The Kop End at Anfield stadium in Liverpool is one of the most magnificent sights in international football. Thirteen thousand red-sporting Scousers with scarves held high sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as Liverpool take the field. The players, the fans and the stadium itself merge into one incendiary, intimidating mass awaiting the lunchtime kickoff of a tempestuous Merseyside Derby match against hated rivals Everton.
Thousands of miles away, a solitary soccer-loving American, up at the crack of dawn, stares at the spectacle on his television set through strained eyes, his enthusiasm dampened because his coffee has yet to finish brewing. “There were people around the entire U.S. who were watching these matches, but, for the most part, they were probably watching them at home on the couch on a Saturday morning with no one else there,” one American fan said.
No one knows exactly how many English Premier League fans are in America, though Fox Soccer Channel averages 300,000 viewers for a live match. It is a substantial figure, but one spread over a large country with a population of 300 million, leaving fans both few and far between. “There may be two or three of us inside the city limit,” another fan said.
For English fans, following a Premier League club is inherently communal. For Americans, the experience often proves one of isolation.
Though fans in the U.S. have had access to Premier League matches since Fox Sports World (now Fox Soccer Channel) began broadcasting them in 1998, fans have remained remote from one another and unable to forge a community. With the explosion of “web 2.0” technologies like blogs, podcasts, and social networking sites over the last few years, however, fans in America have been able to connect with one another over the Internet.
“The Other Football” blog at the Orlando Sentinel is the most popular item on the websites with an average of nearly 15,000 page views per day. An American based podcast which focuses on the Premier League, World Soccer Daily, is routinely one of the top 25 most downloaded sports podcasts in the United States, according to iTunes. Even a smaller Premier League club, such as Fulham F.C., has a U.S. based supporters’ club with over 1,500 members.
Most fans cannot stroll down to their local pub to watch matches and converse with fellow fans or have the proverbial “water cooler” conversations at work. They cannot flip to the back pages of their local newspapers to get the latest gossip. They cannot park themselves in front of a television network like ESPN to immerse themselves in the 24-hour discussion culture. For them, the connections formed on the Internet are essential.