Dan with Brian and Dina McBride in McBride’s alongside the legendary football correspondent Paddy Barclay and Tom Greatrex of the Fulham Supporters’ Trust in 2018

You aren’t supposed to get tongue-tied as a journalist but when I had the opportunity to meet Brian McBride five years ago, I couldn’t get the words out. The Fulham cult hero graciously gave me a second chance during his return to Craven Cottage to watch the Whites take on the club that gave him his first taste of English football, Preston North End, and I hope I was vaguely coherent during take two. McBride is the total opposite of the garrulous American we’ve all met: for a man who has scored in World Cups, captained a Premier League side and played all over the world, he’s remarkably humble and self-effacing.

Perhaps that’s because he’s grateful to made a living as a professional footballer in the first place. The pathway to prosperity didn’t appear to be accessible when young McBride led his Buffalo Grove Bison to the Illinois State Championship in junior year, but then money has never been his primary motivation. The Cottage cult hero credits his mom, Maddie, his wife Dina and John Erfort, his high school English teacher and soccer coach, as three of his biggest influences and they had to rally round after his first taste of European football, with Wolfsburg in the 2. Bundesliga, didn’t go to plan.

He benefited from the inception of MLS, which was formed following USA ’94, and was the Colombus Crew’s first draft pick in 1996. He scored 77 goals in 195 appearances for the Crew over eight seasons – winning the MLS Cup in 2002 – and found his way to Deepdale on loan. His North End manager was David Moyes and McBride was keen to show he can take the physicality of the English game. He threw himself into a tackle, come off worse and thought nothing of his arm swelling up in the aftermath. It turned out to have been caused by a blood clot near his brain and McBride had surgery Stateside before spending Thanksgiving with his family. He met Dina Lundstrom at a party organised by a friend of his sister’s.

He finished his loan spell with Preston and returned to play another season with the Crew before being loaned to Everton, where Moyes had now taken charge. He made a strong impression in the Premiership, scoring four goals in eight games for the Toffees, but Everton weren’t able to make the transfer permanent. A disappointed McBride returned home, but salvation arrived in the shape of Chris Coleman, who was seeking a replacement for Louis Saha at short notice. I don’t need to remind readers of this site how McBride made an immediate impression on the Fulham fanbase, especially after scoring past his great friend Kasey Keller to secure a win over Spurs on his debut.

McBride’s goalscoring made him a regular in Coleman’s Fulham sides, although we were all frustrated by the Welshman’s steadfast refusal to ditch his preference for a lone centre forward. But what made the Arlington Heights native a truly special character was his bravery. A man who suffered at least four career-ending injuries, three of them to his head, never shirked a challenge and he remains unrecognised for his aerial ability even after scoring so many goals for the Whites and the United States. The Great Escape might have been masterminded by Roy Hodgson but McBride played a vital role after returning from a dislocated near cap to score a winner against Everton and grab crucial goals against relegation rivals Reading and Birmingham City.

It was fitting that McBride finished his Fulham career with that nerve-shredding victory at Fratton Park. Character makes men and his is second to none. I’ll always remember how he joined the away fans behind the goal at West Ham whilst he was out injured, making sure he chatted with as many supporters as possible, signed autographs and posed for pictures. Today, this unassuming family man celebrates his 51st birthday. He got a glimpse of how adored he is at Fulham when he visited the bar named in his honour for a Q&A the night before the Preston game, where Slavisa Jokanovic’s side stormed back from 2-0 down to pinch a precious point courtesy of Denis Odoi.

I wanted to tell Brian how much his example meant to me. His never-say-die example encouraged me to put my football boots back on, which wasn’t my wisest idea, and then to pursue coaching qualifications whilst at university. I think I managed to blurt something out about a wonderful strike that put the Whites ahead at West Ham in an FA Cup replay. They say never meet your heroes: but I’ll always remember the five minutes I shared with my favourite Fulham centre forward.

Happy birthday, Brian, and thanks for the memories!