Fulham v Blackpool - Premier League

Time defeats tradition as Fulham’s MJ statue comes down

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Traditions become traditions the same way that people win dance marathons. Traditions simply outlast detractors. A tradition simply keep going, through all of the “that’s stupid” and “we should stop doing that” and “can’t we just find something new?” that everyone casts its way. Tradition’s aren’t necessarily SMARTER or BETTER than the fads that disappear. Traditions are just more stubborn.

I remember the first time I heard Kansas’ “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant. It is really kind of a creepy thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love it for the history and the passion it evokes, it’s absolutely one of my favorite things in college sports. But objectively, let’s be honest here, it’s a bit disturbing, you know, the way everyone does those yoga motions and moans “RAAAAAAAAACK … CHAWWWWWWWWWWK …. JAYYYYYY … HAWWWWWWWWK …. KAAYYYYYYY … YUUUUUUUUUUUUU.” If you saw and heard people doing that anywhere but a basketball game, you’d be convinced you walked in on a weird cult meeting.

But it has lasted. They’ve been chanting Rock Chalk Jayhawk since the 1880s. At no point through it all has one generation of kids said, “Naw, let’s try something else.” That’s what makes it a tradition. Conversely, a few years ago Kansas tried this other chant where they brought out a garbage can they called “The Sound Machine” and told fans to cheer when the lid was open and stop the instant the lid was closed. If I remember right, they called it “Kansas’ newest basketball tradition.” This game but absurd effort lasted exactly one game.

MORE: Michael Jackson statue set to be removed from Fulham FC

Was the Sound Machine any less viable a concept than Rock Chalk Jayhawk? Maybe, maybe not. But it did not come close to standing the tradition time test.

That’s really what’s happening. A tradition time test. A tradition survival of the fittest. Time is a harsh judge. When I was a kid, we used to attack each other with various insults based on “Welcome Back Kotter’s” classic “Up your nose with a rubber hose” banter. You know: In your ear with a chandelier. In your face with a a brown briefcase. Up your butt with a … we fully expected that stuff to last forever. Shockingly it did not. Time took one look at that bit of stupidity and said, “Um, let me just erase that nonsense from the world as soon as possible.”

Time defeated parachute pants. Time defeated golf knickers. Time defeated the tennis victor leaping over the net and baseball players leaving their gloves out in the field between innings. Time defeated people dressing up and wearing cool hats to sporting events. Time defeated barefooted kickers and long hook shots and high jumpers who tried to leap forward over the bar and the Macarena. Charlie Finley gave the Kansas City A’s a mule mascot named Charlie-O. Time stepped in. Bill Veeck tried to dress up the White Sox in shorts. Time stepped in. The Yankees used to play “Cotton Eyed Joe” at every seventh-inning stretch. Time stepped in.

But here’s the other side of time: Once something DOES defeat time, once it crosses that finish line and become a tradition — not unlike that cartoon bill becoming a law in “Schoolhouse Rocks” — it becomes pretty close to invulnerable. Take the Washington football team. They’re just sticking with the name. They know the history. They know the meaning. They know that Washington Hogs would be such an awesome name. Doesn’t matter. It’s a tradition. And like all traditions, once they’re in, they’re in. Traditions get “Favored nation” status. Time has been trying to wipe out the wave for decades … hasn’t done it yet.

All of which leads to this sad bit of news: They’re moving the Michael Jackson outside the stadium at Fulham of the Premier League.

I like Fulham. A few years ago, I asked Brilliant Readers to send in their suggestions for which Premier League team I should root for, and the Fulham fans were convincing. Fulham is the friendly team in London. While Tottenham and Arsenal rage at each other and Chelsea spends billions of dollars, Fulham just plugs happily along at Craven Cottage, the Wrigley Field of England, which is charming and old and right by the River Thames. Everyone has a good time. Fulham has never actually won a Premier League championship or any other major trophies, but they keep going, happy to be a part of things. optimistic that someday they’ll have their big moment, welcoming to all. They are the only Premier League team to have a section reserved for neutral fans who just want to enjoy themselves. Yes, I like Fulham a lot.

