As marriage rights issues have come to the forefront of the American consciousness this year, Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert said, “Have you found your gay partner yet? We’re all going to be forced to do it. Get a good one. I’m going with Ryan Gosling.” Similarly, soccer, the world’s game, has finally begun to take the world’s most sports-obsessed country by storm. Just two weeks ago, there were no daily soccer shows on regular television. Now, there are two, ESPN FC on ESPN, and Fox Soccer Daily on the new Fox Sports 1. NBC Sports Network just began their first week of broadcasting English Premier League matches, including Manchester United’s defeat of Swansea City on NBC, which drew the U.S.’s largest opening-week rating in the history of the league.
With five-plus live EPL games a week and plenty of extended coverage, many Americans are searching for a club to support. As someone who faced the same dilemma three years ago, I am here to help you. This guide is meant to be quick and general– enough to give you a feel for the club without getting too specific. It is meant to be a first step in the process of selecting a club to support. You should not come out of this article being set on a club.
In fact, three years ago, I had “picked” Tottenham Hotspur before watching ESPN’s broadcast of their match against their huge rival, Arsenal. Despite Arsenal losing 3-2, I felt such a strong personal connection with Arsenal that I came out of the match a Gooner. Since that day three years ago, I could not be happier as an Arsenal fan despite the hardships the club has faced in the last few years.
This is not about finding the perfect club; it’s about finding the club that most fits you. As I said, this is a first step to selecting a club. After reading this, my suggestion is checking out the websites and YouTube videos of some of the clubs you are interested in to get a greater feel for the club. See if you can dig up some more information about the club. And most importantly, watch some games. It took me months until I finally knew what club was mine; there is no reason to rush anything.
Now, I’ll finally get to the explanations. I have separated the different clubs into categories to help you get an initial understanding for the clubs. For each team, I will include a “Support [club] if you like…” and list a few quick things– some serious, some more comical– and then provide a paragraph or so about each club. I had planned on only having around twelve teams included in this because the others were not even worth supporting. However, the only current EPL clubs I will not discuss are the newly promoted ones (Cardiff, Hull, and Crystal Palace); all the others have their merits. Let’s get to it.
Category A: The Yanks Are Coming
Stoke City and Sunderland are the clubs for the American patriots to support. They also happen to be the only two EPL clubs with red-and-white-striped shirts.
Stoke, a traditional English club playing in Stoke-on-Trent, are beginning their sixth consecutive season in the top flight of English football. On their current stint, Stoke have had ups and downs, but have generally been a solid side and have established themselves as a regular in the Prem. Stoke features American international D/M Geoff Cameron, who appears to have secured the starting right-back role this year. Gold Cup hero Brek Shea is another American international on the squad, although he is currently injured with a torn ACL, as well as Maurice Edu. Additionally, young American striker Juan Agudelo is set to join the club in January, along with possibly Omar Gonzalez. This season, Stoke feature a new manager (Mark Hughes), a fantastic keeper (Asmir Begovic), and a towering striker (Peter Crouch). The side showed strong promise this past weekend, losing 1-0 to Liverpool on the road after Jonathan Walters missed a penalty in the final minutes of the match.
Support Sunderland if you like… Having partnerships with African clubs, mocking your own team, home-field advantage, and JOZY FREAKING ALTIDORE
Sunderland, or the Black Cats, are known by most as an average club who boast a very strong home atmosphere at the Stadium of Light. The main draw for the American fan is starting striker Jozy Altidore, who joined this summer (and broke the club’s transfer record). In Sunderland’s first match, a 1-0 defeat to Fulham, Jozy looked very strong despite not scoring a goal. It appears that the service to him may be an issue this year, but Jozy should always be an exciting watch and looks to be making a name for himself in the world’s top league.
Category B: Rising, Loveable Underdogs
Southampton, Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion, and Swansea City have all been promoted in recent years. Each of them features both the joy of rooting for an underdog as well as some additional facet of excitement.
Support Southampton if you like… Selling speedy wingers to Arsenal, exciting strikers, and returning to glory
Southampton, former cup winners and top-flight competitors for 27 consecutive years, are finally back in the EPL after struggling for about a decade. Their star striker last year, Rickie Lambert, just scored the winner in his first international appearance for England in a 3-2 friendly win over Scotland, then netted a penalty to give Southampton an opening-week win this past weekend. Last week’s big signing of Italian international striker Pablo Daniel Osvaldo as well as the signing of Celtic D/M Victor Wanyama show that Southhampton are ready to compete and spend the money necessary to do so.
