Ok, I'm a Fulham supporter. I know, it's slightly pathetic. But like many FFC supporters, I have a story.
In the early '80s I spent a summer living with my friend Hamish McAlpine (now the head of Tartan Films and a great supporter of transgressive, psychotronic cinema) and his entourage in London. At the time, Hamish lived pretty far down the King's Road near the Fulham-Broadway tube station, a good walk past the World's End pub -- in fact, quite a bit closer to Fulham town than to Sloan Square. A couple of years later, Hamish had relocated to tonier digs on the Cheyne Walk, next door to Mick Jagger, and I had the fond memory of my summer, drinking in Fulham pubs.
In the early '80s, Chelsea FC were not even in the Premiership -- they were a decent Division 2 team. Fulham, a middle-of-the-table Division 3 team, were about to make their first magic run, achieving promotion to Division 2 in the '81-82 season, then the next year missing out on promotion to the Premiership by just one point (and finishing 14 positions above Chelsea in the table!).
In those pre-internet and pre-Fox Soccer Channel days, you couldn't be much of a supporter of a lower division European club from the USA. But I was always happy to see Fulham doing well, and sorry, later in the the '80s and early '90s, when they headed for relegation to Division 4. I lost track of them, and was only vaguely aware of their acquisition by Mohamed Al-Fayed (the owner of Harrod's) in '97 and their subsequent promotion to the Premiership in '00-'01.
What brought me back was the combination of greater TV access to matches through Setanta and Fox, access to Premiership news on the internet, and Fulham manager Chris Coleman's infatuation with American players after the acquisition of McBride and Bocanegra in early '04 (at one point, Fulham had five on the roster: McBride, Boca, Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, and Keller). After a couple of over-achieving seasons under Coleman, during which Fulham consistently finished in the middle of the Premiership table, they began to falter. Last season, it looked like they were going down for sure.
Then came the "Great Escape." Under new manager Roy Hodgson, Fulham were 7 points in the drop zone with 4 matches to play. Miraculously, they won their last three in a row, twice on the road (where they had been woeful all season), including the astonishing comeback from 2 goals down at Man City, scoring 3 times in the last 20 minutes.
The Premiership season opened last weekend, and hapless Fulham looked inept once again in a 2-1 away loss to recently-promoted Hull City, throwing away an early lead. It looked like another year of frustration and relegation battles. But this week, hosting Arsenal, it was a different Fulham team on the field. With tough tackling and good possession play (at least most of the time) Fulham held off Arsenal's late surge to win 1-0.
The Fulham optimist looks at the upcoming fixtures, sees some winnable matches: they have West Ham, West Brom, Sunderland, Pompey and Wigan all before they run into the better sides in late November and through the winter. With a little luck and some draws on the road, they could get to 20 points by the mid-point, halfway to the magic number that will insure they remain in the top flight for another season. It's precisely that irrational belief that we'll catch a break and stay up that seems to characterize the Cottager supporters -- and it was certainly given a jolt to the good with today's result against Arsenal. COYW!