As I’m going to be out and about for most of the day, with little chance of getting to a computer until very late tonight, I thought I’d d share with you a piece I penned for the last edition of TOOFIF. I hope David won’t mind as the mag’s been out for a while. It was about the one and only Clint Dempsey and I’ve illustrated it with some photos of Clint’s time at the Cottage.
I remember when we signed Clint Dempsey. It didn’t make much of an impact on the back pages or anywhere else for that matter. The fans were distinctly underwhelmed – our new American import wasn’t a big star, like the then on-loan Vincenzo Montella – and his early performances were full of running but offered little to suggest he’d be the fans favourite that he might just be becoming.
Clint scores against Reading in a rare win under Lawrie Sanchez
I should imagine that it wasn’t easy for Clint to settle in at Fulham. The manager who bought him might have done so because he saw him score on the wing during a disappointing World Cup for the United States. But Chris Coleman hardly gave him a starting opportunity and the Texan was rather a victim of his own versatility. I remember thinking that we visibly perked up when Dempsey was introduced midway through the second half at the Emirates but he kept being used on the left, down the right but never in central midfield or where I suspect he’d really like to play, behind the strikers.
Few players will emerge from the Lawrie Sanchez era with much credit. Personally, I try to brush it aside like a bad dream. Maybe Clint’s best memory of his time at the Cottage will be that first goal he swept home against Liverpool. In a make or break game, that would decide our Premier League fate, he had the presence of mind to play a quick one-two with Liam Rosenior and guide home the most important goal in the club’s history until Danny Murphy’s almost bang on a year later. There was plenty more to come.
Deuce scores the goal that kept us up – against Liverpool in 2007
With Sanchez almost putting together an entirely new squad in a doomed attempt to drag us away from the relegation mire (in fact the opposite happened), Clint again found first-team opportunities limited. When the sorely missed Brian McBride was horribly injured in scoring against Middlesbrough, our attacking power was almost instantaneously diminished. It didn’t take long for Sanchez to realise that Shefqi Kuqi couldn’t run ten yards without getting out of breath – however entertaining a spectacle it was for the rest of us – and Clint manfully stepped into the breach up front. It was far from his favoured role and I’d be wrong to paint it as an unqualified success, but Clint scored six goals before the turn of the year (including one thumping header in that dramatic home draw with Chelsea) and our dire position when Roy Hodgson took charge would have been far worse without them.
Clint heads the late equaliser in the memorable draw with Chelsea
Just looking around the Cottage on a match day at the number of replica shirts with his name emblazoned across the back would suggest that I’m far from the only fan of the last American left at the club (Eddie Johnson is hardly pulling up any trees at Cardiff). We cheered his return to the side as a regular fixture because Clint offers something different. His work rate often goes unnoticed and he clearly is trying to bring something different to a midfield that can sometimes be perceived as a little samey. Dempsey scored a lot of goals in the MLS by running at defenders and I thought he enjoyed his best game in a Fulham shirt against Middlesbrough recently. His performance was capped by an assured finish to a fine move for our third goal but I was captivated by the way he took on the Boro defence and produced a couple of wonderful flicks to link up with Bobby Zamora. Perhaps Clint needed to be challenged by Roy Hodgson to produce that extra bit of consistency that would earn up a regular starting place rather than ending up like a maddening modern-day version of Fulham’s last infuriating enigma, Luis Boa Morte, who was also a crowd favourite.
The goals against Chelsea will slide nicely into Fulham folklore alongside that vital one against Liverpool – the memory of that majestic leap to head home an equaliser that didn’t look like it was coming will never leave the memory of all those who witnessed it. What’s more, in a game where the ridiculous salaries of the top players leave many longstanding supporters disillusioned, Dempsey’s own joyous celebrations showed just how much he cared.
He has always been devoted to making something of his undoubted natural talent and his happiness at making it big in the Premier League is understandable given the sacrifices his own parents made when Dempsey was growing up in Nacogdoches, a little-known East Texas town, and the horrible family tragedy he suffered when his sister, Jennifer, then 16, died from a brain aneurism. That’s the reason Clint points to sky after he’s scored another goal. Put next to that, all that I’ve written – and all our regular Saturday afternoon experiences – seem preposterously prosaic. In an interview with the Guardian, Dempsey once said that his sister told him that ‘if I ever die I will help you get the ball in the net,’ remarking on her brother’s love for the game.
Clint himself says that the tragedy makes you put everything in perspective. What I love about his football is that he plays it like I would, with much more ability, of course. At more than a hundred miles an hour, with cute touches and flicks, and plenty of heart. I should imagine that the wonderfully apt song we praise him with started out as a fully tongue-in-cheek token of affection but, after that cold winter’s afternoon against Chelsea, it has taken on a whole new meaning. Here’s hoping we’ll all be joining in many more full-throated renditions for years to come.
I’ve written a piece for the latest edition (due out soon) on the defence and how good we’ve been at the back. Right after that we started conceding goals, so you can blame me!