An Endangered Species: The Fulhamerican

The Cottage will be lonely…

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.”

The original American bungalow….

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, earning his permanent residence at the Cottage….

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?

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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.

The King of Pop and the Chairman

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.

Dempsey, always going to wild heights for the Lilywhites

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.

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Recently from TSG: Clint, His Haul, & The American Now Caretaking At The Cottage

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37 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nelsonaoatl on 2012/07/17 at 9:31 PM

    Part of me wants him to stay with Fulham, the other to aspire to bigger clubs.

    Liverpool just doesn’t excite me.

    Reply

    • Posted by Jared on 2012/07/18 at 6:22 AM

      Liverpool does seem like a bit of a letdown if that’s where he ends up after the rumors linking him with Arsenal and his talk of Champions League. I would be surprised if Liverpool made the Champions League during Clint’s time with them (assuming 4 years based on his age and the usual restrictions clubs have on signing players that age to lengthy contracts). There just seem to be too many teams ahead of them and a dangerous team in Newcastle with a more established core and philosophy.

      Reply

  2. Posted by jonathan on 2012/07/17 at 11:52 PM

    Great compilation! Well done.

    Reply

  3. I also wish he would stay with Fulham. He would be a legend if he finished up with them. Now he will go to a bigger club and be forgotten among their long history of great players.

    Reply

  4. Posted by SamT on 2012/07/18 at 2:09 AM

    Agree with the sentiment that it’s difficult *not* to like Fulham. Been fortunate enough to catch a few matches at the Cottage when on business in London – wonderful place to see a match.

    And to this wonderful recap of the Fulhamerica era, let’s extend it just a little further back to the Eddie Lewis years – and the great struggles with his manager / villain Jean Tigana for club playing time and release for international duty. If memory serves, Eddie was the first Fulhamerican.

    Reply

  5. I’m super happy I can claim (accidental as it may be) early Fulham adopter status. I hobbled to Craven Cottage on crutches during a family trip to London in 1994. I asked the hotel where I could catch a game while I was in town. They sent me to Fulham. I think they were 2 leagues down at that point. The stadium was half empty and what supporters were there stormed the field and were forced off by police on horse-back.

    I became a Fulham fan the same time we all did but it wasn’t until 2009 on another trip to London that I made the connection that it was “FULHAM” who i watched all those years back.

    So yes, I will always claim I’ve supported them since 1994.

    Reply

  6. I’m an American who has supported Fulham BEFORE they reached the Premiership and I know many who were there before me. People on the outside can’t seem to grasp that Fulham have had American fans BEFORE McBride & Dempsey and will have them long after Demps leaves.

    Reply

  7. When I started watching the Premier League, I naturally gravitated towards Fulham. Consider myself a Newcastle fan now, but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Cottagers. Watching them work their way to the Europa final a few years back was awesome.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Josh on 2012/07/18 at 11:00 AM

    You wrote: “[I]t was McBride who paved the path along the Thames River. Soon following were Carlos Bocanegra…”

    This isn’t correct. While McBride played in England on loan for PNE in 2000 and Everton in 2003, Bocanegra signed with Fulham and played his first match before McBride signed.

    http://www.fulhamfc.com/Club/News/NewsArticles/2004/January/13/BocanegraJoinsFulham.aspx
    http://www.football-lineups.com/match/41739/
    http://www.fulhamfc.com/Club/News/NewsArticles/2004/January/20/BrianMcBrideSigns.aspx

    Additionally, Bocanegra also started almost every match of the second half of that season; McBride scored some big goals including a winner vs. Spurs just 8 minutes into his debut, but was mainly a sub until he really established himself as a starter in the 2005-06 season.

    http://www.football-lineups.com/footballer/1196/?t=145&s=18
    http://www.football-lineups.com/footballer/1195/?t=145&s=18

    So, while I love McBride as much as every other American Fulham supporter, I think it’s disrespectful to Bocanegra not to give him equal credit in blazing the trail for Americans at the Cottage.

    Reply

  9. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/07/18 at 11:36 AM

    *Real* fans don’t stop supporting a team just because a player leaves, even if it’s your best player or because you’re American and said player is to too. That is ridiculous.

    Reply

    • This brings up another point: what does it mean to be a “real” fan? Does one have to inherent a family fandom? Does one need shed tears (as I saw so many City fans doing when it looked as if ManU was about to win the title) over a team’s triumphs and failures? Does one need support a team for a certain period of time before earning the title “real” fan? Why can’t “real” fans support individual players or the sport itself over a specific team?

      Fulham, through fielding American players, brought a LOT of American fans to the English *game* (myself included). Some were more dedicated to the *team* than others. Most all still share some affinity for Fulham, even if only to the point where it’ll never be the club that makes your blood boil (Chelsea, City, Liverpool) or that club you wished would see the drop because you think they play ugly football and have Joey Barton (QPR). That’s the point of this article.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/07/18 at 2:09 PM

        Then call yourself a football fan rather than a Fulham fan!

