FOX Soccer Exclusive
Premier League has a team for every American sports fan
So, you just finished watching the World Cup and you’re thinking, “Hey, I kind of liked that soccer thing. Wish I could watch some more.”
Well, guess what? The best league on the planet, the Barclays Premier League, kicks off Saturday.
The Premiership plays the fastest and most physical game, and is widely considered to have the richest vein of talent. A number of Americans from the World Cup, including Fulham’s Clint Dempsey, Wolves’ Marcus Hahnemann and Everton’s Tim Howard play in England. Several more, including former Everton loanee Landon Donovan, are expected to join clubs as the season progresses.
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The Premiership is also the closest thing you can get to the NFL abroad: By and large, these are wealthy, well-stocked teams and every game matters. There are also some parallels between the English clubs and the teams you might currently be enjoying.
Here’s an admittedly tongue-in-cheek guide to help you choose which team to follow along with this coming season.
Arsenal — Liked watching Spain at the World Cup? Well, most of that team was made up of Barcelona players, and Barcelona is in Spain last time I looked. Still, you’re not out of luck! A key player for the Spanish champs, Cesc Fabregas, is the captain of Arsenal. And the truth is, no team in England plays attacking, flowing, passing football like Arsenal. They really are a lot of fun to watch. The problem with this London side is that they don’t play a lot of defense. Think of the Phoenix Suns — Arsenal is a run and gun team that hopes to outscore you. And like the Suns, Arsenal is a lot of fun to watch ... until May rolls around.
Aston Villa — Villa is a funny team. It’s owned by an American, Randy Lerner, who also owns the Cleveland Browns. But, Lerner — who clearly loves Villa — hasn’t shown a willingness to spend big. As a result, Martin O'Neill, Villa’s well-respected coach quit five days before the season kicks off. Villa has talent and plays an attractive style, but it doesn’t seem to get very far. Reminds me a bit of the Boston Bruins, a team you would think should have more trophies on the shelf.
Birmingham City FC — Birmingham’s players have a lot of belief, unity and desire, all that good stuff which goes a long way in this sport towards making up for the fact that it really doesn’t have a good roster on paper. Birmingham, however, doesn’t appear to have confidence in its defense, and it’s a killer weakness. If you score against them, they go to pieces. They’re the Anaheim Ducks of English football: A team you don’t really want to play against because they can hurt you — but one that throws games away foolishly because of bad mistakes. Both have good, well-travelled and workmanlike coaches, and both have gotten over some strange financial humps. The old Ducks jersey was cooler.
Bolton 0-2 Man City | Recap
Everton 1-0 Chelsea | Recap
Fulham 2-2 Arsenal | Recap
Man Utd 4-2 Blackpool | Recap
Newcastle 3-3 West Brom | Recap
Stoke City 0-1 Wigan | Recap
Tottenham 2-1 Birmingham | Recap
West Ham 0-3 Sunderland | Recap
Wolves 2-3 Blackburn | Recap
Blackburn — The Chicago Bears of England. Both clubs are perpetually and utterly deluded that this will be the year, until the regular season opens whereupon they find out that the players they have really aren’t very good. Both teams have magnetic head coaches (Lovie Smith here in Chicago; “Big” Sam Allardyce in Blackburn) and both have long histories that they fail to live up to. Oh, and both are capable of shocking you: Blackburn is the only team to win the Premier League since its founding in 1992 other than the Big Three of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal (Take that, Liverpool). Da Bears? They got to the 2006 Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback.
Blackpool — If you like the Cleveland Browns, this is the team for you. Browns fans, you’re used to disappointment! Considering that Blackpool is stingy and only sporadically successful — this is their first return to the top league of English soccer since 1971 — Cleveland fans should feel right at home. Plus, you don’t have to get new shirts: Blackpool wears orange, too. Both the Browns and Blackpool once were great, but you need to have been born around 1935 to remember the glory days clearly. Added bonus: Browns fans hate the fact that their owner, Randy Lerner, bought an EPL team (Aston Villa) instead of wasting more money on quarterbacks who can’t throw the ball. What better way to share the hate than by supporting a Premier League rival?
