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.

Reports: Antonio Conte will be next Inter manager

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According to a number of reports across Europe, including The Guardian and The Mirror, Antonio Conte has agreed to terms to become the next manager at Inter Milan and will take over this summer, with Luciano Spalletti departing.

Conte has signed a four-year deal at Inter that will earn him around $11 million per season, with the Italian excited to return home and face the challenge of finishing the task at Inter. The Italian giants have slumped in recent years, but this year showed promise that the project may finally be coming to an end. Spalletti appears to have turned the team into a Champions League contender again, but there are reports that he is struggling to maintain the support of the locker room and the front office.

Inter’s qualification to next year’s Champions League is no guarantee either, with the club sitting just a point ahead of rivals AC Milan for the final Serie A spot heading into the final week of the season. They have just three wins in their final nine matches, leaving them vulnerable.

Conte most recently managed Chelsea for two seasons, winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup in his first season but missing out on Champions League qualification last campaign before departing. He recently won a lawsuit against Chelsea that will see the Blues pay him an additional $11 million as part of his severance package. Other than his Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent his entire career in Italy, managing Juventus, Atalanta, and the Italian national team among others. He has eight Serie A titles to his name between playing and managing.

Rumors say that Conte is zeroing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as his first transfer target of the summer.

Red Bulls slump to disappointing draw with Vancouver

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The New York Red Bulls coughed up a second-half lead in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, pegged back by Freddy Montero’s equalizing penalty in the 61st minute that came just six minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

New York dominated possession at home, holding just under 70% of the ball, but they struggled mightily in goal. New York had 18 shots to Vancouver’s 13, but could manage just three on target, whereas the visitors put seven on frame. Vancouver jumped in front right on the half-hour mark as Sean Nealis got burned down the left by Joaquin Ardaiz, and while his cross was deflected by Connor Lade, it fell to Scott Sutter at a tight angle for a roofed finish.

The hosts would level things up before halftime, as a looped cross by Kaku found the head of Amro Tarek who powered it on frame, but before it could reach the net it was slightly redirected by Brian White’s head and found the back of the net. In the celebration, a smiling White could be seen sheepishly apologizing to Tarek for stealing what may already have been a goal, but New York wasn’t complaining.

After the break, the Red Bulls went in front on an own goal as White’s effort was redirected into the back of the net by Andy Rose. That should have been the goal to see New York ease past the ninth-place Whitecaps and send New York to a strong fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference table, but the visitors continued to attack and would eventually find a way through.

First, Luis Robles was required to turn a 8Felipe Martins header off the post and out, before eight minutes later when Montero would be the man to bring Vancouver back level after coming on at halftime. VAR determined correctly that Nealis whiffed on a header attempt and instead got his arm to the ball, giving Martins the opportunity from the spot, which he deposited cooly, sending Robles the wrong way.

That would leave the teams level, with New York desperately looking for more than a point to savor, but they were unable to do so. The draw leaves the Red Bulls in fifth, level on points with cross-town rivals NYCFC and two behind Atlanta United. They remain unbeaten in three, but the opportunity for three straight victories was there. Vancouver, meanwhile, sits in ninth in the West, drawing level on points with San Jose thanks to the road draw.

Ghana striker Gyan changes mind 2 days after retiring

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Two days after announcing his international retirement, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan has changed his mind and been included in a provisional squad for the African Cup of Nations starting next month.

Gyan says his change of heart came after speaking with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The 33-year-old Gyan said Monday he was retiring because he was replaced as Ghana captain by Andre Ayew.

Gyan says he had a phone conversation with Akufo-Addo, who asked him to reconsider, and “a presidential request is one that cannot be disregarded.”

Gyan was named in a preliminary 29-man squad on Wednesday. He made his international debut at 17 and is Ghana’s record goalscorer with 51 goals in 106 games although he hasn’t played for his country since late 2017.

U-20 World Cup preview: Ramos to make history

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The United States U-20 side is set to begin its 2019 World Cup campaign on Friday when it begins Group D play in Poland.

