(Check here for Part I of this post, and click here for Part II.)
Part I of this post argued that the EPL is worth your time and attention. Part II helped guide you away from 19 EPL teams not quite worth your fandom. Now, it's time for me to convince you, probably-a-Yankee blog reader, why you should be a Fulham fan.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit up front that my wife's friend's boyfriend plays for Fulham. Naturally, you understand that this 3-degrees-of-separation relationship makes it more difficult, not easier, for me to be a Fulham fan.
First, football players move around a lot, and there are no guarantees that this guy will be playing for Fulham in the fall. Because of a new global television deal, EPL teams will receive a massive influx of cash next year. As a result, Fulham – like many other teams in the league – is cleaning house in anticipation of purchasing players away from other domestic leagues. He's still a Cottager (Fulham's stadium is called Craven Cottage, and thus the players are sometimes called "Cottagers."), and I expect him to be a Cottager in the fall. But I won't hold my breath.
Second, rooting for a sports team because your wife's friend's boyfriend plays for them sounds an awful lot like a man crush. With professional male sports leagues standing as the last conspicuous bastion of rank homophobia within mass culture, fandom based on a foundation of mancrushery simply would not do.
Now that you've waded through pages and pages of preamble, it's finally time for the final list of...
- They Have the Most Americans of Any EPL Team. Sorry, international readers, but this article presumes a Yankee audience, so this is point #1. US players Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra anchor the Fulham team. Clint Dempsey joined the team in January from the US's MLS league, and provided the goal against Liverpool that kept Fulham in the EPL. Although he's from New Zealand, reserve midfielder Simon Elliott attended college in the US and played in the US's MLS afterward.
Because of all these US ties, commentators will occasionally refer to Craven Cottage as "Little America." Between regularly playing Americans and featuring team colors that are red, white, and black, Fulham is one hue away from looking like a US team in international play.
- They Have the Right Kind of Tycoon Owner. Many EPL clubs are owned by eccentric people of gigantic wealth. Chelsea is owned/ruled by Russian oil oligarch Roman Abramovich. Manchester United is owned by Malcolm Glazer, a US food executive despised by ManU fans. Liverpool was recently acquired by US investors George Gillett Jr. and Tom Hicks in a move that has Reds fans on edge.
Compare this motley crew with Fulham's owner, Mohamed Al-Fayed. Yes, that's the same Al-Fayed who owns the Harrods department store in London, and whose star-crossed son Dodi was alongside Princess Diana that fateful night in 1997. Some might find Fulham's association with Al-Fayed to be off-putting, but when forced to choose between Al-Fayed and a Russian kleptocrat or a bunch of American conglomerate executives, I'll pick Al-Fayed any day.
- The Underdog Factor — They're Not Even the Best Team in Their Neighborhood. As noted in Part II of this post, I'm averse to picking a team at the top of the EPL table. You should pick a good team, but not a great one, and Fulham is on the cusp of good-ness (A 10-game winless streak from February 4 through May 4 of this season argues against them being good right now.) When Fulham wins a game, it's because they really labored at it. Maybe I just like the struggle.
According to Google Maps, Fulham's stadium is less than 2 miles away from Chelsea's stadium, Stamford Bridge. (For comparison, the closest MLB ballparks are New York's Yankee and Shea Stadiums, which are nearly 10 miles apart. ) This kind of close proximity to big, fancy Chelsea lends middle-of-the-table Fulham with a kind of hardscrabble legitimacy.
- Your Friends Will Say, "Fulham Who?" Once you get to the point where you recognize the jerseys of EPL teams when you see them on the backs of people walking around in the US, you realize that 99% of these jerseys are either Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, or Arsenal jerseys.
...but when you start rocking a Fulham jersey, your friends will ask "Which team is that?" After explaining that it's Fulham, they'll ask you why you're a Fulham fan.