A day at Fulham; the tyranny of the 0-0 tie is overrated

The view from our seats at cozy little Craven Cottage.

Also file under: Something to email your jackhole friend who likes to make fun of soccer

 LONDON, England – I watched a 0-0 soccer match Saturday. And loved it.

I know that the scoreless draw is frequently a punch line, a slow-moving target for unoriginal people who like to make fun of soccer. Ever notice that this (thankfully shrinking) lot is stocked with the same lame-o douches who, in high school, thought they were funny, but really were just boors who made cliché jokes at someone else’s expense? Either that, or they’re just one of these sad, scared simpletons who see soccer’s advance up the American culture food change as a metaphor for a world that’s changing and passing them by. But I’ll stay on point here …

Here’s what the grandstanding dillyweeds don’t get about soccer – but somehow seem to understand about a low-scoring, riveting pitcher’s duel in baseball: the 0-0 draw is equally riveting, so long as something is truly at stake.

To wit: yesterday’s match at Craven Cottage truly meant something to Cottagers fans. Fulham, as many of you know but some may not, is hardly one of England’s money clubs. Strapped with a small ground and unadorned in historic glory, the West London club languishes in the shadow of nearby, highfalutin Chelsea.

This year, Fulham has done well enough to stay above relegation peril. Generally, the fight to remain in England’s top tier keeps things interesting at the old-school ground of 24,000, which abuts the Thames. (That breeze coming off the river makes Craven Cottage a particularly chilly place!)

On the other hand, Fulham won’t challenge for one of England’s top spots. So it’s been a pretty good season, but one that’s now destined to gallop home minus much high drama.

There’s one huge exception: the FA Cup. The esteemed all-comers tourney has lost a little sheen lately, but it remains a valuable, storied trophy in England, one worth bleeding for.

 

Fulham met Tottenham yesterday in a quarterfinal (a quarterfinal cup tie, in the national parlance.) And this game meant something.

A Fulham win would summon an appearance at historic Wembley Stadium, since that’s where FA Cup semifinals (and the final) are staged. For a club such as Fulham and its fans, landing an FA Cup semifinal spot at Wembley would be truly memorable stuff.

So that’s the background. If you went to Saturday’s match as an American spectator or just caught the action on TV back in the States, it probably wasn’t that exciting. A free kick lashed toward Fulham’s goal in the 19th minute was the first shot taken. And, in all honesty, a cautious match on both sides produced precious few good chances.

By the 60th minute, it was increasingly clear that one goal could well be enough to claim the day. So, if you cared about one team or the other, as the minutes wore on you were increasingly drawn toward the edge of your seat.

Generally, as a journalist, neutrality covers you like a rash. It just becomes part of your DNA, like jonesing for morning coffee.  But on the occasion when I gather the vacation muse, I can allow myself the luxury of caring.  (Hint: making a wager helps! You’d be surprised how much your “give-a-shit” factor improves for nothing more than a $10 bet.)

So every time the ball gets played into Bobby Zamora – Fulham really does ask so, so much of its hard-working target striker – the excitement builds. Every time Damien Duff, who has lost a step but can still be deliver a game-turning moment, found a little room on the right, the supporters stand up and lean breathlessly forward.

And every time Tottenham carries possession into danger areas at the other end, usually a move orchestrated by the smoothly slippery Luca Modric, breaths are held throughout the grounds.

The shot goes wide! Exhale. Clap nervously.

Sure, if you’re watching from Scranton or Souix Falls or San Antonio back in the States, just killing time and with no vested interested, 4-3 is a better match, one considerably higher in entertainment value.

But fans at Craven Cottage all had “vested interest” in pocket as they made their way into the grounds, past the shops and brownstones along 

Fulham Road
 The match did finish 0-0, but it was a big time just the same.

Note: My dateline said London. Truthfully, this post was written on the 9:15 a.m. train into Liverpool Lime Street Station on Sunday. So it was probably sent from somewhere near the Runcorn stop. (Hee-hee. “Runcorn” is a funny word. There’s the 12-year-old in me again.) … Today’s match is Everton-Hull City at Goodison Park – Landon Donovan’s final match at Everton’s home ground. Cheers, all!

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