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.

Pulisic on USMNT dream; Premier League rumors

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Christian Pulisic hasn’t played for the U.S. men’s national team since last October but next Monday he will step out onto the pitch for the Stars and Stripes once again, and he will be less than a few hours away from his hometown of Hershey, Pa.

It will be quite the homecoming for Pulisic, still just 19 years old, as the Borussia Dortmund star plays for the USMNT in a friendly against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium, close to Philadelphia.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

In an exclusive chat with Pro Soccer Talk, Pulisic revealed that he is ready to be a leader, if that’s what is asked of him, as the USMNT continue rebuilding after their World Cup qualification nightmare eight months ago.

“We definitely have a younger roster this time around and I’m really looking forward to going in there and obviously I am young as well but I have a few caps to my name and I’m looking forward to being kind of a role model to these guys and helping shape our new team for the future. If it takes me being more of a leader out there that’s what I’ll have to do and I’m happy to be in that role,” Pulisic said.

Pulisic was speaking to PST about his new partnership with the Hershey Company and the playmaker was delighted to be linking up with his hometown brand as he received a Reese’s Outrageous Bar inspired cleats.

“I am super excited to be Stateside, always, so being able to spend a lot of time here recently has been awesome,” Pulisic said. “And I am super excited with everything with Hershey.”


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Returning to the state of Pennsylvania to play for the USMNT, Pulisic’s Dortmund side will also take on Benfica in Pittsburgh this summer in the International Champions Cup. The kid will be spending plenty of time with family in the Keystone State as he recharges his batteries from a tough season in the Bundesliga.

With 42 games under his belt for Dortmund this season in Germany’s top-flight, Pulisic isn’t concerned with playing too many games in just his second full season as a pro. And with four goals and five assists in the Bundesliga, he set a goal and assist record for himself in league play.

He believes the best is yet to come as he gets set to work under a new coach, Lucien Favre, at Dortmund.

“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs this season but I’ve learned so much this year and obviously I feel that I have improved in the last season and I still feel that I have a long way to go,” Pulisic said. “Looking back at the season, finding things I can improve on and I will continue to work on those and hopefully we can do even better personally and as a team next season.”

“I just want to work hard every day in training and earn my spot every weekend. That’a always been the goal for me. Obviously I want to continue to build. Personally I have so much to build on, to be more clinical and get stronger, even trying to get my numbers up higher next season. That’s what I’m going to try and do and I’m going to work very hard to achieve that. Every player wants to score goals and get assists. I think I can do much more than that on the field, which doesn’t show on the stats, but of course that’s a very important part of the game.”

As Pulisic’s star has risen, rumors regarding his future have intensified and he continues to be linked with moves to Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United.

Do the reports frustrate him? Or is it flattering to be linked with some of the biggest clubs on the planet consistently?

“I really don’t look or read into it very much,” Pulisic said. “People know more about it than I do! Of course, the Premier League is a great league. It was a dream to play there when I was younger but I’m under contract with Dortmund and I’m just working hard there at the moment.”

So often American soccer fans say Pulisic shouldn’t move now to the rough and tumble of the Premier League and should instead spend the next few years improving his game at Dortmund and in the UEFA Champions League. When asked, the teenager didn’t set a timeframe on when would be the best time for a potential move to the PL.

“I’m very focused on the here and the now. Of course, you never know what can happen with professional sports but I am just focused on what I am doing right now,” Pulisic said.


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Focusing on the past, Pulisic’s tears became the lasting image of the USMNT’s loss at Trinidad & Tobago back in October 2017 as he broke down on the field after the defeat which sealed their failure to qualify for the World Cup this summer.

USMNT fans won’t need reminding that the U.S. won’t be at the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

And Pulisic believes the USMNT not being at the big dance will have a big impact on the nation from a soccer perspective.

“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”

As we edge towards the 2018 World Cup with excitement building across the globe, has time helped ease the pain for Pulisic?

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and it definitely hurt more right after the shock and that it had happened,” Pulisic said. “Now, leading into the World Cup, I am just going to watch the games, I have some time off now to rest, which my body could use. Watching the World Cup is going to get me even more excited and I’ll want to be in the next World Cup even more… I’m just looking forward to some good games, now that the U.S. isn’t there, I just want to see some good football.”

Pulisic admitted that he “hadn’t really looked into” the intense fallout from the USMNT’s failure as outgoing head coach Bruce Arena and several senior players had their say.

Wise beyond his years, Pulisic summed it up simply. But it’s clear that the pain still remains.

“I just think we had a great chance to qualify with one game and we had a little slip up there… a big slip up, actually, and that’s what happened,” Pulisic said. “I don’t look at the tiny little details as to what could’ve gone wrong. Because that would just drive me crazy.”


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With interim head coach Dave Sarachan in charge for three friendlies since the World Cup qualification debacle, plus the friendly against Bolivia and then outings at the Republic of Ireland and France next month, the USMNT are in a strange place.

They have no permanent head coach. No General Manager has been appointed in the newly-created role. And there’s a real lack of direction as U.S. Soccer seemingly waits for coaches to be out of work following the World Cup this summer so they can then plan for the future.

“Not being in the World Cup has put us in a whole different situation but we still have good coaches and new players that they’re bringing in and trying to develop, so I don’t think it’s a real problem at the moment. We are going to put our heads down and continue to work,” Pulisic said.

Those given the chance to work hard include plenty of youngsters, with the average age of the squad to face Bolivia just 22 years of age. With Sarachan expected to ring the changes and go with a more experienced lineup for the games against Ireland and France, now is a big chance for the youth to shine as the road to the 2022 World Cup has well and truly begun.

