I recently faced the same dilemma as you re: the English Premier League -- my brother-in-law (Man U fan) and my best friend (Chelsea) are big EPL fans and pushing me to join 'em. The WC pushed my over the top.
So, I picked Arsenal for three reasons:
1. They don't appear to be the Yankees of the EPL (I'd give that to Man U, perhaps Chelsea).
2. I read "Fever Pitch" by Hornby -- I like their understated history.
3. Cool cannon on their uniform!
So, there you have it. Completely unreasonable reasons -- but isn't that the best part of being a sports fan?
--Robert Mahini, Arlington, Va.
|The EPL Decision: Box Set|
From the fans to the Sports Guy, here's all you need to know to pick your own EPL team:|
What English soccer team should you adopt? Easy answer: ARSENAL.
First off, I'm relatively sure that they are the club Michael Davies hates most. The English Premier League is not unlike MLB when it comes to competitive imbalance. It has 20 teams, 16 of which have no legitimate shot of winning the league. When the season starts, you can count on one of four teams winning the title: Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal. Man Utd is the biggest bandwagon club there is and, several years ago, they entered into some sort of alliance with the New York Yankees. Chelsea (Michael Davies' favorite club) is owned by a Russian billionaire who runs the club like George Steinbrenner by spending insane amounts of cash to assemble a veritable all-star team of mercenaries and has essentially bought the last two titles. Liverpool, like the Yankees, is a club overrated because of their history of past success, but are not a compelling team today (their improbable '05 Champions League title aside).
That leaves Arsenal, who were much like your beloved Red Sox in that they played forever in an antiquated stadium crammed into a North London neighborhood that was rich in history and tradition, but had a much smaller capacity and lacked the modern amenities of other stadiums. They finally got the stones to face reality and turn the page by leaving Highbury and moving into a new state-of-the-art stadium this season. Plus, the most obvious link between Arsenal and the Red Sox is "Fever Pitch" -- Nick Hornby's book about being a superfan of Arsenal, made into a movie in the UK with Colin Firth, which was, of course, bastardized by the Farrelly brothers into a story about the Red Sox and featured the unforgiveable casting of Jimmy Fallon in the lead role (The Sox winning the Series, while added to conform to real-life events, was actually true to the original story's happy ending, as Arsenal defeats Liverpool on the season's final day to win the '89 title). Plus the club's primary color is red. I'm telling you, Arsenal is your club.
I leave you with Arsenal as my choice, for a few reasons ... 3) For someone who isn't exactly sold on soccer, they play the best brand for an American fan trying to find the game. Young, and really talented, they play end to end, fastbreak soccer. Phoenix Suns of the league, with a really good D. Real fun to watch. OK, that was my feeble attempt to throw you a bone on English soccer.
--Joe, Mayfield, N.Y.
Arsenal really are the Red Sox of the Premiership. They were underdogs for a long time, always taking a back seat to Chelsea, Man Utd, and Liverpool, until 2004 when they won and went undefeated. They lost a heartbreaking Champions League final last year against Barcelona, and qualified for it again this year. They have probably the best goal scorer in soccer in Thierry Henry, plus a huge youth movement (including 17-year-old wunderkind Theo Walcott) coming up that has them set up nicely for the next few years. They have a brand new stadium in the cool part of north London, and their head coach, Arsene Wegner, is fantastic.
Frankly, I'm not sure you really have much of a choice.
--Tyler, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
If you're looking for an English soccer team there are three things to know:
1. YOU CANNOT SELECT MANCHESTER UNITED. They are the devil. They are the Yankees. They get bailed out by refs. They buy titles. They bitch and moan and have never done anything wrong. They are the picture of petulance. Someone who adopts them as their team cannot be respected. Though nowadays, there's one team that's even worse.
2. CHELSEA ARE WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD. Can you imagine how bad football would suck if there were no salary cap? Chelsea are trying to help us all find out. Their suspect Russian oil billionaire owner has legends on the third string. They are the essence of the no-tradition, no-honor team. If they hadn't been around for a hundred years, they'd be the Marlins.