        If one stopped being a Patriots fan because Brady left for the Cowboys, and started to follow them, most people would have something to say about that…

        FWIW I have more respect for overseas fans who support non G14 clubs. It’s easy being a glory supporter.

        Reply

        • Posted by Nelson on 2012/07/19 at 4:47 PM

          that’s not a good analogy. maybe if tom brady was british and the fan was too.

          Reply

          • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/07/20 at 12:39 PM

            That’s not the point. If I was a t-shirt wearing fan of ABC and then became a fan of XYZ because of one player’s departure, I think you’d in turn trivialize my fandom and think I was fickle and flaky.

            Reply

            • Posted by Nelsonaoatl on 2012/07/20 at 2:21 PM

              I guess I’m just trying to point out the situation American “fans” are in now . I’m sure some are more inclined to be a fan of the player than they are the club. I always liked Tottenham and then became more fanatic when Keane joined. He left for Liverpool and I wanted him to do well but it didn’t waiver in my allegiance to spurs. so I can understand your argument. I just don’t think flakey is the best adjective for casual Fulham fans who truly follow Dempsey.

              oh and COYS!

      • Well put. I’ve been happy to follow players rather than clubs in Europe for a while now, and quite happy with that approach. I would never abandon my primary club, FC Dallas, but I don’t have history or emotional entanglement with any club on the other side of the ocean. I tune into European matches to be entertained, and gravitate toward underdogs and the club that has the players, style, tactics, spending history, etc. that I find most attractive on that day.

        Reply

  10. When I was in middle school, one of my best friends was a Man U fan and I realized that I *needed* an EPL team to call my own. Since I didn’t have a lot of information available to me (I grew up in a small town in Kentucky), I did my best to choose a team that “fit me” as a person. I chose Fulham then (they were third tier at the time) because of their long history, location (both London and in Bishop’s Park), historic stadium (the legends of the Craven Cottage location and it’s supposed history with Anne Boleyn), their constant underachievement (a la my beloved Chicago Cubs), and it was a club that I could never be accused of bandwagoning with. Besides that last part about bandwagoning, it all still holds true for me and now I have my own history of supporting the club for over 15 years. When McBride came, and then Demp, it was just added bonus that they happened to be American. Over the last few years, it has been more and more difficult to overcome the accusations of only following FFC because of their American players. Having to hear that from Brits is one thing (the ones I’m friends with know better and the rest are isolated to the internet), but having to now hear it from American EPL fans is even more annoying.

    Reply

    • Re. Anne Boleyn, I believe it is in fact West Ham United who has the association with Henry VIII’s second wife.

      Reply

      • “The original ‘Cottage’ was built in 1780, by William Craven, the sixth Baron Craven and was located on the centre circle of the pitch. At the time, the surrounding areas were woods which made up part of Anne Boleyn’s hunting grounds.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craven_Cottage

        Yes, this is from Wikipedia, but this story has been repeated many times over in various articles.

        Reply

    • Love your path to being a Fulham fan, embracing beyond the list of Titles and silverwear. Remember folks, as many like me, born and bred in Fulham I could have been a Chelsea fan but for the grace of humanity I’m not.

      Reply

  11. Posted by matthewsf on 2012/07/18 at 5:49 PM

    So I can relate to where Eric comes from and here are my two cents.

    I don’t have an MLS team. I might if there was a team in San Francisco and would want to be.

    I became an Everton fan basically when they started showing Prem games here in the States. The quality of soccer was much better than the domestic league and I basically loved Tim Cahill.
    The only other criteria I had as a NY Yankees fan was I wanted a team that was more grassroots and actually didn’t have a boatload of cash.

    It’s been a weird relationship between Everton and I. I don’t make sure to see them every week but every time I watch them I just want the other team to die. :)

    The challenge I think lies in the unique nature of soccer in America. The English product was just so much better, but–to me–if you don’t have some geographic roots to a team it makes it difficult to truly cultivate a relationship. Sports at their essence are designed around creating a commonality between people in proximity to one another.

    All I’m saying is it makes it difficult to be a diehard fan. Why? Because if Everton get their brains beat in by say Liverpool, the next day I’m moping around with myself….in San Francisco. They don’t identify.

    This to me is some of the fabric of Eric’s piece. McBride or Dempsey allowed me to share my rooting experience with people in close proximity. Be it offline or online.

    It’s easier these days with the comprehensiveness of the web, but still it’s a very “relative” event. So I sympathize with Weic and I don’t begrudge those who feel differently or adverse to Eric. It’s all about what is important to fandom to you.

    It’s easier to be a Fulham fan these days, butnid Fulham were to, say, crush Manchester United the next day, if I were in London,ight feel like ecstasy where here in the States you’d be dying to tell the guy on the steeet.

    Reply

  12. I’m a Red Bulls & Medellin fan, I don’t care about any other team unless there’s an American or Colombian (especially American) because I want the players, MLS and USMNT to succeed.
    I’m hoping Dempsey gets picked up by a Champions League bound team but that’s not looking likely so I’ll support Liverpool (and Roma, Bolton, Schalke, AZ, Santos, Rapids Vienna, etc)
    Maybe Fulham can buy/loan Brek Shea next season.