There’s no doubt that Pulisic will be the leader of a new era in American soccer and with the likes of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga and Tim Weah building their professional careers successfully at big clubs home and abroad, the future is bright.

“The next step is just the Bolivia game and continuing to develop all of our players and getting them minutes,” Pulisic said. “Hopefully all of the young players, and I see a lot of American names in Europe, which is great, hopefully we will continue to develop and continue to make time for the national team and play some games together and create some chemistry and hopefully build a strong team going into the next World Cup.”

Still just a teenager, could it be a case of ‘Captain Pulisic’ blazing the trail towards the tournament in Qatar?

“I always dreamed of just playing for the U.S. men’s national team, not necessarily being the captain, but I’m happy to take on whatever leadership role it is, be it leading by example or whatever,” Pulisic said.

This is now his team. The kid from Hershey has the reins. And let’s be real, he’s had them for the past two years since he burst onto the scene.


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USMNT-Mexico to renew rivalry on Sept. 11

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The USMNT will renew its rivalry with Mexico for the first time since World Cup qualifying when El Tri pays a September 11 visit to Nashville.

Mexico will be coming off its World Cup run, while the U.S. summer consists of friendlies against Bolivia, Ireland, and France.

[ MORE: Pochettino signs new Spurs deal ]

The federation did not announce when tickets would go on sale, or how they would be allotted, saying that information will come at a later date.

The U.S. is winless in its last three matches against Mexico, with two losses to go with the 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca in June 2017.

Theoretically, the Yanks will be facing the Mexico test with a new permanent coach. Dave Sarachan has been running the ship since Bruce Arena resigned after an embarrassing loss at Trinidad and Tobago which kept the U.S. from reaching the World Cup.

Mexico is in tricky World Cup Group F with Germany, South Korea, and Sweden.

Pardo: Osorio “would be a great coach” for USMNT

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One of the names constantly rumored with the U.S. Men’s National Team job is Juan Carlos Osorio, and on Thursday he picked up some praise from a Mexico National Team legend.

Although he never played for him, Pavel Pardo said in an interview with Metro New York that watching from afar, he felt Osorio would be a good fit for the USMNT.

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“I think so, 100 percent. He has the mentality,” Pardo said in an interview as part of a promotional tour for Panini, the famed World Cup sticker company. “I think, in my opinion, he could be a great coach for the US National Team. He was doing it in Mexico – of course in Mexico he has a lot of critics. They talk about his teams, his rotations. When you see the results, the performance, the most important thing, qualifying and getting to the World Cup, he certainly understands the game and has had success. He also understands the American player too and certainly MLS. I think Juan Carlos would be a great coach for the US.”

As Pardo mentioned, Osorio has earned his fair share of criticism since taking over the El Tri job in 2015. He’s constantly rotating his squad and challenging his players, and when things have gone wrong, it’s been very wrong – i.e., the 7-0 defeat to Chile in the 2016 Copa America and the 4-1 defeat to Germany’s B squad in the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals.

But on the other hand, Osorio has succeeded in ways his predecessors hadn’t. Under his leadership, Mexico has re-taken its place at the throne of CONCACAF and many of his young players have made the difficult move overseas, including the likes of Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Hirving “Chuky” Lozano.

And all of that, plus his knowledge of MLS and the American soccer player, has made Osorio one of the most intriguing prospects to coach the U.S., should he become available after the 2018 World Cup.

Report: MLS to finally grant FC Cincinnati an expansion place

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Major League Soccer is set to be special guests in Cincinnati next week, and it’s likely the league’s executives will be coming with a big offer.

According to a report from the Cincinnati Enquirer, MLS commissioner Don Garber, along with Cincinnati mayor John Cranley and FC Cincinnati officials will hold an announcement at local craft brewery Rheingeist, likely bestowing an MLS expansion place to the USL club. The report states that FC Cincinnati would join MLS in 2019, which would likely mean FC Cincinnati would remain at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium for the short-term until their soccer-specific stadium is built.

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If true, it’s the end of a long and labored process that has been stuck in the mud the past few months since MLS announced Nashville was getting an MLS expansion franchise. At the time, FC Cincinnati was also expected to get one of the two available expansion slots, but the club didn’t have a concrete stadium plan at the time.

Back in December, when Nashville was awarded its franchise, FC Cincinnati was looking at three stadium sites, including one across the river in Northern Kentucky. FC Cincinnati eventually settled on a site on the west end of the city, with the club paying a big cost to fund community initiatives to win over Cincinnati city council.

Ultimately, the stadium deal was contingent on earning an MLS expansion slot, one that looks like it is coming to fruition.

It’s been an incredible four years in Cincinnati, from when the club was announced in August 2015. Although soccer at a lower level hadn’t found success in the city, FC Cincinnati took the city and USL by storm, regularly averaging more than 15,000 fans at Nippert Stadium (while the league attendance average was around half of that). The rise of FC Cincinnati coincided with the decline on the field of both the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals, leading FC Cincinnati to become a household team in the city.

The run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in 2017 was another notch as the team looked to see whether it could earn an MLS expansion bid, knocking off both the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire along the way. While FC Cincinnati hasn’t come close to winning a league title, just the fact that the club’s been able to get so many people into the stadium is a win in it of itself.

Now, FC Cincinnati is entrenched in the city and with the billionaire backing of the Lindner family, they could be the next MLS expansion success story.