3. IN MY HUMBLE OPINION, THE ONLY MORAL CHOICE IS ARSENAL. They have a coach who doesn't overpay for superstars; he finds young, inexpensive talent and makes them INTO superstars. Plus (unlike Chelsea) they play all-attack-all-the-time soccer that leaves you breathless. Not just Nash Suns good, but Magic Lakers great.
--Brendan Hunt, Los Angeles
There is only one team worthy of your time: Arsenal. Here's a list of reasons:
3. Arsene Wenger, the team's manager, is a more clutch version of Billy Beane. Arsenal spends a small fraction compared to their chief opponents (Chelsea -- the Yankees -- and Man Utd.-- Yankees lite) yet they acheive comparable results.
5. Arsenal's fan base includes all segments of society; all classes, political persuasions, and religions are represented. They have the highest minority support in English soccer, and their fans are regarded as passionate, but mentally balanced.
6. Located in North London, Arsenal has to represent the best vacation option, should you ever want to attend a game. Good luck getting the Sports Gal to Liverpool, Manchester, or God forbid, Newcastle.
7.Thierry Henry is the best, most entertaining goal scorer in the world and is just entering his prime.
8. Cesc Fabregas is the closest thing in soccer to a defensively-solid Steve Nash, and he's only 19.
9. Solid uniforms, nothing ostentatious.
10. A roster that represents the U.N.
11. Most importantly, Arsenal -- even people who hate them will agree -- play by far the most attractive soccer in England. Most years they score far more goals than anyone. Think of them as a hard-nosed Brazil.
--Tyler D, San Francisco
Arsenal is far and away the most exciting English team to watch. Thierry Henry, the Gunners' best player and among the two best in the world, is probably the only player in the entire English League that can win a game by himself. The rest of the team is a mix of rock stars from across Europe, Africa and South America. The Gunners' manager, Arsene Wenger, is the Bill Walsh of soccer, an offensive-minded attacking genius who hates playing 0-0 matches as much as everyone else hates watching them. Their keeper is Jens Lehmann, the absolutely crazy curly-haired German who shut down Argentina in penalty kicks, and he is not afraid to absolutely humiliate his own defenders during a match. This makes the team particularly fun to watch when their losing.
I will present my case for Arsenal in the form of Google Video.
Alternatively, search YouTube for "Thierry Henry".
--Sebastian, Gothenburg, Sweden
Your search for an EPL team to follow starts and ends with Arsenal. This team has it all. Drama queens, (Thierry Henry, Robin Van Persie), young studs (Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Rosicky, Theo Walcott), enforcers (Philipe Senderoos and Freddie Ljungberg), a crazy keeper, (Jens Lehmann), and a French manager with gorilla arms who has his own pantheon of faces (Arsene Wenger). They are moving into a much bigger stadium this year, so tickets should be easier to come by when you're in London.
Here's all you need to know about the top teams in English soccer. Manchester United are the Yankees, Chelsea is like if the Marlins never stopped buying players after the first World Series win, and Arsenal are the Red Sox. Liverpool is kind of like the St. Louis Cardinals, and they have the best English player, (Steven Gerrard), but Arsenal is the pick. And remember, any self-respecting Arsenal fan has a deep hate for Tottenham. We love you Arsenal!
--Justin Bielinski, Milwaukee
I highly recommend supporing the Arsenal Gunners.
First off, the name. Arsenal Football Club? The cannon logo? The nickname of the Gunners? As far as names and nickhames go, that's pretty sweet.
The players? You have Thierry Henry, who is not only one of best goal-scorers in the world but one of the most exciting. They have Cesc Fabregas, perhaps the most talented 19-year-old on the planet. You have "Mad" Jens Lehmann, the German NT keeper. That Czech guy that killed the U.S. with two great goals ... he's at Arsenal now. Theo Walcott, the 17-year-old kid who England took to the World Cup then never played. Not to mention that Vieira-Fabregas situation that is a startling example of the Ewing Theory.
For the longest time, Arsenal were defensive and boring. "Boring boring Arsenal" was the chant. But under Wenger, they have become one of the most exciting, attacking sides in England. Fun to watch.
