One month after I moved to the UK I went to a bar with some friends to watch Liverpool play AC Milan in the Euro Cup final. The match looked to be boring with Milan taking a 3-0 lead at halftime. My mate Rob (a diehard Liverpool FC fan) said, "I hope they really go for it in the second half. Better to lose 6-0 daringly than to play safe and lose 3-1." The second half was a wild one with Liverpool scoring 3 unanswered goals to force penalty kicks (an ending unequalled in sport for pure tension) which Liverpool won. Thus the first professional football match I'd ever watched turned out to be one of the most exciting in recent history.
Since then I've wanted to find a team of my own to barrack for, but for a variety of reasons I didn't watch any more football until this year's World Cup: the football season stops for the summer, the Ashes was on, and by the time the season started I had no particular interest in any team. Now, however, I've decided to watch the 2006-2007 Premiership season properly, for three reasons:
- The World Cup is ubiquitous in England, so I was forced to watch not just the games I had planned to (England, USA etc) but nearly all of them. I really enjoyed it and am now pretty psyched for the Club season to start in the Fall.
- I follow the Sox pretty well from over here, but don't have any real fan experience in the sense that I can watch all the games on TV and actually go to a few in person. I think it would be cool to experience a totally different sporting world and gain a (lifelong?) allegiance to another team.
- The Sports Guy wrote a great column on how he chose his new Premiership team, inspiring me to copy him.
There are 20 Premiership teams, and this is how they fell out in my consideration:
I would instantly lose all respect from my friends if I picked Arsenal, Man United or Chelsea. These three teams outspend all the others by a wide margin and have combined to 13 of the 14 titles since the Premiership was founded out of the remnants of the old First League. This left me with seventeen possible clubs that I could support without being derided as an out-and-out band wagoneer.
The next consideration was distance from Oxford. I'd like to try to attend at least a couple of matches, so I eliminated the following for their too-lengthy drive times form Oxford: Blackburrn, Bolton, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Sheffield, Wigan. This left me with the 5 remaining London clubs, Aston Villa (in Birmingham), Reading and Portsmouth.
Of the remaining contenders it was tough to pick through them. I'm not well informed enough to make decisions based on what one might call "good" football reasons. I eliminated Tottenham because my flatmate Becki's boyfriend is a lifelong fan and I didn't want to have uncomfortable conversations where I have been watching the team for a few weeks and he's been watching them for ages. The only game I've been to was Charlton, and they're not that great and play in a dodgy part of East London, so I didn't feel any strong attraction to them — better to go into a team with no experience than a mediocre one.
Of the remaining teams I think the most important factor was presence of an American player. This gives me an immediate favourite to support in particular and provides an additional personal connection. This criterion eliminated Aston Villa, Portsmouth, and West Ham. I almost made an exception for West Ham, since they probably have the best squad of the remaining teams, but it isn't as if they're really top tier, or anything.
I next considered the remaining teams' sponsors (which may sound trivial but if I buy a jersey I'm going to have this emblazoned on my chest). Watford kit has "loans.co.uk" smeared all over them, which nearly killed them outright. Combine that with the fact that they were the final team to be promoted this year (every year three teams are "relegated" from the Premiership down to the Champion's League and three teams are promoted up in the opposite direction) so stand a very good chance of being abysmal. The final pair, Reading and Fulham are about a draw from the sponsorship perspective: Kyocera and pipex, respectively. The former is kind of a sucky cellophone company, but they also make solar panels, which is cool. The latter is a broadband provider in the UK. I guess none of these teams are going to have something cool, like beer.
My final decision came down to intangibles, of which each team had a few things going for it. Reading was just promoted, but has a reasonably strong team. This means that while they have no chance of winning the title, they have a nearly as important goal in avoiding relegation, which would be a cool subplot. On the other hand, Reading's website is absolutely awful. All pro sports sites suffer from lots of flashing, ugly ads, difficult navigation and just general lack of taste, but Readings is uber-grim. They also make you register to access almost any of the content, which is really annoying. Fulham has better American players (exciting youngster Carlos Bocanegra and consummate pro Brian "Bloodsport" McBride) as well as a newly refurbished stadium. They have a better website (hey, I'm a nerd, these things matter to me) and to cap it all off, a player named Michael Timlin. And in keeping with my previous sporting lifestyle, they have a vicious rivalry with an overpowering opponent, nearby Chelsea. Plus, Fulham are a weird mix of expectations. When they were promoted in 2000 they were expected to be real contenders, but have subsequently been mediocre. There's the possibility of relegation and the possibility of a run at a spot in the UEFA (European) cup.
So, get ready for uninteresting posts about Fulham Football Club!