Bolton Wanderers — This is a thuggish and midtable team with a capacity to give you real problems. Sounds like NASCAR’s Carl Edwards, who has been known to deliberately wreck his car while driving well enough to keep pace in the Sprint Cup series. Neither is stylish, but both have dedicated fan bases. And like ‘em or not, you don’t want to have to face either of them with anything on the line — Bolton, like Edwards, can mess you up.
Chelsea — New ownership and a lot of cash did for Chelsea what John Henry did for the Boston Red Sox. Since the takeovers, both have buried old reputations with championships. Chelsea supporters were a lot like long-suffering Sox fans, too — they supported their team through thick and thin even though they stunk. That was endearing, even if everyone else despised them. Today, both teams' fans expect their teams to win, and are put out when they don’t. This is called having short memories.
Everton — Everton is the classy, scrappy team that has always existed in the shadow of a richer rival ... kind of like the Chicago White Sox. Yeah, Liverpool gets all the attention, but, like the ChiSox, Everton has the better manager (David Moyes); arguably the better fans, and manage to put up with a wretched ballpark. The only difference? Everton’s on the North Side. Oh, and no one will confuse Liverpool with the Cubs.
Fulham — This ramshackle London side is the Toronto Maple Leafs of the league. Fulham is old, proud, and with just enough cash to stay up and fight — but not enough talent to get a lot done. Fulham, like the Maple Leafs, are way more popular than they should be based on their performance. But American fans have a special place in their hearts for the Craven Cottage crowd: This club has been a landing spot for a number of good American players (most prominent currently is Clint Dempsey); the Leafs now have an American GM (Brian Burke), an American coach (Ron Wilson) and an American to lead their attack (Phil Kessel). But it's probably worth noting that neither team seems to win much of anything like a trophy recently.
Liverpool — The New York Giants. Both teams have a long history and are justifiably proud. Both are the big fishes in their towns. And both are capable of winning — but they win less often of late than they think they should. And boy, when they go in the tank, they do so with gusto. OK, Liverpool’s star didn’t get tossed in jail for carrying a gun, but he did fight with a guy at a club and had some very uncomfortable months in court. Both have great passionate fans — and both teams have had movies made about that rabid fandom (Patton Oswalt’s is better.) Seriously, Giants fans — sign on. These are your kind of people.
Manchester City — If United are the Yankees of English football, then City must be the New York Mets. They have an enormous payroll, huge expectations, and little cohesion. They also have long been the red-headed stepchildren in their cities. City has always been in the shadow of United and more people still revere the Brooklyn Dodgers — who moved over 50 years ago! — than give lip service to the Mets. Both were once historic synonyms for “inept,” and they also used to boast terrible stadia until recently (City inherited its new ground in 2003 and the Mets opened Taxpayer ... ahem, Citi Field last season). Weird factoid: City last won the League in 1967-68. The Amazin’ Mets won the World Series the following season.
Manchester United — United, arguably the most powerful team in England (never mind all that debt) are American owned. Lots of people compare them to the Yankees, a nod to their historic performances and their habit of collecting stars. I think they’re more like the Dallas Cowboys: They’ve become “England’s Team,” an international super-brand that sometimes overshadows how good they can be. Like the Cowboys, United can dazzle, and they are clearly the best practitioners of the muscular English game. But, like the Cowboys, they can also spin apart. United is still top of the class and has the best manager in football. The Cowboys are planning to play in the Super Bowl they will host in 2011. In each case, such hubris is both logical and often rewarded with success.
