Believe me it took a long, long time for me to get here. Even while having played goalie for a teen club in an era where our high school didn’t have soccer as a varsity sport yet I was otherwise raised strictly on red-blooded, bloody American football through and through. It’s what I played (as a youth), have watched (from birth) every Saturday and Sunday…and of course now…literally every day of the week between the collegiate and professional ranks.
But in the last year or so I have become over the moon for English Premier League Soccer. My weekend mornings and early afternoons have been restructured accordingly…also making room for an occasional Monday match as well.
Actually…matches are fixtures. The field is a pitch. The cleats are boots. A shutout is a clean sheet …and nil.
I have a new vocabulary.
How did an American football fanatic come to carve out time for “the beautiful game” as it is known everywhere else?
- Only twenty clubs to digest. I find this quite refreshing compared to the bloated quantities of our sports leagues.
- These clubs, while featuring stars from all over the world, are based within tight-knit communities that have a relentless passion for their squads rivaling anyone, anywhere. The environment in which these teams compete is absolutely electric.
- Speaking of weekly…for the most part the Premier League schedule of fixtures confines itself to the weekend. This is one of the things I most liked about the NFL before it put money before all else and created Thursday Night Football. (Rant for another day…)
- Speaking of that weekend schedule…the television windows for the Premier League are quite friendly. Americans being able to wake up to live, big-time sports programming has caught on quite nicely. As new viewers arise…so do the ratings.
- Speaking of those television windows and ratings…NBC Sports went all in on the Premier League from the first whistle it covered and it was a no-brainer the two entities recently agreed to continue their relationship for another six years.
- Speaking of relationships…the personnel NBC hired to bring the Premier League into American households is as energized as the crowds are. Rebecca Lowe expertly manages the top-notch studio analysts and the flow of each day’s coverage as one fixture leads into the next…and then the studio crew wraps up the entire day’s competition perfectly.
- The concept of Premier League relegation is fascinating. For the uninitiated teams that finish in the bottom three positions each season have to drop down to the next level of English football the following year. In turn, three teams are promoted up/into the Premier League. Imagine an NFL franchise having to avoid finishing in the bottom three positions of the standings so they can continue to compete for a Super Bowl the next year. Trying to finish at the bottom to get the top pick in a draft…hey, in the Premier League you’re trying to STAY in the bloody League.
- The concept of ties is refreshing. In the US we’ve pretty much relegated ties to funerals and weddings. Perhaps the hardest hurdle I had to hop over to get all in on Premier League soccer as I have…the nil-nil ties. I never had a problem with any ties in American football and hockey. It was the 0-0 draws that pained me most when watching soccer. However the more I have watched the sport I have come to appreciate ninety some minutes with no scoring. It doesn’t hurt these matches are being played before those afore-mentioned fanatic fans.
- The way analytics has crept into soccer has been very interesting. They track the speed the players operate at, how much ground they cover, etc. There is nowhere to hide regardless of the size of the pitch. If you aren’t performing everyone knows. Metrics in the sport are fun to follow.
- There are no playoffs. I recently came across an article discussing the “what-ifs” of Premier League history had there been a playoff in effect as opposed to its season serving as judge and jury. Playoffs in American basketball and hockey are absurdly long…and football and baseball are starting to creep in that direction. The meaning of the season is quite clear in the Premier League. That’s all there is.
If you asked me for drawbacks found since becoming a card-carrying cheerleader for the Premier League I would issue a yellow card for in-season competitions clubs participate in while conducting their regular season. The risk of injury to players and the competitive advantage from week to week can be compromised by these events. I do understand they are a part of the larger soccer universe and aren’t going away anytime soon. Another yellow card for the continued flopping in the sport…which I believe turns off many Americans. There needs to be a remedy. I would give a red card to the transfer (trading) window the League allows into the early weeks of the season. Managers are diligently trying to put together a cohesive side to take into League play but chemistry can easily be disturbed when a player is sent away or arrives after the season starts. The transfer window should be shut tight before the curtain goes up.
Another knock some have on the Premier League is the same teams generally settle in at the top of the standings while others continue to perpetually stave off relegation. As more money comes into the League more squads should be able to better compete against clubs who in the past have commanded the spotlight as “deep-pocket” organizations. Time will tell.
Clubs I fancy…Norwich City because I like their history, colors (green and yellow…a tip to the Oakland A’s I suppose) and their nickname (Canaries)…and AFC Bournemouth, who not so many years ago was on the verge of losing their club…since then fighting and scratching their way up through the English football league structure to compete in the Premier League this year for the very first time. If you read anything about the history of their organization you’ll be rooting for them as well.
The Premier League gets my weekends off to a great start. America, if you approach it with an open mind…and heart…perhaps it will for you as well.
Turns out there is room for more football in my life…this one just happens to be round.