EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here to read Part 1 of Decision ’06.
If you’re interested in finding a team for yourself, I broke down the rest of the selection process in painstaking detail.
In reverse order
• American Comparison: Like a competent version of Isiah’s Knicks, only if James Dolan was a Russian mob boss.
• Nickname: Blues.
• In a Nutshell: Along with Manchester United, the Blus outspend everyone else in the EPL, backed by the money of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich surprisingly tortured until their recent run of success much-deserved reputation of crapping out in the UEFA Champions League every year.
|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
• Bandwagon Potential: Extremely high, probably second behind Arsenal. And the other EPL fans dislike them to the point that they derisively call them “Chelski” (veiled dig at the Russian owner).
• Celebrity Fans: Michael Caine and fellow Page 2 columnist Michael Davies. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to find a different team than Davies so we could have heated e-mail exchanges and use insulting words like “wanker.”
• Colors/Jerseys: Blue colors, pretty sweet jerseys.
• Signature Players: Skipper John Terry and midfielder Frank Lampard. You might remember Terry as the only English player who showed up for the 2006 World Cup. Don’t get Davies started on this.
(Important note: Instead of “captain” and “coach,” they use the words “skipper” and “manager” in the EPL.)
Unintentional Comedy: Various reader comments on Abramovich included, “He’s a billionaire oil tycoon who’s suspected of high crimes in Russia” “In a way, he’s Mark Cuban, but in another strangely satisfying way, he’s the Godfather” “You couldn’t invent a guy like this: Russian oligarch who dumps money into players, hitting the bid on exorbitant transfer fees to stock his squad with so much talent while showing no regard for the bottom line; even Steinbrenner is profit oriented” “Their owner is probably the only major sports owner who’s had his business rivals assassinated” “Plays the Russian anthem before home matches, at the conclusion of which he stands and waves to the delirious crowd like Caesar.”
(Now he sounds FANTASTIC. And we thought Mark Cuban was fun.)
• Sponsor: Samsung, the poor man’s Sony.
• Stadium: A much-beloved old-school joint called Stamford Bridge that seats 42,500 and features three bars inside the stadium. You have to like any stadium that features multiple bars.
• Vacation Destination: They’re based in Fulham (in southwest London), so yes.
• Most Hated Rival: Pretty much everybody.
• Bonus Reason to Pick Them: Manager Jose Mourinho. Multiple readers compared him to Bill Belichick, which obviously piqued my interest. He’s also known to “write entire 200-page game plans in preparation for even the easiest of matches,” “wears all black and broods on the sidelines the entire game,” “basically looks like somebody is trying to pull out his toenails until the second Chelsea scores” and “jumps around like a maniac all the time.” I feel like you need to know this stuff.
• Single Best Reason NOT to Pick Them: Davies likes them. That wanker.
• American Comparison: The Red Sox, right down to the “Fever Pitch” link (FYI: This was the team Nick Hornby wrote about), their prolonged championship drought ending in 2004 and their fans becoming insufferable immediately afterward (yes, I include myself).
• Nickname: Gunners.
• In a Nutshell: Probably the EPL’s most popular team (I received more e-mails from Arsenal fans urging me to adopt their team than anyone else) finished second in ’99, ’00, ’01 and ’03 before breaking through with an undefeated season in ’04 it’s hard to say why so many people jumped on the bandwagon, but “Fever Pitch” probably had something to do with it, right? known for playing a Phoenix Suns-type style (wide-open, always attacking, tons of offense) that also wins the Gunners some extra fans their fans nicknamed themselves “Gooners” many people seemed to think this was the logical choice for me, which made me NOT want to pick them, if that makes sense.
• Bandwagon Potential: Off the charts. Almost horrifying.
• Celebrity Fans: An astonishingly bizarre group that includes Gavin Rossdale, Spike Lee, Hornby, Dido, Johnny Rotten, Roger Waters, Andrew Ridgeley (the other guy from Wham!), Ray Davies, Colin Firth, Will Wheaton, Freddie Prinze Jr., Kevin Costner, Jackie and Joan Collins, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, Fidel Castro, John Gotti, Michael Moore and Osama Bin Laden. Now there’s a list you want to avoid.
• Colors/Jerseys: Bright red shirts with white sleeves and white shorts. Classic look.
