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Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Making the case for Newcastle

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I saw you were looking for an English Premiere League team to support. I think you should look at Newcastle. Have you tried the beer? It's great and the team practically has the label right on their jerseys! The only alcohol-related team in the Premiership. What more do you want? Plus, their team is inexplicably nicknamed "The Magpies", enough said.
--Eric, Las Vegas

As a long-time follower of the EPL, I feel it is my duty to recommend Newcastle United as the perfect team for your support. Newcastle itself is a northeastern, blue-collar town much like your own hometown of Boston. They play an attractive style of soccer and have been competing at the top level of English soccer for decades. Sure, you could go ahead and support one of those deep-pocketed London teams (Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, etc.), but in the end wouldn't that feel a little like supporting the Yankees? And if I may continue using a baseball analogy, throwing your support over to Manchester United seems way too cliche, like all of those American girls who know nothing about baseball, but still cite the Cubs as their favorite team (usually because of the colors). Manchester United is that type of team. All Americans can recognize Man U simply because of Beckham, who doesn't even play their anymore. Trust me, go with Newcastle. They might not win the league every year, but at least they make it fun to watch.
--Dan, Eau Claire, Wisc.

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:

Picking an EPL team, Part I
Picking an EPL team, Part II
Arsenal fan e-mails
Chelsea fan e-mails
Liverpool fan e-mails
Man City fan e-mails
Tottenham fan e-mails

What soccer team to root for? Thats easy, Newcastle United. Easy Nickname: The Geordies. Their fans are like the Oakland Raiders times 10. The most violently dedicated fans in the world and they never win. You think Boston is a port city that obsesses over a team. Go to Newcastle. Plus, there is no city more filled with more drunk (read, absolutely sloshed) college-aged kids in the world. Not to mention their famous ale.

Really, you cant root for any of the other big teams in England. Arsenal is a French team playing in an Arab stadium. Chelsea is owned by the bad guy from one of the "Die Hard" movies. If you root for Manchester, you might as well be a Yankee fan. Liverpool is well, boring. I think your decision is made. And if you ever get out there, their stadium is like a cathedral. Well, until the singing starts. Enjoy, they disappoint poetically.
--Kayvon, Brentwood, Calif.

Like you, I picked up soccer on a whim and it grew on me. Also like you, I'm a Sox fan. Anyways, I ended up following Newcastle United. You should as well. They're not one of the top four teams, who all have the most money and are too much like the Yankees, but they're firmly in the top of the second tier, which means they won't be relegated anytime soon. Their fans are terrific: they are the most blue-collar, passionate, loyal, and drunk-off-their-ass fans in the league. And like the Sox, they elevate certain players to absurd heights of popularity. I could go on. Seriously, it's a perfect match. They inspire such emnity in their rivals that I have been verbally abused no less than four times by strangers for wearing their jersey. I could go on. Seriously, it's a perfect match.
-- Conor McCarthy, Houston

Looking for an EPL team to follow? Try Newcastle United. I found out about them by accident while sitting in the parking lot before a Dave Matthews show in 2000. I was drinking a Newcastle Brown Ale when someone walked by wearing a soccer jersey with the same label on the front. I found out that the were a mildly successful EPL team with a brewery across the street from its 52,000-seat stadium, and the beer was its longtime shirt sponsor. I was hooked immediately. Now the team is sponsored by some mortgage company (Northern Rock).

NUFC hasnt won a trophy since 1969 and struggled to finish seventh (out of 20) in the league last season with a late 10-game run. They have been through three managers in four years. The current one (Roeder) is back in coaching from a couple years off following brain surgery. Their all-time best goal scorer (Alan Shearer) just retired in May and their best player (Michael Owen) just blew out a knee in the World Cup. They are kind of like the Cubs of English soccer. They need your help. They had a game in 2005 where there was a fistfight on the field ... between two guys on their team. Totally crazy, disfunctional, and mildly competitive. What more can you be looking for in an EPL team?

Located in the Northeast of England (almost Scotland), they sell out every game with a huge fan base who have very little else to do while it's pouring freezing rain other then drink beer and watch soccer.
--Peter, Fort Myers, Fla.

Newcastle United. Now, this team is MY TEAM. This team is the one that I will lay down and die for. These guys are my brothers. And you know why? I like the beer. That's it. I have always loved Newcastle Brown Ale. Many late nights in college with my friends and Newcastle. Many dinners with pizza, my wife, and Newcastle. It was always there with me. When I was down and dejected, Newcastle was there. When I was rowdy and annoying, Newcastle was there. So now, I'll be there for Newcastle. Again -- it had very little to do with the football team. Because I know that in 10 years, it'll be a completely different team. But I DID know that they had the BEST fan base in all of England, one of the biggest and best stadiums, and at the time they had the greatest striker in the history of English football -- Sir Alan Shearer.

At this moment I'd like to make a point. I knew NO ONE who was a Newcastle fan when I made this decision. And I still don't, at least personally. I have many friends who are Man U supporters (may they rot in hell). I have friends who love Arsenal, Chelsea, AC Milan, all the big guns. But I chose to take a slightly less glorious route, and choose to support the team that has not won any titles in a while, but still DOES have the cash flow to have a VERY lucrative future.