Tab Ramos will make history in the process, equalling the FIFA record of most championship tournaments participated as a player or coach. The 52-year-old will officially take part in his 11th FIFA championship event, matching the record held by Germany’s U-20 women head coach Maren Meinert.

United States

The United States side is one of the best ever on paper, with a mix of emerging domestic talent alongside youngsters from the best clubs in Europe. They will take on Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar in high-leverage group stage play. Riding on the result of group play is a place in the knockout phase, with a massive gulf in difference between finishing first and second in the group. The first-place finisher in Group D draws the strongest third-place side from Groups B, E, and F – possibilities include the likes of Mali, South Korea, Panama, or Italy. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher from Group D takes on the winner of Group E, which will almost definitely come in the form of championship hopeful France.

An exciting group of young American players with more well-known names including Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal mixes with supreme talents like Barcelona youth product Konrad de la Fuente in attack and Bayern Munich teen Chris Richards who will look to anchor the defense. While the U.S. isn’t exactly a favorite to win the tournament, they are a strong contender looking to reach at least the quarterfinals if not further.

US U-20 squad

GK: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Koln).
DEF: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew/Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich).
MID: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas).
FWD: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/Celtic FC)

Potential breakout players

Aside from the United States squad, there is a host of young talent at the tournament in Poland. These are the players you should keep a close eye on.

Diego Lainez (winger, Mexico) – Mexico’s 18-year-old winger has been a fixture for the national team at every youth level, playing every minute for the U-17 side in the 2017 World Cup. He has since earned a quartet of senior side call-ups and looked electric in his time on the field.

Radoslaw Majecki (goalkeeper, Poland) – At just 19 years old, Majecki has been the starting goalkeeper for Champions League regulars Legia Warsaw since he won the job in November. While he has yet to make his CL debut (having earned the starting job after Legia Warsaw was eliminated from the competition in the qualifying stages), he is as experienced as they come for players in this competition and a huge asset for his country.

Jackson Porozo (defender, Ecuador) – The 18-year-old was an absolute monster in the South American U-20 championships back in late January and early February, helping Ecuador keep five clean sheets and finish the competition on a stunning 298-minute streak without conceding a single goal as they shocked the continent by winning the tournament. Porozo, who joined the Santos youth setup last summer, was a man among boys in the South American championships, and long with his goalkeeper Moises Ramirez – who also has high expectations for a solid future – this Ecuador side has a shot at making it out of an absolutely loaded Group B.

Interesting storylines

Group B – The most loaded group in the tournament sees Mexico, Italy, Ecuador, and Japan all come together for a brutal battle. While the top two teams are guaranteed to advance, it could also be a factor for one of the coveted third-place spots, of particular interest to the United States, who would take on a Group B third-place qualifier should they win Group D. Mexico won the CONCACAF U-20 championships, Ecuador stunningly reigned supreme in CONMEBOL over traditional superpowers Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, while both Italy and Japan performed quite well in their own tournaments, each reaching the semifinals. This is easily the most fun early storyline.

France as favorites – Portugal, Poland, Nigeria, and Argentina are all firmly in the mix, but France is considered the favorite according to most oddsmakers. Bernard Diomede will have a challenge as Lyon’s young star Amine Gouiri will be missing as he takes part in the U-21 UEFA championships this summer, but he does have Borussia Dortmund youngster Dan Axel-Zagadou leading the back line. While the French senior side is on top of the world, the youth team has plenty of talent coming down the pipeline.

Can Argentina bounce back? – The six-time champions slipped a bit at the CONMEBOL championships earlier this year, falling to both Ecuador and Brazil in the final stage while beating Uruguay and Colombia by just a goal. The traditionally dominant South American powerhouse has proven fallable over the last year or so, and while they most certainly have a squad capable of placing in this tournament, they will need more consistency. The squad sports Atlanta United winger Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals in eight MLS appearances this season and is in good form. Other big names include Atletico Madrid defender and youth team captain Nehuen Perez, Boca Juniors goalkeeper Manuel Roffo – who trained with the senior team earlier this year – and midfielder Santiago Sosa who has dabbled in the River Plate senior squad at just 19.