--Greg S., Regina, Saskatchewan
My choice: Arsenal. Pros: They have a smooth, fun-to-watch style that's missing from most English teams (Blackburn v. Bolton = 1990s Knicks v. Heat), they're based in London, so going to a home game while on vacation is a possibility, they always have at least one megastar, and their coach loves to annoy the English flag-wavers by fielding entirely non-English starting lineups. Cons: The coach and the best player are French (which bothers some people), they don't have a history of thuggish fans who will create entertaining headlines, and they are clearly running behind soulless, Yankee-ish Chelsea right now. If you're looking for a modern Red Sox equivalent, they're not bad. Just don't support Chelsea, please. They're awful to watch, they became good overnight when a Russian billionaire bought the team and then wildly overpaid to create an all-star team, they have a jackass manager ... If you want a Clippers analogue, you might go for Tottenham. The league tends to separate into 5 or so contenders and a bunch of dogs, so to maintain interest, you should probably watch Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Tottenham, then make your choice. I hope this helps.
Become an Arsenal fan. They're a perennial contender in the English Premier League. Many of their games are shown on Fox Soccer Channel -- you can TiVo the live ones and enjoy 'em like you did the World Cup, with eight cups of coffee. Specific reasons to like The Gunners (Arsenal) and english soccer (in no order):
1. Everyone who knows anything refers to Arsenal as Gooners -- fans and enemies.
2. Thierry Henry is perhaps the most exciting player in the world and he is an absolute monster for Arsenal. He is dead in the middle of his prime.
3. You'll love the pace and style of the premiership. No diving, fewer cards, more goals. It's a more honest version of soccer. I know you liked all the cards in the World Cup, but you'll enjoy the soccer more without so many. Or you'll hate it. Let's move on.
4. The diversity. Last season Arsenal had one English-born starter. The premiership is full of Africans, Brazilians, Americans, Frenchmen, you name it. Also makes for names that would make Georgetown blush. Right now Arsenal are thinking about buying Yaya Toure.
5. The announcers. This might be the best part. They're all British and they're all glib and they all know what they're talking about. The way they describe great players gives me goose bumps. For example, when lavishing praise on Henry (in a loud, thick British accent): "He's not a great scorer of goals. He's a scorer of great goals." Or: "Genius at work. His name is Thierry Henry."
6. The fans/passion. Vitriolic is an understatement. The English are an ugly people. All around. And when rivals come to town the atmosphere is downright electric. Never, ever an empty seat. When the home side scores and runs to the fans, well, I don't think there's anything like it in other sports.
If you go to YouTube or Google videos and type in Thierry Henry, you'll see what I mean about the fans and the intensity. Plus the highlights are outstanding.
--Casey, Austin, Texas
Regardless of what you do. do not support Chelsea. They are like the Yankees only if George Steinbrenner was a creepy Russian Oil Tycoon. Picture this: America isn't the only great baseball league in the world and the Yankees go and buy every f-ing player from the best teams around the world and combine them into one. Then they fire Joe Torre, a respectable man, and hire Ozzie Guillen who proceeds to rub it in everyone's faces how great they are, while everyone knows that they are great because they bought all their talent.
Its hypocritical for me to say this as a Yankees fan but please for the love of god, don't support Chelsea.
Go with Arsenal. Good players, beautiful soccer, and they didn't finish in first last year.
Arsenal gives you the most beautiful brand of soccer played in Europe. They have consistently lead the EPL in scoring for the past 10 years because of the beautiful attacking style that the "professor" Arsene Wenger employed 10 years ago (Wenger has a Economics degree, hence the nickname). They have the world's best striker, and arguably, soccer's best athlete in Thierry Henry.
The EPL is soccer as it should be played and trust me, you'll enjoy the games much more than the negative World Cup games in which tactical defensive teams like Italy played a boring defensive style. You'll be glad you made the move.
Lastly, again let me remind you that as a Boston Sports Fan, you have found kindred spirits in us "Gooners" (nickname for Arsenal Fans. Beset by years of futility (See 1971-1989) and our own boring brand of soccer led by manager George Graham in the 1980s and early '90s, we have been rescued by Mr. Wenger and his gorgeous "total football."
