.
While some are more committed than others, all American soccer fans have developed a relationship with Fulham. Many of us have been in a relationship with Fulham for nearly a decade, since Brian McBride moved to England permanently in January 2004 for a mere $1.5 million. Again, the feeling is mutual.
As McBride explained earlier this year, “While our Premier League rivals are only now just discovering the delights of America’s top leagues, it’s fair to say that [Fulham’s] been unearthing its hidden treasures.”
Eddie Lewis’s cup of coffee as the 2000s decade turned creaked the door open, but it was McBride who paved the path along the Thames River. Soon following were Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Kasey Keller, and easy Eddie Johnson.
Fulham earned and embraced the nickname “Fulhamerica.”
American Airlines advertisements began popping up along the Cottage’s pitch and on the club’s official website. For American fans, Fulham became a second home in a land that made American players fight for every word of praise.
The turn of the 2006-20007 to 2007-08 season was iconic for two of American soccer’s best attacking players of all time.
McBride earned the captain’s armband in August, but it was Clint who had just kept Fulham afloat in the Premier League with a match-winning goal against Liverpool on Cinco de Mayo two short months earlier.
McBride decided to move back to Chicago at the end of 07-08 campaign, but only after he was named Fulham’s Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons. McBride was not only a dream player for any manager, but he was an honest, hardworking person. In the most English manner possible, the club granted him legend status by naming a pub inside Craven Cottage “McBride’s.”
But as one club legend departed, another had finally been given the freedom to showcase his talent. Clint lifted his game and the club reached new heights with an unbelievable run to the Europa League final. No American, English, or Italian fan will forget that chip against Juventus, but little did we know that such an ineffably perfect goal only scratched the surface of Deuce’s potential. Clint soon became Fulham’s all-time leading goalscorer and one of the highest regarded players in the Premier League.
Of course, this isn’t new information. You know exactly what Clint and Brian have accomplished, but isn’t it nice to bask in the nostalgia?
As nice as it is to look back, nostalgia’s presence at Fulham is problematic. Not to go too abstract, but nostalgia’s roots lie in two Greek words: nóstos (homecoming) and álgos (ache). Fulham and American fans long to see another driven header from McBride or a 35-yard-blast from Dempsey, but it’s clear that these things won’t be occurring at Craven Cottage ever again.
The two are fantastic professionals, but – as stated earlier – their overlapping careers in London have created an undeniable revolution in Europe’s unforgiving cultural landscape. Existing as a place for Americans to thrive in the Best League in the World™ and as a channel to gain acceptance into arguably the most elitist system in sports, Fulham has played an irreplaceable role in the development of American soccer.
Having already established that soccer fans in the States have a soft spot for the Cottagers, we are now faced with a new dilemma. As Clint Dempsey eyes those Scouse shores, Fulham will – for the first time since we’ve all started supporting them (let’s be honest) – have no Americans in their squad. From this point forward, the most American thing at Craven Cottage will be a statue of Michael Jackson (R.I.P.).
As a Fulhamerican, I look at this club and all the joy it has brought me. But with Clint departing, there is doubt where there was never uncertainty in previous years. Through history, the connection with the club is illuminated, but the attraction fades. Success for Fulham used to be equated with a slice of triumph for Clint, Brian, or US Soccer, but now the significance attached to the club’s success is singular.
For the first time in a decade, Fulham’s results do not carry the hopes of a nation with them. That being said, it seems impossible to dislike Fulham. Chelsea fans may be an exception to this claim, but the club encompasses a bizarre combination of humility, entertainment, and remarkable success relative to clubs of the same stature. Fulham is simply a likeable club, and I’ll be happy to watch Martin Jol continue to supply an entertaining brand of soccer.
Perhaps the real problem stems from the initial reasons for supporting Fulham, notably an unabashed American pride from 3,000 miles away. My exposure to the Premier League may be second to none, but my relationship with it is primitive compared to those with the New England Revolution (hometown club), FC Barcelona (supported them since I was 9 and spent a year living in Barcelona), and AC Perugia (trained with them when I was 16). I’d hate to brand myself a fair weather Fulham fan, as that doesn’t seem to truly capture the essence of my support.
The treacherous truth is that if Clint Dempsey joins Liverpool, then I will want Liverpool to qualify for the Champions League. My support is a paradox. National pride and a connection with Clint undermine loyalty on a club level, yet it subsequently professes uncompromising loyalty on another level. The notion of supporting Deuce urges me to support Liverpool. The Bostonian in me is screaming for me to support Liverpool (and John W Henry). Even my best friend has been trying to get me to convert for years…
Despite all the incentives, it’s far too fickle to disassociate with Fulham entirely. Perhaps we won’t interact for two hours on a weekly basis, but the connection certainly won’t disintegrate either. However, there’s no prize to be won in pretending that nothing has changed. I hope Fulham’s fantastic stateside presence lives on, but the sooner we come to terms with the fact that watching Fulham will be a different experience, the better.
If Clint scores a goal at Craven Cottage that sends Liverpool into the Champions League and sends Fulham into the Championship, what emotions will you feel? Such a situation possesses nuances, transcending a mere black and white conceptualization. I know many will join me in supporting Deuce wherever he ends up, and there’s no shame to hope that the few remaining years in his career will be as successful as possible. But remember, memories will be made wherever he plays, and these connections cannot be dropped and added on an annual basis.
Recently from TSG: Clint, His Haul, & The American Now Caretaking At The Cottage