Support Norwich City if you like… Canaries, cool uniforms, and successful failures
In their first year back in the EPL, Norwich surprised everyone by finishing 11th last season. Norwich features an innovative manager in Chris Hughton, who is known for changing his formation nearly every week. This season, Norwich is pairing some big signings with seemingly washed-up veterans in order to build a formidable squad that includes Gary Hooper, Sebastien Bassong, Ricky van Wolfsinkel, and Johan Elmander. Norwich is always an exciting watch and are looking to make an jump to the top half of the league this year.
West Bromwich Albion
Support West Brom if you like… Winning with players on loan and long, traditional names
Last season, West Brom surprised everyone by finishing eighth despite a generally unremarkable squad of players. Much of their success has been attributed to the play of Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who was on loan to WBA last season but is not this year. This summer, French international and former EPL star Nicolas Anelka returned to the EPL to play for West Brom. Anelka called it a “dream situation” for him, yet as I write this, there are reports circling that he has already quit the team. Also today, West Brom have signed Manchester City midfielder Scott Sinclair on loan, who should have a strong effect on the club this year. All in all, West Brom is a side that does not feature anything to write home about, but they find ways to get results.
Support Swansea if you like… Swans, Wales (the country, not the animal), and protecting stars from big clubs
Just a season after returning to the EPL, Swansea have proven that they can be a stronghold in the top flight of English football. Featuring the likes of Welsh defenders Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor, Swansea have brought in forward Wilfried Bony to pair with Michu. Swansea proved many a time last year that they can compete with the top clubs. After winning the League Cup last year, Swansea are competing in the Europa League this year, something that no club we have discussed yet can say. The addition of Bony, action in Europe, and the return of South Wales rivals Cardiff City will certainly make this an exciting season for the Swans.
Category C: For the History Buffs
Newcastle, Fulham, Aston Villa, West Ham, Everton, and Liverpool all feature strong histories but have not been able to quite compete for titles in the last decade.
Support Newcastle if you like… Dressing like convicts, hooligans, and French players
As recently as ten years ago, Newcastle were competing for Champions League spots on a regular basis. After a surprise relegation, Newcastle returned to the EPL and soon qualified for the Europa League with a fifth-place finish in 2012. It was perhaps their matches in Europe that kept them from performing well in the Prem last year, as Newcastle just avoided relegation. Still, Newcastle feature a very strong squad full of French internationals. All things considered, Newcastle are generally compared to the Oakland Raiders, as they have the reputation of having very tough, physical players and crazy fan support to back it.
Support Fulham if you like… Michael Jackson and being sneaky good
Ever since the “Fulhamerica” years with American international Brian McBride followed by Clint Dempsey being stars for the London club, Fulham have appeared a pretty average side. However, when digging into the roster, Fulham have a pretty strong central defense with some dangerous attacking options. Look for them to quietly finish in the top half of the league in their first year under new owner Shahid Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars. Similarly, they are a sneaky suave club to support, as they play in London and feature a Michael Jackson statue outside of the park, known as Craven Cottage.
Support Aston Villa if you like… Claret and blue uniforms and crazy good strikers
The case for supporting Aston Villa is quite simple. They have arguably the greatest jerseys in the Premier League and one of the best young strikers in the world, Christian Benteke. After
the referee bet his savings on Aston Villa miraculously defeating Arsenal at the Emirates in the opening weekend and appearing strong against Chelsea on Wednesday, it looks like Aston Villa can be a very strong side this season and beyond.
Support West Ham if you like… Returning to the glory years and winning with Liverpool rejects
West Ham United, another London club, were once the class of England. In recent years, West Ham have experienced more hardship than excellence. The club took a step in the right direction last year, finishing eighth in the league. They look to build upon that success this year as they feature Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, and Joe Cole, all of whom were essentially kicked out of Liverpool but still appear strong players. The biggest reason to be excited about West Ham? They have signed a deal to move into the beautiful new Olympic Stadium within the next few years.
Support Everton if you like… Being little brother, yet being better than the older brother
For decades now, Everton have been “the other club” in Liverpool. While Everton have certainly had success, historically it has been nearly impossible to keep up with Liverpool’s success. However, last season, Everton finished above Liverpool despite having a much less remarkable side. In recent seasons, Everton have been an extremely exciting club to watch and have proven that they can beat any club on any given day (search “everton Manchester united” on YouTube and give yourself some time). It is worth noting that new Manchester United manager David Moyes came over from Everton, and he has been replaced by former Wigan manager Roberto Martinez, who you have likely seen on ESPN. Everton also feature American international keeper Tim Howard. They were also the club for whom Landon Donovan played on loan and are rumored to pick up Clint Dempsey on loan during the MLS offseason.