Like I said, rent "Fever Pitch," read the book, think of the Sox, and join the Arsenal America club. (www.arsenalamerica.com) We welcome the Sports Guy as a new Gooner.
--Bobby B., Maryland
Saw your comment in the chat about wanting a team to root for in the English Premier League. The answer is simple -- Arsenal. And, not simply because it's the crosstown and longterm rival of Michael Davies' team Chelsea. Though that's a positive, certainly. It is because they play the beautiful game under Wenger -- the level of play displayed during the 2003/2004, when they went undefeated, hasn't been matched since. Further, they play in Islington which is the cool part of town (kind of like Greenwich Village, or even parts of the Back Bay). Chelsea's kind of like the Upper Eastside -- a bit stale and stuffy.
And, you can't root for Manchester United as 1) it's owned by the same family which owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and 2) no one really supports Man U, aside from young girls spread throughout the UK. They are the quintessential bandwagon team. Real fans in Manchester support Manchester City Football Club. Man U is the Lakers to the Man C's Clippers -- if that makes sense. Or the Cubs to the ChiSox.
Anyway, that's it -- Arsenal's the play.
--An American transferred to London, Matt
Support Arsenal. It just makes sense, Bill. Not to mention they had a legendary goalkeeper named "Seaman."
Boston Red Sox/Arsenal: The second banana. They both have a great rivalry with, and no love for, the big dogs. Arsenal finished second to Manchester United's title teams in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2003. The Red Sox finished second to the Yankees in the AL East every year from 1998-2005. In the spring of 2004 Arsenal complete the first undefeated season in EPL history. In the fall of 2004 the Red Sox finally won the World Series. Arsenal has still never won a European Championship. Arsenal had never been beyond the quarterfinals of the Champions League until this year when they went to the Final. They led 1-0 in the second half but gave up two late goals and lost. The final goal went between the goalkeeper's legs. Can you say Bill Buckner. Unbelievable.
Choose Arsenal. Like you, I decided about a year ago that I was going to watch soccer and care about it. I always liked the World Cup, and when a friend told me that the quality of European soccer was actually HIGHER than World Cup soccer, I became more intrigued. Arsenal has everything: History (13 league championships all time, including the only undefeated Premier League season in '03-04); big-name superstars (Thierry Henry is the best scorer in the game, plus Tomas Rosicky, Gilberto, and Ashley Cole); they play ATTRACTIVE soccer, always looking for new ways to attack, and then attacking with speed and flair, which makes them a better choice than Liverpool (think of those '90s Knicks teams and the pre-Ginobili Spurs), and perhaps most importantly, INTEGRITY. Chelsea spends more than the Yankees, and has yet to buy a UEFA title, whereas Arsenal spends, but in more sensible amounts. They would rather blend exceptional talent in a system that is nearly flawless than try to buy a title.
--John, Austin, Texas
Henry is the gifted, agile scorer, akin to Chad Johnson minus the mouth. They have a Swedish midfielder who is like a bulldog, almost Messier-like in his tenacity. The reason I started following this team was because of No. 10, Dennis Bergkamp. YouTube some of his highlights; the guy was just awesome in his day. The only problem is that he has a fear of flying, so he's stuck in England during the season. And now he's old and rarely plays, but is a crucial locker-room guy. Bergkamp correlates to Cam Neely, maybe Joe Montana. Incredible passer, but capable of doing something you wouldn't imagine in order to get a goal. And a good guy on top of it. In his younger years, people in London would buy his replica, but have the name "God" put on the back.
I figured I would tell you why Arsenal is the clear choice to make:
4. Many of their players are head cases, which leads to fights, trash-talking and nasty off the ball incidents on a regular basis.
5. They rarely dive. Sad that "rarely" puts them at the top, and they do have one player who is a notorious diver (Jose Antonio Reyes, Spanish, shocking), but most of their best players honestly don't dive, Henry included. Can't say the same for Man U or Chelsea.
8. They are almost always on Fox Soccer Channel for the weekend games, as they're one of the best teams, and also most entertaining. But the best thing about keeping up with them, is that every week, the other U.S. soccer channel, GolTV, has an Arsenal TV show that replays in full all Arsenal games from the previous week. In this way, if you follow Arsenal, you are assured of being able to watch every minute of every game (if you choose).