• Signature Players: The world’s best scorer (French striker Thierry Henry, a buddy of Tony Parker’s), 17-year-old wunderkind Theo Walcott (the LeBron of the EPL) and crazy German keeper Jens Lehmann (you might remember him from the Cup).
• Unintentional Comedy: Once had a legendary goalkeeper named “Seaman.”
• Sponsor: Emirates Airlines.
• Stadium: The Red Sox connections continue: Until recently, they played in a tiny, Fenway-like stadium (Highbury) crammed into a North London neighborhood that was rich in history and tradition and had no modern amenities. Unlike the Red Sox, they’re moving into a state-of-the-art, 60,000-seat stadium this year.
• Vacation Destination: Since they’re based in London, absolutely.
• Most Hated Rival: Tottenham Hotspur. Some call this the most heated rivalry in the EPL other than Newcastle against everybody.
• Bonus Reason to Pick Them: Manager Arsene Wenger seems to be revered, with reader comments including “a more clutch version of Billy Beane — they spend a small fraction compared to their chief opponents and achieved comparable results” “he’s the Bill Walsh of soccer, an offensive-minded attacking genius who hates playing 0-0 matches as much as everyone else hates watching them” “always pretends he didn’t see his players start fights with the other team, tacitly allowing their antics to continue” and “quite simply, he’s the best soccer coach in the world, the equivalent of Phil Jackson crossed with Billy Beane.”
(Another reason to pick them: As a reader explains, “Like the Green Bay Packers and unlike anyone in the EPL, no one owner owns the team, but rather, fans own shares of the squad.” That sounds cool. Not as cool as having a Russian mob boss own your team, but pretty cool.)
(Bonus reason not to pick them: Without Hornby’s book, we never would have seen Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore celebrating on the field in St. Louis with the 2004 Red Sox, and I never would have spent $10 to see “Fever Pitch.”)
• Single Best Reason NOT to Pick Them: I mean, seriously did you see that celebrity list? Besides, Hornby already claimed these guys a long time ago. I need a team that doesn’t have a writer attached to it. Sorry, Arsenal.
4. MANCHESTER CITY
• American Comparison: The L.A. Clippers. Hmmmmmm.
• Nickname: Either the Blues or the Citizens (most call them “Man City”).
• In a Nutshell: If Manchester United was the Lakers, Man City would be the pre-Cassell Clippers, right down to the decades of serial losing, the complete lack of hope and the dwindling fan base every season is highlighted by home/road games against United that are called “derby matches” (pronounced “darby” — any time two teams from the same town play, it’s called a “derby match”) one reader writes, “Most of England hates them, they are filled with a bunch of thugs that are three to five years past their prime.”
• Bandwagon Potential: Couldn’t be lower. In fact, one of my neighbors (Brian) is a native Irishman and a huge Man City fan; when I told him about this column and how Man City made my final four, he said, “Oh, you don’t want to pick them. You’re born into rooting for Manchester City. You would never want to arbitrarily pick them. You should choose someone else.” Well, then.
• Celebrity Fans: The Gallagher brothers (Oasis) and ESPN.com’s own Marc Stein (an out-and-out soccer freak). In fact, if you get Marc Stein drunk enough, he’ll put on a Man City jersey and belt out the lyrics to “Don’t Look Back In Anger.”
• Colors/Jerseys: Baby blue, a shade lighter than the UNC Tar Heels. Probably the sweetest jerseys in the EPL. I can’t emphasize this strongly enough — these things are SPECTACULAR. Unfortunately, this was the biggest reason I was thinking about picking them other than the Clippers symmetry and the chance to become better friends with Marc Stein and the guys from Oasis.
• Signature Player: Former USA captain Claudio Reyna, who’s just about washed up.
• Unintentional Comedy: One of their goal scorers is named Paul Dickov (pronounced “dick-off”) did I mention that their nickname is “Man City?”
• Sponsors: A travel company called Thomas Cook. It’s a bad sign when you have a sponsor that nobody knows, right?
• Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium, built in 2002, seats about 48,000. Nobody seemed that excited about it.
• Vacation Destination: That’s a big fat N-O.
• Most Hated Rival: Manchester United whenever they beat them, it’s the equivalent of the Clippers beating the Lakers in a playoff series, only if the Staples Center was packed with drunk English people whose lives depended on the game.
