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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Report from England: The Football Culture

We don't have anything like it in America, I don't think, probably because our geography is so vast and teams and their fans are so spread out.  Atop that, where teams are in the same city, they aren't in the same league, and, when they play each other, it's not all that frequently. 

In contrast, England is a much smaller country, having about one-fifth the population of the United States.  The English Premiership has twenty teams, eighteen of which are in England (two, Swansea and Cardiff, are in Wales).  Atop that, six Premiership teams -- Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Fulham, West Ham and Crystal Palace -- are in the London area (a few more -- Queens Park Rangers, Charlton Athletic and Watford -- have been back and forth between the next level down and the Premiership over the years, and, being an American who has newly found international soccer, I am totally sure that my knowledge is incomplete, sometimes wrong and not so infrequently na├»ve).  That said, everyone has a favorite team, and there are lower-division teams in the London area as well.  Many of them.

Your taxi driver might root for Chelsea.  Someone working at Heathrow Airport might be a Manchester United fan, even though Manchester is on the other side of the country.  Your tour guide for the Rock 'n Roll hotspots in London might root for Tottenham, while the guy who works a ticket booth at your local Underground stop might root for Arsenal.  Moving toward the Liverpool Street tube stations and Spitalfields Market, you could find more West Ham fans (for some reason I do not know yet, West Ham is on London's East End, will inherit the Olympic Stadium and perhaps draw a rich suitor from the United Arab Emirates or Russia who will want to vie with United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Liverpool to see who gets one of four coveted Champions League spots). 

Imagine you live in New York, a city that has twenty million people living in the area.  Imagine that there's a team called Greenwich Village, a team called Gramercy, a team called Manhattan West, another called Manhattan East (the former located on the Upper West Side and the latter located on the Upper East Side), a team called Bronx, a team called Brooklyn and one called Staten Island, not to mention Long Island and, well, you get the picture).  Put them all in the same elite league, have a next-level league to which the worst three of twenty teams gets relegated for the poorest of performances, and have people all over the five-borough area rooting passionately for their different teams.  Have this league be among the best in the world, drawing the elite players from South America, Europe and Africa, and have this sport be the sport that everyone cares about the most -- more than baseball, American football, basketball (in England's case, cricket and rugby), and you'll develop an intensity that doesn't exist in America. 

It's not because it's about soccer, though.  It's easy for Americans to disregard soccer, say it's not coming hard to America, say it's not going to threaten baseball.  But what's hard to dispute is that there is one sport that almost everyone places above all others (save, perhaps, when a Brit can win Wimbledon) in such a concentrated area.  So, couple the sport that everyone agrees upon with compressed geographical proximity (even Liverpool, which has several Premiership teams in the area, is only about a two and a half hour train ride from London) and you'll see an intensity that cannot happen in America because we're so spread out.  I will be open to arguments, however, that Philadelphia's Big Five in college basketball before, say, the mid-1980's, the ACC on North Carolina's Tobacco Road (basketball only) and the SEC for football perhaps can match this intensity.  Sometimes, but not always.

So when NBC Sports features the Premiership, assuming that the announcers are totally ensconced in the English soccer culture, sample, watch, appreciate the skill, and try to capture the intensity.  It's a great game because there are 45 minutes of action twice in a game, no time outs, no clock stoppage, no out of bounds, no innings, no huddles.  The fans chant, attend no matter what, and carry on their rivalries all over the country.  The Underground is speckled with ads indicating how you can access the Premiership on your mobile phone, pubs all tout that you can watch the Premiership there, and Skyy sports advertises all over the places that the games are coming.

All I ask is that you read a little bit, try to discern the difference between Man U and Man City, know what "Better Dead Than Red," might mean in the United Kingdom, can identify Arsene Wenger, Roman Abramovitch, Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, and soak it up a little bit.  Not at the expense of your football Saturdays or Sundays or the World Series or Midnight Madness in October.  Just arise a bit earlier on Saturdays or Sundays and catch the Premiership -- and the intensity -- when you can.

You might just enjoy it.


Anonymous The Sports Curmudgeon said...


Agree the EPL is worth watching. As you said, the key is that the announcers are competent to bring the intensity of the game to the telecast without turning it into a "shout-fest". I hope they hire Brits to do the job.

9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

West Ham is called West Ham because (while it's in east London) it's west of East ham

12:15 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

That's what I figured about West Ham. Thanks for confirming it. It will be interesting to see all the football on Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Channel. We're looking forward to it.

8:01 AM  

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