9. The coach, Arsene Wenger ... Quite simply, he's the best soccer coach in the world, the equivalent of Phil Jackson crossed with Billy Beane.
In other words, if you want to root for a team that will make you appreciate soccer, there is no better choice. They play the most enjoyable, entertaining brand of soccer in the EPL, they have an arrogant, French superstar, they develop their own talent, and if things go wrong, they can still entertain by picking fights and committing atrocious fouls, but by and large they won't dive, so they win without cheating. You'll be able to catch all of their games, and probably find a ticket to several of their home games, without having to leave London (the rest of England is crap).
I humbly submit Arsenal as the English Premier League team to follow. I undertook the same search a couple of years ago when I lived in San Francisco and stumbled upon a British pub called "The Mad Dog in the Fog" that showed EPL games all weekend every weekend. Here are seven quick reasons to root for "The Gunners:"
1. Goals. They have scored more than any other EPL team for like each of the past three or four seasons. Goals are cool. Last year they scored three goals 10 times, four goals four times, and five and seven goals one time each.
2. Thierry Henry. The most prolific scorer in England. And he's not a tap-in kind of guy; there's a Kobe-like degree of difficulty to most of his strikes. Recently he scored using a no-look back heel with a defender draped all over him.
3. Unintentional Comedy. Postgame pizza fights with Manchester United players and coaches. Suspicion that Arsenal fans somehow poisoned the lasagna served to rival Tottenham's players before a big game. Manager Arsene Wenger and his constant look of intestinal pain (unless he's doing a hilarious little jig when they score).
4. TV Coverage. You're right on the money in terms of the joys of having top-class soccer on the TV. It's a nice compliment to American sports&especially the no commercials part. (Seriously, watching an NFL game right afterwards feels like a blitzkrieg of ads.) And the announcers are a wealth of unintentional comedy themselves. Anyway, Arsenal are on TV a lot, between ESPN's Champions League coverage and Fox Soccer Channel's EPL coverage.
5. Spike Lee's a fan. Not sure if that helps or hinders my case, but I just read his analysis of their last season somewhere so I guess it came to mind.
6. Rivalries. Arsenal have two fierce rivalries that echo the intensity and hatred of (fill in your American sports rivalry here): Manchester United and Tottenham. Teams play one another only twice each season, so more often than not, s*£$ hits the fan in various ways during these rivalry games.
7. My last reason is just a general reason to be interested in English soccer: relegation and promotion. Do you know how this works? Every year, the worst three teams in the league are demoted to a lower league, while the three best teams from a lower league are elevated to the top league. Could you imagine if American sports incorporated this idea? The mind boggles considering the possibilities.
I enjoyed your comments on the World Cup. There's no reason you can't enjoy a bit of soccer along with other sports. Consider it a kind of palate-cleanser ... the sorbet of sports, perhaps?
--John, Columbus, Ohio
I know you posted this request a day ago, but if you would be so kind to check out this e-mail, I think I can persuade you to become an Arsenal Gunner supporter. You said you were not going to announce your desicion of which Premier league team to support until Wednesday, so here you go ...
I started following Arsenal when I went over to England for a soccer tournament when I was in high school and fell in love with the team after I went to a home game of theirs. Besides being a great team, they represent the best elements of sports, period. Plus, they have a lot of parallels to the Red Sox.
First, like the Green Bay Packers, no one owner owns the team, but rather fans own shares of the squad, which no other Premier League team is like and I think is a great thing. Second, they have a great rival in Tottenham Hotspur, their London neighbor, and it is probably the most intense rivalry in the entire Premier League, which is really saying something. It's probably more intense even than the Yankees and Red Sox. Third, the players are very loyal to the organization, not just the role players, but the stars as well, evidenced by world-class players like Freddie Ljungberg, Dennis Berkamp (now ret.), and Thierry Henry all being there 8+ years while turning down other clubs who offered more money. They also harvest their homegrown talent quite well, as many of their development league players go on to play for the squad their whole careers. Forth, like the Red Sox, they're one of the oldest and most storied teams in the league, they have always been London-based and never relocated, and their namesake is literal because the club was actually founded by workers who worked at the Royal Arsenal during WWI.