(Bonus reason to pick them: Manager Stuart Pierce was called “Psycho” during his playing days and remains just as crazy now — constantly screams instructions, dances on the sidelines after goals, even wears track suits to games. I wish an NFL coach wore track suits to games. Do you think we could convince Denny Green to do this?
• Single Best Reason NOT To Pick Them: They’re just not good enough. You don’t want a team that’s on TV twice a year and might get relegated at any time. Unless you’re from there. Sorry, Stein. You’re on your own.
3. NEWCASTLE UNITED
• American Comparison: The Oakland Raiders.
• Nickname: The Magpies.
• In a Nutshell: They’re named after a beer I actually like. What’s better than that? Plus, these guys received more e-mails just about their wild fans than anyone else, including “their fans are like the Raiders [fans] 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, there is no city more filled with more drunk (read, absolutely sloshed) college-aged kids in the world” “their fans are terrific: they are the most blue-collar, passionate, loyal, and drunk off their ass fans in the league that sing songs like ‘Who the F*** are Manchester United.'” “they inspire such enmity in their rivals that I have been verbally abused no less than four times by strangers for wearing their jersey.”
• Bandwagon Potential: Pretty low. Unless you’re an ex-convict.
• Celebrity Fans: Tony Blair, Sting and AC/DC singer Brian Johnson. Three guys with a ton in common.
• Colors/Jerseys: Classic black-and-white striped jerseys that look like they were rejected from the Foot Locker headquarters. I can’t decide if these are gloriously fantastic or unspeakably horrendous. It’s really one or the other.
• Signature Player: Michael Owen, the England star who blew out his knee during the World Cup. Apparently, Newcastle is famous for spending money on guys who either crap the bed or have something horrible happen to them.
• Unintentional Comedy: During a 2005 game, two Newcastle teammates famously got into a fistfight during a game and both got red-carded. Now THAT, my friends, is a dysfunctional franchise. Here’s the YouTube clip if you don’t believe me.
• Sponsor: Take a guess.
• Stadium: St. James Park, which has been around in various forms since 1891. That’s 115 years of dried puke.
• Vacation Destination: Not a complete disaster. One reader reports, “The city itself is a blue-collar town that has made a resurgence of sorts as a popular spring break destination. They are thinking about building UK’s first Super Casino.” Um, a super casino?
• Most Hated Rival: Sunderland, a team that can’t even crack the EPL right now. That’s a bad sign.
• Random Fact that I Found Interesting: Newcastle’s No. 9 jersey is the most famous jersey in the EPL — called the Shirt of Legends — and was most notably worn by Hughie Gallacher, who led them to their last title in 1925, eventually departed the club under controversial circumstances and committed suicide in 1957. Newcastle hasn’t won the EPL since. Somebody get Dan Shaughnessy on the phone.
• Can’t Decide if This is a Bonus Reason For or Against: According to the readers, “They have a rabid fan base from a depressed former industrial town where the accent makes fans’ speech absolutely incomprehensible,” which they call “Geordie” (like it’s a real language). In other words, it’s just like Rhode Island.
(Bonus reason to pick them: Did I mention they’re named after a beer? As one reader points out, “There is no better way to announce your team allegiance during a match when you first walk into a bar; the bartender asks what are you having and you can proudly announce ‘Newcastle.’ Often gets a beer raise and nod of the head from the other Newcastle fans watching the match.” Sounds like fun.
• Single Best Reason NOT to Pick Them: The tortured history. For instance, they famously blew a 12-point lead down the stretch in ’96 that sounds suspiciously like the 14-game lead that the Red Sox blew in ’78. I’d rather not go down that road again. But I’m going to make a more concerted effort to drink their beer.
• American Comparison: The Boston Celtics, only if it were 1986 and Lenny Bias made the decision, “I’m never doing drugs.”
• Nickname: Reds.
• In a Nutshell: On paper, this seemed like the most appealing team — a perennial contender with a ton of history, great fans, snazzy uniforms, the best player in the league (midfielder Steven Gerrard, described by multiple readers as the “Big Papi of the EPL”) and even their own show on channel 613 (“Liverpool Classics”), as well as an English city that everyone compares to Boston (port city, tons of Irish immigrants and blue-collar people, rivalry with London that mirrors Boston/New York, sports means a little TOO much, etc.). Reading the e-mails about Liverpool almost made me feel like I was reading about a Boston team, actually — and that’s even before finding out that Bob Kraft tried to buy an ownership stake last year. I liked them the most out of anyone.