    Reply

  13. Posted by BernieBernier on 2012/07/19 at 5:13 AM

    “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?”

    This questions answered a debate I have been having with myself for a number of years. I started following Fulham in 2006-7 season as I finally lived in a location that allowed me to get Fox Soccer Ch (oddly FSC was the entry point but all my favorite memories are were on GoalTV, the Murphy goal to complete the great escape, the Europa League run). I was attracted to Fulham because of the American’s and the fact that they were shown of FSC pretty regularly. Remember watching Dempsey score and not comprehending the magnitude of that goal but somehow by next year I was on FulhamUSA regularly. Building up to sitting at the airport trying to constantly refresh the BBC website on my smartphone to see how the Portsmouth game was going. From there the relationship has bloomed to the point where is they aren’t on TV I am listening to Gentleman Jim call the game through the official website.

    Along the way when the Dempsey rumors started I wondered what would I do. George is right that a true fan of a team wouldn’t leave because one player left. Dempsey may be my favorite player and I would want to watch him at Liverpool or wherever he went but that doesn’t mean I would be a fan of Liverpool.

    When I read that question it was clear to me I would be devastated for Fulham but happy for Clint. Happy for Liverpool never entered the equation. Clint going to Liverpool probably means I watch a couple more Liverpool games but it won’t stop me from listening to or watching (when I get the chance) Fulham games. Or visiting various Fulham websites to get the scoop.

    So on to the real question, which American do we get next?

    Reply

    • Martin Jol could do wonders with Brek Shea…

      Reply

    • I think Brek Shea could thrive under Martin Jol’s system…

      Reply

      • Posted by Berniebernier on 2012/07/19 at 3:20 PM

        Maybe, but its a lot of pressure because he will automatically be the next Clint Dempsey to a lot of fans being from Texas, coming from the MLS, basically playing the same position. That is a lot of weight. I would really like to see Fulham get a DM/box to box MF like Kljestan. Diarra can’t be counted on (he is just at that age where we will be lucky if he plays 30 games), Murhpy is gone and Etuhu is crap (IMO).

        Reply

      • Posted by Excellency on 2012/07/22 at 10:15 AM

        Fullham like to go with older, experienced players (duff, riise, hangeland, et al). Brek needs an athletic team to run with like Arsenal (if he were good enough).

        Reply

    • Posted by 2tone on 2012/07/20 at 11:51 AM

      Personally, I think Chris Pontius would be a very good buy for Fulham!!!!!!

      Reply

  14. This is EXACTLY why some Fulham fans didn’t lap up the American support just saw it a fickle bandwagon jumping on board which would slightly dilute the true voice of the fans. I welcome anyone, join the Fulham family but please place your pseudo support inbetween your bum cheeks

    Reply

  15. It would fantastic to continue the Fulhamerica as players coming though the game over there seem to have a fantastic work ethic which i have no doubt has a bearing on how the beautiful game has been marginalised somewhat by the powers that be, as a kids game. Every Fulham fan has had a path to following the club if it takes an American joining then so be it, for others as a 3 year old it could be because it begins with the letter F! But the fickle support just isnt welcomed. Support Liverpool? Not even Champions LEague and did you see the disrespect shown to Roy as well as the blind support for Suarez. Once a great club is now a joke.

    Reply

    • Posted by Nelson on 2012/07/19 at 4:51 PM

      I think Suarez’s remark was lost in translation. It’s not a big deal to say “negro” (black) in Spanish. In fact many of his black Uruguayan teammates acknowledged its usage. Maybe there was something else I missed but I really think that was overblown….Either way, I’m not a ‘pool fan, unless it’s the Beatles we’re talking about.

      Reply

  16. Posted by R. on 2012/07/22 at 7:02 AM

    I don’t think many Americans understand what supporting a football or ‘soccer’ team really means. This is understandable in part due to the fact that the only real connection many make is via a computer screen at like 6 in the morning. I appreciate I am generalising here but apart from with maybe clubs in the US, it is difficult to make that bond and understand what it means to support a club. You wont have grown up with the football experience of supporting a club, the majority of you, I would say are just casual football fans.

    Reply

    • And people call Americans ignorant. The most uninformed and offensive message possible on this topic. Get over yourself, as you have no idea about the level of fandom in my life.

      Reply

  17. Posted by Excellency on 2012/07/22 at 10:12 AM

    Many fans are not the dunderheads that Madison Ave would have you believe. I’d rather see good English football at Craven Cottage than a lot of media hype around Lpool which is a mess of a club. Dempsey will not be playing Champion’s League ball at Lpool. At any rate, he’d have a better chance of that by going to Ncastle, Everton or just staying at Fullham altho Fullham would have to add players whereas Ncastle and Everton just need to add Dempsey, go at it and hope for the best.

    If Clint goes to Lpool he should tell Henry to pull his pants off and shake them upside down.

    Reply

  18. [...] The Shin Guardian looks at that endangered species, the Fulhamerican. [...]

    Reply

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