Pick a Club (Top 10): How Your Philly Fandom Determines Your English Premier League Soccer Allegiance
Aug 16, 2013, 9:35 AM EDT
Part 1 of our English Premier League Preview got a lot of great feedback on Thursday. Even the anti-soccer trolls left their dark basements to enjoy the sunshine, because they were nowhere to be found.
Yesterday, we went through the 10 teams likely to finish in the bottom half of the 20-team league. Today we follow the money and tell you the names you might have heard of before.
Again, we’ll go in reverse order. Remember that while these 10 teams are battling for a title (technically), many of them are focused on a top-four finish, which means a spot in next year’s Champions League, and the HUGE pay day that comes with it.
Cheer for the Magpies If: You’re a Phillies or Eagles fan who takes pride in the fact no one likes you. There may be no EPL team that would partner better with the rabid Phillies or Eagles fan than Newcastle. Its fans are dedicated through and through, support a team with one of the longest histories in England (the club dates back to 1877), live in a blue-collar northeast city far from the posh streets of London and are pretty much universally reviled in the rest of the country. Newcastle fans travel amazingly well and routinely fill 52,000-seat St. James’ Park, even when the team was in the second tier. Despite their long and storied history, there is a decided lack of trophies (sound like any teams you know?). Newcastle has four league titles, but three came between 1904 and 1910.
Steer Clear If: You have visions of a validating your fandom with a trip to St. James’ Park the next time you’re in London on business. With a drive time of nearly five hours, the only cities farther from London are in Scotland.
Cheer for the Swans If: You’re un-ironically looking forward to the Chip Kelly-led Eagles in 2013. The Swans won’t win the league, they won’t shut out opponents, and they likely won’t improve on last year’s surprising ninth-place finish in their second year in the Premier League. But man, they are fun to watch. Manager Michael Laudrup plays an attractive attacking style, and doesn’t really seem to care if his team gives up goals, as long as they score more. Last year they opened with a 5-0 win at Queens Park Rangers and also beat Arsenal on the road. Spaniard Michu (one name only) was one of the best players in the EPL last season and a blast to watch.
Steer Clear: If you ever hope to speak with a native of Swansea and understand what they’re saying. Have you ever listened to someone with a Welsh accent?
Cheer for the Potters If: You REALLY like America. Yesterday we gave you Sunderland and American star Jozy Altidore. But with Stoke City, you’ll see plenty of familiar faces. The Potters have FOUR Americans on the roster — defender/midfielder Geoff Cameron, winger Brek Shea, midfielder/defender Maurice Edu and striker Juan Agudelo. Shea is unlikely to start the season after a nasty tackle by the Union’s Matt Kassel in a friendly at PPL Park last month, but Cameron saw some time last season and Edu is trying to work his way into the starting 11. Should all four ever start at once, expect English soccer fans’ heads to explode, since they don’t think we know how to play soccer in America.
Steer Clear If: You enjoy goals and the “beautiful game.” While things might be a little better this year under new manager Mark Hughes, Stoke are known as a bruising, physical, grind-it-out kind of team. They are happy to come away with hard-fought draws and the occasional 1-0 win.
Cheer for the Toffees If: You loved Dr. J’s afro and this was your favorite part of the Andrew Bynum Experience. Why? Because (at least until Manchester United splashes the cash later this month) Everton’s Marouane Fellaini has the best hair in the EPL. Seriously, just look at that salad. I honestly am not sure how he can accurately head a ball with that hair. Oh, and he’s really really good (12 goals and seven assists in 2012-13). Just don’t get too attached: Rumors are still out there that Manchester United and former Everton manager David Moyes might make a move for Fellaini before the transfer window closes in September. If he leaves, at least you’d still have No. 1 American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who is an Everton institution at this point.
Steer Clear: If you don’t want to risk a major letdown in your first season on the bandwagon. Moyes was widely considered one of the top managers in the game after years of overachieving at Everton without the financial backing of the teams above him in the table. But now he’s at Manchester United, and has been replaced by former Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, himself a respected coach who did more with Wigan than anyone could’ve reasonably expected. I think Everton will be fine, but there’s a chance the bottom could fall out if the club starts slowly.
6. Liverpool (Liverpool, England) – Red and White (Alternate: White, Blue, Red & Horrendous)
Cheer for the Reds If: You are still loyal to Ryan Howard. Like Howard, Liverpool is not far removed from its glory days. The club has more European trophies (11) than any English team, to go along with 18 league titles, seven FA Cups and eight league cups. Just eight years ago, the Reds pulled off what is arguably the greatest comeback in history to eventually win the 2005 Champions League final over AC Milan in Istanbul. But, like Howard, the Reds are a shell of their former selves. The team teetered in the lower half of the league early last season before climbing back up, and now seem to be content to hang around the top 5. And if you need one more baseball connection, Liverpool is owned by the same group that owns the Boston Red Sox (LeBron James also owns a small piece of the club).