(Note: Continuing with the Red Sox parallel, they staged the most famous comeback in recent soccer history last year, rallying back from a 3-0 deficit in the second half to win the Champions League. It’s hard to say whether this was more or less incredible than the Red Sox rallying back from three games to zero against the Yankees. And if you thought this was a thinly-veiled excuse to mention the 2004 ALCS again, well, you know me too well.)
• Bandwagon Potential: Sadly, a little too high — especially because of the Big Four thing and Gerrard (who seems like the most likable star in the league, hands down).
• Celebrity Fans: Sporty Spice, Chris DeBurgh, Darren Clarke and Dr. Dre. I think I’d sacrifice a kidney to be in the same room as those four people discussed Liverpool soccer for an hour.
• Colors/Jerseys: Blood-red, absolutely fantastic. I would wear this jersey pretty much all the time.
• Signature Player: Praise for Gerrard from the readers included “the definition of a true leader, last year’s MVP, and England’s most complete midfielder of his generation” “the backbone of the current Liverpool team (think: Tony C. times 10)” “when it comes to clutch, Big Papi is the Steven Gerrard of baseball” “ROUTINELY goes out to bars after games because he’s an average scouser (he was much criticized for this earlier in his career)” “the Ortiz of English soccer, an inspirational player who has a knack for coming up with a big goal whenever they need it most (he is also likely to be appointed England’s new captain now that Beckham has stepped down)” “a local boy who turned down the chance for millions more from Chelsea and Real Madrid to play for his childhood heroes.”
(And if that’s not enough, check out his top 10 goals on YouTube, including his famous extra-time goal in the Champions League last year. Imagine if Tom Brady grew up in South Boston before becoming the Pats’ QB, then turned down an extra $20 million from the Jets to remain with them. That’s what Gerrard means to Liverpool.)
• Unintentional Comedy: Not only do they have a goofy-looking, 6-foot-7 striker named Peter Crouch who’s nicknamed “Bambi on Ice” and does the “Robot” after goals, but longtime striker Robbie Fowler was (A) nicknamed “God,” and (B) once celebrated after a goal by pretending to sniff the end line.
• Sponsor: Carlsberg Beer. I consider this a major negative. Carlsberg sucks.
• Stadium: Anfield was originally built in 1884 and also received some Fenway Park comparisons from readers, mostly because of the Kop (a banked stand on one side) that’s a little Green Monster-esque. Although I wonder if the fans of various teams were buttering me up by describing their stadiums as “a lot like Fenway Park.” If so, you succeeded.
• Vacation Destination: Only if you’ve been kidnapped.
• Most Hated Rival: Manchester United.
• Random Depressing Fact: According to a reader, “Back in 1989, 96 Liverpool supporters died in the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, an event immortalized by the twin flames on the official club shield. Liverpool fans vowed never to forget their fallen comrades, and to this day carry on their memories in banners, scarves, songs and poems. It was an event that actually brought an end to Liverpool’s reign of success.”
(Bonus reason to pick them: They have the best song: “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which sounds eerie when they’re belting it out before games and absolutely electric after big victories. It’s so good, Pink Floyd even found a way to work it into a song (“Fearless”). I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: We need to figure out a way to come up with team songs for American sports. How much better would Knicks games be if the fans sang Tom Petty’s “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” after every game?)
(Another bonus reason to pick them: The Beatles.)
Single Best Reason NOT To Pick Them: Too much history, too personal, too easy, too obvious. Someone from America can’t casually become a Liverpool fan, just like someone from England couldn’t have casually become a Red Sox fan before 2004. I just wouldn’t have felt right about it.
1. TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR
• American Comparison: As one reader explains, “If the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn, they’d be the Spurs.”
• Nickname: The Spurs. This is important: You either call then “Tottenham Hotspur” or you call them “the Spurs,” but no other option is acceptable.
•In a Nutshell: If London was the Corleone family, Manchester United was Sonny and Arsenal was Michael, then the Spurs would be Fredo with a little more street smarts the name “Hotspur” comes from the character Henry Hotspur in “Henry IV,” so here’s a team that really does have a Shakespearean legacy blessed with a devout fan base in North London that routinely packs the other team’s house during road games (a la Sox fans) if they ever won the Premier League, it would be the American equivalent of the Jets winning the Super Bowl or the Indians winning the World Series.