About two and a half years ago, they put this Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage. It’s not a statue as you might imagine one would look outside a stately place like Craven Cottage — you know, made of white stone or dark bronze or whatever. No, really, it looks more like something you would see in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. It’s colorful and gaudy, MJ is holding a microphone and wearing one glove and tight pants and apparently is about to moonwalk.*

*Another tradition time defeated — we used to try and moonwalk all the time!

The statue is there because Fulham’s former chairman, Mohammed Al-Fayed, wanted it there. He was friends with Michael Jackson. He brought Michael Jackson to a Fulham game, I guess, or maybe even more than one, and the King of Pop had a good time or something. To be honest with you, I don’t see why this kind of madness doesn’t happen more in sports. If I spent hundreds of millions (or a billion) to buy a sports team, you better believe I would do all kind of crazy stuff like this. I’d put statues of Bugs Bunny and Duane Kuiper and Ric Flair at the entrance. I’d have them play “Badlands” twice every game. I’d have my baseball players wear those old wool uniforms and my basketball players wear those really short 1970s shorts every so often. The question to me is not how Bill Veeck or Charlie Finley ever got to own baseball teams. The question is why there haven’t been many more like them.

Anyway, Al-Fayed loved Michael Jackson, and he wanted to do something to honor his memory, and so he had this statue done and placed outside the stadium. It made no sense to anyone. I doubt that there’s a clash at any sports venue in the world quite like that ridiculous Michael Jackson statue outside charming old Craven Cottage. It would be like putting a giant Rubik’s Cube outside Fenway Park or a statue of a box of Jujubes outside Lambeau Field. It was patently ridiculous, and there was an uproar about it for a while … but that’s the amazing thing about being the owner. Nobody really could do anything about it. Al-Fayed wanted a Michael Jackson statue there. And so there was a Michael Jackson statue there.

This year, Al-Fayed sold the team to American automobile parts mogul Shahid Khan — who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars — and almost immediately questions about the statue came up. Khan, apparently, had no idea what kind of hailstorm he had entered. He seemed to be leaning toward taking it down. Al-Fayed said if Khan even tried it, he would personally come and shave off Khan’s somewhat famous mustache. Then there was some indecision. Some worry. Khan at one point talked about praying for answers. He seemed generally distraught about it all.

And here’s the thing: I was kind of rooting for the statue to stay. It’s not that I like the statue — I don’t. It’s not like I think it belongs — I don’t. But the way I figure it, if that statue could have lasted for even five more years, it had a real shot of becoming a tradition. And once that happened, it would have to stay. People would get used to it. More, they would unconsciously begin to accept it. And then, even people who DESPISE it would fight for it. It would be a tradition. For generations of kids, that weird Michael Jackson statue by one of England’s most cherished stadiums would not represent the King of Pop but instead it would be a symbol of Fulham soccer. It would come to represent not the Thriller video and Billie Jean and the 1980s and general strangeness but great goals and outings with family and spectacular victories and horrible defeats.

Alas, it is not to be. Apparently the statue is moving to one of Al-Fayed’s countless other properties. They got rid of it just in time, just before it started to stubbornly become a tradition. And so instead of becoming an odd but gradually beloved part of Fulham Football, it will instead be remembered as this extremely weird thing one of Fulham’s more eccentric chairmen did back around 2011 or 2012. And time wins again.

Three things we learned from Leicester’s huge win vs. Man City

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Leicester City beat Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with the Foxes extending their lead at the top to six points.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They are now the legitimate favorites to win the Premier League title this season. Think about that for a second.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ] 

Here’s a look at what we learned from what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the title race.

LEICESTER’S CLINIC IN COUNTERING

They do it pretty much every game but nobody can handle it. Nobody. I’m talking about Leicester’s ridiculously efficient counter-attack. At the home of the title favorites — well at least until before this clash — Leicester struck early in both halves and never looked back. Ranieri’s side played like men without any pressure on their shoulders and at this point of this season they have none. Favorites for relegation ahead of this campaign, they now sit 13 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League would now be hugely disappointing. How they’ve got there is by getting in-behind teams early and often. Whenever Marc Albrighton, N'Golo Kante or Riyad Mahrez got the ball their first instinct is to clip it over the top for Jamie Vardy or Shinji Okazaki to run onto.

