FOX Soccer Exclusive
London becomes soccer's epicenter
For two weeks, beginning on Saturday, London becomes the center of the soccer universe. Over the next 14 days, the oldest cup competition in the sport will be decided, Europe’s club champion will be crowned, and two London sides – which two are yet to be determined – will book their places in the mega-wealthy Champions League.
London is the beating heart of world soccer. With fifteen league teams inside its borders and a hundred more scattered up and down England’s developmental ladder, this city has arguably the world’s densest soccer population on the globe. The sheer breadth of soccer on offer is dizzying, ranging from the Hellenic Football League is what is effectively the 10th division of English football, all the way up to reigning European champions Chelsea of the Premier League.
The fight for London started on Friday at Selhurst Park, where second-division Crystal Palace began its fight for the Premier League against an unlikely archrival, Brighton Hove Albion. The cities are not close together, and the enmity seems to stem from a hazily-remembered confrontation in the mid-1970s. But this is a Category A fixture, meaning a heavy police presence and guaranteed fireworks near Norwood Junction.
The city then kicks off its hosting duties with the FA Cup (live, FOX, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET) and a full-tilt battle for one of the grandest prizes in Britain between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic. Held at the new Wembley Stadium, north and west of the city center, the game promises to be a banner occasion.
City, recently deposed by archrivals Manchester United as Premier League title holders, are desperate to pick up a trophy this season. They face off against a team from Greater Manchester, a region better known for rugby than soccer. That has shown at tiny Wigan, a rag-tag club that is currently fighting against relegation from England’s top-flight. Should Wigan pull out what would be a most improbable win, it would be the greatest moment in what has hardly been an illustrious sporting history.
The action doesn’t stop there: three London teams are fighting for just two spots in next year’s Champions League. Chelsea will host Aston Villa early on Saturday while Tottenham travels to Stoke for a tough fixture (live, FOX Soccer, Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET). Finally, Arsenal will entertain Wigan (live, FOX Soccer, Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. ET) at the Emirates in Islington in what is a must-win for both sides. Chelsea and Arsenal are in control of their own destinies – should they win out their remaining games, Spurs will be left on the outside once again.
Midweek, London spreads it wings as Chelsea travels five hours East to Amsterdam, and a showdown with Portuguese giants Benfica at the Amsterdam ArenA for the Europa League crown (live, FOX Soccer, Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET). This is the London team’s second European final in row, but it is a comedown from last year’s European Cup final in Munich, where they memorably gutted out a win against Bayern Munich.
The Blues face a fierce Benfica side that beat out Turkish giants Fenerbahce to get here, but the biggest enemy of Rafa Benitez’ side may well be fatigue. This is a grueling spell for them and with Champions league soccer yet to be ensured for next season, they cannot afford a slip-up in the Premier League.
Speaking of, all that Premier League action comes to a head the following Sunday with what could be a critical game at White Hart Lane. Tottenham and Clint Dempsey face a likely must-win against relegation-threatened Sunderland; Arsenal are in Newcastle; while Chelsea face a quick turnaround to play Everton at Stamford Bridge.
And then, at long last, the champions of Europe will be decided in London. Bayern and Borussia Dortmund clash at Wembley Stadium (live, FOX, Saturday, May 25, 2 p.m. ET). The game is oversold with some 500,000 Dortmund fans requesting tickets; at least 200,000 German fans are expected to flood this city.
Finally, soccer season in London comes to a close with the richest game in world soccer: the Championship Final. Wembley Stadium will host two teams yet to be determined in a game that experts estimate is worth a staggering $160m this year, thanks to the improved TV contracts collected by the Premier League.
All this adds up to a dizzying 18 days in the nation’s capital. FOX Soccer has all the action and real-time coverage on our website, on our Twitter feeds @FOXSoccer and @FOXSoccerTrax and on our Instagram feed @FOX_Soccer. Don’t miss a second of the action.
More Stories From Jamie Trecker