Go Arsenal, young man!
--Erik Anschicks, Hermitage, Tenn.
Bill, there's only one team in England to root for -- Arsenal.
First, Michael Davies hates Arsenal.
But there's more. Until May, Arsenal played in a wonderful old urban stadium, Arsenal Stadium -- more commonly called "Highbury" after the neighborhood. Sound familiar? When I attended my first and only Arsenal match in February 1990, I stepped off the Tube at Arsenal Station and thought I was in Kenmore Square. Fans walking to the venue. Food and drink hawkers walking around. Gear vendors walking around. What an atmosphere! For good or ill, the team is moving into a new ground this coming season -- think an enclosed Gillette. But that'll guarantee a top English and European contender for a long time.
Finally, there's the management. While Manchester United and Chelsea spend their way to success a la the Yankees and Mets, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been shedding high-priced players not named Thierry Henry and replacing them with some of Europe's best young talent, similar to what Theo has done over here. Cesc Fabregas, Phillippe Senderos and Theo Walcott will lead the Gunners' next generation of success -- all are young and relatively affordable.
Arsenal wears red. What more do you need to know? It's Arsenal, baby, "the Arse" to friend and foe alike.
Go, you Gunners!
--Matt McSorley, Manchester, N.H.
I am a Chicagoan who grew up with severe Cubs fever, and American sports fever in general. Like most Americans, I had no room to squeeze soccer into my schedule. Besides, it was boring. I moved to Brussels in 1995 and because of the time difference (6 hours ahead of ET) any sporting events beginning in prime time in the U.S. started too late for me to watch. On top of that, I basically could not avoid soccer, especially during UEFA Champions League games (Brussels local cable has at least one channel for each country in Western Europe, so on important match days you can flip from one channel to another and keep getting the same match in different languages. So it grew on me, and now I am a dedicated follower (I went to four World Cup games in Germany, including the U.S.-Italy match). It is true that many soccer games are dull, but as with all sports, it depends upon the level of competition ... this is why I would compare the MLS with the WNBA, and European soccer with the NBA.
WHY CLUB SOCCER?
Following the national team is fine, but does not compare with supporting your club. I never thought that I would agonoze over Arsenal games the way I do over the Cubs/Bulls/Bears, but I do. And club soccer in England (and Europe in general) is more intense because the relatively small size of the countries means that hundreds of away fans travel to each game. There is a lot of verbal taunting going back and forth between supporters, which provides great atmosphere (Let me put to rest the idea that hooligans and soccer go hand in hand. That was true in the '80s, but no longer).
2. SONGS AND CHANTS
Once I got someone to translate the cockney accents of the people singing around me, I discovered some fun and clever (and yes, quite obscene) songs. Most clubs have songs for most of their players, with melodies stolen from a wide collection of music (e.g. Go West by Pet Shop Boys, Volare, She'll be Comin Round the Mountain When She Comes). They also have songs taunting the other team's players (and managers). Much more fun than the sing-song chants in the U.S. (DAR-YL). Oh, and we do not do "the wave".
3. EUROPEAN COMPETITION
I have been to Amsterdam, Milan, Prague, Barcelona, and other great cities following Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League -- and these matches are always in the evening (as opposed to Premiership matches which are normally on Saturday afternoons), televised all over Europe, and the electricity is palpable.
Basically, Bill, it's a lot of fun and no matter what team you choose, you will enjoy the experience. But if you are going to choose one English team, I hope it is Arsenal.
Hope to buy you a beer when you eventually come over to England. London is only two-hour train ride under the English Channel from Brussels!!
--Bob Krag, Brussels
Liverpool is really the only other option and they do have the best song -- "You'll Never Walk Alone" -- but the team itself is a bit tiresome to watch. They did have a player named Robbie Fowler who once celebrated a goal by pretending to sniff the touch line as if it were cocaine -- he would have made a good Trailblazer -- but that was a long time ago.
Support the Gunners, Bill, it makes a lot of sense.
--Chris Ceppi, Hollywood, CA
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His new book "Now I Can Die In Peace is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.