Steer Clear If: You feel a need to actually like the personalities of your favorite players. Liverpool Luis Suarez is, by all accounts, a certifiable scumbag. A scumbag who, while playing in The Netherlands in 2010, was suspended seven games for biting an opponent; suspended eight games for racial abuse in 2011; and suspended 10 games last year for … wait for it … BITING ANOTHER PLAYER. Also, if you pick based on uniforms, steer clear of Liverpool, as their second and third jerseys this season look they were lifted from a bad MC Hammer video.
Cheer for Spurs If: You enjoyed watching the Philadelphia Union sell and/or trade all of their best players in 2011 and 2012. American Clint Dempsey had a solid season for Spurs in 2012, but did not seem to be part of the team’s plans this year, necessitating Dempsey’s surprise move back to Major League Soccer. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for Spurs fans, as all-world star Gareth Bale is likely on his way out the door in the next month, with a move to Real Madrid in the works. Just Thursday, Tottenham admitted that a banged-up Bale won’t be ready this weekend. The team is trying to block a move, but like all of these transfers, money talks and Bale seems intent on leaving. So have fun with that, Spurs fans.
Cheer for the Gunners If: Andy Reid was your favorite coach of all time. The similarities between the current Arsenal situation and the Reid era with the Eagles are eerie. French manager Arsene Wenger has been in charge at Arsenal since 1996. Unlike Reid, he did win trophies early on (including an amazing unbeaten season in 2003-04) but the Gunners have not won a single piece of silverware in more than eight years, and Wenger has remained in charge anyway. In the quick-trigger world of English soccer, where walking with a shoelace untied is reason enough to be fired, Wenger’s reign continues in North London. The similarities don’t end there, as Wenger’s press conferences are notoriously dull (How do you say “Time’s Yours” in French?), and the team traded in an intimidating old stadium (Highbury) for a generic, sterile, money-making building with a sponsor name (The Emirates) in 2006. They have not won a trophy since moving there.
Steer Clear If: You aren’t happy with fourth place. Last season, Wenger famously said that, “The first trophy is to finish in the top four” and earn a spot in the Champions League. The team has struck out on rumored transfers this season (including a bid for Luis Suarez) and made headlines last year when the cheapest season ticket was revealed to be nearly $1,600.
Cheer for the Red Devils If: You have a Yankees hat next to your Lakers jersey and a Cowboys sticker on your bumper (and live nowhere near New York, Los Angeles or Dallas). There are a few legitimate Man United fans out there, but most would fit in nicely in the usually empty seats behind the plate at the new Yankee Stadium. The money flies around, the trophies pile up and the bandwagon fills to capacity at Old Trafford, while the team’s players, its now-retired legendary manager and its fans seemingly embrace the fact that they are reviled by 90 percent of the world’s soccer fans. Manchester United is now publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the club sells so many jerseys worldwide that Chevrolet — yes, the one that the government bailed out because they were poor — recently paid nearly $600 million just to put its logo on the front starting in 2014. So, by all means, go out and get one of those shirts and wear it to the bar the next time you order a PBR. You’ll fit right in.
Steer Clear If: You want to be my friend.
Cheer for the Blues If: Larry Brown was your favorite Philly coach of all time. Chelsea will be managed for the second time by the nomadic and arrogant Jose Mourinho, who literally gave himself the nickname, “The Special One.” Like Brown, Mourinho makes no secret about his inability to sit still for very long. He has coached six teams since the year 2000, and this will be his second time at Chelsea. But, like Brown, Mourinho gets the best out of his players, and is not afraid to tell you about it. In his last stint at Chelsea, he led the Blues to their best point total ever and their first title in 50 years. With some of the world’s top talent on the roster again in 2013, expect Chelsea to be right there at the end.
Steer Clear If: You didn’t connect with the free-spending Phillies of the last decade. Chelsea sits in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of London, but actually had a pretty conservative approach for many years. That is until Russian bazillionaire Roman Abramovich bought the team in 2003 and put together the best team(s) money could buy. In the 10 years since, Abramovich has spent an estimated $3.1 BILLION (billion, with a “B”) on players, managers, and, I assume, diamond-crusted toilet seats for the owner’s box.
Cheer for the Sky Blues If: You’re awesome, handsome, beautiful, a gentleman and a scholar (can you tell yet which team I support?). Seriously though, as much as it pains me to say it, latching onto Manchester City now is similar to being a Phillies @FanSince09. My love of City began in college over a game of FIFA 02 and continued even when City came dangerously close to relegation in 2005-06. Things changed in 2008 when the club was purchased by Abu Dhabi United Group, meaning I now assure people “I rooted for City before the rich Sheiks came around!” Those of us who were around before the money poured in take great pride in it, much in the same way Phillies fans wear their 10,000-plus losses like a badge of honor.
Steer Clear If: You don’t like fun, or a team that wins the most dramatic championship in the history of the English game.
Thanks for sticking it out through these two posts, and in all honesty, you should give the game a chance, whether it’s Saturday morning on TV or with a seat at PPL Park. Soccer fans can be snobby and intimidating at times, but those of us who love the game don’t like those people anyway.
Set that alarm now.
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