Newcastle United — Oh, Toon, you’re the New York Knicks. Newcastle has wonderful fans who keep getting let down by ownership as one hare-brained scheme after another goes awry. In news that will come as no shock to a fan like Spike Lee, Newcastle, which suffered a dismal two-year spell that saw them relegated, is in a “rebuilding” mode and is looking for players on the cheap. Newcastle last won the league way back in 1927. The Knicks last won something when Willis Reed was in short shorts. Both sets of fans have a superhuman capacity to deny reality and continue to fill the seats no matter what they are watching. Fans, you’re a perfect fit.
Stoke City — Stoke has a crazy manager, Tony Pulis, who’s not afraid to butt heads — and I mean that literally, he gave star player James Beattie a Glasgow kiss in one of the more comical dust-ups of last season. Stoke also plays a leg-breaking style of football that has other managers despising them. (See: Arsenal and Aaron Ramsey) And yet, they have become somewhat decent playing thugball, and now boast a hardened core of players and one truly oddball specialist in Rory Delap, whose throw-ins are like corner kicks. Reminds me of the old Oakland Raiders, before Al Davis got all peculiar.
Sunderland — This Northern side has an uncanny resemblance to the Atlanta Hawks. Sunderland has a rabid fan base that is often overlooked; can play some classy football, and are just outside of the elite. Their best days were also, um, long ago. But, don’t let that stop you. We all know the Hawks can play terrific basketball, push the best in the playoffs and still wind up so far off the national radar that you'd think they folded. You can imagine Sunderland finishing in the top six and nobody in London actually realizing it.
Tottenham — A proud team with a wonderful history that unfortunately sits next to London giants Arsenal. Spurs are the New York Jets of English football — they have some dazzling talent, are overachievers and have a strong history of social activism and support. How many fans do you know that would call themselves “The Yid Army” to show solidarity with the then-persecuted Jews of North London? Not many. The Jets, of course, live in the shadow of the Giants and are still thought of as newcomers despite having 50 years of history. And, yep, both were really good in the 1960's, the last time either won a title.
West Bromwich Albion — The Pittsburgh Pirates of English football. All the fans want is an owner that will spend money. All the fans got is an owner that refuses to do so. So, both teams kind of bob around at the bottom; in WBA’s case, they go up and down between divisions on a near-yearly basis. Both teams are good enough to play in the top-flight, but if they get anyone with talent, they ship him off. Fans: you can also save money: Both the Pirates and WBA wear black at times. After all, it’s all about cost control, not winning, at these clubs.
West Ham United — A die-hard Hammers fan I know often quips that West Ham are the “Brazil of England.” It’s a telling joke, and an indication of how fraught this team’s fortunes truly are. West Ham has never won the top-flight title despite a history that dates back to 1895. They play a hard-nosed, classically “stuck-in” style that is about as English as it gets. And they are beloved, despite their obvious flaws. Reminds me a bit of NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. — a man with a great history of underperforming who is nonetheless NASCAR’s leading man. Junior goes out and races, and has a lot of respect for his elders — and race fans know it and love it. Fans, you’d have a lot in common, and you’d find a lot to like.
Wigan — The Columbus Blue Jackets. Does anyone actually know about the Blue Jackets outside of Ohio? No one pays much attention to Wigan, either. Part of it is because you’re just flat-out overshadowed. People care more about Ohio State than they do about Columbus pro sports (just ask the Crew) and you know, Wigan is so close to Manchester that sensible types in those parts would support a real team. You guys should get together, maybe trade numbers, start a chat therapy group ... You need it.
Wolverhampton — They can’t score and have no toughness at all. Reminds me of the Golden State Warriors, a team that, if relegation came to the NBA, would be playing in the Pac-10. Wolves are in the same boat — they are likely to be relegated this season. But, and here’s something to keep in mind: both teams have one great player. For the Warriors, it’s Stephen Curry, an all-rookie team sensation. For Wolves, it’s eccentric American Marcus Hahnemann, who is making a case at 38 for being the USA’s No. 1 goalkeeper. Hahnemann saved Wolves single-handedly last year. Tune in to see if he can do it again.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League.