Today marks seven years since Tim Ream signed for Fulham from Bolton Wanderers. To say the American’s partnership with Richard Stearman didn’t quite gel as planned is something of an understatement and it took a while for Ream to establish himself at Craven Cottage. It was clear he wasn’t the rampaging full back modern football requires when he was tried there by Kit Symons and Slavisa Jokanovic considered him surplus to requirements six months after he had taken charge in SW6. But the St. Louis native’s story is a triumph of resilience and reason: as, we’ve seen even this season, you write the classy centre back off at your peril.
Ream’s response to being told he wasn’t what Jokanovic was looking for in a central defender speaks volumes about the man. He didn’t rant and rave, sulk or brief the papers. He asked the Serbian what was missing in his game and went away to work on it. That desire to improve impressed the Fulham head coach and he was soon back in the picture, keeping a lively Leeds side at bay at Elland Road as an injury-hit Whites’ side kept a creditable clean sheet on the road. Ream’s longevity has surprised plenty: it comes as something once you’ve met the affable American that he has some fierce detractors across the Atlantic, but you can’t quibble with the value of his quiet assurance in the dressing room or the quality of his performances that have earned precious points against Liverpool and Wolves this term.
The attributes that have carried Ream through a professional career in England – which he began by cancelling his honeymoon with fellow footballer Kristen to join Bolton – are still as vital as ever. He belongs to a bygone era of centre halves who don’t commit themselves to challenges until the last possible moment. It might be sacrilege to compare him to a former Fulham captain of the calibre of Bobby Moore, but there’s more than a touch of Aaron Hughes about the way Ream reads the game. He’s composed on the ball as well, which is why he became such a pivotal part of Fulham’s three promotion-winning teams from the Championship, giving the Whites such dominance of possession.
In an era governed by statistics, Ream’s numbers are extraordinary. The defender went past 450 senior appearances when he was trusted to start the season along Tosin Adarabioyo by Marco Silva. He might have been an outstanding schoolboy footballer with St. Dominic and a double national champion with St. Louis Gallagher, but plenty doubted that he would make the step up to the MLS with the New York Red Bulls. Not his head coach, Hans Backe, who compared the new arrival to Rio Ferdinand shortly after signing him and any concerns were banished when the elegant defender started all 30 matches as the Red Bulls won only the second Eastern Conference title in their history.
It says something about Ream’s character that he’s been popular wherever he went with the supporters as well as his fellow professionals. Even though he wasn’t able to prevent Bolton’s relegation from the Premier League in 2012, he made an impression in tightening up Wanderers’ defence and the durable defender was letter to demonstrate his bravery by coming back early from a horrific head injury caused by a clash with Charlie Austin, playing in a protective mask, and making 42 appearances forging a firm partnership with Matt Mills, on his way to being voted player of the year. He won that award again the following season – missing only two matches – and his commanding displays prompted a bid from QPR. Fortunately, that enquiry was rebuffed, which allowed Fulham to secure his services a fortnight later.
Ream’s influence extends far beyond the football field, where he has long been a leader. A deep thinker about social issues and a consummate communicator of his chosen message, Ream was one of the key figures behind Virtual Soccer Schools – designed to offer sporting and educational opportunities to the next generation. He’s been an unstinting supporter of the Fulham Foundation’s award-winning community projects and the interview he undertook with Amelia Armstrong, the club’s Her Game Too ambassador, earlier this season is well worth a watch even if you’ve seen it already. Then there’s his interaction with the incredible Rhys Porter, which as someone who was also born with cerebral palsy, makes me emotional even as I type these words.
You knew the Whites were in trouble when Ream slammed a lack of desire amongst some of the club’s summer signings in 2018, but even that broadside was delivered in measured tones. The articulate defender has had an up-and-down relationship with social media (like most of us), but became more prolific in his use of Twitter in a bid to reconnect with the Fulham fans following lockdown and a miserable relegation under Scott Parker. It was particularly difficult for Ream himself, who was one of the long-standing players jettisoned by one of his former team-mates without much of an explanation.
Just like Aleksandar Mitrovic, the arrival of Silva offered Ream a timely fresh start – and he quickly grasped that with both feet. In the absence of the injured Tom Cairney, the new head coach handed Ream the captain’s armband, which was merely an extension of his role in within the Fulham set up. He shone alongside Tosin Adarabioyo at the heart of a Fulham defence that had to do much more given Silva’s adventurous playing style, but Ream relished both the regular football and the responsibility. He was an ever-present as the Whites won the Championship title and, if the news of his subsequent contract extension raised eyebrows, that could only have been because people hadn’t understood how integral the underrated American remains to the Fulham project.
Supporters have questioned just how long Ream might remain in the starting line-up following the signings of Shane Duffy and Issa Diop. That, for me, is a foolish question. When the chips are down or there’s a high pressure game, a cool head who’s been there, seen it and done it, is exactly what you require. Ream’s resolution after Denis Odoi had been dismissed in the Championship play-off final was vital to ensuring Jokanovic’s side held off Aston Villa and returned to the top flight on that magical evening at Wembley. If that was all he’d done for Fulham, he’d be deserving of a fulsome tribute. Given the sum total of his contributions, Tim Ream’s worthy of so much more praise. It’s no wonder the Fulham faithful still greet his every touch with a roar of recognition. That’s the least we can do.