As many of you know, I’ve been a supporter of Fulham Football Club for several years now. It didn’t happen overnight but was more of a process as I believe it is for many U.S. soccer fans who follow the English Premier League. After loosely supporting a team or two, I finally stuck on Fulham, primarily because of Americans Carlos Bocanegra and Brian Mc Bride. Eventually the team had 5 Americans on the squad but I had already grown quite fond of the often underdogs, with no regard to the American players. With that said, it was a bit of a disappointment to have so many American players leave the Cottage this past summer, and then to have Clint Dempsey find it hard to get a start. Especially after Dempsey had to prove himself under 3 separate managers in a year and a half and had been a hero for Fulham for several years now. He scored a goal that kept Fulham from relegation on the last game of the 06/07 season against a depleted Liverpool squad and then became the team’s top goal scorer up to the midseason mark in 07/08 season, even though managers Lawrie Sanchez and Roy Hodgson had him playing just about every position avaiblable on the team.
Fulham have had their share of ups and downs with relegation scares far too often the last couple of years. Last year was called the “great escape”, as Fulham made a remarkable comeback the last two months of the season with a famous win the final day against Portsmouth that kept them up.
Fulham were playing better and better throughout the second half of last year as one of the most experienced managers in Europe, Roy Hodgson, took the reigns just before the festive season. Hodgson has radically changed the roster of the team over the last two transfer periods and has formed the club into a cohesive unit all playing with the same cause.
Fulham are a little club without the money that some teams have to spend. Particularly in SW6, where they share the postal code with Chelsea, who were truly a mid-range table team themselves until new owner and Russian billionaire, Roman Abromovich, threw loads of questionable money at the team in the new millennium. This is actually one of the complaints that I have about the Prem. If you don’t support one of the top 4 clubs, and we all know who they are, you will often find some fairly drab games. In fact this has happened to Fulham again this year. Where there was some great frustration -and excitement- if you followed Fulham the last several years, now they are firmly in the top ten teams in the Premiership and sitting at #9 as this post is written. In order to achieve that status, the team must play a very safe and a bit innocuous sort of futbol. Teams that don’t have a lot of money to spend on players in the Prem. need to play this way in order to do well, although the argument of Hull would certainly prove me wrong in this rare case.
I am enjoying the current Fulham season however, even if the play is a bit milk toast. It’s nice not to have to be concerned with relegation each and every week, and it’s also a lot of fun following a team that isn’t buying it’s way into the top 4 every season.
Chelsea was for years known as a team with some of the worst hooligans in London, if not the English 1st division and then the Premiership when that league was created in 1992. So there is no Fulham love for their west London rivals. However, a team of lesser talent, like Fulham, understand their place and know they are most likely not going to pull off a huge upset, even if playing at home as they did today. However, Fulham did compete hard and when all was said and done, even though being outshot 24-5, played good defense and came back in extra time with a U.S. International team player, Clint Dempsey goal, in the 90th minute of play. Dempsey also scored the first goal for Fulham, making it a banner day for the U.S. striker/midfielder who had clearly been out of form recently. Dempsey has also scored several other goals for Fulham recently, beside’s his brace today. It seemed as if he was making a statement today that he’s back in form and has no intention of playing second fiddle to anyone at Fulham FC.
It’s a good year to be a Fulham fan, even if it’s not quite as exciting as the past several years.
As the sun set on the day in London and on the game at Craven Cottage, Clint Dempsey’s 90th minute equalizing header fly’s into the upper corner and past Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Petr Cech.