Now, to close. Since becoming a Newcastle fan, I've begun listening to their games over the Internet. I regularly listen to pre- and post-games on local BBC Radio Newcastle, and I ALWAYS participate in web forums after the matches. I've become one of the more regular U.S.-based participants in the forum, so people recognize me when I log on. And they're supportive, although I get a few jabs, which are usually playful and well deserved. The supporters there love their team like no other supporters I've ever seen, and they've taken me in to support Newcastle with them. And if you choose NUFC as your team to support in the EPL, you'll be hearing from me, lad. We can do it together, and you'll be a diehard for life
--Kevin from New York

My suggestion as to which Premiership football team for you to support: Newcastle United!!!! Despite their amazing history of early sucess they haven't won a trophy since 1969, and have possibly one of the most rabid fan bases anywhere (willing to travel anywhere to watch them play) in Europe, let alone the UK. They have gone through more managers than The Boss (eight in the last 10 years, including three the year before last), some of which have been bordering on the bizarre (ask anyone from Newcastle about Graeme Souness, then stand well back). They spend money on players like water only to watch them turn into statues on the pitch (Hugo Viana), or better still injure themselves horribly (Michael Owen).

Also the city of Newcastle is, to put it simply, football mad. As Newcastle United go, so the the city goes. However, should you feel that supporting such a team is not masochistic enough for you then the only possible alternative is Manchester City (poorer cousins to Manchester United); however, they appear to be improving recently and I wouldn't want to leave you open to accusations of bandwagon jumping. No, there is no doubt about it, Newcastle United is the team for you, so brush up on your Geordie and 'Howay the Lads.
--Colin Savill, Farnham, England

I would suggest Newcastle United. They are a big club in a big city but far removed from London, and in this city they have the football club and that's pretty much it (since coal mining is no longer what it used to be). The fans are insanely passionate, to the extent of wearing their jersey over their winter coat if it gets too cold, but still wanting to show their colours. They spend big when they need to on players, and are always in the top half of the league. The downside? Its a total roller-coaster every time they go out there. We haven't won anything major in many years, despite coming close on numerous occasions. We seem to be the only club capable of destroying a previously famous international player's career, simply because the pressure is too great. Anything can happen. I once woke up to check a game that NU should have won easily, only to find out that two players from OUR team got into a fistfight with each other ON THE FIELD and got sent off. Could only happen to this club.

But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. The passion is unsurpassed, the commitment and feeling of the fans makes me feel alive, and just like with Boston, when we do win it's the best feeling in the world.

So think about it. Newcastle United. The official site sucks, won't lie, but there is a fan site www.nufc.com that is very clever and well written, with an archive of old game reports that they do with brutal honesty after every game -- which they attend in person, anywhere in the world.
--Ben Adams, Australia

I think you should consider Newcastle United.

Here's why:

• They're a legendary team that had a tremendous amount of glory in the early part of the 20th century, winning all the big trophies multiple times (four top division trophies, three FA Cups -- then in the '50s they won three more FA Cups)

• Their first star, a player by the name of Hughie Gallacher, who led them to their first title in 15 years in 1925, later departing the club under difficult circumstances, committed suicide in 1957. Coincidentally Newcastle have not won a domestic English trophy since then. The last time they won the top division trophy was 1927.

• They have been burdened with selfish players, terrible ownership, and poor management (apart from a few exceptions) for the past 50 years ... that still permeates to this day.

• They have lost, in many cases, in tragic fashion, snatching defeat from near certain victory on various occasions, none more famously in 1996 when they were 12 points clear of Manchester United in January (a big lead) and choked it away.

• They've had top players come to the club, trying to end the trophy drought, only to end up retiring without bringing home the silverware (Alan Shearer), while get agonizingly close (FA Cup Final losses in '98 to Arsenal and '99 to Man U)

• Newcastle has, without question, the most passionate, dedicated, soccer fans in England. They live and die with the team. And no matter the result, they stick with them.

This team sound familiar to any team you follow?
--Jared Lighter, Delray Beach, Fla.

They have a rabid fan base from a depressed former industrial town where the accent makes fans' speech absolutely incomprehensible. They have a newly retired England legend who came back to his hometown team at the end of his career, is idolized by his fans, and is the heir apparent manager. They have an oft-injured superstar who probably peaked three years ago at the age of 23. The team is famous for throwing away a 4-game lead at the end of the season to Manchester United. Their current manager is literally unqualified to be a coach. The team is sticking by him as he takes classes. They are competing in the worthless European Intertoto Cup starting this Saturday. Shola Ameobi, Peter Ramage and Nicky Butt.

Your team: Newcastle United.
-- Ben, Philly

Newcastle United. This club has a passionate following up in the Northeast of England. The Toon people speak their own language, Geordie. It's a club that has a storied history but hasn't won in a long time. They often "flatter to deceive". So many times they look like this could be the year. Then the defense springs leaks or the goal scorers stop scoring. Or the midfield falls apart. Sometimes it's all of the above. More often than not, we find NUFC at mid-table or just a shade off the leaders when the season ends. Quite often, Newcastle supporters find ourselves near the end of the season thinking, "If only we didn't have that bad streak at the start of the season (or the middle of the season or right now), then we could have won the title (or a Champions League spot).

You can also drink Newcastle Brown Ale to show your support! Tasty Broon! Besides, haven't you always wanted to wear a black & white striped football shirt?
--JT, Chicago

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.