It’s not just long-ball, it is playing into spaces defender don’t want to go in with a purpose. Vardy and Okazaki’s incredible work rate typified Leicester’s performance at City and with the center back duo consisting of an ageing Martin Demichelis and a battered and bruised Nicolas Otamendi, Leicester had the better of City’s defense all game long. The Foxes struck fast and hard at the heart of City’s defense and made the most of their set piece opportunities with Robert Huth showing his eye for goal.

This fairytale just keeps on getting more believable and now Leicester’s clash at fellow title contenders Arsenal next Sunday, Valentines Day, will be pivotal in proving whether or not the most romantic storyline in recent PL history will have the fairytale ending it deserves.

GUARDIOLA’S SHADOW LOOMS LARGE

City scrapped a 1-0 victory away at Sunderland in midweek but in all fairness they weren’t very good. On Monday Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving this summer and it was also confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be arriving as the new manager at the end of the season. From the very start, the timing seemed odd.

Nobody was really pressing for the news to break, it was already basically accepted that Guardiola would arrive this summer but Pellegrini decided it was time to announce he was leaving. Talking of departures, most of his players should have joined the fans and left the stadium early on Saturday as they didn’t turn up for a key game in the title race. Win and they would’ve been top on goal difference but they look deflated from the start as Pellegrini’s tactics of playing Fabian Delph on the left and Yaya Toure alongside Fernandinho didn’t work. Toure and Delph were both hooked off in the second off and the former didn’t do his defensive work, as we should expect by now, with Kante and Danny Drinkwater dominating the center of midfield.

With Guardiola’s imminent arrival casting a huge shadow over the Etihad it’s only natural for a few of the players to be concerned about their future and feel a little uneasy. That said, they must be professional and are still in with a shout of winning four trophies during Pellegrini’s final months in charge. That said, they let a huge chance to boost their PL title hopes slip and Guardiola will not have been impressed with the lack of drive, spirit and energy omitted. Yes, City have injury problems with Kevin De Bruyne out and Vincent Kompany still struggling back, but the most expensively assembled team in the PL should be able to cope with these absences better. In a few weeks time the decision to announce the managerial switch at a pivotal stage in the season may seem like a very silly one if City don’t win the League Cup, fail in the UEFA Champions League and fall further behind the Foxes. It’s easy to point to Guardiola’s arrival as a determining factor in this loss, but in fact Leicester where better than Man City in every department.

HUTH AN UNSUNG HERO

When Robert Huth joined Leicester City on loan from Stoke City in January last season, the big German center back was no longer a regular for the Potters. The Foxes were starring relegation square on and looked doomed. At around this time last season I received a message from somebody who knew Huth and it read: “Huthy believes they will stay up, he’s certain of it.” That wry smile on my face reading the text turned into a head nod of appreciation after Leicester won seven of its final nine games last season to stay up. “Wow. He was right.” Now, Huth has become the leading man in Leicester’s defense and he put in an incredible display on Saturday at both ends of the pitch.

Huth, 31, swept home Leicester’s opener less than three minutes into the game and then preceded to pretty much block every City shot or cross which came into the box. He then headed home a looping effort after 60 minutes to score his second and Leicester’s third and the towering center back is proving to be one of the best bargains in a team full of incredible buys. Huth was bought for $5 million this summer from Stoke and his goals away at Man City and Tottenham over the past three weeks have helped Leicester knock off two of their title rivals. Scoring crucial goals aside, his first job is to defend and his partnership with Wes Morgan has been one of the less talked about success stories while Vardy, Mahrez and Kante are around. Now, though, Huth’s resurgence has coincided with Leicester’s dramatic rise to the top. I wonder what he’s thinking they’ll achieve this season…

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City: Foxes on fire, six points clear at top

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  • Huth scores twice
  • City had 4 shots on target
  • Leicester 6 points clear at top

“We’re going to win the league!” was the chant from Leicester’s fans throughout their clash at second-placed Manchester City on Saturday and after this showing they have to be the favorites.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Leicester beat Man City 3-1 and dominated the game from start to finish with Robert Huth scoring less than three minutes into the game and then Riyad Mahrez scoring less than three minutes into the second half. Huth added another on the hour mark and City were stunned by the Foxes as Sergio Aguero’s late header was nothing more than a consolation.

