Stateside fans are proud as peacocks with U.S. star Clint Dempsey set to wage battle against Atlético Madrid in the first-ever Europa League final on Wednesday in Hamburg, Germany. But they’re far from only the Fulham watchers beaming over the Texas native these days.
The 27-year-old attacker has become a bona fide fan favorite since arriving at Craven Cottage midway through the 2006-07 campaign. But don't take my word for it.
"Everyone loves Clint, I think," Richard Allen, season ticket holder and author of the annual Fulham Review book, told MLSsoccer.com. "There seem to be more No. 23 shirts in the crowd than any other number, certainly."
"I think this because of how he plays the game,” Allen continued. “He works as hard as anyone, but has that glint in his eye, too -- you know that he could come up with something special at any moment. It's a powerful combination."
Diehard Fulham fan Dan Crawford, co-proprietor of Cottagers blog Hammy End, concurs.
"The short answer is that Fulham fans love Clint Dempsey," he said. "He's clearly benefited from the success of Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra down by the Thames."
"He scored a massive goal against Liverpool to secure our Premier League status [in 2007] and quickly became popular with the supporters for his desire, work ethic and the ability to produce a brilliant a bit of skill out of nothing."
Crawford says Dempsey then became even more popular in West London for fighting back into the lineup after the "Great Escape" goal against Liverpool that spring.
"Clint lost his place," he recalled. "There were rumors that he might move on. But, instead of sulking about it, he knuckled down, scored goals from the substitutes bench and proved his worth to Roy Hodgson. He's become an automatic selection when fully fit and is probably the most popular member of the first team with the fans--just listen for how loudly we sing his name."
The American's Cottage song fulfills the two basic grandstand requirements: It rhymes and it slurs archrival Chelsea.
He scores with his left,
He scores with his right,
That boy Clint Dempsey,
Makes Drogba look sh---!
It's a hearty claim, but Dempsey's flair for the big exploit is what gives these singers full voice. If the relegation-beater three years ago made his name and consistent effort strengthened it, the sublime comeback capper to oust Juventus from the Europa League in March put it in lights.
"The Liverpool goal was hugely important for us and also for him," compared Allen. "The Juventus goal might just be the single greatest thing 20,000 Fulham fans have ever witnessed."
"I was overcome with emotion," said Crawford of the devilishly crafted diagonal chip shot. "I started going to Fulham in the early 1990s when the club's entire existence was under threat and we were losing to non-league clubs in the first round of the FA Cup.
"If I'd have told people that the team that was at the wrong end of Division Three in the 90s would be beating Juventus and heading to a European final, they would have thought I was mad!"
"Dempsey's chip was without doubt the best moment of my Fulham-supporting career,” he insists. “It all seemed to happen in slow motion and we held our breath as the ball headed towards the far post. It underlined what Fulham fans have known for a while: Clint's class and England better watch out in Rustenburg in June."
Not all proud Cottagers hail from London, mind you. Will Lytle, an American living in Malta, was in the house when Dempsey's inclusion sparked the semifinal rally against Hamburg.
"He immediately had an impact on the game and the guys around him," said the club member, who makes it over to London when he can. "I cannot say I thought we'd come back, since two goals in 30 minutes against a team like Hamburg is very difficult, but you got the sense that that fans were all much more optimistic once Dempsey entered."
"After [Simon] Davies knocked in that first goal with a brilliant first touch, I don't think there was anyone at the Cottage that evening who thought the second goal wasn't a sure bet,” Lytle continued. “It was an incredible change of atmospheres that night, and a big part of that was attributable to Dempsey.
This spark should come as no surprise; the American captures Fulham spirit while lending some needed moxie to a club playing in Europe for just the second time.
"I guess he embodies Fulham ‘09-10 in that he is a talented player who has worked hard under the manager and taken his game to a new level as a result," offered Allen.
Added Crawford, "His confidence is vital, too, because he will try things that others just wouldn't dare and he has such natural ability that they often come off."
With plenty of show-stopping moments already to his credit and Wednesday's final the next stage, it's seems to fair to ask if Dempsey could actually go down in Fulham history alongside 2006 World Cup teammate McBride, ranked last year by The Times as the 10th-best Cottager ever.
"Put it this way,” posed Allen. “In years to come, when people look back on this golden age of Fulham FC, they'll remember Clint Dempsey's contributions. One of the greats? That's hard to say, but he's been here a while now, and keeps on improving. So you never know. Come back in five years and we'll see where we are."
Greg Seltzer will report from Hamburg for Wednesday’s Europe League final. His “Postcards from Europe” appear every Tuesday on MLSsoccer.com.