In the middle of the pandemic, when we were starved for any shred of football news, we kicked off a new series called Other Teams We Love, which, as the name suggests, provides us an opportunity to show a little love to some other football clubs we support outside of AS Roma. Already in this series we've explored my affection for Pescara, which would technically be my “home town” club, we looked at Jonas’ fond memories of Werder Bremen's 2003 squad and enjoyed Steven's appreciation for AC Siena, a club that captured a piece of his heart during a semester abroad.
This series has been a hell of a lot of fun to explore, so we hope you're enjoying it as much as we are, and the latest stop in this tour brings us to Southwest London. Specifically, to the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on the north bank of the River Thames, and more specifically to Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham Football Club since 1896.
In the early 2000s, spurred in part by the United States’ miraculous run in the 2002 World Cup, my once hardened (an ill-informed) opinion of the world's most popular sport gradually softened. Thanks in part to the exploits of Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, and Brian McBride—not to mention the cult of David Beckham, the wellspring of Ronaldinho dribbling videos that dominated the early days of video sharing, and that fella wearing #10 for Italy—the sport I once assumed was slow, boring, and reserved for kids whose parents wouldn’t let them play “real” football (the one where you don't use your feet but instead rammed your skull into the skull of another human) was soon revealed as anything but.
Spurred by this revelation, I began the desperate search for a club to call my own, a path that would eventually lead me to Roma. While conventional wisdom holds that all roads lead to Rome, I made a few stops before I reached the Eternal City, one of which wound its way to a quaint little 25,000 seater called Craven Cottage.
I wasn't an expert on English football, but I had no delusions about where Fulham stood: perpetually and barely hanging onto life in the Premiership. It wasn't for the faint of heart, but people don't flock to Fulham for titles, so what exactly drew me to The Cottagers?
This guy, the McBridinho himself, Brian McBride:
Signed by Fulham in the winter of 2004, McBride certainly wasn't the first American to test his mettle in England, but he was arguably the first outfield player to make a genuine impact, and certainly the first goal scorer of any repute to make the jump across the Atlantic. Twice a club player of the year, McBride would make over 150 appearances while scoring 40 goals for the Lily Whites in all competitions.
Inspired in part by McBride's success, Fulham tapped the Lower 48 two more times, bringing defender Carlos Bocanegra aboard in the same window as McBride before signing Clint Dempsey in 2006.
Dempsey, a.k.a. Deuce, took McBride's accomplishments to an entirely different level. Plying his trade at Craven Cottage for parts of six seasons, Dempsey scored 60 goals in all competitions, including an impressive 23 during the 2011-2012 season, which he then parlayed into a relatively high profile move to Tottenham, one that made him the highest-paid American footballer in the world.
McBride, Bocanegra, and Dempsey weren't the only Americans to ever suit up for Fulham, they weren't even the first, but their rise to prominence with the US National Team coincided with my burgeoning football fandom, so it was a natural connection.
Speaking of connections, Roma and Fulham have met once before (well, twice to be exact), in the inaugural Europa League during the 2009-2010 season. The first leg, held at Craven Cottage, was one to remember for Roma fans:
Watch that clip all the way to the end and you'll see Marco Andreolli’s one and only shining moment in a Roma shirt. In the 90th minute, with Roma down to their last touch of the ball, Andreolli settled David Pizarro's corner, took a touch, and deftly stroked the ball into the back of the net, securing a 1-1 draw and grabbing a precious away goal in the process.
Roma would win the return leg at the Olimpico 2-1 thanks to goals from John Arne Riise and Stefano Okaka and would advance from the group before falling to Panathinaikos by a 6-4 aggregate scoreline in the knockout stages.
I lost track of Fulham over the years (though I did watch them earn promotion last summer), but on that one glorious Southwest London evening, my two loves collided, and while Roma quickly and completely eclipsed Fulham in my heart, I'll be forever indebted to The Cottagers for helping my football fandom grow from a whisper to a roar.