Support Liverpool if you like… History, biting people, the Boston Red Sox, and Ireland
Liverpool are historically the most successful club in the history of English football. I could write an entire blog post on their accolades, but you can look them up if you’re interested. However, since their 2005 Champions League victory, Liverpool have performed far behind their historical precedence. While still featuring a relatively strong squad and fan favorite Steven Gerrard, Liverpool are looking to be moving in the right direction after retaining star striker Luis Suarez after a long transfer saga as well as the developing the plethora of youngsters on the squad. Liverpool are now owned by John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, as well as being partially owned by LeBron James. I most admire Liverpool for their tradition of belting out the words to “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
Category D: London Giants
Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Chelsea, finishing fifth, fourth, and third, respectively, have proven themselves as the class of London’s capital.
Support Spurs if you like… Always placing behind arch-rivals Arsenal, having the most coveted player in the EPL, competing for the UCL
Tottenham Hotspur have both the coolest name in the EPL and one of the biggest rivalries in England with their North London rivals, Arsenal. In recent seasons, Spurs’ success has been predicated upon the performance of Gareth Bale, who at time of writing is flirting with Real Madrid on a world-record-breaking transfer fee of 100 million euros, but manager Andre Villas-Boas and executive Daniel Levy remain reluctant to sign the Welshman. Regardless, Tottenham have had the most impressive summer, bringing in strong players at just about every position. After finishing just one point behind Arsenal last season to place just out of the Champions League, Spurs look poised to make a run at the Champions League this season.
Support Arsenal if you like… Having a ton of money and not spending it, having the greatest stadium in England, nutrition, and building legends
Arsenal are the most historically successful London club, including in 2004 having the first undefeated EPL season since 1889. Manager Arsene Wenger has developed into a very polarizing figure. After the unproven tactical Frenchmen came in, he implemented innovative training and nutrition programs, and he soon became the most successful manager in Arsenal history. Fans will be quick to point out, however, that Arsenal have not won a trophy since 2005, which is considered an outstandingly long drought for Arsenal. Arsenal have built legends such as Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, but in recent seasons, Arsenal fans have seen some of their strongest players (Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Gael Clichy) move to clubs more willing to spend the money. After finally paying off the debt on their massive new stadium and collecting record-breaking sponsorship and kit deals, Arsenal have heaps of money to spend, yet have failed to spend any of it thus far this offseason (stay tuned). After being robbed of three points against Aston Villa, the passion of fans has shown as they cry for changes in the management of the club. Right now, Arsenal still have a strong roster, but depth may prove to be the issue if Arsenal want to qualify for the Champions League again this year.
Support Chelsea if you like… Being rich and “special”
Since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took over the club, the traditionally average club has found success. After not winning the league in fifty years, Chelsea have won it three times in the last eight years, in addition to many cup wins, including a massive upset of Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 2012. Much of Chelsea’s recent success has been under the self-nicknamed “Special One,” manager Jose Mourinho, who this season comes back after successful stints at both Inter Milan and Real Madrid. As Chelsea has grown rich, their international popularity has soared– something that makes some envy the club, and some despise the club. On the field, Chelsea have an armada of attacking midfield options and feature a deep club all-around. Even new fans will probably know Fernando Torres, who has recently been the victim of lots of flak because of plays like this, although he really is still a good player. Look for Chelsea to compete for the title in the coming years as the young talents develop under Mourinho.
Category E: The Manchester Derby
With very different backgrounds, Manchester City and Manchester United have become the two most formidable clubs in the league.
Support Manchester City if you like… Having a lot of money and spending even more, jumping on the bandwagon
Similar to Chelsea, Manchester City’s recent success is a product of a billionaire owner buying the team and subsequently buying a million players. New fans will find it shocking that Manchester City were in the Championship (the division below the EPL) as recently as 2002. Since then, manager Roberto Mancini signed a plethora of establish stars to build the most talented squad in England. City won the title in 2012 in one of the most exciting turn of events I have ever experienced as a sports fan, which I wrote about here. Despite finishing second last season, City fired Mancini, likely because of how much money was aimlessly spent, their laughable failures in the Champions League, and more transcendent reasons that I wrote about here. New manager Manuel Pellegrini broke the bank for some more exciting players this summer, leaving City fans hopeful for strong runs in the EPL and the UCL this season.
Support Manchester United if you like… Being completely unoriginal, winning
Manchester United are one of the most globally recognized brands in professional sports. They have been successful throughout their history and are most recently famous for having players like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Robin van Persie. The main storyline with this club right now is legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired last season as virtually the most successful coach in sports history. After a shaky preseason, new manager David Moyes has the squad looking strong again. Their match on Monday versus Chelsea is definitely one of the matchups to watch in the early season.
A Final Reminder
You should not have “picked” a team to support after reading this. By now, you should have some clubs that interest you while also having ruled out a good number. As I said at the beginning, do some exploring on those teams now– websites, blogs, YouTube videos, etc. Most importantly, check out the games on NBC Sports Network to get a real feel for your teams. Remember, picking a club takes time, but in the end, it is more than worth it.