My Favourite Premier Player: The all-American hero

American players haven't always been well-received in England. FourFourTwo contributor and Champions staff writer Andy Murray celebrates the man who did more than most to change that.

It can be difficult to like the Yanks. The migraine-inducing accent grates to the point of self-harm; Hollywood’s bombastic films – they’re not 'movies' – offend good taste; and the sense of arrogance irritates most Anglophiles purely because, let’s face it, we’d love to be able to pull off Marlon Brando’s muttered insouciance.

It should be even harder to truly love an American ‘soccer’ player. Coming over here, taking our jobs, and bringing cheerleaders and pom-poms with them to enliven Millmoor or Kenilworth Road; not even Cobi Jones’ skittish runs down Coventry City’s wing could melt my heart to the post-1994 World Cup American invasion. John Harkes was pretty average, ditto Claudio Reyna and Joe-Max Moore.

Brian McBride changed everything.

Blessed with a neck so sturdy and thighs so thick they could start revolutions, he was different. Nobody could head a football like Brian. At just 6ft, he wasn’t tall but that thigh definition wasn’t for idle decoration: the American striker could out-jump any centre-half. Having reached the ball first, he’d then pummel away goalbound headers with the ferocity most Premier League footballers usually reserve for a 2am post-kebab fracas. In the States, he’s nicknamed McHead: it shows.

First brought to England by David Moyes for a six-month loan at Preston in 2000, he threw himself into the First Division’s rough and tumble with typical gusto. During his September debut against Stockport, a nasty collision caused a blood clot in McBride’s arm that required an operation to remove a rib and alleviate the pressure.

He only managed another eight appearances but within two years Moyes came calling again, his Everton side in need of Premier League firepower. McBride’s four goals in eight games piqued Fulham’s interest and it’s here that I fell in love with the stately Yank.

I’m no Cottager – settle down at the back – but as a rakish midfielder who’s scared of his own shadow, let alone 6ft 4in defenders, I wouldn’t put my shapely chicken legs anywhere near the challenges McBride would with his head. A man-crush hastily developed.

His bloodied yet unbowed performance at the 2006 World Cup after Daniele De Rossi’s elbow assault – look closely and you can see a hole in his cheek – remains my defining image of this Titan’s perfect bone structure and magnificent jawline.

“McBride has enough titanium in his face to cause backups at airport security checkpoints the world over,” says MLS journalist Jeff Carlisle.

McBride isn’t the best American player in Premier League history. Thanks to Clint Dempsey, he isn’t even the best American player in Fulham’s Premier League history. But his selfless hold-up play and willingness to run himself into the ground are attributes adored in SW6.

When the Craven Cottage club survived relegation on goal difference in 2007/08 – having being five points adrift with three games to go – it was club captain McBride, plus Jimmy Bullard, the team turned to for inspiration. A McBride goal – a bullet header, obviously – against rivals Birmingham City on the penultimate day of the season went a long way to avoiding the drop. It’s easy to see why the club named a bar at the ground in his honour a season after his departure in 2009.

“I’m not a Fulham fan, but as an American I’m proud of McBride,” says a comment on a YouTube compilation of his goals. Well, I’m neither a Cottager nor a Yank, but so am I. A trailblazer who donated $100-a-goal to the Central Ohio Diabetes Association after losing his grandfather to the disease, he made American footballers fashionable, as Dempsey has found to great success [Jozy Altidore less so – Ed.]

Sod Bruce Springsteen, McBride’s my all-American hero.

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