• Bandwagon Potential: Invitingly low since they haven’t finished in the top four since the Premier League launched back in 1993. Plus, as a reader explains, “Way back in the day, other English teams’ fans would derisively jeer Tottenham fans, stereotyping them as Jews and calling them just about every anti-Semitic name you could call someone. So, the Hotspurs fans just turned the jeers around, proudly proclaiming themselves a ‘Jew Army’ and — despite the fact that most weren’t even Jewish — embraced the imagery wholeheartedly. Just to spit in the face of the racist idiots who misidentified them in the first place.” Seriously, how weird is English soccer?
• Celebrity Fans: Steve Nash, Salman Rushdie, Ray Liotta, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jude Law, the late Bob Marley, Donal Logue, Shania Twain, Baby Spice and the head of ESPN, John Skipper. On the Sucking Up Scale, picking the Spurs would be a solid 10 out of 10.
• Colors/Jerseys: Traditional white shirts with blue pants, blue jerseys on the road. Does the job.
• Signature Players: Irish striker Robbie Keane (known for his crazy celebrations after goals), 20-year-old wing Aaron Lennon (considered the odds-on favorite to take Beckham’s spot on the 2010 World Cup team), midfielder Edgar Davids (a black Dutchman with dreads and tinted goggles). In particular, Lennon looks like a potential Dwyane Wade-type down the road. So that’s appealing.
• Unintentional Comedy: They have a Kafka-reading, gigantic Dutchman of a coach named Martin Jol who (A) has brothers named “Cock” and “Dick” (I’m not making this up), and (B) apparently talks just like Goldmember (in the third Austin Powers movie). Now there’s someone who needs to be in my life.
• Sponsors: A gambling Web site called Mansion. Good times! This pick is almost becoming a foregone conclusion, right?
• Stadium: A 105-year-old stadium (White Hart Lane) that holds only 36,000 seats the same number as Fenway Park. Hmmmmmm.
• Vacation Destination: They’re based in London, so absolutely.
• Most Hated Rival: Arsenal. And “hated” isn’t a strong enough word. As a couple of the readers explained, “[This] dates back to 1919 when Arsenal was promoted to the top division ahead of Spurs under the shadiest of circumstances. So they have an 87-year rivalry made worse by the fact that their stadiums are only a few miles apart. The equivalent of having Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium at opposite ends of Charlestown. Surpasses Yankees/Sox, Leafs/Habs, etc. There has been blood spilled between fans, not to mention the hatred started because of a corrupt Arsenal president. Add to that the fact that last season Spurs finished underneath Arsenal by two points because of a case of violent stomach flu, conspiracy theorists claiming that Arsenal fans poisoned the team’s food at a hotel party prior to the final game of the season. Not even Aaron Spelling could come up with that plot line. It would have been the first time in years that they had finished above their North London rivals. What’s not to love?”
(By the way, the food poisoning story DID happen — it was the biggest EPL subplot of last year. Can you imagine if the Mavs had lost Game 7 in San Antonio because most of the team came down with food poisoning from their hotel food the night before the game? Cuban would still be blogging about it two months later. I’m telling you, crazy, crazy, CRAZY stuff happens in the EPL.)
(Bonus reason to pick them: They finished fifth last season and are considered the proverbial “Team on the Rise,” but they haven’t actually done anything yet and perhaps never will. Now that’s tempting.)
• Single Best Reason NOT to Pick Them: One reader writers, “If you want a team that will absolutely crush your spirit, you must support Tottenham Hotspur for the ’06-’07 EPL season.”
You know what? Screw it. Since I started writing for ESPN.com in 2001, the Pats won three Super Bowls, the Celts made the conference finals, the Sox won the World Series, and I even bought season tickets for the Clippers and watched them win a playoff series for the first time in 30 years. Maybe I can help the Spurs in the Karma Department. Besides, they’re named after a Shakespeare character! How can you beat that?
With apologies to the great fans in Liverpool, I’m going with Tottenham Hotspur. Let’s hope they can keep that “new car smell” to them for the entire EPL season.
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.