With the win Leicester increased its lead at the top of the table to six points as Claudio Ranieri‘s side have 53 points for the season and go into their clash at Arsenal next week as the favorite to win the Premier League.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The Foxes had a dream start as Mahrez’s free kick from the right was swept home by Huth from close range and inside three minutes Leicester was 1-0 up. The home fans inside the Etihad were stunned.

City responded well to going behind with Raheem Sterling causing problems with his pace, but it could have been 2-0 to Leicester inside 10 minutes. A good ball from Marc Albrighton found Jamie Vardy in-behind but Joe Hart denied him as he rushed off his line, then Nicolas Otamendi denied Shinji Okazaki‘s follow-up.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Leicester continued to look dangerous on the break with City failing to make the most of their superior possession. That said, Silva did roll a shot just wide of the far post which took a nick off a Leicester defender as City turned up the heat. Vardy then beat Otamendi for pace and drilled the ball across goal for Okazaki but he couldn’t get enough on his effort and the ball skipped wide.

City then went close as Pablo Zabaleta was brought down by Christian Fuchs right on the edge of the 18-yard box although replays suggested it was on the line and should have been a penalty kick. From the resulting free kick Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a great free kick that Huth somehow managed to deflect over his own cross bar.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Less than three minutes into the second half Leicester went 2-0 up as Kante’s driving run and through ball saw Mahrez skip passed Otamendi easily and he coolly sent Hart the wrong way with a composed finish. 2-0 to the Foxes as their fans were in dreamland. Outgoing Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini was in the middle of a nightmare as his side were all over the place.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed to get back into the game and substitute Fernando headed downwards but Kasper Schmeichel scrambled the ball away to safety. Terrific stop from the Danish goalkeeper.

At the other end Okazaki saw his effort blocked by Demichelis — even though the ball looked to come off the Japanese striker last — and from the resulting corner the Foxes went 3-0 up as Huth rose highest and headed home majestically. Scenes at the Etihad as the home fans were stunned into silence.

Man City never recovered from the third goal — Hart denied Vardy his first goal of the game and Leicester’s fourth, while the PL’s top scorer also fired into the side-netting late on — and home fans streamed towards the exit way before the final whistle. Those that did missed Aguero’s header which made it 3-1 but that was no more than a consolation even if he had another good chance and Leicester withheld some late pressure.

Ranieri’s side had put in a memorable display as they extended their lead at the top with ease against a lackluster City outfit.

Watch Live, Stream: Spurs-Watford, Liverpool-Sunderland; every 10am ET game

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Erik Lamela (4th R) of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on December 28, 2015 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate involving some of the big boys.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Spurs could move up to second with a win, while the Hornets have won just one of their last seven games.

Liverpool vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Jurgen Klopp will not be on the sidelines after going down with appendicitis. The Black Cats desperately need points in their battle against relegation.

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

A simply must-win game for Villa if they’re going to get themselves off the foot of the table. The Canaries are hover just two points above the drop zone.

Stoke City vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Two teams hoping to make a charge towards the top six clash. Both have plenty of injuries. This will be tight. Will Martinez be getting out his best dance moves at full time?

Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Three games unbeaten for the Swans as they ease relegation fears but they still aren’t out of it. Palace have lost five on the spin and are without a win in seven games.

Newcastle vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Magpies are still in the bottom three and will see this as a must-win. West Brom haven’t won in four and are just above the drop zone.

VIDEO: Mahrez strokes a beauty; Leicester cruising at Man City

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Riyad Mahrez is hot again, and so is Leicester City.

The Algerian playmaker has an assist in three-straight matches, and added his first Premier League goal since a Dec. 19 brace against Everton as the Foxes are cruising at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday morning

[ WATCH LIVE: Man City vs. Leicester City ]

Mahrez makes his move into the box to lash a classy “no look” shot past Joe Hart, and temporarily — at least — keep Leicester six points clear of hosts Manchester City atop the PL table.

Robert Huth has scored on either side of Mahrez’s goal, and it’s 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.