I'm a dude. And as such, I like talking to other dudes. When we can't think of much else to say, we default to sports.
This is great when some dude wants to talk SEC football, but I've recently become enamored with soccer in a very big way. It's a great game to watch, and it should be an "in" with dudes everywhere. So I decided I need a team to root for. And the logical place to pick one was the English Premier League, or EPL, the greatest of them all.
We usually grow up with these things, which is how I am cursed with being an Ole Miss football fan. Still, it had to be done, so I developed a set of criteria and took them on a recent trip to England. I would let the locals pick a team for me.
First, I needed a team that wasn't already good and loaded with stars and money. No Yankees or Red Sox. Some quick Googling ruled out Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea. But I would like to point out that the home grounds (that's what they call stadiums there) for three of those teams are called Old Trafford, Anfield, and Stamford Bridge. And those aren't pet food companies. They appear to be neighborhoods.
Next criterion: nobody who's hopeless — I already have the Rebels.
Next: somebody who still plays in the old place — no corporate naming rights, no glossy new stadium with skyboxes.
They also need to be in London. I don't care how good they are in Birmingham (which they pronounce "BIR-ming-um"), I'm not going up there on my soccer vacation. Oh, and it's called "football" over there, which makes a lot more sense since they actually kick the ball all the time.
Final criterion: They need an American who actually plays. This is a little like saying you want an NBA team with a German (hello, Mavericks!), since we Yanks are kind of the runts of the soccer world.
I ran all this past various English dudes, and they came up with two choices: Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur. The latter is an actual team name, by the way, but not one I could identify with. I already have to explain "Ole Miss" to people. When I found out that Fulham plays in a place called Craven Cottage on the banks of the Thames in the oldest ground currently in the EPL and that their leading scorer is from Texas, I was in.
There are, however, certain things that come with being a supporter of a new side (read "fan of a new team"). You need to know what the hell you're talking about, and you need some colors. So I went over to the ground for a visit. Craven Cottage is impossibly charming, located in a quiet neighborhood next to a park by the river, with about 25,000 seats, a roof that looks like Churchill Downs, and, get this, no big TVs! It's like the Fenway Park or Wrigley Field of England. It's also known as being inexpensive to get into and more family-friendly than your average club. They finished eighth in the 20-team league this year. All good points.
At the team store — excuse me, club shop — I decided to get a jersey, which I found out is a part of England, not a shirt. What they wear during games ... I mean matches ... is called a kit. And the field is a pitch. Right. So the lads wear kits during the match on the pitch down at the ground. I'll get this.
I asked them to put the name Dempsey on the back — that's the team's star American, Clint Dempsey of national team fame — and the nice lady told me, "Sorry, dear, but we're fresh out of S's today." A club in the world's greatest league, out of S's today. I am so in love with this team.
I asked about a historical book or something, and she offered two videos: one about every time they've beaten Manchester United and one called Seventh Heaven, about the time they finished seventh in the league. Substitute "Tennessee" and "New Orleans Bowl," and I may have found the Memphis Tigers of English football.
English dudes ... let's say lads ... seemed to approve of my choice. Fulham is a popular, non-threatening second choice for them, except for fans of Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers, who are within about six miles of Fulham in West London and whom I apparently now hate.
I do see a few problems with the new arrangement. For one thing, I now have to worry about things like Dempsey possibly leaving for a big-time Italian team this summer and our (see, I said "our") early pre-season start because of getting into the Europa League. And, I have to figure out what the hell the Europa League is and how we got into it when we're already in the English Premier League.
There's also a statue of Michael Jackson at Craven Cottage; I guess he was a fan, but still, that's weird. And since they wear white at home, Fulham are often called "the Whites," and a big cheer is COYW, or Come On You Whites! This is beyond awkward for a Southerner.
Still, I am ready to be a good fan — to obsess over player contracts, bitch about bad bounces, yearn for the glory to come, and talk smack to people wearing the wrong color. I'm a Fulham man now.